The Foreign Policy Of Turkey On The Borderline Between Europe And The Middle East

Nikolay Valov
Fellow School of Foreign Service
Prof. S.A. Baynard

Table of content
I. Abstract…………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 3
II. Historic preview of Republic of Turkey ……………………………………………………………… 5
III. Regional policy Turkey-European Union…………………………………………………………… 6
1. EU membership ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 7
2. Security issues………………………………………………………………………………………………. 9
3. Energy issues …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 11
IV. Regional policy Turkey – the Middle East ……………………………………………………….. 14
1. Turkish-Iraqi relations – northern Iraq (Kurd issue)…………………………………………. 16
2. Turkey – Israel relations and their impact on Arabic world ………………………………. 17
3. Euphrates-Tigris water issue…………………………………………………………………………. 18
4. Turkey-Iran: regional leadership competition …………………………………………………. 19

“Peace at home, peace in the world”
Kemal Ataturk

I. Abstract

During the last decade Turkey faces both old and new challenges in its
international relations particularly in light of development of regional cooperation and
new thinking towards post communist states in South East Europe as a result of the end
of the Cold war. Even Turkey’s long-standing relations with the West, particularly
Europe and the United States, are undergoing peaks and dips because of the attempts to
interfere the Turkish foreign policy.
From World War II to 1990, Turkey considered its major security threat to be the
Soviet Union1 and its most important allies to be NATO and the United States. But this
geopolitical environment has been changing rapidly. The emergence of newly
independent states in Central Asia (formerly part of the Soviet Union) with a Turkish and
Islamic heritage has created a new area of interest for Turkish foreign policy. On one
hand this interest is mainly caused by both Turkish fear of transferring Islamic
fundamentalism and terrorism on its territory, which could undermine the foundations of
secular Turkish state. On the other hand, to the south the Middle East remains a region of
instability and conflict with important implications for Turkish foreign policy as regional
1 For more information of Soviet-Turkish relations see: Vali A. Ference, Bridge across the Bosporus, The
John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, Maryland, 1971, p.165-181
Being a forefront state faced with multiple cross border challenges and
uncertainties, Turkey is striving to create a balanced foreign policy that will be able to
deal successfully with a range of security, economic and political issues in Europe and
Asia. The problem of security for both continents goes beyond the regional issue and
moves to the next level. It is a global problem because external factors will determine the
security rather than regional ones.
The main trends of Turkish foreign policy activity determine the sensitivity of a
developing country like Turkey to regional and global power and neighborhood
suspiciousness. The basic problems which Turkish foreign policy will be faced with are
connected with some historical unresolved issues such as the genocide against Armenian
population, Kurds question, the integration of Cyprus (as a condition to its membership in
EU), the war in Iraq, and the security in the Middle East region in general.
Of particular interest in this context are Turkey’s international relations in the
period 1990 – 2005 with a specific focus and emphasis on its relations with Europe and
the Middle East. Analyzing the political, security, and economic dimensions of Turkey’s
present relations with Europe and the Middle East will be a step towards predicting future
possible trends of Turkish foreign policy.
The Turkish historical heritage which originated in the Ottoman Empire’s time2
shapes its regional policy not only to former Soviet states but also to all neighboring
countries. That is the reason why its policy, a combination between modernism and
traditions, is influenced by global factors such as its willingness to full-fledge EU
2 For more information of Soviet-Turkish relations see: Vali A. Ference, Bridge across the Bosporus, The
John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, Maryland, 1971, p. 4-7
membership, developing a lot of joint energy projects with US and Russia, etc. The
aspiration of Turkey to be part of the Western Hemisphere and to play an important
regional and global role in the policy formation of both continents has its roots in the
strategic position of the country – crossing two continents and the policy established by
Kemal Ataturk3 towards modernization and development in Turkish society. The
modernization in Turkish society was not the product of autonomous forces of
technological advancement and economic change: it was a political decision on the part
of the ruling elite to set the country on a course so that its survival would be ensured.
II. Historic preview of Republic of Turkey
Republic of Turkey as a secular state was established in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal
(1881 – 1938), a Turkish World War I hero also known as “Ataturk” or “father of the
Turks”, after the downfall of the Ottoman Empire.
The empire, which at its peak controlled vast areas of northern Africa, western
Asia, and southeastern Europe, failed to manage with European social and technological
developments, as well as with the renaissance of striving/inspiration of captive countries
for political and economic independence.
Because of that several ethnic groups sought for sovereignty, leading to the
empire’s collapse. This process started with the Russian-Ottoman war in 1874-1876 and
culminated in the catastrophic Ottoman participation in World War I as a German ally.
3 Emerging as a military hero at the Dardanelles in 1915, he became the charismatic leader of the Turkish
national liberation struggle in 1919. He blazed across the world scene in the early 1920s as a triumphant
commander who crushed the invaders of his country. Following a series of impressive victories against all
odds, he led his nation to full independence. He put an end to the antiquated Ottoman dynasty whose tale
had lasted more than six centuries – and created the Republic of Turkey in 1923, establishing a new
government truly representative of the nation’s will.
The Ottoman Empire was defeated; some of its territories were returned and/or added to
neighboring newly established states, and partly occupied by forces of the victorious
European states.4 The Ottoman structure of state and governance was rejected by Turkish
nationalists who were unified under Ataturk’s leadership. The temporal and religious
ruling institutions of the old empire (the sultanate and caliphate) were abolished.
Kemal Ataturk concentrated his efforts on “Westernizing” the empire realizing
that being a part of Europe will strengthen the regional power of Turkey in the future.
Social, political, linguistic and economic reforms and attitudes introduced by Ataturk
were crucial for what is now Modern Turkey. Even now his ideology is at the roof of
modern Turkish foreign policy. Referred to as “Kemalism,” this ideology includes
secularism, nationalism, and modernization and turns toward the West for inspiration and
support. 5After the death of Ataturk in 1938 the military assumed the role of guarantor of
Ataturk’s vision of a secular state and continues to act in that capacity to the present day
being a pillar against Islamic fundamentalism. A few times (1960, 1971, 1980 and
“1997”) the military has felt compelled to intervene in Turkey’s acting as the selfappointed
guardian of the constitution, democratic process and secular state6.
III. Regional policy Turkey-European Union
When a new world order was in the process of being established immediately
after the World War II, the Turkish political elite, in part because of the threat they
perceived from the Soviet Union and communist countries did not hesitate to join the
4 For details see:
5 The main points of Ataturk’s ideology could be found at “Speech Delivered by Ghazi Mustapha Kemal,
President of the Turkish Republic”, October 1927 (Leipzig: KF Koehler, 1929)
6 See:
West European countries in the Council of Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO), which Turkey joined in 1952, and other West European
institutions and processes.7 The other reason is the regional strategic thinking of Ataturk
followers that Turkey could be a bridge between Europe and Asia, a buffer against
Islamic fundamentalism, a barrier against illegal drug distribution and the trafficking of
people from Asia and the Middle East to Europe. However, Turkey has experienced an
interesting and some times conflicting relationship with the European Union (EU) and its
1. EU membership
EU membership is a main aim of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. Implementing this
goal could lead to a significant influence of a global power like the EU on Turkey in a
way that could transform its internal and foreign policy. Needing a stable democratic
state, an ally against ex-Soviets and the troubled Middle East, the EU and US are trying
to create a zone of security and stability, a barrier against conflicts and instability.
Republic of Turkey applied relatively early – in 1959 – for membership in the
European Economic Community (the EEC, or Common Market). Relations with the EU
are governed by the Association Agreement of 1964 (Ankara Agreement). This was
supplanted by the Additional Protocol in 1972 which is the oldest Association Agreement
that the EU has made. In 1987, Turkey formally presented its application for full
membership in the EU and it was rejected by the Twelve. In 1995 a customs union
agreement was signed as a confirmation of the increasingly important role which Turkey
7 For the list of organizations Turkey is member see:
plays regionally as guarantor of stability in the region. In 1997, the EU (Germany) also
made it clear that the time had still not come for Turkey to join. The Turkish prime
minister accused Chancellor Kohl of deliberately sabotaging Turkey’s application to the
EU and Turkey then refused to attend the European Conference held in London in April
1998 for states who are negotiating to join the EU in the future. Turkey is convinced that
the denial of its membership is based on religious discrimination – Europe does not want
to allow a Muslim country into the Union. Having spent four decades in the EU’s waiting
room, Turkey finally opened its accession negotiations with Brussels on 3 October 2005
after significant pressure from the USA. According to the mutually agreed negotiating
framework, these negotiations are “an open-ended process, the outcome of which cannot
be guaranteed.”8
Relations between Turkey and the EU took a new turn at the Helsinki summit
meeting of December 1999. Then Turkey was declared a legitimate candidate for full
membership in the EU. However, that declaration did not necessarily change the
relationship between the parties in any dramatic way. Turkey had to undertake some
changes in both internal and foreign policy in order to comply with the EU rules and
regulations. These norms are an example of the dynamic between global/regional power
as the EU influences policy of developing countries. Turkey recently adopted a National
Program for the Adoption of the Acquis and amended its constitution and laws to adapt to
the acquis communautaire – the rules and regulations of the EU.
8 For details on background of EU-Turkey accession negotiations see:


Thus, the vigorous agenda of reform pursued by Turkey and the significant
legislative effort realized (Constitutional amendments in October 2001 and May 2004,
new Civil and Penal Codes) were acknowledge by the Commission’s progress report in
2004 as a step towards full-fledge membership. In this report the Commission concluded
that Turkey had sufficiently met the Copenhagen political criteria and explicitly
recommended the opening of accession negotiations.9 In fact Turkey was pressured by
the EU to make significant reforms – economic and political. Meeting the Copenhagen
political criteria was crucial for Turkey in its further negotiation with the EU.
2. Security issues
There are a lot of concerns about global and regional security issues in a region
famous for inter states conflicts which influence foreign policies of the countries. The
need for a safe and stable southeast border, a barrier against the entrance of the Islamic
fundamentalism and terrorism makes the EU to look for a reliable ally in the region.
As a member of NATO since 1952, Turkey has contributed directly to Europe’s
security during the Cold War years as opposed to Soviets. With the end of the Cold War,
however, Turkey’s role in European security has started to change. The risk of massive
military confrontation in Europe disappeared giving way to threats like regional conflicts,
ethnic strife and terrorism. While at first this seemed to decrease Turkey’s important role
in security matters, it quickly became apparent that the development of “asymmetric
threats” around Europe have put Turkey in a more central position. Its geo-strategic and
9 On 17 December, 2004 the European Council, concurring with the recommendation of the Commission,
pronounced the decision that the European Union would open accession negotiations with Turkey, on 3
October 2005.
geo-politic location is not the only reason for this central role. The democracy developed
in this country for more than 70 years is an example hard to find in this part of the world.
Turkey could not be a model for imitation but it is a fact of stability in the region.
The sensitiveness and conspicuousness between the countries of the region
requires more elaborate approaches, different for every country and possibly unique in
order to guarantee the security both in Europe and the Middle East. The regional role of
Turkey as a facilitator between countries could not be assumed alone – the EU as a global
power will have an instrumental role. However this role is dependent on the EU’s plans
for its own future. If the EU is keen on increasing its political influence, particularly in its
own neighborhood, it will have to further develop Common Foreign & Security Policy
(CFSP) and European Security Defense Policy (ESDP). The contribution of Turkey is
becoming valuable particularly at this point when the threat from Islamic fundamentalism
and terrorism is increased.
Furthermore, Turkey’s perceived threats and geographic priorities match those of
the EU listed in both CFSP and ESDP. The country is well placed to assist making the
EU more active in the Balkans, the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the
Mediterranean basin. The important regional role of Turkey is driven by global issues –
regional and global security but defined by pursuit of regional balance.
The prospect of EU membership plays an important role in Turkey’s foreign and
security policy decisions. With the increasing role of intra regional collaboration and the
experience gained during the years of partnership with the EU, Turkey has managed to
conduct a foreign policy compatible with that of the EU. Being a member of NATO and a
future EU member, Turkey has the possibility to further extend the stability beyond its
borders and hence be able to contribute in creating a better environment in the region.
The EU concern is that the more successful Turkey is in joining to common structures of
different types the more successful it is to export this stability and the fewer hard security
concerns will arise from the region. The EU and Turkey have complementary tools able
to produce a number of achievements, particularly in the security field. Increased
security, therefore, strengthens stability not only in Europe but in Asia as well and will
eventually bring prosperity and better opportunities for state development.
3. Energy issues
Energy issues to a large extent influence Turkey’s foreign policy as a regional
and/or global power able to establish rules of the “game”. As the EU becomes more
dependent on oil and gas the position of Turkey will be significantly increased on the
political and economic scene. Turkey is to be more powerful and determinant in the
international politics in terms of energy supply to the EU.
After the end of the Cold war and the establishment of new central Asian states,
with all their political and economic uncertainties, need for security corridors for oil and
gas transportation to EU market arises. The increasing demand for energy resources
makes EU to look for new corridors for oil transport. The goal was to create an area
which could be easily influenced by the EU. Turkey, lying on two continents, a door to
Asian and the Middle Eastern oil reserves perfectly suits to the goals of Western
Turkey’s aim is to secure diversified energy resources, maintain the security of
energy supply routes, and to become the major energy consumer and transport terminal in
the region. In this context, Turkey has become the country to carry the Caucasian oil to
the Mediterranean. To meet its domestic demand as well as to guarantee its position in
the region, Turkey has signed a number of contracts with potential suppliers: Gazprom
(Russia, 1997), Turkmenistan (1999), etc. Moreover, preparations for connecting the
Central Asian oil pipelines have started. The project called “East-West Energy Corridor”
has been launched with the aim to transport Caspian Basin energy resources. The corridor
project, which will contribute greatly to the integration of the Caucasus and Central Asian
countries into the Western world, comprises three major pipeline projects, namely with
the completed Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline (BTC), the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum
Natural Gas Pipeline and the Caspian (via Turkmenistan-Turkey-Europe) Natural Gas
Pipeline10. As it will be remembered, the Iraqi oil reserves are being carried to the
Mediterranean through the Turkish Yumurtalik Port. The Russian natural gas is carried to
Turkey through the Black Sea (Blue Stream) and the Balkans. It is being strongly worked
on the project of carrying the pipeline to the Mediterranean and the construction of the
10 For more information concerning Turkey’s Natural Gas Projects see:
Capacity expansion projects on the Russian Federation – Turkey NGPL (from 6 BCMA to 14 BCMA
supply.), Blue Stream (from Russian Federation through Black Sea 16 billion m3 ), Turkmenistan-Caspian
Sea Crossing-Turkey-Europe NGPL (30 billion m3) , Second LNG terminal (Aliaga 4-6 billion m3),
Eastern Anatolian Natural Gas Main Transmission Pipeline (supply from Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Iran-
Currently 10 billion m3 agreement with Iran)
Egypt-Turkey Natural Gas Pipeline (through Mediterranean Sea or land, 4 billion m3), Iraq-Turkey Natural
Gas Pipeline (10 billion m3 – after lifting embargo), Karacabey – Izmir Natural Gas Pipeline (125 km.),
Konya-Izmir Natural Gas Pipeline (520 km.), Southern Natural Gas Transmission Line (355 km)
Oil Pipelines – Bakü-Ceyhan pipeline to carry up to 45 million tons of oil from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan
to the Ceyhan Terminal.
Russia-Turkey-Mediterranean Line. Likely, the Iranian natural gas pipeline is carrying
natural gas to Turkey. They have been working on the project to convert this line to the
Iranian-Turkey-Europe pipeline but because of the US policy towards Iran this project is
at a standstill. The preparations for carrying the Central Asian natural gas to Europe
through Turkey have been in progress. In addition to the completed lines, 20 % of the
world’s oil will be carried through Turkey when the projects will also be completed. In
other words, Turkey will become one of the world’s most important energy routes, not
just for Europe. It is evident that such a strategic country’s exclusion from Europe does
not benefit the EU at all.
Energy will continue to be in the focus of Turkish foreign policy. This issue will
play an important role in its relations with central Asian countries and the EU. Turkey’s
plan to serve as a bridge to transport energy resources from the Middle East and Caspian
to Western markets will definitely change the policy of a global power like the EU in the
region. A politically stable and economically strong Turkey will contribute to regional
stability and prosperity since it will create a field for common interest between regional
countries and will strengthening its position as a regional power . That is the reason why
Turkish foreign policy is a mix between imperial aspirations and modern policy making.
As a conclusion, the main policy determinant which will change the political and
economic situation in the region will be the successful conclusion of the accession
negotiations between the EU and Turkey. The fulfillment of the European project will
consolidate democracy and the unification of the continent by embracing all Europeans
around shared values. Therefore, Turkey’s membership to the EU is a historical mission
that will influence the world politics as well as usher in a new era in world affairs.
IV. Regional policy Turkey – the Middle East
A land of natural wealth and great promise, the Middle East has unfortunately
experienced turmoil and conflict for decades. Turkey has been negatively affected by the
instability in the region and has a strong interest in the resolution of its problems. Given
the deep historical and cultural ties with all countries and peoples of the region, Turkey’s
economic potential is seen as a catalyst for forging a new cooperative regional political
structure, transforming the region into one of lasting peace, security, prosperity and
intense cooperation regions.11
Starting 1990s Turkish relations with its Middle East neighbors suffered a
dramatic change in terms of more involving of Turkish politics in the geopolitics
processes occur in that region. Turkish scholar Soli Ozel has in a few words described the
change that has taken place in Turkey: “As Turkey undergoes the most profound
economic, social, and political crisis of the republican period, Ankara also finds itself
involved in the affairs of the Middle East with unprecedented intensity.” 12 The Gulf War
in 1991 dramatically changed the balance of power among the regional players by
eliminating Iraq as a dominant regional power. Immediately after the Gulf War the peace
11 Soli Ozel, “Of not being a lone wolf: Geography, Domestic Plays, and Turkish Foreign Policy in the
Middle East,” in Geoffrey Kemp and Janice Gross Stein, eds., Powder Keg in the Middle East: The struggle
for Gulf Security (Washington: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1995), p.167-71.
12 Soli Ozel, “Of not being a lone wolf: Geography, Domestic Plays, and Turkish Foreign Policy in the
Middle East,” in Geoffrey Kemp and Janice Gross Stein, eds., Powder Keg in the Middle East: The struggle
for Gulf Security (Washington: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1995), p.164.
negotiations between Israel and Palestine began contributing to the rearrangement of the
Middle East political mosaic. The complicated neighborhood relations with Syria as well
strongly influenced the Turkish foreign policy and its perception as the only regional
power which could manage regional conflicts and instabilities.
Four crucial challenges are driven Turkey’s Middle Eastern policy starting 90’s
which formed Turkey as a regional power. First challenge, the unwelcome by Turkish
society but unavoidable deep involvement in northern Iraq (Kurds issue) has had
repercussions not only for Turkish-Iraqi relations but also with the two immediate
neighbors, Iran and Syria. The second one, the close friendly relationships with Israelgrowing
cooperation in military matters – have significant impact on the political and
economic relations with the Arabic countries. Third, in the foreseeable future countries
with huge water recourses will play a significant role in global policy making even more
important than now oil countries play. Because of that Turkey has experienced persistent
problems with Iraq and Syria over the use of the water in the Euphrates-Tigris basin.
Fourth, Turkey finds difficult to balance its relations with Iran, defined by ideological
delimitation and needs for energy imports in return.13
To those issues, Turkey has a vision for the Middle East which is based on its
experience in democratization, the rule of law, economic liberalization, integration,
regional cooperation and the fight against terrorism. Turkey has been putting particular
emphasis on such key concepts as political and economic participation, democratization,
good governance, accountability and gender equality, as well as non- proliferation and
13 Larrabee, F. Stephen, Lesser O. Ian, “Turkish Foreign Policy in an Age of Uncertainty”, RAND’s Center
for Middle East Public Policy, 2003, p. 140-149
transparency in military affairs. Turkey both encourages and assists the ongoing local
efforts to improve political, social and economic conditions in the region.
1. Turkish-Iraqi relations – Northern Iraq (Kurd issue)
When president Ozal firmly supported US-led alliance in 1991 Gulf War, he
believed that his policy might contribute to a more important Turkish role in the region
and even to secure the border and stop the support and financing of PKK. To reach this
goal he was ready to turn back the public opinion about the role of Turkey in Gulf War.14
However, Ozal policy quickly faltered when it become obvious that the alliance would
not actively pursue removing Saddam Hussein from power. 15
Acting as a regional power Turkey occupied adjacent areas of northern Iraq to
ensure that the fight against PKK is carried out on Iraqi rather than Turkish territory. The
continuing presence of PKK/KONGRA-GEL terrorists and their affiliates in northern
Iraq is the driven engine of the Turkish policy at the region. Turkey has made it clear to
all concerned that the terrorist threat against Turkey originating from Iraqi territory is an
issue which needs urgent attention and effective measures based on the principle of “zero
tolerance” to terrorism. Turkey is also trying to conduct regional dialogue in order to
devise ways and means of cooperation in the fight against PKK terrorism.16
The way events are unfolding in neighboring Iraq and this country’s future are of
crucial importance for peace and stability as well as a test case for the role of Turkish
14 Robins, Philip, “Turkish Policy and Gulf Crisis: Adventurist or Dinamic?” in Clement H. Dodd. Ed.,
Turkish Foreign Policy: New Prospects (Huntingdon: Eothen Press, 1992), p. 70-87
15 US policy towards Kurds in Northern Iraq is in contrast with the Turkish official policy, there is a
misunderstanding between Turkey and the USA on Kurds issue :
16 For details see: ,
politics in the Middle East and beyond. Trying to be a regional power able to resolve
different problems among neighboring states Turkey must prove that it has forgotten its
imperial ambitions and it will assist building a democratic Iraq, based on a broad social
consensus among different segments of the Iraqi society within a framework that will
preserve the country’s unity and integrity through the political process.
2. Turkey – Israel relations and their impact on Arabic world
Turkey’s political class believes that lasting peace, security and stability in the
Middle East can only be achieved through a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-
Palestinian dispute. The signing of the Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestine
Liberation Organization 17 gave a boost to Turkey’s relations with Israel. The bilateral
relations flourish in the field of military and economic cooperation. Arab states, however,
gave a cold reception to the attempt of establishment a new order in the region. The
political and governmental uncertainty of the region impeded from creating a new
regional cooperative system mainly because of the change of the Israeli government at
that period and the break down of Israeli-Syrian peace talks.
Turkey welcomed the cease-fire declared at the Sharm el Sheikh Summit in
February 2005 and the ensuing steps taken by the Palestinian and Israeli representatives.
Turkey believes the favorable climate created by the summit, together with Israel’s
withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, bode well for the prospects of reviving the stalled Peace
Process. The positive climate generated by Israel’s withdrawal has also reflected
favorably on Israel’s bilateral relations. The meeting facilitated by Turkey in Istanbul on
17 Oslo Agreement:
1 September 2005 between the Foreign Ministers of Israel and Pakistan with a view to
the conduct of diplomatic relations can be cited as a prove for leading role of Turkey in
regional politics.
However as long as Israeli-Arab conflict and intra – Arab rivalry continue to be
the dominant patterns of regional political development, Turkish ideas for intraregional
cooperation will be met with verbal consent but will run against strong resistance to
implementation. Consequently, besides certain benefits for Turkey and Israel, the
cooperation does not seem to have the potential for a broader impact in overcoming the
dominant patterns of regional conflict. Turkey’s foreign policy will be shaped by the
willingness of avoiding local military conflicts and mitigating the mistrust existing in the
Middle East by creating the regional balance of power and trust.
3. Euphrates-Tigris water issue
The next issue in the relations between countries in the Middle East is the use of
the water in the Euphrates and Tigris basin. Turkey controls the main sources and the
upper parts of this water system which is of importance for the economic development of
Anatolia, and parts of Syria and Iraq whose population is concentrated in the basin. If oil
is the “black gold” then water is priceless because of the impossibility to live without it.
Consequently Turkey is in the strategic position to use the power of water to impose its
regional influence over neighboring countries.
Former Prime Minister Suleyman Demirell stated during a press conference:
“Neither Syria or Iraq can lay claim to Turkey’s river more than Ankara could claim their
oil. This is a matter of sovereignty. We have the right to do anything we like. The water
resources are Turkey’s, the oil resources are theirs. We don’t say we share their oil
resources, and they cannot say they share our water resources.”18 This statement can be
seen as both a warning to Syria and Iraq do not press Turkey by playing with the energy
(oil) card and a firm declaration of protecting its sovereignty.
What Syria and Iraq fear most is the emergence of Turkey as a regional power
because of its command over water plus the development of huge economic and energy
potential area by performing the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP).19 The “Euphrates
triangle”: Turkey, Iraq and Syria is the next Gordian knot and conflict potential place.
Turkish foreign policy in that issue must be observed under the light of geo-strategic use
of water resources as a mean for multilateral regional cooperation rather than imposing
its power because of the water.
4. Turkey – Iran: regional leadership competition
Security and energy are the main concerns of Turkish secularist in referring to
bilateral trade relations between both countries. The electoral success of the Refah Party
in early 1990s perturbed Turkish secularist because of the linkages and campaign funding
of Erbacan party. Turkish Islamists tried unsuccessfully to shift foreign policy eastward
opposed by Turkish Military and Turkey’s foreign policy establishment. They were more
interested in developing relations with Iran rather than with Arab states because of the
preference prevalent in Turkey’s religious and secular circles.
18 Quoted in John Bulloch and Adel Darwish, Water wars: Coming conflicts in the Middle East, London:
Victor Gollancz, 1993, p. 74-75
19 This project has started in late 70’s and consists of 22dams, 19 hydropower plants and 1000 km irrigation
channels and it’s supposed to change the economic and social development of 9 underdeveloped provinces
in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish region.
From the mid-90’s Ankara and Teheran developed a more cooperative
relationship the centerpiece of which was an agreement to contain the common activities
against Kurdish insurgents active on both sides of the border. Furthermore, energy supply
and investment is an increasingly important facet of Turkish-Iranian relations. With
opening of the Tabriz-Erzurum pipeline in 2002, Iran has emerged as one of the main
exporters of natural gas to Turkey, alongside Russia. In general, Turkey supports a policy
of political and economic engagement of Tehran and opposes economic restrictions and
However, Turkey’s regional role is threatened by Iranian politics. Iran is seriously
trying to displace Turkey as a regional power in the Middle East by creating WMD and
playing the energy card.21 Both countries share common geopolitical interests and are
geopolitical competitors for leadership role in Central Asia including Afghanistan. In that
case Turkish foreign policy will be driven by the willingness to balance the power in the
region. Over the long term Turkey’s politics must seriously consider the place of Iran in
Turkish economy compared with the fear from Russia. There is no doubt that the Middle
East will still be a place of great uncertainty with influence of global politics.
V. Conclusion
There are two major objectives that drive and shape Turkey’s foreign regional and
global policy vision for the future. The first is to make Turkey an integral part of the
20 Pahlavan, H. Tschangiz, “Turkish-Iranian Relations: An Iranian View,” Reluctant Neighbor: Turkey’s
Role in the Middle East, ed. Henri J. Barkey (Washington D.C.: United States Institute of
Peace Press, 1996)
21 For more details of Iranian nuclear program: Andrew Koch and Jeanette Wolf, “Iran’s Nuclear Facilities:
A Profile.” (Monterey: Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies,
1998), Online:
European Union. The initiation of accession negotiations with Turkey on 3 October 2005
is an important step towards the attainment of this strategic objective. Turkey brings the
contemporary standards of democracy, secularism, and could be a bridge between the
Middle East and Eurasia. The second objective is to proactively pursue the goal of
helping to create an environment of security, stability, prosperity, friendship and
cooperation at the natural convergence point of Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus, the
Black Sea, the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Central Asia, all of which figure
prominently on Turkey’s foreign policy agenda making it a major regional policy making
In addition to Turkey’s ethnic, religious, cultural, historical and political relations
with these regions and the Turkish Islam, Turkey is the greatest and the most dynamic
economy of these regions. Turkey has the biggest military force in the region as well;
which make it impossible to exclude Turkey from the equation. On one hand Turkey as a
regional player, can influence other states’ policies but also is very sensitive to regional
imbalances of power. On the other hand Europe, a global power can easily influence
Turkey’s foreign policy because of the sensitiveness to full-fledge membership in the EU
but Turkey as a gate towards the Middle East and Caucasus energy recourses and a
barrier against Islamic terrorism is a global player in world politics.
The main foreign policy streams and characteristics of Turkey set as an example
of a developing state prove that in general these kinds of states are sensitive to regional
balance of power. Nevertheless Turkey and its desire for a regional power prove the
extent to which those regional issues could influence a developing state’s foreign policy.
This largely depends on the level of development already achieved – and in this sense the
higher level the development is the less a developing state will depend on regional issues.
In these context if we take a larger look at the behavior of Turkey on the international
scene we will see how the geopolitical area where the state is situated and its regional
complexity affect the international arena that to a large extent can deeply influence its
foreign policy and make global issues prevail.
1. Balkir and Alan M. Williams. (eds), Turkey and Europe. Pinter, 1993.
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