Introduction
in Turkey: facing a new millennium

This introduction discusses the theme of this book, which is about how Turkey coped with the intertwined conflicts it faced in the 1990s, explaining that, during this period, Turkey had to deal with foreign matters while simultaneously dealing with domestic issues. The book focuses on the external and internal affairs and explores Turkey's involvement in the Gulf War, its accession to the European Union, the Kurdish problem and its international relations.

It has been said that Turkey’s participation in the Korean War in the 1950s bought it the entrance ticket into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Forty years later, in 1991, Turkey participated in the Gulf War. Not a single Turkish soldier crossed the Iraqi–Turkish border, yet the six or so Turkish divisions that were deployed along the border drew off Iraqi forces from the Kuwaiti battlefield. This was meant by Turkey’s late President, Torgut Ozal, to pave the way towards his country’s accession into the European Union (EU). Was there any connection between the 1991 war in the Gulf and the December 1999 EU Helsinki decision to invite Turkey to negotiate its entrance into the Union? Perhaps not a direct one, but one cannot fail to see that the 1990s were marked by crossroads, developments, events, etc., which linked the two dates, perhaps even led to the December 1999 decision. This study will attempt to analyze these years.

The 1990s were successful years as regards Ankara’s foreign relations. Turkey manifested its ability to withstand the repercussions of the fall of communism, to stop the temporary devaluation in its strategic importance that resulted from the waning of the cold war and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, to avoid becoming embroiled in the ethnic upheavals in Central Asia, the Balkans and the Middle East, to prevent an eruption of yet another cycle in Cyprus and in the Aegean Sea, etc. Turkey managed also to develop close relations with its ethnically related Asian Turkic peoples, seemingly without becoming sidetracked from its declared hopes of becoming integrated into the European and Western worlds. Similarly, Turkey’s first politically Muslim Prime Minister, Necmettin Erbakan, did not Islamize its foreign policy, nor did he bring excessive Muslim policies to bear on its domestic affairs.

The 1990s were also successful for Turkey internally, although here the results are clearly more mixed. The Kurdish revolt has been curbed, the Turkish economy has achieved some important gains, secular–religious disagreements have not worsened, and wider circles – hitherto not a party to the decision-making procedures in Turkey – have taken part in municipal, national and political processes. Democracy in Turkey has successfully coped with various political and constitutional crises, the observing of human and civil rights by the authorities has improved and features of civil society have become stronger. True, changes and improvements are still needed, the economy gravely faltered towards the end of the decade and further respect of human rights must continue, yet many achievements are clearly discernible, some are indeed outstanding.

Our study centers on several key internal and external aspects of Turkey in the 1990s. Turkey’s role in the Gulf War and its wake is discussed in detail in Chapter 1. Comprehending this role and its wake helps in understanding some major developments in Turkey’s relations with the United States, Europe, Russia, the Hellenic world, Central Asia, the Arab Middle East, Iran, Israel, etc. Turkey’s relations with Greece at the end of the 1990s (Chapter 6) are a direct outcome of the political and strategic changes – global and regional – occurring around Turkey from the late 1980s, and which have intensified since the Gulf War. The weakening of Turkey’s adversaries – the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the collapse of communism, the defeat of Iraq in the Gulf War, the weakening of Syria, the collapse of the Kurdish PKK revolt, etc. – have all left Greece to face alone an otherwise conflict-free Turkey. Because, according to Athens, a conflict-ridden Turkey is more dangerous to Greece, the result was a dramatic change in the Greco-Turkish conflict. Apparently there is no more Greek alienation of Turkey but an attempt to extricate concessions from her through dialogue and cooperation.

Chapter 7 of our work deals with the newly emerged Turkish–Israeli cooperation. A bridge has been built over the Middle East, comprising the two strongest parties in the region. Suffice it to say that the largest civil trade of any pair of Middle Eastern countries – be it oil-producing countries and their trade with each other or any two Middle Eastern countries and their bilateral trade – is between Israel and Turkey. This surprising development adds a more solid element to the much publicized Turkish–Israeli military cooperation, implying long-term relations, even if Middle Eastern military and political circumstances change.

Chapter 2 centers on the Kurdish problem and the victory Turkey gained over the PKK. When Turkey’s external circumstances became more favorable, when the country’s conflicts with its neighbors waned, when Turkey’s opponents and adversaries weakened or practically collapsed or even disappeared (communism and the Soviet Union), the area was open for Turkey to deal with internal issues, chief among them being the PKK revolt. Turkey crushed the PKK armed uprising; the Turkish–Kurdish issue still awaits a resolution. Chapter 3 discusses the ambivalent relations between the EU and Turkey and the economic aspects of this. Both sides feel inhibitions: in many respects Turkey differs from the EU which is at pains to see the common grounds between the two and not harp on the dissimilarities. Turkey, too, has its reservations as to the amount of change and alterations she should apply before being acceded to the EU. “Will it remain the same Turkey?” ask the Turks. Chapter 4 focuses on issues related to identity and nationalism. The subjects discussed are Turkish nationalism and Islam, the encounter between Turkey and the Turkic peoples in the Caucasus and Central Asia, and the conflict with Syria over the latter’s support of the PKK. These issues were reflected in the general elections of April 1999. Chapter 5 deals with the major international encounters the country experiences during the 1990s: relations with Russia, energy issues, Central Asian gas and oil, relations with the United States and their impact on issues of human rights.

In conclusion we will attempt to analyze the prospects for Turkey in the twenty-first century. We might say that Turkey’s political and strategic status seems to be solid – a regional actor with a say in Middle Eastern, Balkan, European and Central Asian affairs. The country’s leadership should be complimented for avoiding becoming embroiled in the conflicts around it. Temptations were high to become “a regional policeman” (see Chapter 1); very prudently Ankara brushed aside all such offers. Furthermore, when Western Europe is the much sought-after vision, Asian bickering, conflicts and even possible warring therein with Russia or Iran have been left to others. Turkey’s integration in Europe and in the West seems to grow stronger as Turkey’s external adversaries and internal conflicts become weaker and appear to be less threatening. In case Europe develops closer relations with Turkey, it (Europe) should not be concerned that it imports into its own ranks the conflicts mentioned here. Comparison is almost inevitable: Turkey’s European ambitions and achievements get more credit as her Balkan, Arab and Asian neighbors drift more and more towards intolerance, radicalism, less democracy, and Third World manifestations. Likewise, Turkey’s integration in Europe becomes stronger as long as its internal features seem to be less problematic. For instance, the ending of the struggle with the Kurds gives hopes for a decrease in military influence over civil matters. Thus, a Turkey that strategically and politically looks confident and deters attempts to harm it, which will not export its external problems or its ethnic strife, which will be more ready and willing to deal with its internal issues – such a Turkey will be more welcomed in Europe. Indeed, as seen from the fin de siècle, it seems that Turkey’s leadership, after buttressing the country’s integration and borders, is ready to cope with its domestic issues. With a rare frankness and with unique sincerity – unique for a leader, extremely rare for a politician – Turkey’s President, Suleiman Demirel, admitted the following:

Twenty-nine percent of the women in my country are still unable to read and write by the time they are 15 years of age. Do you have a project to solve this problem? The great majority of women in Turkey are unaware of the concept of gynecological health. Do you have a project to solve this? In my country, 43 children out of every 10,000 die during birth. Do you have a project to prevent that?

I just talked to the authorities. There are 21 cases of polio in my country. This number is zero in many countries, but I have 21 cases to deal with. I am so ashamed that I don’t know what to do. Let’s get together and try to find a solution for these problems. In my country only one out of every four people brush their teeth. This has nothing to do with money or wealth. Let’s concentrate on every household in all of Turkey. Do you have a project to solve these problems? No, there isn’t one.

We constructed highways from one end of Turkey to the other and provided electric power to every corner in the country. We have erected schools, universities and hospitals. But I am still concerned about what kind of life a particular city, country or village leads. We were in a much worse situation 50 years ago. I fully understand that, but we have much to accomplish to arrive at a much better condition.1

As the Contents shows, the book focuses on aspects relevant to Turkey’s external and internal affairs. During the 1990s Turkey coped successfully with foreign matters, simultaneously dealing with domestic issues. At the beginning of a new century the country appears more capable to concentrate on finding remedies for its internal problems.

Note

1 Interview, Turkish Daily News, 16 March 1999.

Turkey: facing a new millennium

Coping with intertwined conflicts

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