Moving Beyond the Dichotomy: The Turkish Role in the Middle East and Beyond

Analysis, posted 07.05.2011, from Turkey, in:
Moving Beyond the Dichotomy: The Turkish Role in the Middle East and Beyond (Photo: picture alliance/dpa))

Turks as the heirs to the Ottoman Empire have never lacked self-confidence, and the role of a regional power reflects the self-perception of the elite, especially of the current, conservatively-disposed elite. President Abdullah Gül, in his speech at Chatham House in London (November 2010), boldly placed Turkey in the same category as countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China. In his exalted words, "having inherited the experience, memories and reflexes of great empires, contemporary Turkey certainly will take its rightful place in this new and normal international order".

But is Turkey not punching above its weight? And is its foreign policy still "pro-Western", or does it run counter to the interests of that part of the world to which it has always professed to belong?

Certain Western and Turkish commentators think that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has moved Turkey away from the "West" in the direction of the "East". In their view this trend is confirmed by Turkey's spat with Israel, new vigorous relationships with its Arab neighbours, and the attempt on its own diplomatic initiative to prevent the imposition of new sanctions against Iran.

But the dichotomous perception of the choice in the orientation of Turkish policy between "pro-Western" and "anti-Western", or "pro-Muslim", is more reflective of a mental division of the world between Occident and Orient than of the complex reality of 21st-century international politics. It is a distortion analogous to labelling Turkey as either an exclusively "Western" and "secular" or "non-European" and "Muslim" country.

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By Erik Siegl

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