Turkey's Darfur Policy: Convergences and Differentiations from the Muslim World

By Ozkan, Mehmet; Akgun, Birol | Insight Turkey, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Turkey's Darfur Policy: Convergences and Differentiations from the Muslim World


Ozkan, Mehmet, Akgun, Birol, Insight Turkey


When the Bosnian and Kosovo wars erupted in the 1990s, the Muslim world reacted in several ways to show its disapproval of the atrocities and asked the international community to urgently act. Street protests, aid campaigns and media reports about the killings in Bosnia and Kosovo along with diplomatic initiatives of Islamic international organizations (e.g. the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the OIC) and Muslim states were a feature in the Muslim world.

Since 2003, there has been a conflict going on in Darfur. Although a fragile peace agreement was signed and elections took place in 2010, the situation on the ground is still far from a lasting peace. The death toll in Darfur conflict since its outset is subject to huge speculation, but the range is usually stated as anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000. One should also note that most of these killings in Darfur occurred due to starvation and disease, an indirect result of the conflict. However, irrespective of the reasons, this total is two to four times the toll of the Bosnian wars of the 1990s, (1) but reaction from the Muslim world has been extremely low, if not any, comparing to that of Bosnia and Kosovo. Neither Muslim international organizations nor Muslim states have made any breakthrough comments or suggestions, except for some diplomatic language emphasizing the need to find a solution. Why is this so? Why is Muslim reaction so low key? What are the main determinants that define the Muslim world's reaction to Darfur? The conflict in Darfur is considered an intra-Muslim conflict, and thus Muslims are expected to act before others. It is exactly for this reason that some went further to call Darfur as the "Muslim world's shame". (2) The question here is whether the Darfur policy of the Muslim world is driven more by political and economic considerations than by consideration of the brethren or the umma.

This article does not intend to provide an answer to such a profound question; rather, it tries to portray the underlying elements of the Muslim world's reaction toward Darfur by critically evaluating Turkey's involvement in the conflict. Turkey has been chosen because it has been cited as a rising star of the 21st century in the Muslim world, not only for its growing economic potential and deepening democratic credentials, but also because of its recent pro-active diplomatic initiatives in conflict areas such as the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasus. Turkey is not an Arab country and is therefore not a party to the conflict in Darfur from an ethnic point of view, nor is it a country that shows indifference in the conflict. However, Turkey, as a rising power in the international arena, is aware of its diplomatic limits and has to balance the concerns of the Muslim world with the interests of other actors at international and regional levels. As Turkey strengthens its relations with Western institutions like NATO and the EU and serves as an elected member of the UN Security Council for 2009-2010, it can neither ignore the genocide claims (3) nor the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) about Sudanese President Omer al Basher. Apparently, Turkey does not want to jeopardize its relations with the Arab and African countries by joining the Western understanding of the Darfur crisis, and thus takes a pragmatic stance toward the issue. This approach, however, draws serious criticism especially from liberal circles in and outside of the country. Therefore, Turkey seems to be between a rock and a hard place with its Darfur policy.

A critical appraisal of Turkey's approach to this issue may not only help us understand Turkey's growing soft power in the Muslim world, but will also reveal the dilemmas, contradictions and limitations of its recently proclaimed proactive foreign policy. In the first part, an overview of the Muslim world's response is evaluated. In the second part, Turkey's Darfur policy is discussed and explained in relation to the quiet diplomacy literature. …

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