Modernity, Identity and Turkey's Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Despite its unique geographical and cultural position between East and the West, Turkey, throughout its modern history, has followed a Western-oriented foreign policy. This essay argues that Turkey's Western orientation is closely linked to Turkey's official Western identity created as a result of Turkey's modernization project in the years following the Independence War. The Islamist challenge to this new identity occasionally created a tension between the secular/Kemalist elite and the Islamists in Turkey, which from time to time impinged upon Turkey's foreign policy. The debate on Turkish foreign policy has been an extension of the debate on national identity in the past and still continues to be so. Therefore, in order to better understand the main determinants of Turkey's foreign policy preferences and behaviors, an analysis of Turkish identity is needed.

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Turkey occupies a special place in the international system because of its position "on the very borderline between 'North versus South'" (1) and 'East versus West'. Apart from its unique geographical position, Turkey also holds a special place among different civilizations: Muslim, Middle Eastern and Western. "It is a country with a predominantly Muslim population, but at the same time, it represents a unique version of a secular state approximating a Western-style democracy" (2). Even though its geographical and cultural positions in the international system in general and in Middle Eastern and European subsystems in particular would appear to contribute advantageously to Turkey's ability to maintain a multi-dimensional foreign policy, Turkey, throughout its modern history, has fully identified itself with the West, especially with Europe, and has established close relations with the United States. As regards its relations with the Middle East, Turkey has opted to maintain a low profile and has stayed aloof from Middle Eastern affairs, despite the fact that it derived much of its cultural heritage from the region. (3)

This essay adopts a cultural approach in analyzing Turkish foreign policy, and argues that in order to better understand the main determinants of Turkey's foreign policy preferences and behaviors, an analysis of Turkish identity is needed. The question of Turkey's identity is crucial, given that "Turkey's decision to fully integrate itself into the West was tied to Turkey's new Western identity constructed in the years following the Independence War". (4) For this purpose, the essay is organized as follows: in the first section, the effect of the modernization movement understood as Westernization in modern Turkey, and the consequent creation of an official, Western identity for both the Turkish State and individual citizens on Turkish foreign policy are analyzed. The second section looks at domestic opposition to Turkey's modernization/Westernization project through the lens of the identity debate, and argues that the end of the Cold War changed the traditional dynamics of foreign policymaking processes by bringing new actors onto the Turkish political scene. These new actors included Islamists and nationalists who challenged Turkey's Western-oriented foreign policy and thus posed a serious threat to the Kemalist establishment. In particular, the Kemalist-Islamist confrontations that took place in the country from time to time impinged upon Turkey's foreign policy; this effect in turn increased political tension, sometimes at the expense of democracy. The last section also analyzes the foreign policy preferences of the current justice and Development Party (AKP) from the perspective of Turkish identity, and makes some predictions as to the direction of Turkish foreign policy in the future.

The Turkish Modernization Project and the Construction of Turkey's Official Identity

The modernization/Westernization movement in Turkey dates back to the onset of the Ottoman Empire's decline in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. …