Academic journal article The Innovation Journal

Turkey's Changing Foreign Policy and the Arab Spring

Academic journal article The Innovation Journal

Turkey's Changing Foreign Policy and the Arab Spring

Article excerpt


This paper inquires about Turkey's foreign policy towards its neighbors in the recent decade as related to the Arab Spring. The Turkish government, under the Justice and Development Party, has followed an "idealistic" foreign policy called "zero problems with neighbors" as an important component of its "strategic depth" approach to Turkey's foreign policy. Hence, it has improved relations with almost all its neighbors, excluding some remaining issues with Armenia, Cyprus (Greek), and Greece. An outcome of this policy was that Assad's government in Syria and the Turkish government signed multilevel cooperation agreements and held joint cabinet meetings. Until the arrival of the Arab Spring, the two countries' relations were becoming closer. In 2011, Turkey gradually started to promote change in the Middle East, and supported oppositions against the authoritarian regimes of Tunisia and Egypt, and then against Qaddafiand finally against the Syrian regime. The Turkish government, based on its good relations with the Syrian government, first tried to persuade/push Assad to start a comprehensive reform program, accommodating the demands of the opposition. After Assad's resistance to such reforms, the relations between the two governments deteriorated quickly. The crisis has also become a subject of interstate rivalry among regional powers, including Turkey. The Syrian crisis created a bigger challenge for Turkish foreign policy because its relations with Iran and Russia, which supported the Assad regime, were negatively affected by the crisis. In addition, the main opposition party in Turkey heavily criticized the government's foreign policy approach, as it saw Turkey's involvement in the Syrian crisis as a foreign policy failure. This paper discusses the domestic and international causes of Turkey's foreign policy approach and how the Arab Spring and subsequent Syrian crisis affected Turkish foreign policy toward the region.

Keywords: Turkey's foreign policy, strategic depth, zero problem with neighbors, the Arab Spring, and the Syrian crisis

Phases of Modern Turkey's Foreign Policy: 1923-2002

Early Decades

Turkey emerged on the remnants of the Ottoman Empire as a nation state at the end of WW I. After heavy territorial losses in the Balkan wars of 1912-1913, WW I brought the end of the Ottoman Empire. In August 1920, the Treaty of Sèvres with harsh conditions was imposed on the Sultan. The treaty partitioned the remaining Ottoman territories that correspond to today's Turkey, leaving only minor parts of Anatolia, and took Turkey's sovereign rights over the Bosporus and Dardanelles. It was seen as the culmination of the Eastern question, concerning the division of the ailing Ottoman Empire. Under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal, a former Ottoman general, who later took the last name Atatürk, resistance movements in Anatolia were organized and an independence war that led to the emergence of modern Turkey was fought until 1922. As a result, the Treaty of Sèvres was never implemented. Instead, the new Turkey's gains were recognized with the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne in July 1923 (For more information and details see Ahmad, 2004 and Jung, 2003). "Even after the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne in July 1923, the Turks had to struggle hard to stop the European powers from treating the new state as they had the former Ottoman Empire" (Ahmad, 2004: 18).

Following the Independence War, Atatürk started a reform project that can be characterized as "modernization through westernization" imposed on the newly defined nation with a strong emphasis on Turkish identity, and in later decades on secularism. The Ottoman monarchy and the Islamic Caliphate were abolished, the Ottoman use of the Arabic alphabet was changed in favor of the Latin alphabet, and western clothes were imposed on men, and strongly suggested for women to wear. The reforms continued in the 1920s and the 1930s, and all oppositions to the regime were suppressed. …

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