Turkey: Ankara Reorients

By Parker, Mushtak | The Middle East, January 1993 | Go to article overview

Turkey: Ankara Reorients


Parker, Mushtak, The Middle East


Turkey's role in Nato is diminishing with the end of the Cold War, and it is looking hard for a new role. Ankara has for a long time sought closer integration into Europe, but it is also lured by Central Asia. Mustak Parker recently interviewed Turkey's foreign minister, Hikmet Cetin.

THE DIPLOMATIC TRAFFIC in and out of Ankara these days is hectic. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the largely Turkic-speaking Central Asian republics has seen Turkey adopt a changing role in the region. Istanbul has now become a summit capital with unsure leaders in the region from Tirana to Ulan Bator, happily seeking tutelage from the seasoned "Suleiman Baba", as the premier, Suleiman Demirel, is affectionately called by his admirers.

Suddenly, Nato's eastern-flank front-line country, which has seen its importance wane as a result of the end of the Cold War, finds itself in a new leadership role, which some pundits rather sinisterly suggest Ankara is relishing because of pan-Turkish aspirations.

Turkey has emerged as the major force behind the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Pact, which encompasses both the Black Sea bordering states and the Balkan states (apart from the Yugoslav republics) and the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO), which comprises Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and the six Central Asian republics.

Ankara is also championing the cause of the Muslims in Bosnia-Hercegovina, ethnic Turks in Bulgaria and for greater economic development aid for Albania. All this, together with President Ozal's resolute stance against Iraq in the Gulf war, has strengthened Turkey's role in the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), ironically at a time when Ankara is also seeking closer official ties with the European Community.

In the aftermath of the Gulf war and a worsening situation in the south-east border provinces where the Kurdish Marxist group, the PKK, has been fighting a brutal separatist war, Suleiman Demirel has been forced to concentrate on crucial foreign policy issues rather than pressing ones on the economy, such as inflation and unemployment. However, Demitel realises that the dividends from a successful foreign policy can be handsome both in political terms and economic rewards.

The Central Asian markets, especially in oil-rich Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, in agriculture and mineral-rich Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikstan are potential goldmines for Turkish companies which have also been affected by the worldwide recession. Turkish firms using their linguistic advantage, are already winning multi-billion dollar contracts in the oil and gas sectors in countries such as Kazakhstan. They are also promoting themselves as the bridge between Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Demirel will be preoccupied in 1993 with extending Turkish influence as an example of political organisation, education, and economic reconstruction in Central Asia; fostering relations with its northern neighbour, Russia; lobbying for "kith and kin" in Bosnia and Bulgaria; and trying to convince Brussels to sign a "letter of intent" giving a fixed time-table for full Turkish membership of the Community.

Other issues that will dominate thinking in Ankara are the unresolved question of Macedonia's recognition, and precarious "peace" in Kosovo and the Sandjak provinces of Yugoslavia. While Turkey will pursue these goals with a new-found enthusiasm, there will be tepid wait-and-see attitude towards the Cyprus issue.

The bridge-building issues include relations with Turkey's Black Sea neighbours, some of which are in the throes of civil war as in Moldova and Georgia; relations with Iraq, Syria and Iran especially over the continued infiltration of PKK separatists and the Euphrates River water quarrel; and Ankara's associate membership of the European Community, which was reviewed in early November.

Ankara's relations with the Islamic world is being eclipsed save for the issues which involve border states and business interests. …

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