The Middle East in the Foreign Policy of Turkey's Ruling Justice and Development Party

By Bieniek, Karol | Hemispheres, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

The Middle East in the Foreign Policy of Turkey's Ruling Justice and Development Party


Bieniek, Karol, Hemispheres


Introduction

The Middle East is the region traditionally incorporated into the scope of interest of the Republic of Turkey. It is largely the result of its political, cultural and economic presence in the region lasting several centuries. This presence emerged from the international ancestor of the modern Republic of Turkey, i.e. the Ottoman Empire founded in circa 1300, when one of the Turkish leaders named Osman defeated his neighbours and transformed the little principality in the Marmara Sea region into a consistent state that took its name after this conquering ruler. As the newly established state ruled by Osman was becoming more powerful, it started to be called the Ottoman Empire and began rapid expansion, starting from conquering several small and weak states in Anatolia and then focusing on such regions like the Balkans or the Middle East. After seizing Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Empire launched extensive conquests, mostly in the years from 1520 to 1566, when ruled by the sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. A bit earlier, in 1517, Ottoman Turks defeated Egyptian Mamluks and conquered the territories of Syria and Egypt. In 1534 they took control over the lands of Iraq. The further expansion, being the most extensive in the 16lh century, resulted in the Empire becoming a dominant power in the Middle East, taking control over territories of Northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

In general, the might and influence of the Empire started to diminish since the late 18th century, when the military dominance of such powerful states like Great Britain, France, Russia or Prussia became significant. The efforts to save the country from inside, focusing on an implementation of several modernizing activities in order to transform rigid, mostly feudal structures into a modern state, failed. The Empire, overpowered by crises, suffered consecutive military defeats throughout the 19th century and was successfully deprived of the territories conquered several centuries earlier.1 Ottoman Turks were rapidly losing their lands in the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasus. The ultimate fall from grace took place in the early 20th century; in 1912 the Empire once again lost territories in the Middle East, and after losing yet another war the sultan was forced to conclude a peace treaty resulting in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica being ceded to Italy. In 1912-1913 the Balkan Wars resulted in the Empire losing the last of its territories in the Balkans. In 1914 the Empire entered World War I as an ally of the Central Powers, whose loss resulted in the downfall of the Ottoman state. Within three years from signing the Treaty of Sèvres2 to the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, the entire Ottoman history was wiped out. The Turkish War of Independence of 1920-1923 and the victory by forces led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk allowed the signing of a peace treaty establishing a complete sovereign state on the territories under its control that corresponded to the current borders of Turkey.3 Soon, this newly established state started to create its institutional foundations and to develop new foreign policy that for many years determined the way Turkey was present in international relations, including relations with the Middle East. This is when the foundations of Turkish foreign policy were made, the foundations that the subsequent ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP, Adalet ve Kalkinma Partis i) pledged to change.

Turkish foreign policy in the 20th century

Firstly, we should underline the fact that the newly established state was weak and had to face several external challenges, meaning that it was in some measure forced to perform peaceful international policy and to deprive itself of any territorial claims against its neighbours. A necessity to perform internal transformation was the reason why Turkish elites were forced to undertake foreign policies without any revisionist goals, that could guarantee the existence of a young state at the same time. …

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