Situating Turkey geopolitically has never been easy. It can be seen as both the only European country in the Middle East and as the only Middle Eastern country in Europe, and indeed as neither, as what used to be known in European diplomacy as ‘the Near East’ or ‘Asia Minor’ or today perhaps as part of ‘Eurasia’. Geographically, culturally and politically, Turkey can be seen as part of, and even an actor in, many regions, including the Middle East, but as not central to any of them. Turkey’s friendships in the world have sometimes appeared, in the words of a former US ambassador to Turkey, to ‘not run deep’ (Abramowitz 1993: xii). However, this ‘aloneness’ could be seen as a blessing. In theory if not in practice, Turkey has a degree of choice in selecting both the orientation of its foreign policy alignments and their depth. That Ankara has not always chosen to maximize its options can itself be seen as a choice. The Cold War was highly instrumental in pushing Turkey towards its western security orientation. It also cut Turkey oﬀ from much of its regional hinterland, in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Eurasia. However, Turkey’s approach to those parts of its ‘near abroad’ with which it remained free to cement closer relationships, notably the Middle East and north Africa, was left undeveloped. In time, this apparent preference for regional isolationism might come to be regarded as a curiosity or aberration. Since the inception of the republic, its foreign policy towards the Middle
East in particular has been, at least in some measure, based on a ‘constructed reality’ which, in retrospect, may be regarded as having artiﬁcially restricted the dimensionality of Turkey’s external relationships. As we have noted (in Chapter 2), the republic’s elite regarded Islam as a barrier to modernity and as a source of ignorance and backwardness. Especially after 1945, they saw Europe both as Turkey’s natural destiny and as its inspiration. Furthermore, the last years of the Ottoman empire gave rise to a perception that Arabs were disloyal, treacherous and best avoided. The Arab world’s view of Turkey was equally negative and perhaps equally ‘constructed’. Turks were seen as barbaric and brutal, as imperialistic, and in the republic’s adoption of secularism and European-style modernity were regarded as having turned their backs on
their Islamic and Middle Eastern heritage. In any case, much of the Middle East remained under British and French control during the interwar period. With independence, amnesia, constructed by Kemalists in Turkey and by nationalists in the Arab world, seemed to obliterate any residual sense of a shared Ottomanism (Jung 2005). Their respective interpretations of both the past and much of the present have appeared to divide more than unite them. Yet they do share a past, and it is largely a myth that it was a predominantly negative experience either for Turks or for Arabs (Naﬁ 2009). The emergence of the Cold War provided a structural or systemic reinforce-
ment of this Turkish aloofness towards much of its immediate neighbourhood. The perceived threat of Soviet ideological subversion and territorial aggrandizement pushed Ankara towards the West, and towards NATO and the USA in particular. Thus the Turkish elite’s economic, cultural and political aspiration to westernize the country merged with the apparent geostrategic imperatives of the Cold War. Turkey became almost exclusively, even excessively, focused on its western alignments. Modern Arab identity wrapped itself in anti-colonial clothing, a psyche not shared by Turks. During the Cold War, much of the Arab world leaned towards the Soviet Union in light of its professed sympathy with anti-colonialism, in its regional and global challenge to US dominance, and for such support as it oﬀered in the Arab struggle against Israel. Diplomatically and strategically, Turkey came to be seen as a US praetorian in the region, an image reinforced by Turkey’s 1952 NATO accession, by the proliferation of NATO and US military and intelligence facilities in Turkey, by Turkey’s participation in the Baghdad Pact/Central Treaty Organization (CENTO, incorporating the UK, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan) during the 1950s, and by Turkey becoming the ﬁrst primarily Muslim state to recognize Israel in 1949.