chapter  8
Turkey between East and West: a bridge or afloat?
Pages 20

Although the idea that the ‘Christian’ and ‘Muslim’ worlds were in a civilizational clash can be dated back to the 1920s, if not before (Balci 2009), Turkey’s predicament as an echo chamber for conflicts in its environment was made manifest by the post-9/11 ‘war on terror’ and the renewed spectre of civilizational conflict between the Muslim and western worlds to which it gave rise. These developments were deeply compromising for Turkey, which was described by Samuel Huntington as ‘the most obvious and prototypical torn country’, straddling these two apparently contending civilizations (Huntington 1993: 141; Huntington 1996; Cornell and Karaveli 2008; Kosebalaban 2008). The November 2002 electoral victory of the Islam-inspired AKP government further emphasized the uniqueness of Turkey’s status as a socially Islamic but politically and diplomatically West-leaning country. This ‘torn’ or hybrid personality directed a spotlight towards Turkey’s possible role in the post-9/11 world. It was thought that as a consequence of a kind of ‘Middle Easternization’ or ‘re-Islamification’ of Turkish society under the new government, Turkey could perhaps more fully emerge as a kind of bridge or interlocutor between these two worlds. For the USA especially, the idea that Turkey could function as a bridge

between East and West has long had a strongly geopolitical aspect associated with Turkey’s location (Vali 1971: 42-48), as well as, or more than, an ideological aspect. This potential Turkish role gained a fresh impetus with the end of the Cold War (Lesser 1992, 2006). Indeed, as the 2003 invasion of Iraq approached, Washington seemed to regard Turkey’s geography as offering a military ‘bridgehead’ from which neighbouring countries could be attacked (Park 2002). Alternatively, in the post-9/11 world especially, some were inclined to cast Turkey as a barrier or insulator between the European and the Islamic Middle East’s respective regional security complexes, with potential implications for the country’s EU prospects (Buzan and Diez 1999). Then again, Turkey might be pressured, or inclined, to align more unambiguously with one side or the other, or again to be unwittingly ‘relocated’ according to the whims and behaviour of others. Indeed, one US analyst asserted that, with

its invasion of Iraq, the USA had ‘in one bold stroke managed to push Turkey back into the Middle East’ (Barkey 2008: 31). This observation has more than a grain of truth in it, as the invasion of Iraq did indeed encourage Ankara to find common cause with its near neighbours, given that the Iraq invasion had highlighted the absence of a shared understanding of regional dynamics and of regional stakes between these two NATO allies. So the Cold War’s end, the 9/11 attack, the AKP election victory, and the sequence of events immediately preceding and following the 2003 Iraq invasion undoubtedly encouraged Turkish foreign policy to become more attentive to its neighbourhood. As a consequence of this shift of emphasis, and particularly in the wake of Ahmet Davutoglu’s appointment as foreign minister in May 2009, a debate emerged over the extent to which Turkey was shifting its foreign policy axis away from the West and towards the East (Oguzlu 2008a; International Crisis Group 2010a; Oguzlu and Kibaroglu 2009).1

However, to function effectively, a bridge must reach both banks. The attempt to combine a domestic transformation that moved the country away from the farther reaches of Kemalist secularism with a more regionally oriented foreign policy has proved difficult to achieve without raising fundamental questions about the direction Turkey is taking. Furthermore, the prospect that Turkey might increasingly be perceived either as essentially western, or as essentially eastern and Islamic, carried possibly divisive implications for Turkey’s domestic politics.