Turkey's active involvement in the Middle East has revitalised an old discussion on whether its foreign policy is moving towards a similar orientation. Ankara says foreign policy is not a zero sum game, while some of the nation's intellectuals claim that if there has been any shift, it has been within the country's internal politics. Ayşe Karabat reports
An old debate among scholars and opinion makers on whether Turkey is sliding away from West towards East has again picked up speed, but this time with the open involvement of politicians in the West.
Right after Turkey's "no" vote at the UN Security Council to fresh sanctions against Iran, and the deterioration of relations between Tel Aviv and Ankara due to Israel's lethal attack on the "Freedom Flotilla" on May 31, which claimed the lives of nine Turkish citizens, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates joined the debate. According to him Turkey is moving eastward, and the EU is responsible.
"I personally think that if there is anything to the notion that Turkey is, if you will, moving eastward, it is, in my view, in no small part because it was pushed, and pushed by some in Europe refusing to give Turkey the kind of organic link to the West that Turkey sought," Gates claimed, speaking one day after the UN vote.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini agreed with Gates, saying that he thinks Europeans made a mistake by pushing Turkey away towards the East instead of trying to draw the country closer.
Turkey's regional vision
As it is reported in Sunday's Zaman by Emine Kart, Turkish Foreign
Ministry spokesman Burak Özügergin said arguments suggesting that the EU "in a way" pushed Turkey away are accurate; Özürgerin feels Turkey has not been treated fairly by the bloc – particularly due to certain "sui generis" figures using Turkey's EU membership issue to score domestic points.
Since the beginning of the debate, Turkish officials have already tired of saying "the Cold War is over, foreign policy is not a zero-sum game and Turkey's foreign policy towards the East should not be seen as the expense of its relations with the West."
Another European minister, Pierre Lellouche, French minister for European affairs, thinks in the same way. According to him, fears that Turkey is sliding away from the West are "baseless," and closer ties with the East are a natural outcome of Turkey's regional standing.
"Not truly European in culture"
"I hear here and there that this would be for us, Westerners, a zero-sum game: Turkey would be lost for Europe and NATO as it is asserting itself in the East. This outdated way of thinking reminds me of the Cold War and, in my opinion, is baseless," Lellouche said.
According to him, being as active in the East as it has been over the years in the West, the Turkey of the 21st century is rediscovering its indispensable role as a bridge between two worlds. The French minister underlined that Turkey's "remarkably active diplomacy" in the Middle East reflects its standing as an "emerging power".
However France, together with Germany, is offering "privileged partnership" to Turkey instead of full membership to the EU, with the claim that it is not truly European in culture.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stated that Turkey is still eager to join the EU, but that the bloc "cannot and should not restrict [Turkey's] relations with its neighbours".
Shift of orientation
He made this remarks at the Turkish Arab Cooperation (TAC) Economic Forum, at which Turkey and the Arab countries of Syria, Jordan and Lebanon decided to establish a cooperation council to create "a zone of free movement of goods and persons" among them. Davutoğlu also invited all interested countries to join this zone, which he said should not be seen as an alternative to the EU.
While answering questions about whether or not Turkey is involved in a shift of orientation in its foreign policy, he pointed to the need for such a fresh perspective and for focusing on the interaction between debates surrounding Turkey's foreign policy and domestic policy.
Davutoğlu added that people who criticise Turkey in that regard should give an enthusiastic level of support to the country's current constitutional reform package.
The reform package, which will be submitted to public referendum, aims to introduce some improvements to Turkish democracy and also to answer some demands of the EU, like positive discrimination for women and establishment of an ombudsman system. However the development has also been criticised by the opposition for creating polarisation of society, because some amendments in the package allegedly put the judiciary under excessive governmental control.
Meanwhile, Turkish Parliament has been too busy with the reform package to make the legal amendments necessary for opening new negotiation chapters with the EU, despite the eagerness of the Spanish Presidency for its doing so.
Not in keeping with democracy
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose remarks describing Hamas as not being a "terrorist organisation" recently caused great discussion, dismissed the charges of a shift in foreign policy as "dirty propaganda," insisting that Turkey was committed to its links in both East and West. He said the owners of such claims were mouthpieces of Israel.
Nuray Mert, a columnist in Hürriyet daily, recently wrote that she is simply afraid of being targeted just because she is critical towards the flotilla and recalled Erdoğan's remarks: "What bothers me more is the shift in the inner politics; to try to silence those critical of the government with the claim that they are speaking with the mouth of Israel is definitely not in keeping with democracy, a universal value and a sine qua non for being considered a member of the Western club.
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Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de