Turkey: The Search for a Role

I.P. Khosla, FormerIFS


Turkey's economic and political difficulties can be best understood by analysing the long-term tensions that exist within the country. The first is between Turkey's ambition to lead Central Asia in the post-Cold War world and its economic and political inability to do so.

The second is owing to its large Muslim population' gradual Islamisation and a need to be more acceptable to the West.

The third arises from the practical need to be acceptable to the European Union (EU) but the latter treating it as separate owing to its different culture and civilisation. The February 19, 2001, National Security Council meeting brought about an economic and political crisis in Turkey. The differences between President Sezer and Prime Minister Ecevit set in motion a rapid devaluation of the lira and rise in inflation. While the Turkish economy is overburdened by international debts and trade deficit, its political system is also encountering massive impediments in inplementing economic reforms. There are rifts in the three-party coalition which would prove advantageous to the Islamists. These tensions will eventually get reconciled, but till they do, relations between India and Turkey will develop hesitantly.


The immediate cause of the economic and political crisis which erupted in Turkey in February 2001 was the government's tardiness in tackling corruption. At a February 19 meeting of the National Security Council, the popular President Ahmed Necdet Sezer, accused Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit of delay, ineffectiveness and incompetence in eliminating this problem, and in words which made the latter leave the meeting. Outside, Ecevit told the Press this was a "serious crisis", and the international financial community, always doubtful about Turkey's political and economic stability, reacted with a run on the lira which brought down its value 36 per cent and interest rates to 7,000 per cent in two days. Social unrest led to anti-government demonstrations in Ankara and Samsun at the end of the month. The downslide was only controlled when the Central Bank stepped in; even so, the final value of the lira remained at 25 per cent below its pre-February rate, and interest rates continued at 150 per cent.

There are, however, deeper causes for the crisis, namely the difficulties in making the transition to a political system and economic framework acceptable to the European Union (EU). Turkey has an overburdened polity, overburdened by commitments to Central Asia which it can ill afford; by a determination to eliminate religion from public life, leading to political instability; and by a drive to conform to the EU's Copenhagen criteria for democratisation which the present balance of power renders difficult.

It has an economy overburdened by an external debt of US$105 billion, a balance of trade deficit (in the year 1999) equal to almost half its total exports, a public sector deficit at 14 per cent of Gross National Product (GNP), and recurrent liquidity problems which brought the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in with a $4 billion standby facility in December 1999 (at the same time, the accession process to the EU, with its conditions on political reforms, began), and another $7.5 billion restructuring package in November 2000. But these came with conditions regarding privatisation and a regulatory framework for the private sector which the government is finding difficult to implement. Ecevit's coalition partners, the National Action Party led by Devlet Bahceli, and the Motherland Party led by Mesut Yilmaz, have opposed the political and economic reforms, while rifts in the three-party coalition would only increase the popularity of the Islamists.

The crisis of February 19 seems to have blown over; the National Security Council met again on February 26, apparently without rancour; and the lira and the interest rate seem to have stabilised, though inflation will be at high levels this year. But the basic difficulties remain. These interconnected political and economic difficulties can be better understood by analysing at a deeper level the long-term tensions that Turkey faces today. There are, in all, three kinds of tension.

The first arises from the great power role of the Ottoman Empire. Regardless of how it is described today, the empire was, in its time, a great power in both Europe and Asia. After the Kemalist revolution, Turkey turned away from this to an inward looking nationalism, but the heritage lay dormant, and it revived when Turkish leaders saw their great opportunity after the Cold War ended. In the new "Eurasian Reality", they saw Turkey leading the Turkic world, newly independent from the Soviet Union's break-up. Turkey would be the bridge to bring that world to the benefits of Western civilisation, a model to be emulated by the Central Asian nations. But Turkey did not, and does not, have the political or economic power to do this. The Central Asians, after a euphoric opening, started looking elsewhere; they did not need an intermediary to do what they could by themselves; and Turkey's ambitious and costly programme for ever closer relations with the region has modest achievements.

The second arises from having a largely Muslim population in a proclaimed secular state. After Kemal Ataturk's revolution, the attempt was not to separate the state from religion, but to bring all aspects of religion in the public domain into the hands of the state as well as to suppress the power of the clergy. Given the totality of Islam, that it covers all aspects of life, this was too ambitious a target. Some of the steps then taken have been reversed but the tension remains. The military-administrative establishment continues to try to remove religion from public life in the quest for modernisation, while the main Islamic political party increases its popular support from one election to the next while opposing the march Westwards. So successive governments proclaim secularism in a bid to be more acceptable to the West, while overtly or covertly supporting Islamic causes through the Organisation of Islamic Conference or otherwise, in the Caucasus, in the Balkans and elsewhere. In a country composed largely of devout Muslims, the attempt to appropriate Islam in public life exclusively to the state will continue to create tension. Indeed, the rift between President Sezer and Prime Minister Ecevit started in August 2000, when the latter tried to introduce regulations enabling the government to dismiss civil servants with Islamic or separatist inclinations, and the president refused to sign them.

The third is the march Westwards. Whether Kemal Ataturk saw his revolution and reforms as Westernisation or modernisation, successive post-1950 governments have seen Westernisation as a key element in their external policy (central to which was acceptance in Europe), and have believed that the alignment of internal political forces reflects divisions recognisable to the West. But, apart from bringing Turkey into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and certain other Western councils, the West does not think Turkey is part of itself, believes it has a different culture and civilisation, different standards on issues like democracy and human rights, and must, through the implementation of tough European standards on democratisation, the treatment of minorities and human rights, as also on matters like the debt, the deficit and the rate of inflation, earn its way into the club known as the EU; it does not, as do the East Europeans, belong there by right.

These tensions are in the process of being reconciled, but the crisis showed that there is a long way to go for Turkey to evolve an independent foreign policy based on its changing national interests in the post-Cold War world, and its capacity to promote those interests; until that ground is covered, the relations between India and Turkey will develop hesitantly.

In order to understand the tensions fully, it is necessary to outline their historical background as it affects the present.

The Ottoman Heritage

The heritage of the Ottoman Empire is, despite the efforts of the founding father and first President of the Republic, Kemal Ataturk, strongly felt in modern Turkey's self-perception. This applies both to the international or Eurasian aspect of the empire, and to its internal organisation.

That Turkey is, in the words of a current official publication, "simultaneously a country with European, Middle Eastern, Balkan, Caucasian, Mediterranean and Black Sea identities",1 finds an echo only in the actual Eurasian presence of the empire, not in the inward looking nationalism of the republic's early years.

Three things are noteworthy about this Eurasian presence. First, the empire played the role of a great power both to the West and to the East, in Europe and in Asia. It "provided the much envied model of a civilisation that under the Ottomans spread its influence far and wide".2 Its military strength was a crucial element in the emerging European balance of power in the 16th and 17th centuries, in the struggle between France and Spain and England, the Habsburgs and the Romanovs. Its control over the trade routes to the Levant and the East enabled it to grant trade privileges to Venice or Florence, to France, England and the Netherlands, thus, playing a decisive role in the prosperity of those states or nations. Apart from control over what are today Bulgaria, Romania, most of former Yugoslavia and the northern Black Sea coast, the empire also included, by the middle of the 18th century, much of northern Egypt and, further east, Iraq, Kuwait and the Hijaz coast of Saudi Arabia. The Turkish Navy was always a threat to European maritime and trade activity in the Gulf, the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea. At the time, "the Ottoman emperors represented a superpower in the East."3 When Turkey's present foreign policy is called multi-dimensional, or its location Eurasian, this is the background.

The second thing concerns ethnicity. The empire was multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and (with Islam as the glue) multi-cultural. It included Turk, Arab, Slav, Berber, Jew, Greek, Albanian and Kurd, among others. Its languages included Turkish, Arabic and Persian words, and its inhabitants spoke many languages other than these three. Its culture ranged from the ceaseless mobility of desert subsistence to the settled luxury of Istanbul and the other great cities. During the late 19th century, as the empire shrank under military pressure from the Russians to the north, the Habsburgs to the west, the British and French to the east, some Turkish thinkers looked towards a mono-ethnic Turkishness as a source for reviving the greatness of the empire, but this was not then a significant movement, and was totally overshadowed by Islam. The republic, however, abandoned this ethnic irredentism.

This leads to the third thing. After 1517, the Ottoman sultan was the Supreme Caliph of all the faithful, the deputy of the Prophet; the empire was Islam embodied, and though minorities were given a recognised official status and autonomy under the millet system, the Ottomans were dedicated to the advancement and defence of this religion. The emphasis on Islam as the bond of the empire, the sultan's claim to the unconditional allegiance of Muslims everywhere, the official promotion of pan-Islamic ideals which found an echo among them and the solidarity this generated among the ummah provided the basis for the measures taken to prevent or slow down the disintegration of the empire as its outer edges were chipped away. This aspect also was abandoned by the republic, which described itself as secular, though it reemerged in the post-Cold War era with membership of the Organisation of Islamic Conference and the enthusiastic promotion of Islamic causes.

Two things are noteworthy about the internal organisation of the empire. The first is the idea of the sultan as supreme ruler, the personification of political and military as well as religious leadership. To be an Ottoman meant to be a member of the ruling family, or at least of the ruling class; the history of the empire was the history of the rulers and the loyalty of the subjects was to the person of the sultan.

The second was the military-administrative order. The political identity of the empire was framed by the military victories which enabled its expansion and emergence as a Eurasian power. The coherent administrative policy that underlay the consolidation into the empire of these victories showed "the working of a multifarious, painstaking, advanced and authoritarian bureaucracy."4

Kemal's Revolution: The "Westward March"

In the quarter century after the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Kemal Ataturk and his followers tried systematically to erase everything of the international or Eurasian aspect of the Ottoman heritage, while retaining in practice (but without emphasising this) the things pertaining to internal organisation.

In the Western or Orientalist historical perspective of the 1950s onwards, after Turkey joined NATO, Kemalism means that "Turkey set its sights on the West...promoted secularism, adoption of European values, and the ideas of democracy, freedom and human rights."5 Two further quotes suffice to illustrate this perspective. "The Westernisation ideal has been the guiding principle of the Turkish Republic from its inception in 1923. Kemal Atatuk and his followers clearly visualised a secular, Western-style, mixed economy and democratic polity."6 This is sometimes explained in terms of a longer historiography, describing Ottoman Turkey as not a European country at all but an Islamic empire with a different faith and inspiration, while Kemal's revolution was "another step in the westward march of the Turkish people that began 1000 years ago, when they renounced China and turned to Islam,"7 a step which now turns them to West Europe.

This is a fiction of the Cold War, though it has played, then and after, an important part in shaping the perception of the Turkish leadership about their country's role in the world. It would have been surprising, despite the later claims about Turkey's ability to overlook past grievances, and given its situation in 1918, if the Turkish leadership had in those years sought to emulate or draw closer to those who had nearly succeeded in bringing the country's existence to an end. At the end of 1918, Allied troops were in occupation of Istanbul, French troops were advancing from Syria into what is today southeast Turkey, and the British had occupied the Dardanelles and other strategic points along the western coast. In April 1919, Italian forces landed at Antalya in the south and took possession of adjacent areas. Turkey was beaten and dispirited; there was a likelihood that it would come under an Allied mandate or some other form of subjection, perhaps even that it would be carved up by the Allies among themselves. The Greek landing at Izmir in May 1919, protected by Allied warships, was to be the final blow to Turkish sovereignty. But when the Greeks started advancing into the interior, Kemal Ataturk was able to rally the Turkish people and reassert that sovereignty.

The policies of Kemalist Turkey are to be regarded, then, as striving to be modernised and civilised, not Westernised. Kemalist Turkey sought to learn modernisation from wherever it could: from the Swiss a civil code to replace Islamic family law; from the Soviet Union a leading role for the state in the economy, specially in the sectors vital for the strength and well being of the nation, and planning led by heavy industry;8 from the British and French, electoral systems and democratic institutions. Above all, these lessons were modified, sometimes unrecognisably, to suit Turkey's specific situation and then applied over a long period; the change from an Islamic empire to a national Turkish state, from a medieval theocracy to a constitutional republic, from bureaucratic feudalism to a modern economy, was accomplished over a long learning sequence by successive waves of reformers and radicals, and the process has not yet stopped.

It is more accurate, if we want to derive a picture of Turkey today, to examine Kemal Ataturk's policies on three noteworthy things in relation to Ottoman Eurasianism: its role as a Eurasian great power; its multi-ethnicity; and its embodiment of Islam.

Turning Away from Eurasia

Kemal Ataturk rejected the idea of playing a role to the West and to the East, in favour of an inward looking nationalism; there was, in any case, no question of playing such a role: Turkey no longer had the size or strength to be a great power; and except the Soviet Union, which since the revolution needed and looked for friends wherever it could, Turkey was surrounded by those who had tried to carve it up. In the West, were the powers that had helped the Greeks in their effort to occupy western Turkey; in the East, the empire was lost to Britain and France-Turkey was in no position to challenge them. Resentment at all this and at the loss of a great empire led some to propagate pan-Turkism, an empire from the Aegean to the China Sea comprising all the people of Turkic origin; but Kemal was firmly opposed to all such irrendentist ideas. He wanted to destroy loyalties based on Islam or Ottoman, pan-Islamic or pan-Turkic. Turkey's heartland, he said, was Anatolia, to which the Turks came as conquerors in the 11th century.

Thus, a specifically Kemalist Turkish nationalism based on descent from the Oguz Turkish tribe and pre-Ottoman history, on language and culture, was promoted and eventually written into the February 1937 Constitution as one of the six foundational principles of the republic. This "asserted that the Turks were the direct descendants of the world's greatest conquering race, that they had played a leading role in the origins and development of world civilisation, and that it was the Turks who had contributed most to what had been great in the Ottoman Empire."9 The attempt was totally to obliterate the idea that in Turkish history being multi-cultural, multi-ethnic or multi-lingual had any significance.

The ideological basis written into the 1937 Constitution was sought to be spread and consolidated by cutting off, from historiography, the Ottoman Empire. Under the influence of Ziya Gokalp and other nationalists, Turanism or Turkism was defined as the source of Turkey's greatness. Revival of Turkish identity and self-esteem, a necessary antidote to the recent setbacks, was founded on a portrayal of Turkey's past which started with epic history based on the geographic spread of the Turkish people from the Pacific to the Aegean; and took in the archaeological evidence from Anatolia. Thereafter, there was Kemal Ataturk and the revolution, and Anatolia became the heartland, the source of the tradition and culture of a Turkey which would confine its ambitions to its modern borders. The Ottoman period was virtually deleted. This mono-ethnic picture was reinforced by changing the language: the script to Latin, and the replacement of Arabic or Persian words by Turkish. But there was no irredentism, no claim to any kind of role among the Turkic people of Central Asia and Western China. Kemal was committed to good relations with the Soviet Union, though there is one quotation, not fully authenticated, which suggests the contrary, and was used after 1991 to urge a more active policy in Central Asia. Bulent Ecevit, then Democratic Left Party leader, and now prime minister, attributes this saying to Kemal: "Today the Soviet Union is our friend, our neighbour, our ally. We need this friendship. But no one can foretell what will happen tomorrow. ...The peoples it is today holding firmly in its grasp could escape. The world may reach a new balance. In that case, Turkey must know what to do. Under the administration of this friend there live brethren who share our language, our faith. We must be ready to claim them...we must reach out to them."10

Kemal's Revolution and Islam

Kemal changed the role of Islam so that it was no longer, as he was convinced it had been, an obstacle to modernisation. There being no such thing as a model of secularism, he did this in a specifically Turkish way. The role of religion in public life was appropriated to the state. The Caliphate was abolished in March 1924. Then he abolished the high offices of the ulema, their Shariat courts, the religious orders and their religious schools or madrassas. The Shariat itself as a code of laws was repealed and its rules nullified; polygamy, repudiation, Islamic obligations in commerce and maritime law, in criminal and civil law and procedure, were gone. To go on the Haj was made almost impossible. The clause in the Constitution, "the religion of the Turkish state is Islam", was deleted in 1928. By 1937, "secularism" was inserted into the Constitution. Civil marriage and divorce, a Swiss based civil code, modern laws for commerce and trade, were in. For symbolism and so that each person should experience modernisation in his daily life, wearing a fez was made a criminal offence; the veil for women was discouraged (though no general ban was ever enforced).

By 1931, the Islamic clerical establishment were appointed, paid and supervised by the state bureaucracy, which also administered religious endowments and the mosques, to the extent of vetting the drafts of sermons before they were delivered. In this secularism, matters of belief and worship by the individual were left untouched, but the institutions of religion were directly controlled by the state.

Some of these measures were later relaxed, but the imprint of Kemalist secularism is today, and will be for years, seen clearly in Turkey.

In matters of internal organisation, Kemalism continued the Ottoman heritage of the position of the supreme ruler, and the role of the military and bureaucracy.

Kemal himself discarded his military titles and uniform once he became president and, in the Constitution, subordinated the military to the civil power. Ismet Inonu, his colleague and successor as president, was also a military leader, and followed the example. But both were known as Milli Cef, national leader, the embodiment of political, military and religious leadership. Their successors in the 1980s and 1990s, like Turgut Ozal, also tried to assume such a role, with less success.

In politics, opposition to Kemal's Republican People's Party was allowed, but only up to a point. In 1925, then in 1930, when the Opposition became difficult or recalcitrant, it was abolished, followed by an era of one party government till after World War II. And in those post-War years, when the military and bureaucracy was no longer an arm of the national leader, it came into its own as an institution to ensure that Turkey's foreign and domestic policies, very broadly, progressed along the right lines. Hence, the approving comment about an Ottoman "administration based on broad recruitment, specialised training, and merit advancement. The Turkish Republic inherited most of the personnel of that Ottoman civil service."11

Impact of the Cold War

By freezing Turkey's external policies into a mould, Cold War participation reinforced the trend of inward looking nationalism started by Kemal Ataturk. Two things are important here: the way it became a participant; and what it received in terms of its own national interest as a result.

About the first thing, Cold War participation served no Turkish interest. It was a departure from the tried success of Kemalist policy; and jeopardised security, more so since Turkey was the NATO member with the longest common frontier with the Soviet Union; and led, at a later stage, to suspicion among its non-aligned Arab neighbours. But there was no choice. In early 1945, the Soviet Union abrogated a friendship pact of 1925 with Turkey, demanded the return of the northeastern districts of Kars and Ardahan, and that the straits (the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles) should be jointly patrolled, meaning in effect the establishment of a Soviet naval base there. Turkey refused these demands, and President Ismet Inonu said, "We shall live with honour and die with honour". At that time, the Kemalist tradition was strong; there was little hope that Turkey would accept the supplicant's terms. So Soviet pressure continued, and the West gave no hope of aid. Both sides wanted Turkey in the Western camp, but on the right terms.12 It was not till two years later, in March 1947, that the Truman Doctrine was announced, directed at Greece but with a supplement that the future independence of Turkey "is clearly no less important to the freedom-loving peoples of the world than the future of Greece."

When NATO was formed in 1949, Turkey was keen to join; again the US held off with a story about the European members being opposed. It was not till Turkey showed its full commitment by joining the US military effort in Korea that it was admitted in 1952.

Such ad hoc picking up of Cold War participants was later interpreted in two ways: as part of US grand strategy, the commitment of American resources to protect freedom, that the "Truman Administration by the fall of 1946 had arrived at a clear conception of Greece, Turkey and Iran in their collective historical role of dividing East and West";13 that this role "was to serve as a barrier; more specifically to block the path of Soviet expansion into the Middle East",14 a barrier which was effective enough to ensure that Soviet successes in the neighbouring Arab countries were always precarious. And from the Turkish side, a somewhat different emphasis and interpretation, as the Turkish role in ensuring the West's own security; that "Turkey, through NATO has contributed to the security of Europe and the West as a whole throughout the decades of the Cold War."15 The Turks said they defended one-third (1, 590 km), of the total NATO-Warsaw Pact frontier; maintained the largest armed forces of any NATO member other than the US; and that their vulnerability was in itself an added contribution to Western security. Such views were internalised by 1991, making it more difficult thereafter for Turkey to take advantage of the new openings created by the end of the Cold War.

The March Westward Halts

As for the second thing, Turkey could not expect US support in its relations with Greece, or in regard to the Turkish minority in Cyprus, since Greece was not only a member of NATO, but, by the general consensus of Western historiography, the fount or cradle of Western civilisation. But it did expect that support in getting closer to Europe, specifically joining the European Community, and here the support was in words only.

This requires some elaboration.

The European Community, now the EU, is primarily a civilisational project, at the very source of which lie the achievements of ancient Greece in politics and philosophy, science, literature and art; a project to extract the commonalities of this historical legacy and later developments in the Christian West to form a distillate which all approve. Turkey can contribute little to that distillate; it must, in the eyes of the EU, accept what it is given. So the solution of Turkey's problems with Greece becomes a precondition, not just to avoid a Greek veto within the EU, but because of the historico-symbolic importance of Greece. Turkey has to leave behind the decades of Greek chipping away at its territory, the invasion of May 1919, that Cyprus will become a member of the EU before Turkey; just like the French and Germans, in launching European integration, left behind decades of rivalry and war. The continuation of the Westward march of the Turkish people is contingent, therefore, on relations with Greece.

US support for Turkish policy in general, and on EU membership in particular, therefore, is a step by step process. As President Clinton said in November 1999, "The future we want to build together begins with Turkish progress in deepening democracy at home." Then comes the second part," "reducing tensions in the Aegean-something that will require hard work by both Turkey and Greece." Finally, there is the required foresight by "our other allies in Europe" that an undivided Europe "will never be complete unless and until it embraces Turkey".16

Three examples further illustrate the central problem.

First, since the values of modernity are held to be Europe's contribution to mankind, Turkey must embrace those values entirely. This cannot be a give-and-take process of negotiation; the values are there, eternal and universal, and must be fully accepted. In the main, this concerns democratisation, deepening democracy, and respect for human rights.

Turkish leaders have argued that Kemalism was mainly inspired by Western values and models to create a democratic and secular state; that for over 500 years, since the Ottomans took Istanbul, Turkey has been European; or that it has been a devoted member of other European organisations-the Council of Europe since 1949, the European Community itself as an associate member since 1963; that in support of its commitment to promote human rights Turkey has signed all the relevant UN conventions; recognised the compulsory jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, accepted the right of every individual in Turkey to apply to the European Human Rights Commission since January 1987 whereafter hundreds of cases were referred and only a handful remain unsettled. In July 1995, shortly before the Turkey-EU Customs Union agreement was signed, and largely to pave the way for it, the Turkish Parliament approved 16 constitutional amendments to extend democratic rights and civil liberties, reduce the voting age to 18, and allow trade unions and associations to participate in politics. Another bunch of constitutional amendments and laws was enacted in June and August 1999 to promote democracy and human rights.

They argue that further progress in this direction will be facilitated by membership of the EU, "being part of the political dimension of the EU will bring about parallel results in reaching higher levels of a new rationale",17 meaning a more advanced form of democracy and added guarantees for human rights; just as economic integration with the EU has facilitated the building of a dynamic and competitive Turkish economy. On the contrary, delay will only add to the problems Turkey faces in the fields of deepening democracy and promoting human rights. "European ambivalence towards Turkey's claims to full membership has created the appropriate climate for the rise of authoritarian brands of identity politics, namely political Islam, as well as ethnic nationalism."18

The most recent difference concerns Article 118 of the Constitution, which the EU wants deleted, along with all other references that give the armed forces a say in politics;19 while for Turkey, the full withdrawal of the armed forces from politics will take time, a time which will be shorter, the more rapidly it can integrate fully into Europe.

This leads to the second example. Turkish leaders feel they have done a lot for Europe and the West. Turkey's contribution to the NATO defence effort played a part in holding back its progress to European standards in the fields of democratisation and human rights. In terms of economic cooperation, since the Ankara agreement of 1963 giving it associate status in the European Community, it has fulfilled its obligations arising therefrom faithfully. But the 1963 agreement should have led automatically to full membership. This path was blocked, and instead the EU started the process of bringing Turkey into the Customs Union as a separate exercise. This brought few benefits. There was no financial aid package, because of the Greek veto; it does not apply to agricultural products in which Turkey is strong; it was used to enlarge the EU's exports to Turkey, whose exports were subjected to anti-dumping measures; and it lost, for Turkey, all control over its own trade policy. The EU is, in this view, in Turkey's debt and should recognise this.

The third example is the Kurds, another Turkish problem that played a part in delaying progress towards deepening democracy and better human rights. The Turks believe they face a terrorist campaign; the Europeans are concerned about the human rights of the Kurds. Led by the Germans and with an activist role by the European Parliament, the EU has repeatedly criticised Turkish violations of human rights in actions against the Kurds, the excessive scale and severity of these armed actions, and even threatened that this could harm the further integration of Turkey into Europe.

In the Turkish view, this approach strongly suggests that "the democracy and human rights situation in Turkey is almost exclusively related to the 'Kurdish problem'...this approach virtually denies that Turkey is a democracy with functioning democratic institutions",20 or assumes that the lack of such functioning created the problem. This could lead to secession on ethnic and even religious grounds. This is the viewpoint of traditional national interest. But joining the European project means, apart from other things, a break from traditional ideas of national interest, that power flows away from the national capitals to the regions and sub-regions, and to a European authority This brings onto the agenda the possibility of autonomy for these regions/sub-regions, even independence, which could be based on religion or ethnicity or language; Turkey cannot reject this and be fully part of Europe.

Hence, Turkey's frustration. Its 1987 application for full membership was put into cold storage. In response to repeated enquiries, various reasons were given for this: the certainty of a Greek veto because of the Cyprus problem; the development gap between Turkey and the other members which may mean heavy subsidies to bring the two in line; the high and rising inflation rate; limited progress in privatisation; Turkey's large population which would flood the advanced countries; and, of course, apart from political instability, the state of democratisation and respect for human rights in Turkey which did not meet European standards. Austria, Finland, and Sweden, having applied after Turkey, became full members even before the latter's case for candidate membership was considered. But the frustration deepened after the EU December 1997 summit at Luxembourg. There it was decided that negotiations for full membership would be opened with Hungary, Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Slovania, with Cyprus in the wings or to be taken up soon. A second group of East Europeans was listed for later membership negotiations. Turkey was on neither list, and the summit specified a number of criteria before it could be put on such a list, including further progress towards democratisation and respecting human rights.

Worse, the argument for giving priority to the East Europeans turned on its head that used for Turkey; the precondition became the sequel. In East Europe, it was said, membership of the EU would promote economic development, democratisation and respect for human rights.

Turkey was finally accepted for candidate membership in December 1999, but again conditions were specified: settlement of the disputes with Greece; reference of the Aegean problem to the International Court of Justice; further progress on democratisation and human rights. This prompted PM Ecevit to say, "The Turks have been Europeans for 600 years. But the Turks are not only Europeans. They are also Asian, Caucasian and Middle Eastern."21

Post-Cold War Openings

The two most important aspects of post-Cold War Turkey's self-perception, other than being European, are the pre-Ottoman and Kemalist tradition of being Turkic; and the Ottoman tradition of Islamic multi-culturalism. Both aspects showed an exuberant sense of self-confidence among the leadership.

This was not so at first. When the Cold War ended, "The drastic changes involved implied the downgrading of the geostrategic importance that Turkey had enjoyed during the Cold War as an integral component of the NATO alliance, with a corresponding decline in the likelihood of its becoming a full member of the European Union. The immediate implications seemed to be increased isolation and insecurity..."22

The turning point came with President Turgut Ozal's decision to back the US fully after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. Despite doubts in Parliament, public opinion that showed little support for US policy, and opposition from the army chief of staff, the defence and foreign ministers (all three of whom resigned), Ozal closed the Iraqi oil pipeline through Turkey,23 allowed aircraft from the US led coalition to use Incirlik airbase for strikes into Iraq, stationed 100,000 Turkish forces on the border to pin down Iraqi forces, and pushed legislation through Parliament permitting Turkish forces to operate abroad and foreign forces to be stationed in Turkey. This was an abandonment of Turkey's traditional policy of non-involvement in regional conflicts. "Ozal's strategy of close cooperation with the Bush administration was primarily designed to reaffirm Ankara's commitment to US-Turkish bilateral relations and to highlight Turkey's importance to US strategic interests and concerns in the Middle East."24 West of Iraq, Turkey was the anvil of the US military effort, and the undiluted success of this policy made its self-confidence soar.

The Revival of Eurasianism: Turkic World

By the end of the decade, the Turkish leadership saw their country straddling Europe and Asia with the Bosphorus bridges as the symbol, a pivotal country of the Eurasian process. Foreign Minister Ismail Cem somewhat over-enthusiastically compared his country to the US. "Turkey and the United States both have large-scale ambitions. Their ambitions are global. Turkey is a multi-regional country. I would not use the term 'regional power' for Turkey. If we say 'regional power' that would mean Turkey is a power in one region; a powerful country in the Balkans, for example. Turkey is a multi-regional power. It is powerful in the Balkans, the Middle East, North Africa, the Caucasus."25

This enabled it to pursue a multi-dimensional foreign policy. Turkey's strategic relevance in the post-Cold War era, wrote President Suleyman Demirel in 1999, "lies in her very ability to look both to the West and the East; to remain firmly committed to her western orientation while simultaneously recognising the complexities of her geography as well as the harsh realities of her immediate neighbourhood. By her very existence, Turkey can be a model for her neighbours to plant the seeds of secular democracy. Through her actions fostering economic and political interdependence and cooperation, Turkey will not only remain central to the security and prosperity of the West, but will also be the key state in the containment and resolution of a host of problems of our era."26

Multi-dimensionalism translated into two things; a bridge or cross-roads; and a model.

A typical official elaboration of the 'bridge' idea is the following: "Turkey is capable of acting as a bridge between the European Union and the Islamic world";27 or, in greater elaboration, this: "Turkey is located at a point where Europe and Asia meet. Indeed, it is often regarded as a bridge between the East and the West. Such a unique geographical position gives Turkey European, Balkan, Middle Eastern, Caucasian, Mediterranean and Black Sea identities" and explain its "multi-dimensional foreign policy."28

For the 'cross-roads' idea, the foreign minister can be quoted, "as a country and people, we have been situated at the cross-roads of civilisations, religions and trade." History gave Turkey the opportunity to live in "a very large geography which provided for the main trade routes and for the dissemination of ideas and religions...Turkey thus provides a political and economic centre for the emerging Eurasian reality and constitutes western Europe's major historical, cultural and economic opening to Eastern horizons".29 President Clinton endorsed this, saying that if the multiple regions in which Turkey is located are to see a brighter future, of rising prosperity and declining conflict, that "requires a strong Turkey playing its rightful role at the cross-roads of the world, at the meeting place of three great faiths."30

At the same time, being the most modernised, the most democratic and the most secular of the Muslim countries, Turkey would offer itself to the Islamic world in general, but more particularly to Central Asia, as a model. There were innumerable ways in which this was interpreted. One author says that "in the 1990s, the term 'Turkish model' refers to a multiparty system, free market economy, democracy, secularism and closeness to the West...Western democracies are the origin of the Turkish model...which the West had supported and promoted...and this support was the main factor determining the popularity of this model."31 Other explanations are that "the Turkish model remains attractive for the Central Asian leaders, especially because of its emphasis on creating secular state institutions in a predominantly Muslim society."32 For Central Asia and the Balkans, then, "Turkey offers itself to most of these countries as a model of stability with fifty years of democratic practice and a hundred and sixty years of genuine modernisation towards full integration with the West."33 There would be a strong cultural element in this; "Turkey remains the primary cultural magnet for Central Asia as the most important Turkic state in the world."34

While it may be thought that by the end of the 1990s much of the euphoria had evaporated, the Economist could still say in its January 15, 2000 issue, "Turkey's value as a strategic pivot in a most dangerous part of the world has rarely been as high as it is today. It is a valued member of NATO. It is a source of common sense in the combustible Caucasus. It is respected by Russia, still a force for mischief in the area..."

The Euphoria Evaporates

The earliest ambition was no less than the leadership of the Turkic world. Demirel, then prime minister, said in February 1992 that "a gigantic Turkic world stretching from the Adriatic to the great wall of China" had appeared with the collapse of the Soviet Union; and a few months later that this was a Eurasian reality with Turkey heading it and striving to secure harmony and cooperation within it. Being the Middle Eastern state closest ethnically, linguistically and culturally to the Turkic republics of the former Soviet Union, "Ankara sees itself as the rightful inheritor of Russian influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia, a view supported by the US State Department."35

Such a policy would get an enthusiastic popular response within Turkey, as shown by the growing popularity of the National Action Party of Alparslan Turkes which advocated the cultural, economic and even political union of all the Turkic speaking people. And it would get, as shown by events, an enthusiastic but short-lived response from the Central Asian Republics.

For the policy was implemented with determination. Turkey was the first country to recognise (five days before the Almaty agreement dissolving the Soviet Union) the newly independent states. A flurry of visits and agreements followed. President Ozal had already visited Central Asia in March 1991, but that was before independence and he was careful to visit Moscow as a first stop. After independence, the Central Asian heads of state or government visited Ankara in rapid succession, starting with Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan in September 1991; then came in December Saparmurat Niyazov, Islam Karimov, Aksar Akaev (of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan respectively). Then in February 1992, Turkish Foreign Minister Hikmet Cetin visited all five Central Asian countries, with a 140-strong delegation of officials, journalists and businessmen.

In April and May 1992, Prime Minister Demirel went to all of them, concluding with Azerbaijan, with an even larger delegation, (which included Alparslan Turkes). In Baku, he declared, "Turkey has accepted the responsibility of representing the Turkic world". There was an exclusive bond between Turkey and the Central Asian peoples, who shared "the same blood, religion and language", and envisaged the possibility of a union of Turkic states. At the part of his visit, Turkish TV began to be received in Central Asia, and at the end of it, he opened a bridge between Eastern Turkey and Nakhichevan (an Azeri enclave in Armenia) and called it the "bridge between Europe and Asia."

Joint Business Councils were set up, Turkish cultural centres were opened, hundreds of agreements signed, of which 140 were just at the official level; within that first year 1,170 Turkish delegations had visited Central Asia, signing agreements for small and medium scale joint ventures and industrial development; Turkish investment in the region had reached US $4 billion with 200 Turkish companies investing and more planning to invest. At the official level, Turkey had become the fourth largest aid donor.

It was an emotional, enthusiastic and euphoric opening and, initially, the Central Asian leaders responded in like manner. They "emphasised Turkey's leadership role in the Turkic world and its potential to serve as a role model for the former Soviet Muslim republics".36 The secular democratic path pioneered by Turkey would be the one for them to follow.

But the euphoria did not last. "It was the convening of the Turkic summit in Ankara, October 30-31, 1992, which did most to puncture the sense of euphoria".37 The summit was to have been the launch pad of a great new Turkic era, the overture to a Turkic century, but President Ozal misjudged the mood of his Central Asian interlocutors. In his opening address, he proposed free trade, free movement of peoples, goods and services, an integrated system of transport, telecommunications, and banking, and cooperation in the field of energy.

The Central Asians responded by slamming the brakes on all this. Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan said he was against a grouping based on religious or ethnic criteria, and that Turkic cooperation should not harm relations with other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) states. Karimov supported him. None of the leaders wanted any binding commitments; they would not go beyond general declarations and vaguely expressed aims. They refused to endorse Turkey's position on Cyprus, on Bosnia-Herzegovina or in denouncing Serb actions there.

The disappointing result of the Turkic summit was a symptom of the three fundamental reasons for Turkey not being able to play more than a limited and largely cultural role in the region.

Turkey's Limits in Central Asia

First, the region had been under Russian or Soviet control or influence for over a century. The leadership came almost entirely from the Soviet Communist Party; the armed forces were dependent on Soviet, now Russian equipment; the bureaucracy, the economy, continued to follow the Soviet pattern; in a crisis, the leadership had to turn to Russia. When the Tajik civil war erupted in 1992, the Russians took the lead to send in troops along with those from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, thus, reinvigorating the old bonds.

In security matters, the Russian position was unassailable, as shown by the series of agreements signed within months of independence. A May 1992 Collective Security Agreement with Russia provided that an attack on any signatory would be considered an attack on all (Turkmenistan signed, instead, and in accordance with its policy of positive neutrality, a separate bilateral agreement); by 1995, there were more bilateral agreements covering specific aspects of security cooperation, with Tajikistan (May 1993) on the stationing of Russian troops there, with Turkmenistan (December 1993) on the joint guarding of the Turkmen border, with Kyrgyzstan (April 1994) regarding the stay and use of Russian border guards, with Kazakhstan (January 1995) on the creation of a joint Kazakh-Russian border force. A series of bilateral agreements also covered the supply from Russia of weapons and ammunition and their maintenance, the assisting of local production of such items, and the joint use of existing military facilities.

Iran also entered the scene as a rival after 1991, rapidly expanding relations with the region, specially in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. The fact that it borders Central Asia, while Turkey does not, gave it an advantage. Its trade expanded rapidly, while the region's trade with Russia declined and that with Turkey moved forward rather slowly. Several agreements were signed to facilitate the region's use of transit facilities through Iran; in early 1994, a new road was opened linking Turkmenistan with Turkey through Iran, and by early 1996, a rail link from the region to the Gulf.

In addition, Iran took advantage of its cultural ties. In Tajikistan, Persian culture had deep roots, while in the other republics, Persian influence was not absent, for educated persons often knew both Turkish and Persian, the intra-regional lingua franca being Russian. In June 1995, the Tajiks announced that the Persian script would replace the Cyrillic. While the Tajiks are not Turkic, Iran also made efforts to propagate the Persian language in the other republics through radio programmes, the distribution of books and the offer of thousands of scholarships and training courses.

And the Iranians were opposed to pan-Turkic ideas, particularly the demand for union between Azerbaijan and the Azeri inhabited areas of Iran. On this, the Iranians made common cause with Russia (which still has Turkic minorities).

Second, Turkey's own position was not strong enough for the ambitious targets it aimed at. Before 1991, it had done little to cultivate direct relations with the Turkic peoples of the region, had indeed made it a point to go through Moscow and to eschew pan-Turkic ideas. Kemal Ataturk's inward looking nationalism had no time for such ideas, and before him the "Ottoman Sultans kept a degree of ceremonial and diplomatic relationship with the Central Asian Turkic states in which religious feelings played a more significant role than the blood relationship. However...Russia's annexation of Central Asia terminated ceremonial relations and left only a vague memory of a common ancestry."38

There was also the Turkish dilemma in having to declare to the Europeans when referring to the Kurdish question, that the concept of race or ethnic relations does not fit in with the Turkish perception, while talking to the Central Asians about being Turkic. There was a suspicion in the region, encouraged by Russia, that Turkish interest in the region, its keenness to play a leadership role there or at least to be a model, was due more to US and Western encouragement than to a deep Turkish national interest in promoting Turkic economic development, language and culture.

And, inherently, Turkey could do little. It had limited investment capacity; Turkmenistan needed US $8 billion for its natural gas industry, Kazakhstan $20 billion only for the development of the Tenghiz oil field. Turkey was $55 billion in debt, and received just $19 billion annually in foreign earnings, mainly from tourism and the export of agricultural products and textiles; it lacked expertise in the heavy industry which the region needed to develop, and could help only in small and a few medium industries. Iran could help as well in this area. Turkey as an economic model had limitations. Also, Central Asians realised that the transition to a market economy had to be a long and slow process accompanied by guarantees of welfare benefits to avoid social unrest; Turkey could offer little help here. Neither could Turkey offer a trade route that would reduce dependence on Russia. So after the first euphoric period, trade between Turkey and the region declined, while the former's trade with Russia grew to reach, at present, 90 per cent of its total trade with the CIS.

Third, therefore, the Central Asian leaders realised early that they had only marginal interests in common with Turkey and not as much to learn as was thought. In some areas like health and education, they were actually ahead of Turkey. And the latter's attempts to assume the mantle of leadership, of behaving as if they were backward, became irritating; they did not want the big brother in Moscow to be replaced by one in Ankara. They wanted to deal directly with the West, not through Turkey. Prime Minister Demirel had said at a March 1992 Press conference that "we simply believe we can help these Republics in their long overdue attempt to integrate with the world", but in the succeeding years they became convinced that they could do this better on their own.

Even Turkish TV programmes were inappropriate and difficult to understand; their technical quality and content was poor, the ideological, social and cultural background reflected in them was alien, while some of them were immodest by regional standards; the language was virtually incomprehensible.

The Post-Cold War Role of Islam

The Ottoman tradition of Islamic multi-culturalism came up against the dilemma of whether race or religion should get priority. The official position explained to the West is that "in Turkey, where the Ottoman interpretation and implementation of Islam is one of the components of cultural identity and where for centuries the state had to keep united a multitude of ethnicities, 'race' did not exist as a social and political category. The main distinctive factor had been religious."39

This raises the question of secularism. Officially Turkey regards itself as a Muslim country with a secular Constitution and political system. The Muslim part takes it to the Organisation of Islamic Conference and the promotion of Islamic causes through that organisation as also directly as in the Balkans or the Caucasus; and to the emphasis on the historical and cultural ties that bind it to the Arab nations with whom it has nothing in common other than religion. The secular part takes it to the West, to becoming the point of confluence of religions, to being European and the leader among Muslim majority countries in democracy and modernisation. But not everyone in Turkey accepts this.

"We have an ontological clash on our historical agenda. Some of us have the political values of our European friends, and think that a desirable society is not defined by religion, and others think a desirable society is a society where law is defined by religion."40 Furthermore, there is the question whether a country can "be called secular where the salaries of some 60,000 Imams are paid every month by the state, and the contents of their weekly sermons are dictated to them also by the state, sometimes down to the last word."41

Undoubtedly, the two get mixed up. The Islamic world starts to believe that Turkey acts as an instrument of a Western secular order, while the West believes that Turkey, at root, is part of that world from which the threat of militant Islam arises.

Relations with Eastern Neigbours

In its relations with the Islamic world on its eastern and southeastern borders, Turkey has been able to do little to show the distinctive factor of religion as an advantage. The Ottoman link had already been negated by Kemal Ataturk's policy of inward looking nationalism. Turkey's membership of NATO, its joining the Baghdad Pact/CENTO (Central Treaty Organisation) and its friendship with Israel in the 1960s and 1970s ensured the suspicion if not hostility of the neighbouring states, Syria and Iraq.

This was reinforced by disputes over the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates, Turkey being the upstream riparian. Iraq claims it has acquired downstream rights deriving from ancestral and existing use; Syria says the two rivers comprise international water courses, a formula based on the demands of each riparian needs to be worked out, and that Turkey is trying to dominate its neighbours by creating water dependence. Turkey says 88 per cent of the water in the two rivers originates in Turkey, the Tigris is in surplus, while the Euphrates is deficient so that schemes for transfer of water from one to the other should be an integral part of an overall settlement, and that historical and acquired rights are only one of the many factors to be considered and cannot be used to limit use by upstream users. Meanwhile, Turkey has begun the massive Southeast Anatolian project involving a series of dams on the rivers, which has further exacerbated the situation.

As for Syria, the Turkish authorities believe that for years Damascus supported the PKK42 with training, equipment and logistic support. Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader, was based in Damascus from 1979 till 1993, when he was ordered to leave under Turkish pressure. And there are Syrian territorial claims to the southern Turkish province of Hatay. Most recently, bilateral relations reached crisis level in October 1998 with a meeting in Rome of a Kurdish Parliament-in-exile, a crisis which was only resolved when Husni Mubarak of Egypt flew to Damascus and Ankara and Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi did the same.

With Iraq, apart from enthusiastic Turkish support for the US-led coalition during the 1990-91 Gulf crisis, there is the Turkish initiative on Operation Provide Comfort to set up a secure zone in northern Iraq for the Kurds, and repeated armed incursions thereafter by Turkey in pursuit of the PKK which have added to the tension.

In relations with Iran, despite surface cordiality resulting from common membership of the Economic Cooperation Organisation, Iranian facilitation of Turkey's trade and transport links with Central Asia, bilateral cooperation in the energy sector (despite US disapproval) and a gradual convergence of views on their common Kurdish problem, tensions continue to run below the surface.

While the historic Ottoman-Safavid and Sunni-Shia rivalry may today be only partly reflected in conflicting views on the propagation of religion, Turkish support for Azerbaijan as also the presence of large numbers of Iranian dissidents in Turkey are regarded as a threat by Iran, while allegations of Iranian support for the Islamic Action Movement and other Islamic militant groups in Turkey dedicated to violent action against those who criticise Islam, continue to be made by Turkey. So that "whatever the progress in other areas, a strong element of suspicion and mistrust persists in Turkish-Iranian relations."43

In the Caucasus, the remaining area where religion might play a role, the situation is no less complicated. In January 1990, Turgut Ozal had said the Azerbaijanis are Shia, unlike the Turks, and, hence, of more concern to Iran,44 since Turkey does not have pan-Turkic ambitions. But this soon changed and Turkey began providing active diplomatic and material support to Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. But there is little more that Turkey can do, for when in 1992 there was thought given to sending Turkish troops to intervene, the CIS issued a warning and Turkey stayed out. And then, when the pro-Turkish President of Azerbaijan Abulfaz Ali Elchibey was replaced (in 1993) by the pro-Russian Heydar Aliyev there were complaints that "Azerbaijan was delivered to the Russians" by Ankara's lack of vision.45

The Evolution of Domestic Politics

Three tendencies in Turkey's self-perception of its external role have been described above: the so-called Westward march of the Turkish people; its leadership or role in the Turkic world; and the Ottoman tradition of Islamic multi-culturalism, now known as neo-Ottomanism. All three are clearly reflected in the evolution of Turkish domestic politics in the post-Cold War period, and that evolution is reflected in them. The domestic and the international are embedded in each other. The Westward march is reflected in, and reflects, the so-called mainstream political parties which know themselves as leftist or rightist or centrist, and whose policies are to push Turkey into the earliest possible integration with Europe or vociferous and active support of the policies of the US and Western organisations like NATO, a sort of domestic political line-up which corresponds to Cold War perceptions. For the Turkic world, there is the same link with the pan-Turkic policies of Alparslan Turkes and the Nationalist Action Party. And for Islamic multi-culturalism, the link is with the main Islamic party, now called the Virtue Party.

One can regard this reflection/counter-reflection as the result of Kemalism and the Cold War, during both of which periods Turkey's historical experience was turned inwards, bottled up, so to speak, so that it appeared with all the more emphasis thereafter. The present is, therefore, a period of discussion and interaction in which parties air positions which are often extreme, a period necessary to the development of bipartisan or multipartisan external policies.

Before examining how long this period may last, it is necessary to look at the background of Turkey's gradual democratisation, the transfer of real power to functioning democratic bodies, for the years of Kemal Ataturk and his lieutenant Ismet Inonu were largely years of one leader, one party.

The first step in the transfer was taken in the May 1950 election. The Opposition was given a fair opportunity to compete, and with 89 per cent voter participation, Ismet Inonu's Republican People's Party was almost wiped out by Adnan Menderes' Democratic Party which exploited religion fairly openly and obtained 420 of the 487 Assembly seats. This majority was then used to control the 1954 elections in which Menderes got an even bigger majority. What followed was executive authoritarianism with parliamentary support; pressure on the judiciary and the Press, an economic crisis, incitement to riot in the streets to divert attention. In May 1960, the military took power with a bloodless coup; the Democratic Party was banned, 400 of its leaders tried and sentenced; 15 were given the death sentence, of which three, including that of Adnan Menderes, were actually carried out.

In the new (1961) Constitution, modified proportional representation was introduced to prevent the excessive majorities of the Menderes era, as well as elaborate checks on the powers of the Assembly, including a presidential veto on legislation and guarantees of judicial independence. The vote in the first election thereafter (October 1961) then splintered and in the next two elections (1965 and 1969) more and more parties got into the Assembly by way of proportional representation, though the Justice Party emerged as the main heir to the banned Democratic Party, with comfortable majorities in each. There was still no stability. Defections, resignations, crises within the Assembly despite a clear majority led to the second military takeover in March 1971. There were more elections (1973 and 1977), more party fragmentation, less stable government; between 1973 and 1980, eight governments occupied office. In September 1980, the military again took power, and tried changes in the rules, this time to prevent fragmentation, through another Constitution and an electoral law of 1983. To get seats in the Assembly, a party must cross a 10 per cent of the national vote threshold; even higher (up to 50 per cent) constitutional thresholds were laid down to control the problem of fragmentation. The latest (February 1999) election was held under this system, in which the centre-left Democratic Left Party led by Ecevit formed the government in coalition with the ethnic nationalist National Action Party being the second largest, and the centre-right Motherland Party.

By then, it was clear that a dualist democracy was emerging, as a sort of prolonged transition stage, with a Western style democracy as the ultimate aim. The Ottoman heritage of the supreme ruler, the Kemalist heritage of the national leader or Milli Cef, the role of the military and bureaucracy, had all been combined and assumed, though in somewhat modified form, by a group of military Service heads. This is rarely a direct role. For day to day decisions, it is institutionalised through the National Security Council, first introduced in the 1969 Constitution, then given broader powers under that of 1982. This has ten members, five civilians including the president and the prime minister, and five military, the chief of staff of the armed forces and the heads of the four Services. The council may, under Article 118 of the Constitution, submit its views to the Cabinet, and the latter "shall give priority consideration to the decisions of the National Security Council concerning the measures that it deems necessary for the preservation of the existence and independence of the State, the integrity and indivisibility of the country, and the peace and security of society."

Direct intervention, the ultimate sanction to deal with prolonged and systematic flaws in the political order, which is followed by changes in the election system, the balance between the different arms of government and the banning or legalising of political parties to improve the functioning of the system, has been resorted to only four times since 1945: in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997. It is more that of adviser, of a guide whose word may be rejected on most occasions, but must be accepted on issues of crucial national importance.

The other part of this dualist democracy was the unfolding politico-social scene, and three things are to be noted here.

The first, was referred to above as the Cold War political line-up. Turkish military and traditional/Kemalist leaders' self-perception was in terms of the right and the left: centre-right political parties-the Motherland Party and the True Path Party; or centre-left parties-the Democratic Left Party and its successor, and the Republican People's Party. "Line-up" here does not mean that the parties were in any sense aligned with the Soviet Union or the West or even committed to socialist or liberal policies. It means only that the Cold War drew a picture of the world and most political parties everywhere placed themselves on the left or right or centre of that picture. This self-perception is encouraged and given shape by outsiders. The "line-up of Turkey's major parties has closely resembled that of the Republicans versus Democrats in the United States, Conservative versus Labour in Britain...the vast majority of voters have continuously grouped and regrouped themselves into the two major parties to the right and left of centre."46 These were the only mainstream parties.

Regardless of socio-political realities, of whether right or left has any contextualised meaning, of whether there are workers or capitalists, or even large scale industry, political stability was, as the main agenda, held to be the consequence of such a line-up. So every effort was made to ensure that those with a different agenda-Islamic or pan-Turkic or Kurdish nationalist-did not emerge as major political forces. But the voter did not always agree with the main agenda; and the politicians continued to form coalition governments which made such an agenda absurd-the left with the Islamists, the right with the Islamists, the right with the left.

Volatility and Polarisation

Hence, the second thing was a socio-political reality in which the party system produced volatility, meaning "sudden and significant changes in party votes from one election to the next";47 fragmentation, as already noted above; and the increased weakening of the moderate centre-right and centre-left tendencies.

The third thing, then, was that polarisation took place, not between the right and left, as the main agenda required, but between the right-and-left, on the one hand, and the Islamic-ethnic-Kurd minority parties, on the other. The Islamic National Salvation Party, which became the Welfare Party (both led by Necmettin Erbakan) and later the Virtue Party increased its share of the vote from 8.6 per cent in 1977 to 21.4 per cent in 1995, in which election it became the largest party. The pan-Turkic Nationalist Action Party founded by Alparslan Turkes in 1969 increased its share of the vote from 0.2 per cent in 1969 to 8.2 per cent in 1995-the 10 per cent threshold meant no seats in the Assembly then, but in 1999 it emerged with 129 seats as the second largest party. The other ethnic party is Kurdish, the People's Labour Party, later the People's Democracy Party, which has been getting about 5 per cent of the vote and sent 22 deputies to the Assembly in 1991; but due to banning, persecution and intimidation, this has virtually been eliminated from the political scene.

Turkish voter participation is high, 89 per cent in the 1950 elections, and an average of 76 per cent in subsequent decades, showing the high citizen interest in political issues. In the broad pattern, the Islamic and ethnic parties have gained in overall voter support from 15 per cent in the 1970s, with some ups and downs, to 33.8 per cent in 1995. The mainstream parties have had their share of the total vote reduced from over 90 per cent in the 1950s to above 80 per cent in the 1970s, years in which it still looked as if a two mainstream party system would emerge, to 54 per cent in 1995. By 1999, when the Turkic and Islamist parties came out as the second and third largest, such a system was looking less and less likely. This trend is a reversal of Kemalism, and is not favoured by the military and bureaucratic leadership, as shown by the fate of the Islamic party.

Erbakan's National Salvation Party and its successors wished originally to pursue a neo-Ottoman and radical Islamic programme, withdraw Turkey from its "unnatural" association with West Europe, create an Islamic common market and build stronger links with the expatriate Turkish community. It participated in three coalition governments in the 1970s, and its popularity continued to grow. By June 1996, he had become prime minister in the first government headed by an Islamist party since 1923.

True, he told a Press conference on June 29 that "the essential basis of the government is that the Turkish Republic is a democratic, secular and social state based on law and the principles of Ataturk"; that his forays into the Islamic world were less than successful-he paid an official visit (over-ruling the views of his advisers) to Libya, only to have Muammar Gaddafi call for an independent Kurdish state; and that he dropped his opposition to membership of NATO and the ties with the EU, toeing the traditional line on all security related issues. But, under pressure from the military, he resigned in June 1997. By January 1998, a Constitutional Court had banned him from political office for five years. Yet, as the April 1999 election showed, his party, now renamed, continued to retain its base and emerged as the third largest with 111 seats.

In this situation, civil society, that non-political intermediary between the individual and the state, grew in strength. The private sector and its organisations grew; the number of voluntary organisations increased; citizens groups, networks, platforms, both recognised and unrecognised, expanded; and there was a spectacular boom in the private media, specially after 1993 when the constitutional ban on private radio and television networks was lifted. In sum, "the situation in Turkey can be described as a combination of steady...growth of civil society and the rapid decay of political society."48 And Turkey has still some way to go before it can be said that democratic stabilisation has been achieved.

India and Turkey

A great expanse of common ground is usually perceived in the bilateral relations between the two countries.

There are the ties of history and culture, including the Turkish-Moghul descent of Babur Shah and his successors; the mutual admiration and inspiration of Kemal Ataturk and the leadership of the Indian independence movement in the 1920s; and, among others, the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural heritage that the two countries share.

Secularism, democracy and the rule of law are over-riding values to which both are committed, "the essential pillars of the value system which would sustain their relations in future years," as put by the Joint Statement issued at the end of the visit of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit to India in March-April 2000.

And there are the problems of the 21st century on which both sides can work together. Peace, security and disarmament, the role of the United Nations system and of multilateral organisations cover one set of problems. Globalisation, liberalisation of the economy and the linked problems of economic development comprise another set. Dealing with international terrorism, crime, and the menace of trafficking in narcotics, is one more. All this is made easier because each side has been careful to avoid polemics on issues of sensitivity to the other: India's pronouncements on Cyprus are more careful (though the principle has not changed), and Turkey avoids talk about Kashmir and anything that equates India and Pakistan.49

But while the larger current problems find mention in the speeches of leaders and the texts of Joint Statements or Declarations, the real possibilities for cooperation are limited, as examples will show. As a member of NATO, and one moreover which has no qualms about the expansion of the Alliance Eastwards, its undertaking out-of-area operations, and its operational activities with or without UN authorisation, Turkey's ideas about peace and security do not easily reconcile with those of India. It is also bound to Western policies on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament with which India cannot agree. When, as will eventually happen, it becomes a member of the EU, it will be part of an economic megabloc trying to squeeze the weaker economies. And when it comes to terrorism, Turkey's sympathy (and even support) for dissidence in Chechnya and other Islamic causes does not find an echo in India, nor can the latter give enthusiastic support on the one problem which bothers Turkey the most-Kurdish secessionism, though this the one area where the interests of the two coalesce.

What remains is the personal interest of the leadership, which has been high and continuing. The president of India has served as India's ambassador to that country and continues to take a deep interest in building the bilateral relationship. He once said, "In geography, so also in economics, Turkey can be a bridge between the continents of Asia and Europe", which is not quite what the Turks mean, but is a positive sentiment. The prime minister of Turkey (Bulent Ecevit) studied Sanskrit and Bengali, translated classics in those languages into Turkish, and turns to the Gita as a source of inspiration.

And there are the possibilities of growth in bilateral trade, which is presently small ($300 million, adding the two way figures) and could be expanded by Turkey becoming an entry point for India's exports to the EU, and, inter alia, by joint work in Central Asia.

But, for the moment, the two sides have to be content with some high level visits and a generally low level relationship.


1. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Turkey, Foreign Policy of Turkey (Ankara, March 1998).

2. Fernand Braudel, A History of Civilisations (USA: Penguin Books, 1995), p. 91.

3. Halil Inalicik, "Turkey and Europe: A Historical Perspective", in Perceptions, vol. II, no. 1, March-May 1997, p. 81.

4. Braudel, n. 2, p. 91.

5. Farah Naaz, "Turkey and the Middle East in the 1990s," Strategic Analysis, vol. XXIII, no. 9, December 1999, p. 1549.

6. Zia Onis, "Turkey in the Post-Cold War Era: In Search of Identity", Middle East Journal, vol. 49, no. 1, Winter 1995, p. 52. Zia Onis wrote as associate professor of economics at Bogazici University, and approvingly refers to Bernard Lewis (see n. 7 below), an eminent and oft quoted Orientalist.

7. Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (London: OUP, 1961), p. 479.

8. Turkey's first five-year plan, aided by Soviet advice and credit, was launched in January 1934.

9. Stanford J. Shaw and Ezel Kural Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, vol. II (Cambridge University Press, 1977), p. 375.

10. Malik Mufti, "Daring and Caution in Turkish Foreign Policy", Middle East Journal, vol. 52, no. 1, Winter 1998, p. 33.

11. Dankwart A. Rustow, Turkey, America's Forgotten Ally (Council of Foreign Relations, 1987), p. 65.

12. There is still a strong tradition among Turkish scholars that their Western allies are unreliable, because of this.

13. Bruce Robellet Kuniholm, The Origins of the Cold War in the Near East (Princeton University Press, 1980), p. 382.

14. Rustow, n. 11, foreword by Bernard Lewis, p. vii.

15. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's statement in Helsinki, December 11, 1999.

16. The quotes in this para are from President Clinton, in his address to the Turkish Grand National Assembly, November 15, 1999.

17. Turkish foreign minister's statement to the EU General Affairs Committee on September 3, 1999, "Turkey and Europe: Looking to the Future From a Historical Perspective."

18. Zia Onis, "Turkey, Europe and the Paradoxes of Identity", Mediterranean Quarterly, vol. 10, no. 3, Summer 1999, p. 109.

19. For more details of these provisions, see below.

20. Gunduz Aktan, "The European Parliament and Turkey", Perceptions, vol. III, no. 4, December 1998-February 1999.

21. Statement at the December 1999 Helsinki EU summit.

22. Onis, n. 6, p. 49.

23. It is said losses on this account amounted to US$2.0 to 2.5 billion (see Naaz, n. 5, p. 1552), but the Turkish foreign minister told the Turkish Daily News (issues of June 28-29, 1999), "What were we earning from the pipeline coming from Iraq? Only around $200 million annually."

24. Sabri Sayari, "Turkey, The Changing European Security Environment and the Gulf Crisis," Middle East Journal, vol. 46, no. 1, Winter 1992, p. 13.

25. See n. 23.

26. President Suleyman Demirel, "Turkey and NATO at the Threshold of a New Century", Perceptions, vol. IV, no. 1, March-May 1999.

27. Tansu Ciller, former prime minister, "Turkish Foreign Policy in its Dynamic Tradition," Perceptions, vol. 1, no. 3, September-November 1996, p. 11.

28. Turkish foreign policy briefing by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Internet Home Page of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

29. See n. 17.

30. See n. 16.

31. Idris Bal, "The Turkish Model and the Turkic Republics", Perceptions, vol. III, no. 3, September-November 1998.

32. Sabri Sayari, "Turkey, the Caucasus and Central Asia," in Ali Banuazizi and Myron Weiner, eds., The New Geopolitics of Central Asia and its Borderlands (London: I.B. Taurus, 1994) p. 192.

33. Ciller, n. 27, p. 7.

34. Graham E. Fuller, "Central Asia: The Quest for Identity", Current History, vol. 93, no. 582, April 1994, p. 148.

35. Anoushiravan Ehteshami and Emma C. Murphy, "The Non-Arab Middle East States and the Caucasian/Central Asian Republics: Turkey", International Relations, vol. XI, no. 6, December 1993, p. 513.

36. Sayari, n. 32, p. 179.

37. Philip Robins, "Turkey's Ostpolitik," in David Menashri, ed., Central Asia Meets the Middle East (London: Frank Cass, 1998), p. 136.

38. Hooman Peiman, Regional Security and the Future of Central Asia (USA: Praeger, 1998), p. 47.

39. See n. 17.

40. Yahya Sezai Tezel, at a seminar on the Turkish-EU Relationship in the Post-Cold War Era, January 6-7, 1997, Ankara, jointly organised by the Centre for Strategic Research and the Institute for European Studies, University of Geneva.

41. See Nicole and Hugh Pope, Turkey Unveiled (London: John Murray, 1997), p. 317.

42. The Kurdistan Workers Party, which has led a sustianed militant movement against Turkey in the southeast since 1984.

43. Katherine A. Wilkens, "Turkey Today: Troubled Ally's Search for Identity," Foreign Policy Association, Headline Series, no. 317, Fall 1998, p. 42.

44. The Azerbaijanis are 78 per cent Shia, but Turkic.

45. Mufti, n. 10, p. 46.

46. Rustow, n. 11, pp. 74 and 77.

47. Ergun Ozbudun, "Civil Society and Democratic Consolidation in Turkey", in Elisabeth Ozdalga and Sune Persson, eds., Civil Society and the Muslim World (Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, Transactions, vol. 7), p. 87.

48. Ozbudun, Ibid., p. 86.

49. Turkish leaders have been outspoken about the need for the earliest return of democracy to Pakistan, and have minimised high level contacts with the military leadership, but military cooperation has not stopped.