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Turkey does its own thing
Turkey does its own thing
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia

Turkey does its own thing

Originally published in Chatham House

Hugh Pope and Nigar Goksel profile a country deemed too autocratic, too Muslim and too wayward to join the European club.

Type ‘Who lost Turkey?’ into a search engine and you will find that many pundits are searching for a culprit.

Versions of this question show up in a myriad newspaper headlines, mostly from American publications but not solely: Qui a perdu la Turquie?, Le Monde, 2020; Europa hat die Türkei verloren, Der Spiegel, 2017; ¿Quién ‘perdió’ a Turquía?, El Pais, 2010.

Yet the question tells us more about those asking it than it does about today’s Turkey. Those posing it count on Ankara to follow the lead of Washington or Europe’s capitals, something a quick glance at the history books shows is improbable. It is time to reset expectations.

Turkey has always done things its own way: building bridges one moment, bridgeheads the next.

These days it is President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is seizing any chance to increase his power and expand his country’s role on the global stage: he spars with the Kremlin over Syria or Libya, then buys Russia’s advanced ground-to-air S-400 missiles; he challenges the United States, then cosies up to its president; he insults European leaders, but never quite blows up his country’s European Union membership negotiations; he goads Greece and Cyprus over Eastern Mediterranean maritime boundaries or calls into question the status of the long-sealed off, Turkish-occupied beach resort of Famagusta on the front line in Cyprus, then calls for dialogue; he supports Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, then seeks a place at the peace talks; he feuds bitterly with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Muslim states, yet claims to speak for Muslim Brotherhood-style government and the downtrodden everywhere.

To some in the United States and Europe, Erdogan, prime minister after 2003 and president since 2014, is the reason this country of 83 million people was ‘lost’. But the idea precedes him. When Necmettin Erbakan, a religious conservative, became prime minister in 1996 and reached out to Iran, The New York Times also asked: ‘Who Lost Turkey?’ While it is true that Erdogan’s approach to the world around him has hardened over the past two decades, rejection of subjugation to the West has long been the bedrock of Turkish politics, whether its leadership was religious or secular, leftist or rightwing.

To some in the United States and Europe, Erdogan, prime minister after 2003 and president since 2014, is the reason this country of 83 million people was ‘lost’.

‘Lost Turkey’ stories identify what makes western powers unhappy when Ankara fails to meet their expectations. This usually amounts to Ankara working at cross purposes to its western allies, or implementing domestic policies that run counter to western preferences. What the West often fails to grasp is the ‘why’.

Read the full article on Chatham House's website.

Contributors

Director of Communications & Outreach
Hugh_Pope
Project Director, Turkey
nigargoksel