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Foreign Relations

Turkey began reevaluating its foreign policy in 1991, when the United States-led war against Iraq and the collapse of the Soviet Union totally upset patterns of international relations that had been relatively consistent for more than forty years. Both of these developments intimately affected Turkey because the former Soviet Union was its neighbor to the north and east, and Iraq its neighbor to the south. Political instability has plagued both these regions since 1991, causing some Turkish national security analysts to fear possible negative consequences for their own country. However, other Turks believe that the international changes since 1991 offer their country a unique opportunity to reassert its historical role as a bridge between two regions in which it has had only a marginal presence since 1918.

Dissolution of the Soviet Union

Since the end of World War II, Turkey had regarded the Soviet Union, the superpower with which it shared a 590-kilometer frontier, as its principal enemy. Fear of Soviet intentions was powerful enough to persuade Turkish leaders to join the United States-European collective defense agreement, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in 1952. Participation in NATO made Turkey a partisan on the side of the West in the Cold War that dominated international politics for more than forty years. Turkish suspicions of the Soviet Union gradually eased during the era of détente that began in the 1960s, paving the way for several bilateral economic cooperation agreements in the 1970s. However, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 revived Turkish concerns about Soviet expansionism and led to a cooling of relations that lasted more than five years. Beginning in the mid-1980s, Turkish fears again eased. Ankara and Moscow concluded a number of agreements, including plans for a pipeline to carry natural gas from Soviet gas fields to Turkey. Economic and diplomatic ties between the two countries were being expanded when the Soviet Union dissolved into fifteen independent nations.

For Turkey the practical consequence of the Soviet Union's demise was the replacement of one large, powerful, and generally predictable neighbor with five smaller near neighbors characterized by domestic instability and troubling foreign policies. Like most states, Turkey perceives Russia as the principal inheritor of Soviet power and influence. Turkish officials likewise share in the widespread uncertainty over Russia's role in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), formed at the end of 1991, and thus try to avoid policies that might antagonize a traditional adversary. Diplomatic contacts with Russia and the CIS have focused on the renegotiation of numerous Soviet-era economic and technical cooperation agreements that were in force when the Soviet Union was dissolved. Turkey also has initiated multilateral discussions with the five states that now border the Black Sea--Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Romania--on an economic cooperation project originally proposed before the demise of the Soviet Union. The inaugural meetings of the new group called for ambitious plans to increase trade among member states, encourage labor mobility, and establish a development bank.

In Transcaucasia and Central Asia, regions where Turkey is most keen to project its influence, Ankara has tended to defer to Moscow whenever such a course seems prudent. Turkey's efforts to make its presence felt in nearby Transcaucasia have been limited not so much by Russia as by the political realities that emerged in Transcaucasia itself after December 1991. All three new countries in the region--Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia--share land borders with Turkey; thus political and economic leaders view them as natural partners for trade and development projects. Both President Özal's Motherland Party and Prime Minister Demirel's True Path Party embraced the idea of expanding ties with Azerbaijan, an oil-producing country whose people speak a Turkic language closely related to Anatolian Turkish.

Almost all the major parties have expressed reservations about an independent Armenia, probably on account of the historical bitterness between Armenians and Turks. In the mid-1990s, the revival of Ottoman-era animosities seemed inevitable because Armenia and Azerbaijan had become independent while fighting an undeclared war over the Azerbaijani province of Nagorno-Karabakh, whose ethnic Armenian majority has been trying to secede. Turkey adopted an officially neutral position in the conflict, although its sympathies lie with Azerbaijan. Popular opinion against Armenia became especially intense in 1992 and 1993, when military successes by Armenian forces caused tens of thousands of Azerbaijani refugees to enter Turkey. Turkey responded by applying temporary economic pressure on Armenia, such as closing the transborder road to traffic bringing goods into the landlocked country and cutting Turkish electrical power to Armenian towns. However, Turkey's membership in NATO and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (from January 1995, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), its concerns about overall regional stability--adjacent Georgia was engulfed in its own civil war in 1993--and fears of unpredictable Iranian and Russian reactions all combined to restrain Turkey from providing direct military assistance to Azerbaijan.

Disappointment over the inadequacy of Turkish support was one of the factors that prompted the 1993 coup against Azerbaijan's staunchly pro-Turkish government. This unexpected political change in Baku represented a major blow to Turkish policy. The new regime in Azerbaijan was not only cool toward Turkey but also determined to cultivate friendlier relations with Iran and Russia. These developments provoked opposition deputies in Turkey's National Assembly to accuse the Çiller government of having "lost" Azerbaijan. As of late January 1995, Ankara's political influence in Baku still was limited, although Turkey's overall cultural influence in Azerbaijan seemed strong.

Turkey's policy in Central Asia has proved more successful than its Transcaucasian policy. As with Azerbaijan, a feeling of pan-Turkic solidarity has prompted Turkish interest in expanding ties with the countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In April 1992, in his first year as prime minister, Demirel traveled to the region to promote Turkey as a political and developmental model for the Central Asian states. He explicitly represented Turkey not only as a successful example of what an independent Turkic country could achieve but also as a more appropriate model than the Islamic alternative offered by Iran, which he perceived as Turkey's main rival for influence in the region. Subsequently, Turkey concluded numerous cultural, economic, and technical aid agreements with the Central Asian states, including non-Turkic Tajikistan. Turkey also sponsored full membership for the Central Asian countries and Azerbaijan in the Economic Cooperation Organization, a regional trade pact whose original members were Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey. In practice, however, Turkey lacks adequate economic resources to play the pivotal role in Central Asia to which it aspires. Because Iran also has insufficient capital for aid to and investment in the region, the anticipated rivalry between Iran and Turkey had failed by the mid-1990s to develop into a serious contest. By the time President Özal followed Demirel's trip with his own tour of the region in April 1993, Turkey recognized, albeit reluctantly, that Russia, rather than Turkey or Iran, had emerged as the dominant political force in Central Asia, and that this situation would prevail indefinitely. Nevertheless, the new countries have professed friendship toward Turkey and welcomed its overtures. In response, Turkey has reoriented its policies to focus on strengthening bilateral cultural ties and encouraging Turkish private entrepreneurs to invest in the region. As of early 1995, Turkey enjoyed close diplomatic relations with the four Turkic republics of Central Asia and good relations with Persian-speaking Tajikistan.

Closely related to the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the collapse of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe. This development had positive consequences in terms of Turkey's relations with Bulgaria, which borders the Turkish province of Thrace. Relations between Turkey and Bulgaria had been badly strained between 1985 and 1989 as a result of Bulgaria's campaign of forcibly assimilating its Turkish minority, estimated at 900,000 and comprising approximately 10 percent of the country's total population. Efforts by Bulgaria's ethnic Turks to protest government policies requiring them to change their Turkish and Muslim names to Bulgarian and Christian ones, end all Islamic teaching and practices, and stop speaking Turkish in public had led to increasingly severe repression. This repression culminated in the summer of 1989 with a mass exodus of an estimated 320,000 Turkish Bulgarians, who fled across the border into Turkey during a seven-week period in July and August. The exodus overwhelmed Turkey's refugee facilities and provoked an international crisis as well as an internal crisis within Bulgaria that contributed to the fall of the communist government. Subsequently, Bulgaria's new democratic government repealed the controversial assimilation decrees and invited those who had fled to return home. Relations between Turkey and Bulgaria steadily improved during the early 1990s, and the two countries have concluded several bilateral trade and technical assistance agreements. A similar spirit of cooperation was evident in the agreements signed with other East European countries, in particular Hungary and Romania.

In contrast to the generally positive evolution of relations with Bulgaria, the international politics surrounding the disintegration of Yugoslavia proved frustrating for Turkish diplomacy. The plight of the Muslim population of Bosnia and Herzegovina during the civil war that followed Bosnia's 1992 declaration of independence aroused popular sympathy in Turkey and support for interventionist policies to help the Bosnian Muslims. Although the government supported the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force in Bosnia and an auxiliary NATO military role, Ankara criticized these efforts as inadequate. In the mid-1990s, Turkey favored firmer measures against Bosnian Serbs and the government of Serbia, which Turkey, like other countries, had accused of providing military aid and other assistance to the Bosnian Serbs. However, as of early 1995, Turkey was not prepared to take unilateral steps in Bosnia that might antagonize its NATO partners.

Data as of January 1995

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