Gaza flotilla raid: Will it change Turkey's regional role?
Anger with Israel over the Gaza flotilla raid, which ended in the deaths of nine Turkish activists, has illustrated the difficulty of Turkey's effort to bridge East and West.
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Mr. Davutoglu, an academic with a penchant for writing books such as "Alternative Paradigms: The Impact of Islamic and Western Weltanschauungs on Political Theory," has managed to convey Turkey's foreign policy with a simple message: "zero problems with neighbors." That means reaching out to Middle Eastern nations that Turkey has ignored for decades and carving out a niche as mediator of ancient and modern rivalries.Skip to next paragraph
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Turkey has launched important initiatives from the Balkans to the Hindu Kush. Mr. Erdogan and Davutoglu, who became foreign minister in May 2009, have organized four summits since then to bring together former foes Serbia and Bosnia. Erdogan also recently hosted his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts to improve their cross-border relations. Davutoglu has claimed that Turkish mediation, in which he played a lead role, brought Israel and Syria to within one word of a deal by December 2008. But when Israel launched its three-week offensive on Gaza, Turkey called off the talks. It has since offered to mediate between rivals in Lebanon, as well as to promote reconciliation between the Palestinian factions of Hamas and Fatah.
Turkey has also worked to repair its own fences, initiating a historic (though now stalled) reconciliation process with Armenia, which has long wanted Turkey to say that the mass killings of Armenians in World War I amounted to genocide. Most recently, Turkey – along with Brazil – helped broker an 11th-hour nuclear fuel swap deal with Iran after Western powers had all but given up. A peeved US, which felt the deal was too little, too late, responded the next day by announcing unanimous support for fresh Iran sanctions from the United Nations Security Council's five permanent members.
Why is Turkey carving out this role?
Turkey is motivated by a mix of political, economic, and ideological factors. The government feels that Turkey has punched below its weight for too long and has missed important opportunities.
Turkey has the world's 16th-largest economy – its growth between 2002 and 2007 averaged an impressive 6 percent – and believes that continued economic growth depends on actively developing its political and trade relations on a global scale.
But Turkey's leaders also believe that, as heirs of the Ottoman Empire, their country should have a greater say in regional – even global – affairs and play a leading role in the Muslim world. Turkey is less interested in tying itself down to the "West" or the "East"; it wants to be a center of power.
"I believe the thinking now in government circles is that Turkey itself can now be an axis," says Sami Kohen, a foreign-affairs analyst.