Turkey's New President Signals Subtle Shift in Style
ISTANBUL — TURKEY'S late president, Turgut Ozal, had a great dream: to make Turkey the central power in a region stretching from the Balkans to Central Asia, or in his own words, "from the Adriatic to the China Wall."
If that grand vision lost its champion last month when Ozal died, the election yesterday of Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel as president - a mostly ceremonial role - suggests that Turkey will continue to extend its influence across the region.
But analysts worry that a certain momentum has been lost.
"Ozal was different," says Prof. Ilter Turan, a noted political scientist. "He had a strong personality, charisma, and creativeness. On foreign affairs, he had vision and looked ahead to the year 2000, taking into account the new trends in world politics."
"Demirel certainly is not the kind of leader to pursue this kind of vision," adds journalist Cengiz Candar.
With the ebb of Soviet influence, Ozal sought vigorously to broaden Turkey's role in both regional conflicts and economic development. He traveled to the Balkans and the five Turkic republics of Central Asia.
He advocated prompt Turkish military action to halt the war in Bosnia and military maneuvers along Turkey's border to check Armenian attacks against Azerbaijan.
In a trip to the former Soviet republics of Central Asia last month, Ozal presented a blueprint for a vast region linked by highways, railroads, oil and gas pipelines, telecommunication systems, and close trade and cultural relations.
Mr. Demirel, who has served as prime minister six times, is more cautious. He disagreed with Ozal's view that "calculated risks should be taken in foreign policy" or that "a country that aspires to be a great regional power should think big and have guts."
On Bosnia, Demirel's government acted in accord with the international community and UN resolutions (although Ankara has been pressing for limited joint military intervention). On the Armenian-Azeri conflict, he has worked in coordination with the United States and Russia to persuade the two sides to seek a negotiated settlement.
As for economic ties with the Turkic world, Turkey under Demirel granted $1.1 billion in credits to the Central Asian republics. The Turks are negotiating with Kazakhstan a project that would extend an oil pipeline from Baku, Azerbaijan, to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Iskenderun. A similar project for gas from Turkmenistan is under discussion.
Demirel's pace may be more agreeable than Ozal's to Turkey's businessmen, who are quite active in investing in various fields, from textile to telecommunications, hotels to airports. A Turkish banker accompanying Ozal noted Turkey cannot go beyond its limits in granting assistance to these republics "just for the sake of appearing in the role of a regional power."
With the prime minister's office now open, Turkey's domestic politics will overshadow foreign policy. Demirel's succession leaves a leadership vacuum in his True Path Party, which will elect a new chairman next month. Parliament speaker Husamettin Cindoruk is the strongest candidate for that post, putting him in position to be named prime minister. For now, Demirel's deputy, Erdal Inonu, will act as prime minister.