Evidently, a lot of attention has been paid to Turkey’s foreign policy in recent years. Given the immense changes taking place in and around Turkey and the globe, this is justified. The shift from a passive, rather indifferent, reactive policy to a proactive one based on a new doctrine, chiefly been driven by two prominent figures of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) — President Abdullah Gül, when he served as foreign minister, and Ahmet Davutoğlu, his successor — has led to reflections, questions and praise as well as skepticism.
All of this has been taking place while Turkey asserts itself as a regional economic power on the path to full-scale democracy, with stability and predictability. Certainly, this is displayed in a much more complicated manner in foreign policy than ever before.
Therefore, it should not be surprising that one of the most revisited topics in discussions with colleagues, researchers and scholars is what they see as a lack of comprehensive reference literature on this subject. Although the well-read and much-discussed book by Davutoğlu, “Strategic Depth,” is out there, it is personal and, in a way, limited to the period of the tectonic shift of policymaking and focuses mainly on the present.
Now, thanks to Professor Baskın Oran’s meticulous work, a huge gap seems to have been filled. On my desk sits a heavy book spanning almost 1,000 pages, non-emotively titled “Turkish Foreign Policy 1919-2006: Facts and Analyses with Documents,” published by University of Utah Press.
“The Turkish version of this book, published at the end of 2001, took us three-and-a-half years to write, with 14 experts. To prepare the English version took a lot of effort. The translation started in 2002 and took over four years, with my updating of the period 2001-2006 included,” Oran told me in an email interview.
Oran said, “False modesty put aside,” this is the only comprehensive book on Turkey’s foreign policy. “Not only that. It also is an account of the international and domestic environment and dynamics of the period in which foreign policy is formulated. This is the only single book to understand Republican Turkey from 1919 to our [present] day, with [as much] maximum objectivity that one can provide. It can also be read by high school graduates because we have provided ‘boxes,’ explanatory notes for every single concept we used. The reader does not need to look elsewhere for maps, documents and economic tables; it’s all compiled in this one big volume. We [put forward] our best effort in an interdisciplinary approach,” he added.
There are various points to be made about the work. The authors have been selected according to the subject, instead of vice versa. The narrative has been shaped to bring out the continuity of foreign policy. It also claims to offer new findings on Turkey’s foreign relations.
Is there more than one way of reading it?
“It can be read both vertically [chronologically] and horizontally [thematically],” said Oran. ‘The reader can follow Turkish policy vis-à-vis all countries over a given period or can study this country’s policy in relation to a specific country from 1919 to 2006. It permitted us to eliminate the shortcomings of an exclusively chronological approach, where the reader cannot follow the relations with a specific country without interruptions, and the shortcomings of the thematic approach, where the relations with specific countries cannot be seen in relation to the full historical background of the period. Every period starts with an appraisal of the period where international dynamics and domestic policies are analyzed. It then proceeds to bilateral relations and finally concludes with a discussion of the foreign policy. The book’s aim is to provide not snapshots but the entire reel of film about Turkey’s endeavor to reach the rank of ‘strategic medium power’ — a position she has always aspired to.”
Where does the “film” end, then? How successful is the book on the hot topic of where Turkey’s foreign policy is today and where it is heading?
“Turkey, like her predecessors [the Arab, Byzantine and Ottoman empires] established in this ‘Bermuda Triangle’ [the Balkans, the Middle East and the Caucasus], has always pursued a bifocal stance. First, it had policies directed towards the West as dictated by their proximity to this hub of development since medieval history and also by their unique position as a transit route between the aggressive European merchant and Eastern Asia, a source of historical wealth. Second, in order to create the conditions of relative autonomy from the West it always strived to create a balance between international powers. Turkey has pursued this central policy of a ‘strategic middle power’ which, thanks to carefully using its relative autonomy in a strategic area, is ‘more than a middle power.’ So, one can see better why things develop as they do. Turkey today is striving hard to enter the EU but is also crucially diversifying her trade and foreign policies. From this strict point of view, there is nothing new under the sun,” concluded Oran.
For those interested in a broader background and perspective, “Turkish Foreign Policy 1919-2006: Facts and Analyses with Documents,” is highly recommended.