The turbulent events that commenced less than a year ago and which continue to take place in North Africa and the Middle East are caused by complicated, and often contradictory, reasons and factors, and therefore require detailed and serious research. What we are interested in with regard to those events is the diplomatic and political activation of Turkey in the mentioned geopolitical region, which runs under the slogan of returning to “Islamic values”.

Analysts point out many reasons for this phenomenon. Most of their explanations are being grounded by the aspiration of Turkish ruling elite and influential political circles of this country to find a new geopolitical niche, since Turkey lost its function as a bastion against Russia’s (the USSR’s) west- and southward expansion after the end of the Cold War.

Up to the recent times, the efforts of Turkish politicians and state functionaries were focused mainly on EU membership. Moreover, even today one can hardly say that Turks have abandoned this desirable perspective. They continue reforming their legislation in accordance with so-called “European standards”, reviewing the policy in regard to national and religious minorities, promising the latter cultural and religious autonomy, paying great attention to human rights, freedom of speech, struggles against corruption and so forth. In short, the Turkish political elite are still following the recommendations of united Europe.

At the same time, it is quite obvious that Turks are deeply disappointed by their European partners, and no longer hide it. The terms promised to them for EU membership are moving away continuously (the next term is no sooner than 2015), concurrently being put together with the almost impossible requirements; namely, the official recognition of the Armenian genocide of 1915 and resolution of the Cyprus issue.

Needless to mention, the concession in regard to even one of these extremely sensitive issues for Turks will be assessed as a loss of part of their sovereignty, if not worse. That’s why Turkish politicians and ideologists assert that Europe does not want to let them into their “Club of Selected”, forged primarily by religious principle. According to them, the artificial postponing of Turkey’s membership to the EU is by no means related to political and economic criteria of selection.

It is worth pointing out that the mentioned remark is not groundless. Many works published in recent years by European scholars[1] are aimed at proving that Turkey has not yet matured enough for EU membership. In addition, the reasons for this are not economic or political, and even not related to the issue of developing democracy in this country. This is a problem of clashing of Western values from one side, and Eastern mentality from another, an inevitable clash of civilizations, which have developed through different paths over the course of many centuries. The assertion of Sociology Professor Caglar Keyder, that this is a “culturological opposition” within EU that has been speaking out against Turkey’s candidacy for more than 10 years, makes more sense in this context. According to Keydel, the mentioned opposition nowadays enjoys extensive support from the heads of such influential European states as France and Germany.[2]

American experts are also searching for the reasons for the dramatic fluctuations of Turkey’s foreign policy, though with the pragmatism so characteristic of them in the geopolitical field. In their view, which is published in the report, called “Countering Turkey’s Strategic Drift”, Turkey is in the process of alienating itself from Europe and the US because it aspires to become an independent pole of a forming multi-polar world. This is happening primarily under the influence of internal factors. The most important amongst them is a “creeping Islamization” that forces the country’s new ruling elite to demonstrate (under the pressure of public opinion[3]) solidarity with other Muslim peoples of the region, and consequently to build up its foreign policy by opposing the US and Israel.[4]

What “pole” American experts are talking about is quite clear: an “Islamic pole”, which is still hypothetical, but has many chances to emerge.

Nevertheless, Turkey’s foreign policy moves, aimed at domination in the Islamic world, surprisingly proved to be consistent and seemingly effective enough. First, Turkey refused to participate in the occupation of Iraq. Then Ankara in fact supported Russia in its conflict with Georgia. For the time being it supports overtly the nuclear program of Iran, tries to make some ties with the new regimes that came to power in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and exerts all possible efforts to influence the situation in Syria. However, the most important is that Turkey has stepped onto the path of open and acute confrontation with Israel. One would hardly disagree that this is a weighty argument in the struggle for regional leadership (and particularly in the Islamic world). However, is it a zero-risk enterprise?

There are substantial doubts in this regard, related to a set of weighty factors. The first is historic memory. For indigenous peoples of the region, both Muslim and Christian (Arabs, Persians, Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians, etc.), Turks were and remain alien people, which came at the beginning of XI century, ruined the way of life that had formed through thousands of years, destroyed ancient states, and then exploited subjugated peoples ruthlessly and despotically, regardless of their religion.

The next factor is political. Through the whole of the last century, Turkey was a loyal executor of US (broadly, Western) political line in the Middle East. Thanks to that, Ankara has strengthened economically and militarily. That’s why today there are substantial doubts that anti-Western and especially anti-American demarches of Turkey have a speculative character. In other words, these demarches are aimed at getting back the status of an irreplaceable ally of the US in the Middle East by means of political intrigue.

As for Washington, it most probably understands perfectly the meaning and goals of Turkish contemporary foreign policy. Moreover, it must be wishing Turkey replace Iran as the spiritual leader of Islamic world for quite understandable reasons. In combination with Turkey’s economic and military capabilities, which is still tied to the West, and particularly with the US, by thousands of channels, it will make the region of the Middle East more controllable. Henceforth, it’s not hard to guess: the role of “Regional Gendarme” is exactly what Turkey offers itself for, and such a role of Turkey may be quite compatible with the US interests in the region.

However, here we are faced with an unacceptable situation for both Turkey and the US. On the one hand, becoming the Islamic leader and remaining a political-military ally of Israel (as it was up until recent times) is unthinkable for Turkey. On the other hand, America’s denial of support to Israel in order to please Turkish geopolitical ambitions may bring about the loss of substantial part of Washington’s influence in the Middle East. The “Gendarme” of the region may start creating a new pole of power, the outlines of which will match with those of the Islamic empire. And there will be no force to oppose it in the region: Iran is seriously weakened by international sanctions; Egypt and Syria are destabilized. Hence, one may assume that Israel will find itself in extremely difficult situation already in the first stage of realization of the abovementioned Turkish scenario, in case the US approves it. Given the Turkey’s outstanding military capabilities Israel’s withstanding the Turkish military is quite problematic in case the latter undertakes concrete actions in the region.

Today Turkey has already turned from anti-Israel rhetoric to direct provocations against the Jewish state. Under the pretext of securing the passage of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and avoiding such incidents as occurred with the Mavi Marmara, Ankara declared its intention to send military vessels to the Eastern Mediterranean.[5] In addition, Turkey has started gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, escorted by warships (on the Cyprus’s shelf), which is quite close to the recently explored Israeli gas field Leviathan.[6] This is already a naked bid for conflict with Israel.

In short, we see Turkish new foreign policy in action. However, while the aforementioned moves of Turkey’s foreign policy seems to be mere tactical, the question is, will they transform into the long-term strategy?


[1] Alexandre Dell Valle, Emmanuel Razavi. Le Dilemme turc ou les vrais enje, Edition Des Syrtes, 2005. 314p.  Annie Laurent, L’Europe malade de la Turque, Paris, Francois-Xabier de Guibert, 2005. 171 p.

[2] Caglar Keydel, Moving in form the Margins, Turkey in Europe, Diogenes, May 2006 53: 72-81, Stable URL:;53/2/72   (accessed October 06, 2011).

[3] According to some Russian sources, currently Turkey is a country number one in terms of anti-American moods amongst its population. See: Турция уходит из под ног США,(2010), Stable URL:, (accessed October 05, 2011).  

[4] Sally McNamara , Ariel Cohen, Ph.D. James Phillips, Countering Turkey’s Strategic Drift, The Heritage Foundation, Stable URL:,  (accessed October 06, 2011).

[5] ‘Turkey sending 3 warships to eastern Mediterranean’, THE JERUSALEM POST, (09/12/2011) Stable URL: (accessed October 15, 2011).

[6] Turkish ship explores near Cypriot gas rig –official, REUTERS, (09.27.2011), Stable URL:, (accessed October 07, 2011).