CHARLOTTE MCPHERSON

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CHARLOTTE MCPHERSON
April 27, 2012, Friday

Turkey and its role in the 21st century (2)

Turkey has turned its economy around to become the 17th largest economy in the world and is turning in a new direction that is not so dead set on pursuing European Union membership.

In my last column I shared an article in Turkish in a magazine known as Marketing Türkiye, in which some strategic questions were asked pertaining to Turkey’s role in the region. I would like to hear from Today’s Zaman readers what your ideas are on the first question asking, “How did the Arab Spring affect and change the position of Turkey in the Middle East region?”

The following questions are just as crucial and being asked by many around the world:

· Has Turkey been in the process of becoming a regional leader?

· What is the influence of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in this process?

· There is a strong perception in Turkey that Turkey is a regional power and that Erdoğan will be a regional leader and also a world leader. How do you evaluate this perception? Do you really think this perception is true? Why? Or it is just propaganda created by Turkish people for Turkish people. Why?

Here are my responses to the points:

· Has Turkey been in the process of becoming a regional leader?

Historically, during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman Empire expanded until it extended to the shores of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, covering lands that are now countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Hungary. Like many European empires, in the 19th century, Turkey began to lose territories and focused on domestic issues. Leadership has cycles. Once again Turkey will have, or shall we say, is having a role in the region and having an impact.

· What is Erdoğan’s influence in this process?

Influence comes in many forms. It can be direct or indirect; it can also be positive or negative! History reveals worldwide how territory, trade and influence have always been the name of the game when it comes to politics, cooperation between neighbors and treaties. The Turkish government and its leaders are modeling the stages of democracy in practice and the developments in the process. This is very influential in a positive way and is both direct and indirect.

· There is a strong perception in Turkey that Turkey is a regional power and that Erdoğan will be a regional leader and also a world leader. How do you evaluate this perception? Do you really think this perception is true? Why? Or it is just propaganda created by Turkish people for Turkish people. Why?

Yes, in a sense Turkey is by default a regional power. The renowned British Orientalist Freya Stark said, “Geography is behind trade, and trade is behind history, and the sequence should ever be remembered.” Turkey does not have oil but it has water. But more than this, it is actively working hard to improve relations with neighbors in the region. Turkey has developed better economic trade relations with its neighbors in recent years. Turkey has acted as a mediator in some tricky situations. Turks share some common cultural aspects with Arabs. Turks are proud of the rich historical cultural heritage.

In my three decades or more of life experience in Turkey, I have learned that Turks have a great deal of national pride. The Turkish phrase “Ne mutlu Türküm diyene!” (Happy is he who calls himself a Turk!) is one of the most frequently encountered slogans. Turkey is a land of diversity and contrast in every way, including opinions on political matters. Opinions can vary widely. Is the thought that Turkey’s prime minister could be a leader in the region based on this national pride? Perhaps a little, but let’s not forget that UN, US and European diplomats see Turkey as an important partner in the region, which means they recognize the key role Turkey can play.

I think the desire of all Turks and every Middle Easterner is that one day Middle Eastern nations will experience unity, wealth and security as a region. This will benefit Turkey in giving it strong trading partners both to the West in Europe and to the East in the Middle East.

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey, 2005.” Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email: [email protected]

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