International Spectator

The International Spectator

Volume XXXIV No. 1 (January-March 1999)


Editor’s Note


This issue of The International Spectator is entirely devoted to the analysis and discussion of a number of topical questions related to the recent evolution and future prospects of Turkey, a country whose strategic importance and role have been growing steadily since the end of the Cold War, but which continues to face several factors of internal instability and an external environment characterised by a high degree of turbulence and volatility. The purpose of the issue is two-fold: to offer a variety of insights and points of view on the policies and attitudes of the main actors of Turkey’s domestic scene and on the key determinants of its foreign relations; and to examine the different policy options open to Western countries to foster dialogue and cooperation with Ankara.

In the first article of the Opinions section, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lamberto Dini, illustrates the benchmarks of Italy’s policy towards Turkey. He maintains that the tensions between the two countries created by the Öcalan case should not overshadow the many deep-rooted interests and objectives that the two countries have in common. Dini also places the emphasis on the Italian government’s long-lasting commitment to help overcome the difficulties that Turkey’s request for membership in the European Union has encountered as well as on its ongoing effort to encourage Ankara to adopt behaviours that are more in conformity with the European parameters particularly as regards the treatment of the Kurdish minority. In the second article of the section, Mumtaz Soysal examines the conceptual and historical determinants of the prevailing Turkish point of view on the Kurdish question. Since the post-First Cold War period, according to Soysal, external factors, chief among them the policy of the Western powers, have played a key role in the development of Kurdish separatism, although the leadership of the Turkish Republic bears its part of responsibility for having neglected to foster self-government and socio-economic development in the southeastern area of the country. Soysal concludes that the key to solution of the problem lies not in a now unrealistic transformation of Turkey into a federal states along ethnic lines, but in overall progress in the respect and protection of individual human rights throughout the country. Dogu Ergil’s article provides an overview of the main factors that led to the development of the Kurdish problem. These include: the heavy centralism that shaped the nation-building process in Turkey and resulted in a “turkification” of the population and a suffocating predominance of an authoritarian bureaucracy; the failure to eliminate underdevelopment in southeastern Turkey, which has permitted the persistence of the tribal nature of the Kurdish society; the Kurds’ inability to develop a peaceful political movement. Ergil points out that it is illusory to look for a solution of the Kurdish problem that does not take into due account the close interconnection among these three factors. In the final article of the section, Danielle Mitterrand, addressing the same subject from quite a different perspective, argues that the Kurds’ struggle for freedom has definitively become a European problem, as demonstrated by the Öcalan case most recently, and hence that Europe’s passivity and sometimes even cowardliness in dealing with it is a clear proof of political immaturity. The Kurdish question should thus be regarded, according to Mitterrand, as a crucial test bed of overall EU policy in the field of human rights.

The first two articles of the more analytical section of the journal deal with Turkey’s domestic politics, its political and constitutional system and the related problems of democracy and protection of human rights. After providing an overview of the recent developments in Turkey’s politics, focussing on the role of such key actors as the armed forces and the Islamist movements, William Hale examines the possible future evolution with particular regard to coming elections. In a look at the constitutional and human rights regimes, the relationship between the state and the civil society. Hugh Poulton, moving from a broader historic perspective, concentrates on the factors that continue to curtail political pluralism and human rights in Turkey, including many laws and practices embedded in the penal and judicial systems.

The following two articles focus on the far-reaching changes that Turkey’s geopolitical position has undergone since the collapse of the Soviet empire and on the ways in which the Turkish decision makers have tried to adapt the country’s foreign policy to them. Shireen Hunter examines the responses that Turkey has given to the new realities of the post-Soviet environment in different periods, passing through varying degree of anxiety, self-confidence and disillusionment. Hunter points out that, as the result of these geopolitical changes, the traditional premises of Turkey’s foreign policy are now under discussion and old ideologies are re-emerging, although she concludes that there is no substantial indication that the country’s Western orientation is at real risk. Ian Lesser analyses the main aspects of the debate over the international policy options in Turkey, putting them in the wider context of a “complex crisis of identity”. On the basis of this analysis he presents three different scenarios of the evolution of Turkey’s foreign policy, concluding that, while Ankara has no viable alternatives to its alignment with the West, it is likely to behave in an increasingly assertive way, which, in any case, will confront the West with a set of not easily manageable policy dilemmas.

John Roper’s article examines the various opportunities for cooperation or conflict between Western countries and Turkey in the security field, as they manifest themselves in the various geographical contexts - southeastern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Central Asia. - and with regard to the global and transnational risks. Roper points out that, while the future pattern of partnership with Turkey will depend heavily on its internal evolution, it will also be influenced by the outcome of the ongoing security debate between Western Europeans and Americans on both the institutional and substantive problems of the security policy in Europe and elsewhere. Gulnur Aybet offers a Turkish point of view on the evolving relations between Ankara and the European institutions. She stresses the fact that, while no European security architecture is conceivable without Turkey, the latter remains in a grey area since the country is a member of NATO but has poor prospects to be involved in EU decision-making concerning security issues, a contradiction that may be further exacerbated by the possible absorption of the WEU into the EU.

Hansjöörg Brey’s article examines the domestic and foreign policy significance of the Cyprus issue for Turkey and the main problems to be addressed in view of its solution. He concentrates in particular on such key recent developments as the beginning of the accession talks with the European Union and the military build-ups in both parts of the island. In the final article of the issue, Mirella Galletti gives an overview of the Kurdish issue in Turkey, focusing on the main characteristics of various Kurdish parties, including the PKK, and the policies adopted by the Turkish government to deal with what it mostly perceives as a direct threat to the principle of the indivisibility of the state. A specific part of the article is also devoted to analysis of the recent regional events that have had an impact on the conflict between Ankara and the Kurdish rebels.