Turkish Foreign Policy during JDP Era

Regional Coexistence and Global Cooperation

by Tayyar Ari (Volume editor) Mesut Hakkı Caşın (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 238 Pages


This book focuses on understanding Turkey’s foreign policy during the period of the JDP (Justice and Development Party) and Erdoğan. The authors contributing to the book analyze Turkey’s relations with different regions and countries and its policies regarding different issues. The key factor in writing the book is to answer the question "where is Turkey going?". In this context, understanding the cultural, geopolitical, economic, and ideological factors shaping Turkey’s foreign policy from the past to the present will contribute to answering that question and eliminating the uncertainties about Turkey’s direction.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgement
  • Preface
  • Contents
  • Analyzing Turkey’s Middle East Policy after the Arab Spring (Tayyar Arı)
  • Can the Turkish-Russian Relations in the 21st Century Be Described as Sitting on Cooperation-Competition Axis? (Mesut Hakkı Caşın)
  • Turkey and the United Nations Relations: Common Interests and Conflicting Areas (Esra Hatipoğlu)
  • The Erdogan Era Turkey–EU Relations the Rise and Fall of the Target of Full Membership (2002–2020) (İrfan Kaya ÜLGER)
  • Turkey in the Erdogan Era – NATO Relationships: A Realistic Association (Gökhan Koçer)
  • Turkey and Latin America: Surviving Latin American Political Cycles Through Multi-Dimensionality and Soft Power Activism (Ebru İlter Akarçay)
  • The Noteworthy Regional Energy Security Initiatives of Turkey in Recep Tayyip Erdogan Period: Just Being a Transit State or More Than That? (Sina Kısacık)
  • Friends or Foes? Turkey-Iran Relations within the Perspective of the Nuclear Dispute (Murat Arslan)
  • The Relations Between United Kingdom and the Republic of Turkey (Suat Eren Özyiğit)
  • “Diyanet” in France as a Means of Soft Power (Ahmet Gedik)
  • Turkish-American Relations During Erdogan Period (Hanefi Yazıcı)
  • List of Contributors

←14 | 15→

Tayyar Arı

Analyzing Turkey’s Middle East Policy after the Arab Spring

Turkey’s Middle East policy was limited to specific issues and certain countries between the First World War and the Second World War. Especially with the end of the Ottoman Empire, the Middle Eastern countries waiting for independence came under the control of the invading countries under the name of the mandate regime. They did not gain their independence in the interwar period. Among the regional countries, Iraq and Saudi Arabia became independent states in 1932 and Egypt in 1936. Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan gained independence in 1946. The period after the Second World War developed under the influence of the Cold War. While some of the Middle Eastern countries leaned to the West, some were closer to the Eastern Bloc, and this was reflected significantly in Turkey’s relations with these countries. Of the Gulf countries, Kuwait gained its independence in 1961, and the UAE, Bahrain, and Qatar in 1971. Turkey’s active engagement with the region began in the 1950s; Turkey supported the Arabs in the 1967 and 1973 wars and has always been sensitive about the issue of Palestine. In the 1980s, attention shifted to the Gulf, and the crisis region became the Gulf with the Iranian revolution and the Iraq-Iran war. With the Iraqi interventions in 1990–91 and 2003, regional crises transformed from regional to global. After the JDP came to power in 2002, Turkey’s attitude and the variable policies transformed into a more active and sustainable engagement. However, in this period, Turkey’s impressive level of popularity, especially after the 2011 Arab Spring, began to decrease significantly.

This study will analyze Turkey’s Middle East policy and the relations with regional countries under the influence of internal and external factors. In this context, it will show that systemic effects are prominent in some periods, while internal structure and leadership are more determinative in some other periods. It will examine each country’s different priorities and their impact on Turkey’s foreign relations with them. However, the Palestinian issue in Turkey’s Middle East policy has been the most constant factor particularly in relations with the Levant countries (Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel) and Saudi Arabia. In this respect, the first part of the study will analyze the historical background of Turkey’s foreign policy in the region by taking all regional crises and Turkey’s stance into consideration. The second part of the ←15 | 16→study will concentrate on Turkey’s relations with Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Israel. The third part will focus on analyzing the relations with those countries in the process after the Arab Spring.

Historical Background of Turkey’s Middle East Policy

Interwar Period and Turkey’s Middle East Policy

The abolition of the Caliphate in March 1924 was the first fracture between Turkey and the Middle Eastern countries. This unexpected development disappointed all Muslims living in North Africa, South East Asia (Indian subcontinent), and the Arabian Peninsula. Turkey has improved its relations with Iran and Afghanistan since the 1920s, despite these developments. However, the effect of Mosul and Hatay problems with Syria and Iraq starting in the 1920s and extending to the next periods has always been a problem as a negative factor in Turkey’s relations with the region. It was decided that the Mosul problem would be solved through negotiations between the parties in the Lausanne Conference. The internal and external conditions of the 1920s were very disadvantageous to Turkey; the United Kingdom was a founder member of the League of Nations, but Turkey was not a member. England and Turkey, under the Lausanne Treaty, were going to solve the issue through negotiations within nine months. Otherwise, it would be moved to the League of Nations. However, in its decision dated December 16, 1925, the League of Nations regarded Mosul as part of Iraqi territory, which was the British mandate.

Due to the continuation of the British rule throughout the Middle East, during the period between the two world wars, Turkey’s interest was at the lowest level in the region. However, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan decided to cooperate against the Soviet threat with the Saadabad Pact established by them in 1937. Besides, the 1936 treaty concluded by France with Syria and Lebanon to grant independence to these countries inevitably required Turkey’s involvement in the region more closely. With the so-called treaty, the sanjak of Alexandretta was also considered a part of the Syrian territory, and the sovereign powers of France in the region were transferred to Syria. However, the 1921 Ankara Agreement between Turkey and France had provided a special administrative status to sanjak of Alexandretta in Syria with official recognition of the Turkish language and provision for the cultural development of the Turkish inhabitants, who were the largest single ethnoreligious group. Nevertheless, the 1936 treaty of independence for Syria and the abolition of the special autonomous status of the sanjak of Alexandretta moved Turkey against France ←16 | 17→and Syria. Taking advantage of the revisionist and anti-revisionist polarization in Europe in the period from 1937 to 1939, Turkey enabled the sanjak of Alexandretta to gain independence in 1938 with the name of Hatay through diplomatic means. Hatay decided accession to Turkey in 1939, one year later.

Post-Second World War Era

During this period, Turkey’s security policy was evaluated with Soviet threat, and this threat perception shaped Turkey’s traditional Western engagement, which would influence the next processes. In the post-war process, Turkey formed its security policy through the framework of alliance relationship with the West and staying away from conflicts in the Middle East. In fact, Turkey managed to pursue a more independent policy in the years between 1945 and 1948, when she did not enter a close alliance relationship with the West. In the 1950s, the growing dynamism in Turkey’s foreign policy towards the Middle East was caused by the increasing Soviet influence in the region and its perception as a threat to Turkey. Thus, Turkey’s foreign policy towards the region should be assessed as a policy shaped within the framework of multifaceted effects rather than unilateral preferences.

In this context, Turkey was opposed to the UN General Assembly’s decision about the partition plan that led to the birth of Israel in November 1947. Turkey supported Arab countries during the Palestinian talks at the UN in the 1945–1947 period. Turkey was also in favor of these countries’ initiatives in the UN to grant independence to Palestine.

However, Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize Israel and established diplomatic relations with Israel on March 28th, 1949. Turkey’s policy was explained by security concerns arising from the international structures and approaching the West to solve this problem. However, this development led Turkey away from the Middle East. The process of Turkey’s divergence from regional policies continued in the 1950s. Turkey’s membership of NATO in 1952 was another turning point separating Turkey from the region.1

Baghdad Pact project created with the encouragement of the West in 1955 and Turkey’s taking part in the project along with Britain and France increased ←17 | 18→the policy differences between Turkey and the Middle East countries. Although, the Menderes Government thought the Baghdad Pact initiative would increase Turkey’s impact in the region, it led Turkey a little more away from Middle East countries. Nevertheless, Turkey responded to the occupation of Egypt including the Canal region by the UK and France and lowered diplomatic relations to the charge d’affaires level with Israel in November.2

Meanwhile, Syria began to rely more on the Soviet Union from 1957 and was heavily armed by this country as a result of this military relation. Turkey considered the situation of Syria as a threat to its own security, and tensions in relations between Turkey and Syria continued until the end of 1957. The pointless reaction of Arab countries to Turkey by supporting Syria during the crisis had a serious impact on Turkey’s regional policy in the succeeding process. For this reason, Turkey had to show a serious reaction to the agreement between Syria and Egypt in 1958 to establish the United Arab Republic and did not respond seriously to the overthrow of the monarchy in Iraq, the Baghdad Pact member, by General Qasim in 1958.

Turkey endeavored to be in a rapprochement with the Middle Eastern countries after 1960 and maintained this policy before and after the 1967 war, and in 1967, Turkey supported Arab countries during this crisis by putting forward a clearer stance. During this crisis, Turkey declared that it would not allow American bases in its territories to be used in an attack against Arabs. Turkey also gave support to the efforts in the way of recognition of the right to exist and to establish a Palestinian state including the evacuation of all occupied territories by supporting Arab countries at the UN meetings. Turkey’s change of policy was welcomed by the regional countries. An event that took place after the 1967 war was a development that accelerated the efforts to organize Islamic countries. The burning of the Masjid al-Aqsa on August 21, 1969 led to the increase of solidarity among Muslim countries and to the establishment of the Organization of the Islamic Conference; and the Islamic Summit Conference was held in Rabat, Morocco on September 22–25, 1969, with representatives from 25 countries.3

Turkey also supported the Arab countries during the 1973 October War, and, on October10, reacted to the increasing American military support for ←18 | 19→Israel and the occupation of Arab countries, stating that a lasting peace would only be reached by an acceptable solution that would satisfy Arab countries. A few days later, Turkey announced that it would not allow the use of bases in its territory to help Israel.4

Turkey supported the voting of decision that Zionism was equivalent to racism in UN General Assembly and recognized the PLO as the only legitimate representative of Palestine in line with the decisions taken in the UN General Assembly in 1975. Turkey also announced in 1976 that it would allow the PLO to open an office in Turkey.5

Turkey, after the dissolution of CENTO in March 1979, became a country with increasing strategic importance in the region for the West. In this period, Turkey continued to support the peace plans of Arab countries in the UN and other platforms. While developing relations with Arab countries, Turkey maintained diplomatic relations with Israel. However, Turkey objected to Israel’s making Jerusalem an undivided capital with a law adopted in Knesset on July 30, 1980. The Turkish Consulate General in Jerusalem was closed on August 28, 1980. A short while after these developments, a military coup took place in Turkey on September 12, 1980 and the new administration reduced its diplomatic relations with Israel to the level of the second clerk on November 26, 1980. In 1988, Turkey gave support to the initiative to establish an independent Palestinian state in exile and became one of the first countries to recognize it. However, when Turkey tried to develop relations with the Middle Eastern countries on the one hand, it maintained relations with Israel on the other hand. In this regard, it increased the level of diplomatic representation to the ambassadorial level in 1991.

Turkey’s Middle East Policy after the Cold War

The main development that marked the beginning of the 1990s was Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. The Oslo process was, to a certain extent, a result of this development. Turkey, which maintained relations ←19 | 20→with both belligerent states through following the policy of neutrality during the Iraq-Iran war that lasted eight years, supported the coalition countries, including all regional and Western countries, led by the US in 1990. Turkey opened its soil during the Desert Storm Operations for the use of the US and NATO, decided to join the UN embargo against the Saddam government and closed the Kirkuk-Yumurtalık pipeline.6

Turkey-Iraq Relations

Turkey’s concern was the danger of corruption of the balance of power in the region against Turkey because relations between Turkey and Iraq strained pre-crisis and displayed signs that Iraq wanted to solve the problem through force rather than diplomacy. Even though a protocol was signed between Turkey and Syria in 1987, this protocol was not converted into a tripartite arrangement. Especially when Turkey attempted to store water for the Ataturk Dam in January-February 1990, Turkey-Syria-Iraq relations were tense. Despite all negative relations with Iraq, Turkey approached Iraq very cautiously and opposed the disruption of Iraq’s territorial integrity during the 1990–91 crisis.

Turkey demonstrated a political stance against the emergence of a situation that would threaten the independence or territorial integrity of Iraq and did not hesitate to cooperate with the UN within this framework. Turkey, at the same time, played an important role in the adoption of the UN resolution no 688, envisaging the creation of a safe area to protect the Kurdish people against the danger of Saddam.7

With the Security Council resolution 687 adopted on April 3, 1991, Iraq’s official ceasefire conditions were determined. However, after the end of the war, no resolution was accepted to stop the Saddam administration, which sent its troops against the Shiites in the south and Kurdish groups in the north, which embarked on a rebellion against the central government. In this process, President Turgut Özal mobilized the American President George Bush ←20 | 21→with intense telephone diplomacy. At the end of the meeting between Turkish diplomats and European colleagues in Ankara on April 5, the draft of the resolution numbered 688 was discussed and finalized. The resolution, which was immediately forwarded to the Security Council by France, was adopted by 10 votes in favor, 3 votes against (Cuba, Yemen, and Zimbabwe), and two abstentions (China and India).

Therefore, with this Security Council resolution numbered 688, the first phase of the Operation Provide Comfort, which was limited to rescue and assistance, was activated. This decision would also form the basis of practices such as creating safe havens like Operation Poised Hammer and Operation Provide Comfort. The name “Provide Comfort” was changed to “Operation Northern Watch” in December 1996. However, the mission of “Operation Northern Watch”, which consisted only of airpower, was limited to monitoring the activities of the Iraqi administration in the no-fly zone. The function and mission of the “Operation Northern Watch” ended with the American invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003.

With the creation of local authorities in the Kurdish region as a result of the elections held in May 1992, Turkey had concerns about the establishment of a state and the disintegration of Iraq because the Kurds had then formed a de facto government with their parliament, the Council of Ministers, and the so-called Prime Minister. Besides, these developments, which led to similar responses across Iraq, Iran, and Syria, which did not recognize the newly formed government like Turkey, were rated as a dangerous development in terms of peace and territorial integrity of Iraq.8

Turkey-Iran Relations

Before the revolution in Iran, both countries cooperated on regional issues. However, after the process, Iran was a significant loss for Turkey. Turkey had been worried about the developments since Iran’s departure from CENTO, of which it was a co-founder with Turkey. After all, Turkey had a very sensitive policy during the war with Iraq that started a year after the revolution, followed active neutrality through not providing an advantage to either of these countries and maintaining the relations with both as they were. During the 1990s, Turkey did not support American sanctions against Iran and continued the relations with this country. However, Turkey always had serious ←21 | 22→concerns about Iran’s support for PKK, which was accepted as a terrorist organization, which was founded in the mid-1980s and which destabilized Turkey. Unfortunately, the relations between the two countries were badly affected by differences in struggling with terrorist organizations, contentions about the Nagorno-Karabagh, and competition on newly independent countries in the region. However, the context of the relations between Turkey and Iran changed after the JDP came to power. The JDP accepted a zero-problem approach to neighbors, followed a multilateral and multifaceted policy, focused not only on security but also on commercial and economic issues. Turkey started to import a huge amount of oil and gas from Iran.9


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (August)
Authoritarianism Public diplomacy Strategic alliance Trump administration Ultra-nationalism
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 238 pp.

Biographical notes

Tayyar Ari (Volume editor) Mesut Hakkı Caşın (Volume editor)

Tayyar Arı, professor of international relations, graduated from Middle East Technical University in 1984 and received his Ph.D. from Istanbul University in 1991. He has been at Bursa Uludag University since 1984. He became an associated professor in 1996 and a professor in 2002. Since then, he has been teaching at the same university. Mesut Hakkı Caşın, professor of international law at Yeditepe University, completed his doctorate education on "International Security Strategies and Disarmament" at Istanbul University, Faculty of Political Sciences in 1994. He is currently a member of the Turkish Presidential Security and Foreign Policy Board.


Title: Turkish Foreign Policy during JDP Era