Site hosted by Build your free website today!
Son Güncelleme
Ekim 25, 2001


Bülent Alirıza
Senior Associate
Director, Turkey Project
the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

This report is issued in CSIS Web Site in Turkey Update

The September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States in New York and Washington had an immediate and profound impact on the policy environment and priorities of Turkey. Turkish policymakers and citizens continue to be preoccupied by the daily effects of the country's continuing economic crisis, which has devastated the industrial sector, lowered living standards, raised unemployment, and jeopardized Turkey's international financial solvency. At the same time, Turkey, along with the rest of the world, has also been forced to focus on the implications of the attacks and the U.S.- led global response manifested by the initiation of armed action against Afghanistan on October 7. Military force is currently being used far from Turkey's borders, and it is unclear at this stage of what is likely to be a prolonged war, the role Turkey will play in the struggle against international terrorism in coming weeks and months. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that the conflict will inevitably help reshape the country's relations with the United States and the Western community of nations, as well as with countries in its immediate and troubled environment, and may even prompt the long-delayed redefinition of Turkey's role in the post-Cold War world.


Throughout the years of the Cold War, Turkey's role and foreign policy priorities as the easternmost member of the Western alliance were clearly defined. For nearly four decades after its entry into NATO in 1952 - facilitated by U.S. strategic imperatives that overcame Western European hesitation - Turkey staunchly manned the line of defense against the Soviet Union. In return, the United States and its other NATO allies provided Turkey much-needed military and economic assistance, while showing a tendency to tolerate lapses from Western democratic practices demonstrated by three military interventions. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, however, the frightening but comfortable certainties of the Cold War disappeared. While Turkey continued to reaffirm its adherence to NATO as the cornerstone of its national security and as the enduring confirmation of its membership in the Western community of nations, the changes in the role of NATO, the complicated transformation of the relationship between the United States and its Western European allies, and the emergence of a new nonadversarial relationship between the West and Russia inevitably altered Ankara's international framework.

Nevertheless, throughout the 1990s, U.S. and Turkish policymakers argued almost with one voice that the end of the Cold War had actually enhanced Turkey's strategic importance by expanding its role into a multiregional one. In addition to cooperation in the containment of Iraq, Turkey and the United States also stressed, as part of the ad hoc justification of their continuing relationship, cooperation with respect to the newly independent Turkic countries of the former Soviet Union, in particular on the creation of a Eurasian transportation corridor to bring oil and gas from the Caspian Sea region to markets. Both countries emphasized the importance of the triangular cooperation between Washington, Ankara, and Tel Aviv that blossomed during this period with respect to the maintenance of stability in the turbulent Near East. At a broader level, the United States and Turkey also underlined the role of Turkey within the Western community of nations, demonstrated by the Turkish effort to gain admission into the European Union (EU) as well as the participation of Turkish troops in peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia and Kosovo, as a model for the Islamic world.

In retrospect, it is clear that Turkish solidarity with the United States in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 helped paper over the post-Cold War cracks, while effectively helping to postpone the necessary redefinition of Turkey's role in the Western alliance. Maintaining the closest possible relationship and dialogue with then-U.S. president George Bush, Turkish President Turgut Ozal, cut off Iraqi oil exports through Turkey even before the imposition of a UN embargo, and permitted U.S. air strikes against Iraq from the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey. The reluctance of the powerful Turkish military establishment prevented Ozal from sanctioning direct military participation by Turkish troops in the war against Iraq, but Turkish support, which continues to this day through Operation Provide Comfort, helped defeat Saddam Hussein. The maintenance of the no-fly zone in northern Iraq from Incirlik provided the two countries with evidence of Turkey's continuing strategic importance. The paradox for Turkey is that while the continuation of Provide Comfort was absolutely essential in the context of Turkey's relations with the United States, it also ensured the continuation of the power vacuum in northern Iraq and constituted a constant irritant in Turkish-Iraqi relations.


Turkey's first response to the terrorist outrage was delivered by Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, who stated on September 11 that Turkey shared the grief of the American people and was following developments in order to "do whatever was necessary." The following day, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit also expressed solidarity with the American people in a message of condolence to President George W. Bush that described the attacks as " not just against the United States but against humanity and world peace." He added, "These attacks have shown that leaders must come up with new strategies against terrorism. The entire humanity must unite against terrorism." After demonstrating allied solidarity with the United States by supporting the activation of Article 5 of the NATO Charter on September 12, Cem said that Turkey, which had suffered from terrorism, had long been advocating such a move and considered it "beneficial both to NATO and to the peoples of the whole world." He cautioned, however, that "naming a religion as an adjective before the word 'terrorism' is an extreme disrespect to all religions. There is no such thing as 'Islamic' or 'Christian' or 'Jewish' terrorism."

In contrast to the 1990 Iraq crisis, when direct telephone contact between Washington and Ankara at the highest level began immediately after Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait, the first high level response from the United States to Turkey did not arrive until September 16, when Secretary of State Colin Powell called Cem to thank him for Ankara's support of Washington's fight against terrorism. The first call by President Bush himself did not come until September 21, when he telephoned President Ahmet Necdet Sezer. The delay reflected the reality that, unlike in 1990, Turkey was not in the immediate front line in Washington's emerging battle plan against Usama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist organization that was being sheltered by the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, lower-level contacts continued on possible cooperation between the two countries, and a letter by Ecevit to Bush on September 22 confirmed that "the Turkish government would meet a U.S. request for U.S. transport planes to use Turkish air space and Turkish airports if necessary."

In another striking contrast with the 1990 crisis, the first high-level meeting between the United States and Turkey did not take place until Cem arrived in Washington on September 26, after many other government leaders and foreign ministers had already visited the U.S. capital. During his visit, Cem met with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, as well as, Secretary of State Colin Powell, but, perhaps significantly, not President Bush. Cem stated during his visit that Turkey would "do whatever we can within our own realities and possibilities" but added that he was "rather cautious in speaking on that subject, because the worst harm that one can do to the United States administration at present is to be misleading, to speak in big words and then not deliver."

Cem's cautious note was highlighted by the Turkish military establishment. On the day Cem arrived in Washington, Deputy Chief of Staff Yasar Büyükanit complained in a speech in Ankara that the international community had not offered support to Turkey when it was striving to overcome its own terrorism threats. Nevertheless, although the current situation in the region "posed many different problems for Turkey's security" and called "for varied responses and scenarios," Büyükanit said that Turkey wanted "to share information, exchange ideas, and cooperate in security in all areas." The next day, the Commander of the Aegean Army, General Hursit Tolon, cautioned that "for NATO Article 5 to be enacted, it has to be proven conclusively the attack was carried out from outside the country." On October 1, Chief of Staff, General Huseyin Kivrikoglu, warned the United States against sending ground troops to fight in the mountains of Afghanistan and said "units sent to that terrain would be lost." Significantly, Kivrikoglu also chose to address the possibility of a strike against Iraq after Afghanistan, saying, "We cannot know what the United States thinks about the situation in Iraq. But we cannot accept the de facto establishment of a Kurdish state in the region any case."

Although Turkey was not on his originally announced travel schedule to a number of key countries in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld visited Ankara briefly on October 5 and met with Ecevit, Kivrikoglu, and Defense Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu. After the meeting Rumsfeld noted that Turkey was a NATO ally with experience in fighting against terrorism. The countries in the international coalition, he said, would be expected "to contribute as much as they can towards the fight against terrorism." He continued, "We don't make demands. We don't have any view other than that each country should decide for itself how it can best help." For his part, Ecevit said that Rumsfeld had "supplied information on the kind of method and approach the United States will use in combating terrorism" and that "every country must determine its own stand with regard to the struggle against terrorism and decide on how it will use its own means."

On October 7, Turkey was informed of the initiation of action against Afghanistan by a phone call from Vice President Cheney to President Sezer, setting in motion a series of meetings involving Turkish leaders and key bureaucrats to determine Ankara's next steps. On October 8, Ecevit said that he did not have "any information about what the United States had requested from other allied countries," but that "the transfer of some Turkish troops is not on the agenda." The following day, however, Ecevit changed his position by seeking the approval of his cabinet on the presentation to the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) of a formal request for permission to send troops abroad. The request, which Defense Minister Cakmakoglu argued was not mandated by the constitution, was duly approved on October 10 by the TGNA despite defections by some parliamentarians from the three coalition parties. The approval authorized the government to "send Turkish troops abroad, allow foreign soldiers to come to Turkey, and use these forces under government-determined permission and principles within the framework of Operation Enduring Freedom and what follows it." Cakmakoglu said during the debate that the government's request did not mean Ankara had decided to contribute troops to military initiatives and as NATO had "so far not demanded that Turkey send soldiers to a foreign country, the decision should not be taken to mean an immediate dispatch of soldiers." He added, "When there is a demand, we will decide in line with Turkey's multifaceted national interests and the NATO Charter, which allows each ally to decide its contribution to joint operations in line with its resources and facilities, whether to send soldiers or not, and how big and what kind of a force will be sent to which region for what aims."

Cakmakoglu also stressed that this was "only a precautionary measure that would allow the army to make contingency preparations." The TGNA permission, however, taken together with the dispatch of a team of liaison officers on the same day to Washington "to ensure coordination between Ankara and Washington on the operation against Afghanistan," as Ecevit put it, set the stage for possible direct involvement by Turkey in the fight against terrorism. Despite the unlimited and non-specific nature of the mandate, reportedly requested by Chief of Staff Kivrikoglu, the Turkish military, as well as the government itself, are clearly hoping that the scope of the current conflict, and more crucially, direct Turkish participation will be limited. "I hope this operation ends without giving birth to great disasters," Ecevit said just before the TGNA vote. Deputy Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz, was even more explicit in his concerns. In an obvious reference to Iraq, Yilmaz said, "the spillover of the war outside Afghanistan could turn the whole region into a whirlpool of fire and blood. In such a situation, the eddy will inevitably pull Turkey in."


Although Turkey seems unlikely to be drawn into the ongoing operation in Afghanistan in a major way, the situation is certain to change if the powerful advocates in Washington of a second front against terrorism in Iraq eventually win the day. Secretary of State Powell, in particular, continues to emphasize that there is no imminent action against Iraq. Nevertheless, the fact that the U.S. Ambassador to the UN personally warned his Iraqi counterpart of the possibility of the use of military force against Baghdad on the very day action was launched against Afghanistan, along with the formal notification given by the U.S. to the UN Security Council that " the U.S. might be forced to retaliate against other state sponsors of terrorism" the following day, has increased fears in Ankara that the U.S. may eventually hit Iraq, as Cakmakoglu confirmed in a TV interview on October 11.

A request by the United States to go beyond cooperation on the containment of Iraq to a direct challenge of Saddam Hussein in the next stage of the war against terrorism would confront Turkey with a very difficult decision. It would be a particularly unwelcome development for the current government as, prior to the events of September 11, it had gone out of its way to indicate that it intended to accelerate previously tentative Turkish moves toward normalization of relations with Baghdad. Like all its predecessors during the past decade, the government complained about the economic costs to Turkey of the continuing embargo against Baghdad and Economy Minister Kemal Dervis estimated last month that the Iraqi embargo had cost Turkey $35 billion. However, the Ecevit government, which has been in office since 1999, went beyond previous governments in intensifying the dialogue with Baghdad. The interaction involved visits by two Turkish cabinet ministers, as well as numerous high-level Turkish bureaucrats, who focused on increasing the level of trade with Baghdad, and, in July, the Iraqi Energy Minister, Amir Muhammed Rasheed, was warmly received by Ecevit.

Ecevit had chosen to visit Baghdad for a meeting with Saddam Hussein in 1990 after the annexation of Kuwait, and was the main driving force behind the policy of normalization. Ignoring the obvious contradictions to the jointly maintained policy on the containment of Iraq, Ecevit expressed his preference directly to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld in an earlier meeting in Ankara in June 2001. According to Turkish journalists briefed by the Turkish Prime Minister afterwards, Ecevit apparently responded to Rumsfeld's expressions of concern over the continuing threat to regional and global peace and stability posed by Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq by saying that it was "time for the United States to reconcile with Baghdad."

Ecevit's stance toward Iraq, however, was understood to reflect those of his two coalition partners, Devlet Bahceli and Mesut Yilmaz and the ministers who recently visited Iraq were from Bahceli's National Action Party and Yilmaz's Motherland Party. Moreover, it was not challenged by the three opposition parties currently represented in the TGNA. At the same time, it also reflected the views of all sections of the Turkish business community, which has long argued that the continuing embargo on Iraq was one of the main reasons behind Turkey's economic slump. Significantly, there was also no perceptible opposition from the powerful Turkish military establishment, which has long feared the breakup of Iraq and the emergence of a Kurdish state. After all, the Turkish armed forces had paid a very heavy price in the struggle against Kurdish separatism for 15 years until the defeat of PKK terrorism in 1999.

The significance of "the Kurdish factor" in Turkey's ambivalent policy on Iraq was confirmed after September 11. After the "revelation" by Iraqi Kurdish leaders of a massacre carried out in their region by an Islamic group allegedly linked to bin Laden, Chief of Staff Kivrikoglu personally denied the reports and asked that "Washington check the facts with Ankara." Following a visit to Washington by an Iraqi Kurdish delegation just before the U.S. attacks in Afghanistan, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Huseyin Dirioz warned the Iraqi Kurds to "avoid provoking the Washington administration." The concerns of Turkish officials were heightened by U.S. press reports that the current Iraqi Ambassador in Ankara was linked to one of bin Laden's operatives involved in the terrorist attacks.


Despite its fears about the possible effects of the widening of the U.S. campaign against terrorism into Iraq, and negative opinion polls-a poll by KONDA on October 8 indicated 71 percent of Turks opposed the military action against Afghanistan while only 17 percent wanted Turkey to take an active part in the war against international terrorism- the Turkish government is unlikely to change its policy. To begin with, the government and the armed forces clearly believe that the opposition and the danger from Turkish Islamists are more manageable in this aggressively secular country than in other Islamic countries. Moreover, in addition to the obvious need for solidarity with Turkey's primary ally in its time of difficulties, cited by Ecevit on October 10, a number of other important factors serve to buttress the policy.

To begin with, the government is hoping that its support for the United States will be rewarded by tangible U.S. support for Turkey's increasingly desperate efforts to cope with the worsening economic crisis. Dervis, who took over the Turkish economy in March 2001, and his team continue to try to stabilize the situation in cooperation with the IMF, which has concluded 19 standby agreements with Turkey and is currently providing $15.7 billion in assistance together with the World Bank. However, there is growing speculation by financial analysts relating to the likelihood of problems in the servicing and repayment of Turkey's growing debt, which now exceeds its GNP. After declaring that Turkey had to give "unconditional support to the United States," Dervis arrived for a weeklong stay in Washington at the end of September. In what proved to be a difficult set of talks, Dervis was apparently unable to persuade the IMF to release the next tranche of credit to Turkey, ease the terms of repayment of existing debts or provide additional aid. Significantly, Dervis took his case directly to Vice President Cheney on October 5, just before leaving Washington. Although Cheney was surely distracted by the imminent action against Afghanistan, the Turkish government is clearly hoping that the Bush administration will use its influence with the IMF in coming weeks to give additional help to Turkey in recognition of the new burdens on its economy as well as its strategic importance. How badly such help is needed was reconfirmed by the comments of IMF President Horst Kohler on October 12 that it was "premature" to talk about new funds for Turkey.

Turkey is equally interested in greater U.S. diplomatic support across the broad spectrum of Turkish foreign policy. Turkey's efforts to join the EU, actively backed by Washington, are stalled not only by lingering doubts among existing EU members about Turkey's ability to satisfy the political and economic criteria for membership, but also by the Cyprus problem. In fact, with the breakdown of the diplomatic efforts to solve the Cyprus dispute and the growing likelihood that the Greek Cypriots will be admitted into the EU in 2004 in the name of the Republic of Cyprus, thus provoking Turkey to "integrate" with the Turkish Cypriots, Turkey's "European dream" is in real danger. At the same time, Turkey and the EU continue to be embroiled in an unseemly squabble over the development of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), which has effectively prevented access to NATO assets for the planned EU force.

Turkey also needs U.S. reassurances with respect to Turkey's relationship with the ex-Soviet Turkic countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus. After the break up of the Soviet Union a decade ago, Turkey had proclaimed a key role for itself in integrating the newly independent Turkic states into the free market system and in linking them to the West. A key part of the strategy was cooperation with the United States in the creation of a Eurasian Energy Corridor to bring Caspian energy resources to markets through Turkey. With the United States turning to Russia to ensure the support of the key Turkic countries in Central Asia in the effort against bin Laden and the Taliban, and increasing speculation that the United States will reciprocate with respect to Russian interests in its former empire, Turkey is hoping to persuade Washington not to deviate from previously announced policy. An early test is likely to be in Georgia, a key country in the ambitious Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline project set for completion in 2005, which has been subjected to growing Russian pressure because of its alleged links to the Chechens fighting Russian rule and appears once again to be on the verge of civil war.

The U.S. will be inclined to help or, at the very least, try to assuage Turkish concerns as much as possible. However, in view of the failure of vision and policy in Washington as well as Ankara during the decade after the Gulf War, it is difficult to be optimistic about the resolution of Turkey's enormous economic and diplomatic questions in a grand redefinition of Turkey's role in the post-Cold War world. To begin with, such a redefinition would require the closest possible consultation and coordination between Washington and Ankara, something that has not been in evidence since the days of Ozal. Moreover, the current government in Ankara is very weak and continues in office only because the three coalition parties, all of which according to KONDA are currently backed by less than 6 percent of the Turkish electorate, have chosen to stick together despite their differences as well as their policy failures and general ineffectiveness. In the absence of a credible parliamentary alternative, the durability of the government is likely to be determined by the growing frailty of Ecevit. Consequently, in the absence of a clear direction from Washington, the current Turkish government will, in all likelihood, do little more than trail along with events in an uncertain manner.