What do Turkmens think of Atatuerk


Since 2002 Ankara has turned away from its fixation on “the West” and opened up to the Islamic world, but also to Russia and Asia. Turkey's increasing international importance has also significantly reduced its desire to join the EU.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with US President Barack Obama in Seoul 2012. (& copy picture-alliance / AP)


Since Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu took office in May 2009, Turkish foreign policy has been the focus of German and European public attention. Commentators and analysts are puzzling over whether Turkey will turn away from the West and take an "Islamic" direction. The background to this uncertainty is Turkey's significantly increased interest in developments in the Near / Middle Eastern neighborhood, coupled with the attempt to reorganize relations with these countries. When looking at this development, however, two things are overlooked: On the one hand, Ankara's increased foreign policy activity applies not only to the "Islamic" neighborhood, but equally to the Caspian / Central Asian, relations with Russia and the development in the Balkans. On the other hand, too little attention is paid to the fact that Turkish foreign policy has always been oriented towards the national interest and that this has changed again and again in the course of the history of the republic.

"Peace at home, peace in the world"

For the young republic, Ataturk, despite Europe's clear role model function in shaping modern Turkey, by no means preferred the foreign policy orientation towards and towards Europe. His principle was "Peace at home, peace in the world", that is, the priority of domestic political stability and a corresponding adjustment of foreign policy goals and behavior. The result was a policy that avoided close foreign and security policy ties. Good relations with the Soviet Union were just as important as with both camps (fascist states on the one hand, democratic states on the other), which emerged more and more clearly in Europe in the early 1930s.

After Ataturk's death in 1938, his successor Ismet Inönü adhered to this policy. By skilfully navigating between the various powers, he succeeded in largely keeping Turkey out of the Second World War without ever openly declaring neutrality. Only when the victory of the Allies became apparent did Turkey declare war on the German Reich in February 1945 and thus secure participation in the founding conference of the United Nations (UN).

Orientation towards the West in the Cold War

This step proved to be important for the development of the European post-war order. In the wake of the east-west conflict that broke out soon after the end of the war, Ankara sided with the USA and its European allies. This was the only way Inönü believed that Ataturk would be able to successfully continue the policy of Turkish modernization based on European models. He was less concerned with a decision between "free world" and "communist domination" than with securing the long-term existence of the Kemalist republic in accordance with its founding principles.

This step was made easier by Soviet demands against the end of the war, which were intended to restrict Turkish rule over the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits, as laid down in the Mon-Treux Convention (1936), and also provided for the cession of Turkish territory in the east of the country to the Soviet Union. When the US government pledged its full support to Greece and Turkey in this situation, the Turkish decision was clear. Turkey subsequently became a founding member of the Council of Europe and the OEEC, later the OECD.

This policy was continued by all governments in the period of multi-party parliamentary democracy after 1950. The deepening east-west conflict left Turkey no other choice if the Kemalist development goal is not given up. Ankara willingly took over the role of the spatial and military "barrier" against an advance of the Soviet Union in the Mediterranean area together with Greece within the framework of NATO and against it together with Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Great Britain within the framework of the Baghdad Pact (CENTO) founded in 1955 an advance of Moscow into the oil-rich Middle and Near East.

The close allegiance to the USA was also evident through the recognition of Israel and the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1952. In return, Ankara accepted a clear alienation in relation to the Arab states. In return, the United States provided the country with extensive military and development aid. This became the basis for the establishment of the Turkish armed forces and the modernization of agricultural production. During this time, the basis for the special security relationship with the USA, which continues to this day, was laid.

The close integration of foreign and security policy into the US-led Western system was the guiding principle of Turkish foreign policy throughout the East-West conflict. Only the conflict with NATO partner Greece, especially over the Cyprus question, was an exception. Approaches to the Soviet Union towards the end of the 1960s or a cautious distancing from Israeli Palestine policy and membership in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIK), founded in 1969, broadened the foreign policy horizons that were accompanied by changes in global and regional political constellations such as détente related to the East-West conflict or the upheavals in the Arab world. But they were not signals for a fundamental reorientation.

All of these developments served the purpose of making the Western allies, above all the USA, more aware of the importance of the Turkish allies, which at times during the domestic political turmoil in Turkey during the 1960s and 1970s with its three military coups between 1960 and 1980 threatened to be lost. The Iranian Revolution and the assumption of power by Ayatollah Khomeini in January 1979 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 also contributed to consolidating Turkey's strategic value for the Western alliance. Not least against this international background, the Turkish military was able to carry out its third coup in September 1980 without having to fear major protests from NATO allies.