Turkey 101

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Poised between Asia and Europe, Turkey has long held a strategically important role in international affairs. This country of 71 million people is crucial to energy deals and economic developments as it lies between producers and consumers, supply and demand.

Turkey has stakes in peace and security at home and abroad, participating in peacekeeping missions around the world but also struggling with conflicts with its own neighbors. The most pressing and high-profile of these conflicts is with the Kurdish separatist movement in Iraq, a movement that has implications for the Kurdish population inside Turkey as well.

While seen as a bridge between the East and West, this majority Muslim country is also torn between both worlds. Its secular government has a long history of struggles between those who feel their country’s identity lies in the Middle East, those who desire full accession to the European Union (EU), and all those in between.

Turkey’s achievements and challenges are representative of the complicated dynamics emerging in the evolving global order.

Turkey is actively engaged in international affairs and seeks to expand its role. The Turkish government’s main foreign policy goals are to make Turkey an integral part of the European Union through accession and to proactively pursue and create an environment of security, stability, prosperity, friendship, and cooperation all around itself. By their description, these two goals are inherently intertwined. The primary goal is to help secure and nurture a peaceful, stable, prosperous, and cooperative regional and international environment that is conducive to human development at home and abroad. While Turkey’s leaders say this goal can and should be met in a variety of ways, they believe that full integration with the EU is a crucial component in its achievement. Additionally, government officials have noted transatlantic relations and Turkey’s role in the Middle East as main foreign policy preoccupations.

Turkey maintains multilateral relationships through membership in a variety of international and regional organizations, including the United Nations (UN), the Council of Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization, and the Economic Cooperation Organization. Turkey has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and continues to pursue accession in the EU. Turkey also participates in the Euromed/Barcelona Process and is a permanent observer in the activities of the Organization of American States, the Association of Caribbean States, and the African Union, and seeks similar links with the Arab League and Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Turkey has demonstrated its commitment to global peacekeeping through its involvement in missions in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Macedonia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, among others.

Turkey and the United States have a long history together, and the Turkish government has said the two countries share common interests and values strengthened by that good relationship. Many analysts would argue in contrast that while Turkey and the United States traditionally have had a strong strategic relationship, their relationship still relies on a model of mutual defense built during the Cold War that has since become largely irrelevant but has not been reassessed and changed to account for current dynamics. The United States generally sees its relationship as being directly linked to Turkey’s geographical location. Previously, Turkey was an important partner against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and now, it is often seen as an important link to the Middle East and a partner against radicalism in the region. The US Air Force base in Incirlik remains an important staging point for US military operations in the Middle East. For its part, Turkey often seems uncomfortable being put into this mold, especially in light of its EU aspirations, and many feel that Turkey’s role will ultimately be determined by its own assessment of its goals and national interests rather than outdated geopolitical models imposed by other international actors. Thus, the stagnancy of the relationship, coupled with US policy in the region, especially regarding the war in Iraq, has strained the relationship between the two countries. The Turkish public’s approval ratings of the United States have dropped from high levels to single digits, but the success of a recent visit by President Abdullah Gul to the United States shows that diplomatic efforts between the two countries have managed to strengthen at least some aspects of the relationship between the two governments.

Domestically, Turkey has seen great growth and progress but also faces serious challenges that in many ways mirror those it faces on the international scene. Much of the Kurdish minority in the country has long waged a separatist movement that has developed a violent arm in the terrorist activities of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The violence has only increased as instability in Iraq has opened the door to greater autonomy for Kurdish separatists. This leaves Turkey caught in a delicate balance between maintaining good international relations and protecting its own citizens.

Security concerns also cross into cultural and religious affairs. The military has long viewed itself as the protector of the secular nature of government since the country’s founding. With openly Muslim leaders running a secular government and a majority Muslim population seeking to properly integrate religious customs into their daily lives, the military often resorts to the threat of force to maintain the strict separation of religion and politics. Culturally, much of the Muslim citizenry is exploring ways to conduct their public and political lives while including customs required by their religion in a way that does not threaten the military and thus the continuation of democratic rule in the country.

Regionally, Turkey has many strong relationships, but it also faces some challenges in its regional balance. Separatist terrorist activity and sheer proximity to the conflict make Iraq a top regional concern for Turkey. It has faced challenges both regionally and internationally due to disputes over its characterization of the events that occurred during the Armenian Genocide (Turkey does not agree with this characterization). Turkey and Armenia do not have formal diplomatic relations because of this ongoing disagreement. Turkey also faces difficulties in its relationship with Cyprus, which Turkey invaded in 1974. Turkey feels that it has fulfilled its responsibilities in finding a solution to the problem through its support for the comprehensive settlement proposed by the United Nations, but its inability to resolve the conflict and subsequent refusal to recognize Cyprus is one of its major barriers to achieving full membership in the EU.

Overall, Turkey is an exciting and dynamic country, full of rich culture and promising opportunities. As its role in international affairs and decision making has grown, it has also enjoyed growth at home and remains relatively stable and peaceful under a secular democratic government. However, it also faces many unique challenges, including its complicated relationships with two of the largest international players, the United States and the EU. It will have to continue to grow and find innovative ways to fight the obstacles it faces to rise as a truly influential and essential international power.

The military has played a large role in Turkey’s external relationships and internal politics since the modern founding of the country. The founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was an accomplished military commander who, after leading the successful Turkish War of Independence on the heels of World War I, began a series of widespread reforms intended to develop the country into a secular democratic state. The pragmatic Kemalist ideology he developed was a crucial component in Turkey’s development from a member of an empire to a modern, secular, independent nation. Despite Ataturk’s insistence that the military stay out of politics, the Turkish military has often called upon Ataturk’s legacy of absolute separation of religion and politics to justify its interventions to defend the secular nature of the state, even when they threaten the continuation of democratic rule.

The Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) have a combined troop strength of more than one million soldiers, making them the second-largest standing force in NATO after the United States. Service in the military is required for all male citizens, with compulsory terms of 6 to 15 months. Turkey joined NATO in 1952 and has played a significant role in many NATO missions since that time. The size and strength of the TAF is to its benefit in Turkey’s candidacy for accession to the EU, as many feel that the addition of the TAF to EU armed forces would further boost the EU into position as a true global superpower.

For its part, the TAF has made great efforts in recent years to develop a well-trained, modern military with a command of technological developments. Turkey sees development of indigenous military equipment and mastery of the latest technologies as crucial in keeping itself strong and independent. The Turkish military has defined its goals by Ataturk’s motto of “peace at home and peace in the world.” It has demonstrated this commitment through active participation in various global peacekeeping missions, including the Peacekeeping Force in Kosovo, KFOR, Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean, the Military Training Mission for Iraq, and EU-led police missions in Macedonia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Turkey has also assumed the command of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan twice since its inception.

Turkey is also intertwined in a number of international disputes which require the continued engagement of the TAF. All of its most serious conflicts are with its regional neighbors, namely Cyprus and Greece, Armenia, and the Kurdish minority in its own country and in Iraq.

The TAF has had a presence in Cyprus since it invaded that country in 1974 to protect the interests of Turkish Cypriots after the elected leader of Cyprus was deposed in a Greek-backed coup intended to unite the island with Greece. Peace talks eventually failed between the two sides, and the Turkish Cypriots declared themselves an independent federated state within Cyprus. In 1983, they declared themselves a completely independent state, a status recognized only by Turkey. The two sides have continued to host talks to attempt to reconcile, but all of them have failed, including a UN referendum to unite the island, which was supported by Turkey but rejected by the Greeks. Turkey feels that it has fulfilled its responsibilities in finding a solution to the problem through its support for this comprehensive settlement. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan agreed that this support eliminated any justification for continuing to isolate Turkey. Still, this lack of resolution and Turkey’s subsequent refusal to recognize Cyprus is one of its major barriers to achieving full membership in the EU.

Though a major issue, Cyprus is not the only point of contention between Turkey and Greece. The two countries have a long history of conflict, evidenced by the fact that they still celebrate military victories over each other during national holidays. The two countries continually clash over air, maritime, and territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea, and their tense relationship has often been a source of difficulty for other NATO allies who depend on them to work together for missions in the region. Still, Turkey and Greece have made noticeable improvements in their relations in the last few years. Many point to a series of devastating earthquakes in the late 1990s as the turning point for their relations. The two countries put aside many of their differences to aid each other and form a joint disaster relief unit. Since that point, Greece has openly endorsed Turkey’s bid for accession to the EU, and in January 2008, the Prime Minister of Greece made an official visit to Turkey for the first time in nearly 50 years, signaling that further dialogue and improved relations are possible.

Turkey does not have formal diplomatic relations with its neighbor Armenia. This is due in part to disagreements regarding Armenia’s actions in the geographical area of Nagorno-Karabakh, but largely as a result of their dispute over the events that took place during what the Armenians (and most others outside of Turkey) call the Armenian Genocide. This term refers to the forcible deportation and massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians during World War I. Turkey denies this characterization of the events and has invited Armenian historians to join a commission with Turkish historians to create a factual historical account of the disputed events. Armenia has refused, noting that it is governments, not historians, who are responsible for developing bilateral relations between countries. The US House of Representatives recently passed a resolution (HR 106) characterizing the events that took place as an act of genocide against the Armenian people, a resolution that deeply angered many government officials and citizens in Turkey.

Despite the seriousness of all of these disputes, perhaps the greatest challenge currently facing the Turkish military and the security of the country as a whole is the instability in Iraq and its effect on the mobility and actions of the PKK. More than 37,000 people have been killed in the conflict between the two sides since the PKK began its armed resistance in 1984. As the armed wing of the Kurdish separatist movement, the PKK has committed horrible acts of violence, killing thousands of Turkish citizens in attacks everywhere from embassies to schools. Instability in Iraq has helped the Kurdish minority in the north there, long a US ally, to quickly strengthen and develop greater autonomy and power. Turkey argues that the PKK is able to use this power to its advantage, launching attacks into Turkey and strengthening its separatist movement. Turkey has extended its fight against the PKK across the border into Iraq. The issue has not only caused internal problems for Turkey, but has also been a source of strain in its relationship with the United States. The United States feels it is caught between supporting its traditional ally in Iraq and its long and important alliance with Turkey, while Turkey has claimed that the US has been duplicitous in pursuing terrorist threats against its own security while hindering Turkey in its attempts to combat its own threats.

Turkey has a dynamic and complex economy that has seen strong growth since a devastating economic crisis in 2001 but still faces several major vulnerabilities. The country has used its mindset of modernization to develop competitive commerce and industries in the country, yet struggles to maintain equity between the urban and rural areas. An exceptionally high 35% of its population is still employed in the agricultural sector (compare to 2.8% in Germany, 8.5% in Russia, 0.6% in the United States, etc). The country has seen decreased inflation and strong economic growth in the last five to seven years, largely due to renewed investor interest in emerging markets, tightened fiscal policies, and International Monetary Fund backing. Its economy, however, is still vulnerable because of high external debt and a high current account deficit.

Despite strong growth, Turkey’s economy is still relatively small in comparison to its main trading partners. Comparisons can be made by examining countries’ gross domestic product, which is the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year. In 2007 Turkey had an estimated GDP of $667.7 billion, with a GDP per capita (purchasing power per individual) of approximately $9,400. The United States, the largest economy in the world and one of Turkey’s major trading partners, had an estimated GDP in 2007 of $13.86 trillion, with a GDP per capita of $46,000. Three of Turkey’s other main trading partners are Germany, Italy, and France. Germany had an estimated 2007 GDP of $2.833 trillion, with GDP per capita at $34,400; Italy had a GDP of $1.8 trillion, with GDP per capita of $31,000; and France had a GDP of $2.067 trillion, with a GDP per capita of $33,800. Thus, while large in comparison to its neighbors (Armenia, GDP $16.83 billion; Greece, GDP $326.4 billion; etc.), Turkey still has much room for growth and competitive development in comparison to its major trading partners.

Turkey continually seeks to modernize its economy and expects growth in coming years in many of its emerging markets. Since the agricultural sector still makes up such a large part of its economy, it expects it will grow in commercial and industrial sectors as it continues to modernize. Its largest industrial sector is textile and clothing, with automotive and electronic industries on the rise. The state still plays a strong role in many facets of the economy—including industry, banking, and transportation—but the private sector has shown strong growth in recent years. Economists generally speculate that this growth, coupled with economic stabilization and institutional reform, lays the groundwork for continued expansion in the country. However, risks of inflation and Turkey’s high dependence on investor confidence and vulnerability to shocks in the international market demand continued structural reform to strengthen the economy and cement its growth into the future.

The informal sector also plays an important role in the Turkish economy. A high number of regulations on the formal economy—including a young mandatory retirement age, obstacles to foreign direct investment, and burdensome pension costs—mean that many businesses are forced into the informal economy. The OECD, among others, has suggested that the Turkish government continue to ease regulations and form policies that are more inclusive for companies across the country so that more businesses can remain in the formal sector and continue to promote growth and investment.

The Turkish government has, in recent years, worked on reforms to liberalize Turkey’s trade relationships and open its markets. Turkey’s main export commodities are apparel, foodstuffs, textiles, metal manufactures, and transport equipment. Its main export partner is Germany, who receives 11.3% of Turkey’s exports, followed by the United Kingdom, Italy, the United States, France, and Spain. On the import side, it receives the most products from Russia, at 12.8% of total imports, followed by Germany, China, Italy, France, the United States, and Iran. Turkey’s trade with Iran, the other great economic power in the region, is of special interest to those in the United States and elsewhere who are concerned about Iran’s intentions and Turkey’s ability to hedge against Iran in the region.

Finally, it is important to note that Turkey’s location as a gateway between energy producers and consumers will play an increasingly important role in its economic development. With major pipelines running through Turkey carrying oil and other energy resources from the Middle East to the West, Turkey’s economic success is tied to its strategic location and its ability to manage the political implications that go along with it.

Since the modern founding of the country in 1923, Turkey has been a secular, democratic constitutional republic. The country’s founder and independence leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, sought to develop a strong, modern country and insisted upon the separation of religion and politics and the noninterference of the military in political affairs. Ataturk did struggle, however, to create a situation in which multiple parties could flourish within his government, and the country has struggled ever since to find a space for political opposition in the democratic framework.

As a parliamentary representative democracy, the main executive power in the country is the prime minister, who leads along with the Council of Ministers. Legislative power rests in the unicameral parliament, while the judiciary operates independently of the executive and legislative branches. The current prime minister is Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). The former Mayor of Istanbul, Erdogan has been the source of much controversy in the country because he is open about his Muslim beliefs. This controversy came to a head in the summer of 2007 during presidential elections when Erdogan selected his longtime ally, Abdullah Gül, to fill the presidency, a largely symbolic role in the country. Many feared that nominating Gül, also a devout Muslim, was a step toward establishing a new political order and empowering political Islam in the country. The situation became increasingly tense as the military repeatedly threatened to intervene, if necessary, to protect the secular nature of the state. Nonetheless, after a great number of delays, Gül was peacefully elected president, becoming the first head of state with an Islamist background since the founding of the country.

Yet Gül and his party have drawn intense national scrutiny since the 2007 elections. The Turkish Constitutional Court found Turkey’s ruling AKP party guilty of anti-secular activities in late July 2008. Critics of the AKP claim it has repeatedly attempted to inject Islamic law into Turkish policy. Its 2008 overturn of the ban on women’s headscarves in public spaces is often cited as evidence of this. Opponents of the court decision claim it was an attempt by Turkey’s secular elite to oust the Islamic party from power.

The AKP narrowly escaped being blocked from participating in Turkish politics.  Six of the eleven Constitutional Court judges voted to remove the AKP from power (seven votes are needed to mandate any decision under the Turkish constitution). The Court decided on a lesser penalty. Funding to the AKP was cut in half.

The case can be seen as emblematic of Turkey’s larger struggle of national identity. Islam has a growing influence on Turkey’s citizens, and a strong history in the area. The pro-Islamic AKP won 47 percent of the country’s votes in the country’s 2007 national elections—the greatest percentage won by a single party in Turkish electoral history. Yet Turkey’s constitution only allows for strict Ataturkan secularism in government. In order for Turkey to succeed in joining the European Union, it must pursue strong economic and political governance.

This controversy over the presidency highlights the contention between religion and politics in Turkey as a point of relative instability in the country. The Turkish military has a history of intervening in politics, seizing control of the country through coups three times between 1960 and 1980. In each, the military took over to enact widespread institutional reforms or to restore stability in times of intense upheaval, and was generally not resisted in the country. However, their threats to intervene in 2007 caused a great deal of concern both within the country and in allies across the world, who feared the overthrow of a democratic partner in the region. Though a sense of relative stability has returned in the country, the role of the military and its history of intervention in politics will continue to be a concern as the country tries to create a balance between the religious life of its citizens and the protection of secularism.

Through all of this, the issue of religious freedom has come to the forefront in many debates in the country. There are many laws in place intended to shield the government from any religious influence, such as the ban on women wearing headscarves in any government buildings. Most recently, the ruling AKP has sponsored a bill that would ease the headscarf restriction, allowing female students to wear the Muslim headscarf in universities. Secular opposition to the bill is very strong, and many are concerned that this is a sign of the AKP using its power to promote a radical Islamic agenda in the country. Erdogan and Gül argue that their goal is to promote freedom in all fields and to bring Turkey in line with modern countries around the world in respecting free religious expression. As 99 percent of the population is Muslim, the debate between upholding the secular state and allowing religious freedom will undoubtedly continue.

The role of religion in national identity extends beyond the debate over religion in politics. The Turkish government, in line with the views of many Western governments, views itself as a model of secular democracy for other countries in the Middle East. Turkey’s secular model is unique as much of its majority Muslim population are staunch supporters of secularism and, while devout in their religion, view themselves as Turks first and Muslims second. Many feel that Turkey thus is a positive secular democratic model in contrast to the trend of radical political Islam in many countries in the Middle East.

However, much of the Turkish population is more hesitant to cast itself as a model for the Middle East, not only because they see themselves as Turks first and resent being characterized so heavily by their religion, but also because it seems contradictory to the government’s attempts to distance themselves from the Middle East and draw closer to Europe. Furthermore, even some Turkish government officials are troubled by this characterization, as it casts them as a moderate Muslim state (which they are not—they are secular) that is an example of a good balance to radicalization (which they disagree with—they see secularism as the answer). Thus, the difficult balance of a devout citizenry trying to be faithful to its religious requirements while maintaining strict secular establishments is indicative of many of the larger difficulties the country is facing as it seeks to cement a new place for itself in the global order.

Along with concerns over religious freedom, there is a great deal of controversy over the right to freedom of expression as a whole. Many citizens are concerned with laws and articles in the Turkish Constitution that they feel greatly restrict freedom of expression in the country. The most cited of these is Article 301, which prohibits “insulting Turkishness” and has been used to fine and imprison dozens of writers and intellectuals, including Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk. Most recently, a Turkish professor was sentenced to 15 months in jail for insulting Ataturk in his academic discussions. As part of the accession process, the EU has been pushing Turkey to amend Article 301 to allow for greater freedom of expression, and the parliament is considering this amendment, but many are still concerned about other articles and laws that restrict free expression which are not being considered for amendment.

In sum, the political structure in Turkey does stand as a strong democracy in the midst of a region that has long struggled to maintain democratic rule. It is a testament to the foresight of the founder and the democratic will of the people of Turkey. However, as Turkey experiences growth across all sectors, many parts of the population that were previously marginalized in politics have now found a voice in political life, and they are not satisfied with the status quo, but want to see Turkey strengthen and develop into an influential nation that represents the will of its people rather than the political motivations of outside actors. Thus, the country will undoubtedly continue to face challenges in reflecting the will of its people and managing changing global power dynamics as it reassesses its strategic future.

Culturally speaking, Turkey truly is at a crossroads between East and West. The Ottoman Empire, of which Turkey was a part until its independence, was a vast empire that allowed different ethnic and religious groups to remain separate, generally leading people to identify themselves along those ethnic or religious lines. As part of his modernization process, Ataturk stressed the importance of a strong Turkish identity, creating a new cultural identity based on nationality that was to supersede old divisions. Instead of creating one homogenous culture, however, this new identity meant that traditional Muslim cultures, diverse Eastern influences, and liberal Western ideas now all fell together (willingly or unwillingly) under one broad identity. Despite any differences, the pride in Turkey and “Turkishness” and the self-characterization of citizens as Turks first and other ethnic and religious associations second has taken a very powerful hold that continues to increasingly manifest itself in a strong sense of national pride.

The largest city in Turkey, Istanbul, has been a political and cultural giant throughout the centuries. The fourth largest city in the world, Istanbul’s 11.2 million inhabitants make up more than 15% of Turkey’s total population. Significantly, Istanbul is the only metropolis in the world that is situated on two continents. It was the capital of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Latin Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, and it has been chosen as the joint European Capital of Culture for 2010. Its highly important role throughout its long history has led it to develop a cultural heritage that boasts, among other features, some great architectural wonders, including castles, churches, mosques, synagogues, and palaces dating back as far as 479 BC. Even as Istanbul rapidly grows and continues to modernize and develop, its long and rich history will remain one of the country’s greatest cultural legacies.

Turkey has a strong musical tradition which combines Central Asian, Arabic, Persian, Greco-Roman, and modern European and American elements into its own unique form. Turkish music is generally separated into three main categories: traditional/local (folk), classical, and popular. Turkey’s influence on music stretches back to the 18th century, when classical composers were intrigued by the strong role given to brass and percussion instruments in Turkish music. Composers such as Haydn and Mozart integrated these elements into some of their music, introducing cymbals, bass drum, and bells into the symphony orchestra, where they are still present today.

Turkish literary traditions are deeply tied to their musical traditions. Poetry has long been the most dominant form of Turkish literature, and most Turkish folk poetry was written with the intention of being sung, inextricably linking it to Turkish folk music. Much of Turkey’s historical literary traditions are based around oral transmission, so the link to music, even beyond the folk genre, has long been a natural one. Shortly before the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey’s independence, literature began to trend more toward Western genres, introducing forms such as the novel and short story, and Turkish writers continue to develop and explore these forms. In 1928, Ataturk initiated a change from the Arabic-based Ottoman script to a modified Latin alphabet, and the effect on language and culture, especially writing and literacy, was profound.

Turkey is an increasingly popular tourist destination, attracting nearly 24 million visitors in 2007. Foreign tourist arrivals nearly doubled between 2002 and 2005, making Turkey one of the top-ten destinations and tourism revenue generators in the world. Visitors largely come from the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia and Japan, though tourists from the Middle East, Iran, France, Scandinavia and the United States are not uncommon.

Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has created a new tourism strategy with the goal of becoming a top-five destination in the world by 2023—the 100th anniversary of the republic’s founding.

Turkey has worked hard to develop its geographic location into an asset for the country, calling itself the “energy gateway” to Southern Europe. Turkey receives the bulk of its natural gas supplies from Russia and Iran and has multiple major pipelines running through the country that connect both natural gas and oil suppliers to the Mediterranean and Southern Europe. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC), for example, connects the oil fields of the Caspian Sea area, some of the largest supplies in the world, to Western markets through Turkey. Previously, oil could only be transported from the Caspian Sea to Europe through Russia, so when the Soviet Union fell and the search began for new routes, Turkey presented itself as a safe and reliable partner, resulting in the opening of the BTC pipeline in 2005. Turkey, for its part, receives hundreds of millions of dollars in transit fees every year as a result of this pipeline alone.

Still, with the rapid swelling of oil prices and instability on the part of its suppliers, Turkey’s continued benefits as an energy gateway seem to be somewhat in question. As suppliers like Iran, Turkmenistan, and Russia squabble over prices and supplies, Turkey suffers with sudden and dramatic reductions in its energy supplies from these countries. Some of these reductions have been so severe that Turkey has been forced to dip into its very limited energy reserves just to continue normal activity. Thus, the Turkish government has become increasingly interested in the last few years in alternative energy supplies as an answer to the unpredictable behaviors of its current energy suppliers. Energy experts in Turkey feel that it has the resources necessary to develop alternative energy sources that would allow it to be completely energy self-sufficient in a matter of years and only lacks the political will to do so. While energy self-sufficiency would benefit the country’s stability, environment, and economy, one cannot downplay the significance of Turkey’s energy connections to its neighbors on both sides as it considers how it will configure its goals and policies.

Turkey has also been open in it desires to pursue nuclear power as another form of alternative energy. Former President Clinton signed an agreement with Turkey in 2000 that outlined a cooperation deal on nuclear technology between the two countries. However, amidst concerns of possible nuclear weapon proliferation plans in Turkey’s private sector, the agreement was delayed until President Bush felt that sufficient information had been gathered to justify signing the deal in January 2008. Proponents of Turkey’s nuclear energy program argue that the country’s near complete lack of traditional (i.e., fossil fuel) indigenous energy supplies makes it excessively vulnerable to volatility in international markets and any disputes in its regional relationships. A nuclear program, coupled with other alternative energy pursuits, would greatly reduce this burden and give Turkey a stronger, more independent stance in global affairs.

Others, however, are concerned about the implications of nuclear developments in Turkey, especially because of its position in relation to Iran. The two countries are the largest economies and traditional powers in the region. As concerns over a possible nuclear weapon program in Iran have risen, Turkey has been topping the list of objectors. The Turkish government generally has taken a strong stance against Iran possessing nuclear weapons, just as it opposes the acquisition of nuclear weapons by any other country in the region. At the same time, some representatives of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) feel that it is crucial to continue to maintain channels of communication with Iran despite the concerns, as Turkey must be prepared to deal with the possibility of a nuclear Iran. Whatever the feeling, nearly all in Turkey agree that allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons would result in an imbalance in power in the region, leaving Turkey at a serious disadvantage. Still, despite some objections from the United States, Turkey has continued its energy relations with Iran, even considering the possibility of building new pipelines together. It will continue to weigh its energy goals and policies in light of all of its concerns, challenges, and possibilities, hoping to continue to mold a plan that will have the best end results for the country and its future development.

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Sources: Embassy of the Republic of Turkey to the United States; Brookings Institution, Center on the United States and Europe; Brookings Institution, Foreign Policy Program; The Turks Today (Andrew Mango, 2006); The New York Times; BBC News, and others.

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