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Turkey and the Middle East

Auteur : Philip Robins
Éditeur : Royal Institute of International Affairs Date & Lieu : 1991, London
Préface : Pages : 132
Traduction : ISBN : 0-86187-199-5
Langue : AnglaisFormat : 140x215 mm
Code FIKP : Liv. Eng. Rob. Tur. N° 3285Thème : Politique

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Turkey and the Middle East

Turkey and the Middle East

Philip Robins

Royal Institute

Turkey’s importance in the Middle East increased steadily as the Gulf crisis of 1990-91 developed. However, its potential as a major actor in Middle Eastern affairs has been largely overlooked because of its persistent desire to play a role in Europe. This study begins by assessing the effect of political currents in the region on the internal politics of Turkey, and then proceeds to examine Turkish interests and ambitions in the context of the continuing Arab-lsraeli dispute, the Gulf conflict during the 1980s and the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Turkey's economic relations with the Middle Eastern countries are also treated in detail. Finally, the study considers Turkey’s future political, economic and strategic role in the Middle East, arguing that it needs greater recognition and greater intaggption in international affairs.

Dr Philip Robins is head of the Middle East Programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs. He has written widely on Iraq, Jordan and the Gulf, and appeared frequently on radio and television during the Gulf crisis in 1990-91. Previously he worked at the Economist Intelligence Unit, and as a journalist based in the Middle East.


Many people have given advice and insight in the preparation of this study. The confidential basis on which discussions and interviews took place prohibit the mentioning of their names. I would, however, like to single out Professor William Wallace, Mina Toksoz, Andrew Mango, Angela Gillan and Helen Robins, all of whom read drafts of the text and gave valuable comments. Needless to say I accept full responsibility for the analysis contained within this book.

I must also thank my colleagues on the Middle East Programme for their stimulating company and expertise. Sir John Moberly continues to show a tireless commitment to the fortunes of the programme; his measured advice and experience has been of great benefit to me both as author and as programme head. Jill Kalawoun, the programme assistant, capably administered the project, as well as making a valued contribution at the research level. Margaret May patiently and diligently handled the publications side of the operation.

Finally l would like to thank the two sponsors of the project, the National Institute for Research Advancement in Tokyo and the Ford Foundation in New York. I greatly appreciate their commitment to a study, the topicality of which came to the surface some time after they had agreed to its funding.

March 1991



There has been a noticeable lack of scholarly research on Turkey. In view of its sizeable population and landmass, and given its continuing importance over four decades as both a member of the Nato alliance and a ‘frontline’ state with the USSR, this may seem surprising. But Turkey does not fit into any neat geographical or linguistic categories, and so is consistently and unjustifiably ignored by Europeanists, Sovietologists and Arabists alike.
Studies of Turkey from an international relations perspective put Turkish-speaking scholars, both foreign and Anatolian, at an immediate disadvantage because of the narrowness of their expertise. They lack the broader inter-state perspective of the area studies specialist.
Turkishspeaking academics and international think-tanks alike tend to tread the predictable ground of the Cyprus problem, Greece, the Soviet threat and, more recently, membership of the European Community. Turkey’s relations with the Middle East (as, indeed, with the Balkans) are consistently ignored. Even in Turkey itself the subject is largely neglected, partly because resources are not available within the country and partly because there is little interest among Turkish academics. Both reasons are indicative of the Kemalist view of Turkey’s foreign policy priorities, and the values of the Kemalist cadres inside the republic. And both go some way towards explaining the lack of understanding which Turkey periodically displays for its Middle Eastern neighbours, and the policy problems which result.

This study arose from a desire to bridge the gap in the existing literature. More specifically, it emerged from a number of questions which were asked about Turkey’s interests and policies in the context of earlier work on the Iran-Iraq war. The ceasefire in August 1988 did not halt such questions, as the issues of water, the Kurds and the spread of Islamism have all served to bind Turkey more firmly into the Middle East sub-system of states. The Gulf crisis arising from the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 again underlined Turkey’s important role in the area. And if the changes taking place across Europe and in the Soviet Union do not reorient Turkey more firmly towards the East, a resurgence of Gulf prosperity based upon a sustained upswing in the oil market, whenever that should take place, certainly will.

This study starts by considering how certain ‘Middle East phenomena’ affect domestic Turkish politics and society. Domestic issues are linked with foreign relations to emphasize the inextricability of Turkey’s involvement with the Middle East and the wider Islamic community.
These wider themes are developed in later chapters. Of course, to limit one’s focus solely to the Middle East is untenable and would be as mistaken as looking simply at Turkey’s relations with, say, Europe. Turkey is, in the words of one diplomat, ‘a bundle of linkages’. Policy decisions in one geographical direction have immediate implications in other directions. Although this is a truism of most states today, it is quite simply truer of Turkey. However, Turkey’s place in the international order falls outside the scope of this book, which aims to counter the common assumption that its relations with the Middle East are unimportant.


Turkey's Uncertain Identity

The absence of analytical writings on Turkey means that a study of its relations with the Middle East cannot begin by assuming that it is a known quantity. A glance at the map shows why. Turkey lies in Asia, and yet its best-known part and business capital lie in the European landmass. It is a Mediterranean state, yet its Black Sea shores are just as long. Turkey does not fit into any of the neat geographical categories which Western scholars have formulated to organize a spatially messy world. The geographical facts indicate wider uncertainties about the placing and role of the country.
A sense of confusion about Turkey is not, however, confined to the external perspective. There appears to be some considerable doubt even among Turks of similar socio-economic background as to the exact nature of the country and its people, and how this should manifest itself in the external relations of the state. The debate and equivocation over membership of the European Community perhaps best illustrates this uncertainty of identity within the republic.

Identity of the people
The end of World War I left the disparate people of Anatolia as broken and as dispirited as the Ottoman state of which they were subjects. There was every prospect of Asia Minor being parcelled up between the victorious allies. The peace talks promised little to the Turkish people apart from a fragile and inconsequential state based on ‘a few provinces in Anatolia ... [with] only a single outlet to the Aegean’.1

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