Hugh Pope, Turkey/Cyprus Project Director for the International Crisis Group (ICG), discussed theissue of recent speculation regarding Turkey’s “shift away from the West.” Mr. Pope strongly rejected such speculation and emphasized the need to understand Turkey’s current involvement with the Middle East in a historical context, rather than in terms of an East versus West dichotomy. He asserted that various aspects of history, such as the development of the secular Turkish Republic and the increase in regional hostilities during to the Cold War, have led Turkey, at various times, to limit its involvement with its Eastern neighbors. At such times, Turkey’s primary focus was on fostering ties to the West. However, as Mr. Pope affirms, these episodes of limited Eastern engagement are not the historical norm. Thus, Turkey’s return to engaging with its neighbors should not be viewed as an unprecedented shift away from the West, but rather an effort to correct a recent sociopolitical phenomenon.
In illustrating this historical context, Mr. Pope outlined Turkey’s past relationships with countries like Syria, Iran and Iraq and emphasized the deep cultural and historical ties Turkey shares with these countries. Furthermore, despite a drop in Middle Eastern engagement in recent decades, Turkey has always conducted about a quarter of its international trade with the Middle East. Thus, in a broader, historical context, the recent surge in Turkish economic engagement with the Middle East is nothing new. It is also important to note that the majority of Turkey’s international engagement still lies with the EU. In regard to Israel, Mr. Pope affirmed that Turkey’s approach to Israeli relations has always been cautious, despite isolated periods of strengthened diplomatic ties between the two nations.
Finally, Mr. Pope addressed the perception that Turkey’s new foreign policy is solely the creation of the AKP. He asserted that a policy of increased neighborhood engagement was actually initiated by the previous administration, and promoted by Turkish Foreign Minister İsmail Cem from 1997-2002. While the AKP’s first order of business after taking power was to engage with the Europe and negotiate EU accession, it eventually returned to the previous administration’s attempts to improve regional stability in order to ensure economic prosperity for Turkey in light of the EU’s declining economy. Therefore, Mr. Pope asserted, in addition to viewing Turkey’s neighborhood policy within a broader historical context, it is also important to acknowledge that Turkey’s current engagement with the East is, in fact, more opportunistic than strategic.
Hugh Pope is Turkey/Cyprus Project Director for the conflict-prevention organization, International Crisis Group, Prior to his appointment as Director in 2007, Pope was a foreign correspondent for 25 years, primarily covering Turkey, the Middle East and Central Asia for The Wall Street Journal. Born in South Africa, Pope received a B.A. in Oriental Studies (Persian and Arabic) from Oxford University. His publications include Turkey Unveiled: a History of Modern Turkey and Sons of the Conquerors:The Rise of the Turkic World, which the Economist cited as one of the best books of the year.