Azerbaijan, Baku, 10 November / Trend /
B.Hasanov, commentator of the Trend Middle East Desk
Since Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Turkey in 2002, Turkey's transformation into a major power centre in the region and its efforts to make its existence felt in all regional issues have been visible. During the Cold War, because of the threat posed by the Soviet Union Turkey was forced to turn to the West bloc. In these years, Turkey has directed its capacity rather to provide security than to enhance the regional power of influence. Since the Cold War Turkey has faced quite different realities in international relations, and initiating changes in the foreign policy strategy tried to strengthen its power of influence in the region. After coming to power of the ruling Justice and Development Party and launching development, a new foreign policy strategy, which had been pursued before this party in a chaotic form, is now executed in a systematic and planned manner. The priorities of Turkey's foreign policy are to establish completely trouble-free relations with neighbouring countries and to gradually expand its power of influence, starting with the nearest environment. Specific manifestations of this foreign policy strategy can be seen in the policy pursued by Turkey in the region in recent years. Active mission of mediation in the talks between Syria and Israel, negotiating with Hamas to resolve the Palestinian problem, initiating the Caucasian Platform project, an attempt to become a mediator in the talks between Tehran and the West, and serious efforts to implement the Nabucco gas project, which is very important for the energy security of the West; all this, turning Turkey into the needed regional power centre, is intended to ensure the country with force capable of greater influence in regional affairs. The new foreign policy strategy, called the "strategic depth", pushes Turkey to a very profitable use of its geographical location, religious, ethnic and historical ties, as well as its growing economic and military power. For example, in the Nabucco gas project Turkey rather uses its advantageous geographical position, but in solving the problems of the Middle East it brings to the fore the historical, religious and cultural ties that existed since the days of the Ottoman Empire. And in relations with Azerbaijan and Central Asian countries, Turkey highlights the ethnic factor. Interestingly, how much is it possible for Turkey to establish with the region's countries long-term relationships based on mutual trust and to enhance its credibility in these countries, using the abovementioned factors? One proposal voiced last week by Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, when he talked about relations between Turkey and the European Union, shows a good way to find an answer to this question. Babacan said they would continue democratic reforms in Turkey, adding that "the actions of an undemocratic country are unpredictable". How much is democratization of the region's countries important for the AKP government, which considers the democratization of Turkey to be a priority? To what extend undemocratic countries, or as Babacan said "the countries which actions are not predictable", can be reliable partners for Turkey? No one can guarantee that one day a person like Saddam Hussein, giving no importance either to the people or to the balance of regional and global forces, will not head those countries lacking tradition of democracy. In this sense, if Turkey wants to build long-term reliable relationships in the region, it should make serious efforts to promote culture of democracy in the region. Undoubtedly, such efforts should be carried out by supporting the civic activities for the development of democracy culture, instead of exerting pressure on the Governments of those countries, setting democracy by force. Attempts of the West, particularly USA, which has demonstrated itself as a representative and protector of democracy, to develop a culture of democracy in the Middle East and Central Asia are doomed to failure. The main reason is the absolute decline of the authority of the Western world, acting in the international politics not for justice but for interests, among the nations of the region. Therefore, those believing in the sincerity of the West are few, and they doubt about all initiatives of the West, including the initiative to democratize the region. In this sense, Turkey has more chance than the West to make the countries in the region adopt a culture of democracy. However, if Turkey in its future foreign policy does not attach importance to democratic values and brings to the fore only its own interests, a negative opinion about this country in the region would be inevitable. Some may say that since Turkey itself has problems in the sphere of democracy, it can not contribute to the development of democracy in the region. But to expect Turkey, with its great achievements in the development of democracy, to "export" democracy to the region after "everything in the country is improved" would be naive. Because democratization is an endless process. Therefore, if Turkey wants to get in the region long term and reliable partners and to gain the support of the public in the region, it should immediately strive for rapid development of democracy culture here. Otherwise, "strategic depth" of Turkey will be doomed to shallowness.