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Fikret : Turkey’s Desecuritization with Islamic Countries Began with Turgut Özal and Will Continue

Updated: Jan 7, 2023

Fikret

Turkey's relations with Islamic countries have been shaped based on different reasons in the historical process. The first of these effects is Westernization Policy. This policy has been the main part and extension of the traditional paradigm which began with the reform efforts started in the Ottoman period.






Turkey’s Desecuritization with Islamic Countries Began with Turgut Özal and Will Continue

Do you think Turkey's de-securitization with other Islamic countries will continue?

In what form will de-securitization continue in the future, and why?


Turkey's relations with Islamic countries have been shaped based on different reasons in the historical process. The first of these effects is Westernization Policy. This policy has been the main part and extension of the traditional paradigm which began with the reform efforts started in the Ottoman period.


So, Westernization Policy is related to the technological and industrial level that Turkey is trying to achieve. In this context, since Turkey perceives the criteria of being a developed country as being like Western countries in many ways, the face of this policy is toward European countries and western civilization.


The second effect is the ideal of reaching the level of contemporary civilization, which is the strategic policy of the Republican period. This ideal is created on a perception of Western civilization as an ideal goal.


This policy is also the version of the traditional Westernization policy, updated with the Republic and further deepened with its cultural dimensions.


However, this policy, unlike traditional Westernization that began in the Ottoman times, contains a pejorative emphasis on non-Western societies, especially the Islamic world.

For this reason, the idealism of reaching the level of contemporary civilization policy has contributed more negatively to Turkey's relations with Islamic countries compared to the Westernization policy. This may accept as the beginning of the securitization process of the relationship with the Islamic World.


The third effect is about the alliance attitude that was formed during the Cold War years in the context of the membership of NATO.


During the Cold War time, Turkey has been the Western part of the bipolar system while Islamic countries prefer neutrality or non-alignment because of the idea of benefiting from both sides.


Turkey's preference for the alliance with the West and NATO instead of Islamic countries is strictly related to threat perception from Russia.


Besides, as a part of the pro-Western policy, Turkey's being among the first countries to recognize Israel has had a very negative impact on its relations with Arab countries in these times.


On the other hand, although Turkey's participation in the establishment of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) provided a relative improvement in these relations, this membership is related to Turkey's soft diplomatic vision rather than the desire to develop relationships with Islamic countries. Hence, for this reason, Turkey's relationship with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation was dimmed until the 1980s.


The last effect is Turkey's secularism policy. This policy constitutes the identity dimension of Turkey's effort to present itself as a Western country, which also has a psychological depth that makes Turkey want to see itself as a European country and distances itself from the Middle East.


While the first three of these effects are strategic policy choices, the last one can be analyzed in the context of identity by the constructivist approach.

So, the De-securitization of relationships with Islamic countries has been mostly depending on the principle of identity.


Because Turkey's ideal and perception of Westernization and contemporary civilizations are still up to date. Hence, relationships with Western countries continued at a stable level. Access to the European Union and alliance with NATO are perceived as strategic sides of the permanent foreign policy of Turkey despite both being criticized sometimes because they didn't meet some expectations of Turkey. Today, even during the right-wing party's rule, popular support for both is still high.


Therefore, any development in relations with Islamic countries is a kind of adjustment change or program change, not an international orientation change inTurkey's reality. So, it should be analyzed in the context of identity politics.


The desecurization of Turkey's relations with Islamic countries actually began with the center-right wing Motherland Party and Turgut Özal, who came to power after the 1980 military coup.


Özal was a pious man personally with modern family life. So his vision and personality reflected the politics of Turkey as multilateralism and moderation. So Turkey saw itself as a bridge between the Islamic world and the West. The point is that, in any case, Turkey keeps itself in the West while developing a relationship with Islamic World. In this way, strict secularism policy has been eroded during Turgut Özal's prime minister and then presidency periods. Therefore, let me say that the desecurization process of Turkey's foreign policy with Islamic countries began with Turgut Özal, not R.tayyip Erdoğan.


So, In the last 20 years, relations between Turkey and Islamic countries is a process in which the desecuritization process, which started before, develops depending on the conjuncture.

The fact that these relations are more advanced than in the past is due to the neo-Ottoman or ummah-centered policy vision of the ruling party.


However, since this policy is a socially constructed policy by the ruling party rather than a policy that is suitable for objective reality, it couldn't serve to expected results. Instead, last ten years Turkey has lived a whirlpool in its relations with even prominent Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Syria.


Because Turkey's vision was loaded with paternalist and exceptionalist approaches by neo-Ottoman or Ummatist perception instead of a peer-to-peer relationship


At this point, we can say that when it has become clear that this perception is not reflected in the real situation, this revisionist vision and attitudes began to be abandoned by Turkey and this relationship began to stable trend at a more rational level.


In summary, the desecuritization process of relationships with Islamic countries started before today's ruling party, and it will continue. But marginal practices will be replaced by more rational policies.


Editor Assistant Research Fellow: Xianglin Gu

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