What do you think when someone mentions the word ‘Turkey’? Is it the thought of the nation itself? Or is it rather the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, or perhaps the food? Then, are you thinking of Kebab, Börek and Baklava? Or maybe about a picture you remember from the news – an image of Prime Minister Erdoğan and of the people at the Gezi Park demonstrations? Turkey has been and still is one of the main topics of everyday news coverage’s agenda and this article aims to give you reasons why it is so.
A year ago, the Gezi Park demonstration started and it soon became crystal clear that these demonstrations were not about preserving a nice green park anymore but rather about something much more vital to the Turkish citizens.
Turkey underwent significant transformations in the 20th century. The main part of the merit may be attributed to the reformative zeal of Attatürk, who turned a has-been empire into a secular state. Nowadays, it is Prime Minister Erdoğan who aims at reforming Turkey his way. Worldwide news eagerly covered his pledge to restrict the usage of YouTube and Twitter and enact some conservative reforms, which eventually would have led to a restriction of freedom of expression. Luckily, he did not succeed in passing the ban, thanks to the fierce protest coming equally from within and outside of Turkey.
Incidents such as this show that Erdoğan as the Prime Minister and party leader of the governing democratic-conservative party AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) has a considerable influence concerning the direction Turkey is heading towards. It also indicates that Turkey still has to find its own identity, a face it could use when dealing with internal and external issues. Interestingly, Turkey has often changed its ideological direction in the past decades. It adopted various impressions, which ranged from a very democratically oriented applicant to the EU, to the direction it is heading now, following a “zero-problem” foreign policy with all of its neighbours and concentrating on the Middle East and not solely on the EU.
Turkey officially applied to join the EU as early as 1987. Ever since, many fruitless negotiation rounds followed, resulting in fall of motivation and proportional grow of reluctance on both sides. After the failed accession negotiations in October 2005, Turkey changed its foreign policy and has shifted its focus completely. However, the failed negotiations are not the sole contributing factor in this aspect. The influence of the ideology of the governing AKP and that of important charismatic personalities, such as the current Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, cannot be overestimated. In the meantime, Turkey became a regional economic power and became largely successful on the global market. It does not see itself in any relation of dependence on the EU, but rather in the position of free choice. The question remains: should it concentrate on the Middle East and its direct neighbours, while gradually cutting the strings with EU, or devote itself completely to new EU accession talks?
Turkey will eventually find a way to deal with its past, the present struggles and the future. Certainly, it will start by securing a broadcast of the daily news and changing the popular vision of the present, which might prove to be another attempt to restrict freedom of expression. Nevertheless, Turkey will have to deal with its present and its international stand in world politics and how it can reconcile this role with the internal policies it is pursuing. This will possibly lead to a reconciliation of both of its interest, the European Union and the Middle East or a complete restructuring of its direction.
Authorship: research done by the Area Studies Turkey subgroup 2:
Enrico Nadbath, Carolina Melches, Sina-Kirana Soekarman, Sonja Scheele abd Laura Schmitz.