The Turkish Republic is unique in various ways. Its strategic geographical location makes it a bridge between the East and the West. It is perhaps the only country that is situated at the intersection of the East and the West. When it gravitated toward the West, it felt the threatening force of the East on its doorstep, and when it turned its face to East, the same threat appeared from the West.
In 1923, when the Lausanne negotiations – aimed at authenticating the birth of a new Turkey – were interrupted, Turkey was exposed to the pressure from Britain while it got closer to Russia. While for Turkey, which was still in the process of negotiating at Lausanne, this entente not only strengthened its hand toward Europe, it also signified a threat to the West. However, the West, which was spearheaded by Britain, was thinking that strategically important Turkey should not be “lost.”
In 1946, after the multi-party period in Turkey, befriending the East carried substantial risks. Every Turkish government that fixed its attention on treaties of friendship with the East and strengthened its military and trade relations with the countries in that part of the world, met with external threats and eventually coup attempts with external support. The Cold War period affected Turkey the most. Moscow thought that acquiring the control of the straits would be an effective way to fight against western threat, and it integrated Turkey into the line of attack. Washington, on the other hand, was terrified of a possible Russia-Turkey alliance and believed that if Russia controlled the straits, it could pose a great danger. The admittance of Turkey into NATO helped clarify Turkey’s position to a great extent but it resulted into some other problems in the already polarized world.
The 20th century was a time when countries that came out of the world wars were out of control and they were buried deep into the calamity of violence under the effect of deviant ideologies. In the current century, maybe we are experiencing this terror in a different way. However, almost everyone in the world is now aware that we are not better off with a polarized world.
Turkey is one of the countries that understand this fact. Right now there is no Cold War; therefore Turkey is not obligated to side against a country on another’s request. Most people might be interpreting Turkey’s membership in NATO as a western pact membership. NATO was established to maintain peace. In the current situation, it would be better for it to include the East too, and designate a goal in this direction. We stated this fact years ago: If Russia was admitted as a member of NATO, the world could become more peaceful. However for some reasons, the realpolitik interests of some still necessitate the world to be divided into two different fronts. Hence, this is always a cause for trouble.
If we are to return to Turkey, undoubtedly, NATO membership is an important factor. However today, there is no doubt that NATO needs Turkey, more than Turkey needs NATO. In the current circumstances, no side is in a situation to coerce Turkey into taking a side. If we are to evaluate the subject in terms of Turkey-Russia ties, we will reach the following conclusion: While Turkey was improving its long-lasting friendship with Russia, it never turned its back on NATO or its western allies. The relationship with Russia, which was the first country to call Turkey during the coup attempt, will undoubtedly improve in future.
Turkey, however, value its western allies and wishes to further strengthen its ties with them because it is a country, which understands that the true solution for world’s problems can only be achieved through forging alliances and that polarization is not the right approach. In Turkey, where political polarization makes itself evident from time to time, the fact that in only one night such a great sense of unity is achieved is the most important proof of this fact. Turkey will maintain this unity with its neighbors and allies in the future. It may be that Turkey’s allies comprise of countries which can’t get along with each other or see each other as threats. But this fact never constitutes an obstacle for Turkey’s separate friendship with these countries.
The pleasant sight of two leaders, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, shaking hands in St. Petersburg should not lead to unnecessary speculations. Turkey is a country that wants to be and can be friends with both the West and the East.
We should also take into consideration the importance of Turkey-Russia ties for the resolution of the Syrian conflict. During the last week’s meeting a consensus was reached, both sides specifically laid emphasis on the importance of “territorial integrity” in Syria. Acting in accordance with this common ground will allow important decisions to be made regarding Syria. At this point, Turkey’s NATO membership constitutes a great importance. As a bridge between the West and the East, Turkey can act as a negotiator in the Syrian crisis. The support from key Middle Eastern countries will also play an important role in this regard.