The concept of Eurasia has occupied an important place in political discussions in Turkey since the beginning of the 90s of the last century. It is perceived as one of the main concepts reflecting Turkey’s geopolitical strategy, international relations and national security. The regional policy of Turkey is also partly influenced by this concept.
Definitions of Eurasia
The term Eurasia in the political and ideological discourse of contemporary Turkey has rather a politicized interpretation than a scientific definition. Some political scholars and researchers consider Eurasia as a region settled mainly with Turkic peoples, including Turkey, the Balkans and part of the Caucasus, the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, the region of Volga in Russia, and Northern Afghanistan. Such approaches, which are nothing but “modernized” editions of the pan-Turkist ideology, were widely spread in various circles of Turkish elite, especially in the beginning of 1990s.
However, the definition based on this ethnic-and-linguistic principle, lost its priority in the middle of 1990s, and at present it is less disseminated than the other versions of “Eurasia”, based exclusively on geographical or political conceptions. For example, the web site of Turkish Foreign Ministry presents a geographical definition of Eurasia as “a large landscape, stretching from Europe to Central Asia.”1 The current Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul describes Eurasia as a “continent consisting of Europe and Asia.”2 In fact, it is an attempt to avoid possible accusations in politicizing the concept.
The definitions given by the representatives of various wings of Turkish political elite are more detailed and politicized. For instance, former president Suleyman Demirel considers the Balkans, Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq as parts of this region.3 Former Vice-Premier Minister and Chairmen of pan-Turkist Party of Nationalist Action (PNA) Devlet Bahceli includes the Balkans, Caucasus and the Middle East into Eurasia.4
Nevertheless, our numerous meetings with Turkish diplomats for more then ten years allow us to conclude that in its everyday activity the Turkish diplomacy prefers not to rely on the official conception of Ministry of Foreign Affairs or statements of some politicians or scientists, but uses the very pragmatic, from their point of view, version limiting Eurasia with the eight newly independent states of the South Caucasus and Central Asia. It is worth mentioning that Suleyman Demirel, during his tenure as Prime Minister, had the same opinion. For instance, in November of 1992 he stated: “With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Eurasia was born…”5 Many Turkish politicians share the same approach.
The problem of definition of Eurasian borders in the Turkish discourse, which raises just an abstract interest at first sight, has great importance for revealing the motives of Turkish foreign policy nowadays.
Eurasian Geopolitical Theories in Turkey
The concept of Eurasia, which is one of the central concepts of geopolitics, has been studied in Turkey quite recently as a result of tangible changes in the regional geopolitical environment. Using the Western classical geopolitical approaches regarding Eurasia (from H. J. Mackinder and N. J. Spykman up to Z. Brzezinski), Turkish theorists tried to work out their own concepts. They are operating with such core notions of classical geopolitics, as Heartland, Inner Crescent or Outer Crescent.6 But in the meantime, their conclusions are very different from the Western ones.
The most remarkable and complete geopolitical concept in this sense was recently worked out by Ramazan Ozey (Professor of Marmara University). It is entitled “The Theory of Center Domination by Turks.” The main elements of Ozey’s concept can be summarized in the following way: Anatolia is the “World Fortress” (Dunya kalesi in Turkish, or the Heartland in classical sense), and the ruler-country in Anatolia, Turkey, possessing this acropolis, has an opportunity to take control over the regions of the “Internal circle” (Ic Cember in Turkish, compare with Mackinder’s Inner Crescent). According to the Turkish scientist, they are the Balkans and Eurasia. Turkey will govern the world (Dis Cember in Turkish, meaning Outer Crescent in Mackinder’s concept) sooner or later, the author says in conclusion. 7
Thus, Ozey legalizes Turkey’s domination in Balkans and Eurasia considering it a natural result of that country’s geography. Then, he considers Turkey’s domination in Eurasia not an end in itself, but a method of achieving a bigger result – the World Domination.
Other publications by Turkish experts in geopolitics are not so frank and far-reaching, though majority of them support the ideas of Turkey’s domination or priority in Eurasia applying “softer” wordings. Thus, for example, Mustafa Yilmaz (Professor of Hacettepe University) also describes Turkey as a “natural acropolis” situated in the middle of the Balkans, Caucuses and the Middle East, which allows it to apply a number of alternative economic, political and military approaches.8
To emphasize the priority of Turkey proceeding from the “natural” geopolitical conditions, another idea of “Central Empire” was put into scientific and political circulation in 1990s. According to one of supporters of this approach, Oral Sander, Turkey, yielding to a number of other countries by its power and being influenced by “world developments,” at the same time, influences these developments due to its position of a “Central Empire.”9
Eurasia in Political Discourse
In 1990s the Turkish left wing and right-wing thinkers and politicians, as well as representatives of a number of pro-Islamic and pan-Turkist political forces, elaborated a model of Turkey’s Eurasian policy, to become a complete alternative to the “traditionally” pro-Western foreign political strategy. This approach is based on the idea of cooperation of the most important powers of Eurasia, Turkey, Iran and Russia, against the “Western imperialism.” Its authors condemn Turkey’s foreign policy for its subordination to the West and ignoration of the country’s basic interests.
In particular, it has become known recently that one of the country’s prominent right-wing political figures, Husnu Dogan, even makes steps towards establishment of “Avrasya” (Eurasia) party.10 Another supporter of the above view, veteran of the Turkish Socialist Movement Dogu Perincek, gave one of his books a very symbolic title: “Eurasia’s choice – independent foreign policy for Turkey”.11
Nowadays, the political and intellectual elite of Turkey remains mainly adherent to the strategic preference of Ataturk. The representatives of this wing are pragmatic and well aware that Turkey is not ready to become the politically dominating power in Eurasia without the support of the West, either economically or politically. That is why, they consider the Eurasian direction of Turkey’s foreign policy subordinated to Turkey-West relations and try to coordinate their policy with the goals of the West, and, in particular, of the USA. At the same time, they consider the extension of Turkey’s influence in the Eurasian region as an important trump card in bargaining with the West on such issues as Turkey’ admission to the European Union or the Cyprus problem.
The study of geopolitical and geostrategical opinions of the modern Turkish high-ranking influential military concerning Eurasia shows that their approaches are shifting from hard-line Kemalist pro-Western orientation to diversified ones. They have much in common with the views of the aforementioned Western-orientated political elite. Even official military documents now speak of Turkey as a “country of Eurasia”, committed “to retain and enhance the ties with both the West and the East.”12 In 1998, Minister of Defense Hikmet Sami Turk, making his speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, stressed the following: “Turkey has not only turned its face to the West, but also enjoys traditional ties with the Islamic World. She takes her roots from Central Asia, The Middle East, Anatolia and Europe. In short, Turkey is a Eurasian country.”13
The military traditionally consider Eurasia and, first of all, the South Caucasus, as an unstable region threatening Turkey’s security. They are convinced that Russia’s influence and military presence in that region is the main source of danger. Thus, it is obvious, that the attention of the military is mainly focused on the three countries of the South Caucasus. 14 At the same time, they, alongside with many Turkish politicians, think, that “Turkey is in the middle of the world.” 15
Within the last two-three years, among the Turkish high-ranking military appeared a group protesting against integration into European Union. Its members consider Eurasia as an important geopolitical privilege for Turkey and not as a source of instability. Despite their pro-Western orientation, in that region they predict a strong competition with the European countries, especially with Germany. 16
In 1999-2002, the period of the previous coalition government headed by Bulent Ecevit, the Foreign Ministry was controlled by the Democratic Left-wing Party (DLP), so the views of the party’s leaders require a special attention. On the whole, they supported the pro-Western strategy of the Turkish foreign policy, though with some reservations. For example, in 1995, DLP leader Bulent Ecevit insisted on the “region-oriented foreign policy.” He thought that the use of the European and Asian elements would enable setting up the integrity of the countries situated in the Eurasian super-region, certainly headed by Turkey. He even uses the term “Eurasiation” (Avrupalasma in Turkish) – to signify the process of integration between Europe and Asia. According to him, Turkey is occupying the central place in this process.17
Foreign Minister of that period Ismail Cem, also the DLP representative, did not avoid rather openly speaking about prospective Eurasian plans in public. Thus, once he stated: “We shall, undoubtedly, join the European Union, but our perspective of vision is broader. Our goal is to become the decision-making center in Eurasia.”18
The program of the Justice and Development Party’s (JDP) Government, which replaced Ecevit’s coalition, points out that the goal of expanding relations with Russia is based on the aspiration for “cautiously expanding Eurasia’s prospect.” Meanwhile, before coming to power, this pro-Islamic party noted in its program that it would try to expand the “Eurasian direction” of the Turkish foreign policy19. The latest steps of the JDP Government display the trend of strengthening the impact of the Eurasian concept on the Turkish foreign policy. The Foreign Ministry acts within the new framework redefining the priorities of the Turkish foreign policy in accordance with the Eurasian concept, which is indicated in the JDP’s program and considered to be more suitable to the changing regional and global realities. The Ministry is establishing a new balance between national interests and those realities and is trying to improve relations with the neighboring countries.
Different interpretations of Eurasian concept are also present in official documents of other Turkish political parties. In particular, the Program of the Social-Democratic People Party (SPP), which had been playing an important role in the Turkish politics in the first half of 1990s, describes the “Wide Eurasian” region as a “territory of our life, our power, apple of the eye” for Turkey.20 Recently founded Party of New Turkey (PNT) considers Turkey as “The Power Center” of emerging “Eurasian Entirety”.21
The concept of Eurasia is widely spread also among different circles of contemporary Turkish society. There are many research centers, think tanks, NGO’s, foundations, and periodicals, the titles of which include the word “Avrasya” (Eurasia). Most of them are interested in advocating Eurasian trend in Turkish political, economical and cultural life. Only one example: a non-governmental Association of Cultural and Societal Development of Eurasia stands for strengthening various relations between Europe, Turkey and other Eurasian countries, especially, with the Central European ones. Its leaders are supporters of using the Eurasian direction of Turkey’s foreign policy as a trump card in the EU accession negotiations. According to this NGO’s program documents, Turkey has to play “major role” in Eurasia.22
The above examined theoretical approaches and opinions concerning Eurasia and the place and role of Turkey, that are widely spread in the modern Turkey’s public and political life, testify that not only political elite of the country, but also military and scientific ones, as well as the segments of emerging civic society share the idea of Turkey’s domination in that region, bringing different reasons and bases.
These concepts come from both – left and right wings of the political spectrum are serving as a theoretical substantiation for the Turkish foreign policy, one of the most important long-term objectives of which is becoming a dominating power in the region of Eurasia.
1 See Turkish Foreign Policy. – In: http://www.mfa.gov.tr/
2 Abdullah Gul. Walking the Tight Rope: Managing Turkey’s Foreign Relations. Talk given to the Eurasia Summit 2003 “Energy, Economic Development and Regional Security”, New York, September 24, 2003. – In:http://www.mfa.gov.tr/grupa/ai/SpeechEURASIASUMMIT2003.htm.
3 Turkish Daily News, July 8 2003.
4 MHP’nin 6. Kongresi… Bahçeli’nin konu_mas1. In: Arsiv Belgeler, BelgeNet (http://www.belgenet.com).
5 Prime Minister Suleyman Demirels 12th press conference, Ankara. In: Turkish Review, 1992, Vol.: 6, August, p. 89.
6 On these notions in the western interpretation see the brilliant article of Donald W. Meinig from the University of Utah (US): Heartland and Rimland in Eurasian History. The Western Political Quarterly, 1956, Vol.: 9, No.: 3, p. 553-569.
7 See in his book: Ramazan Ozey. Jeopolitik ve Jeostratejik Acidan Turkiye. Istanbul: Marifet Yayinlari, 1998, p. 57-59.
8 Mustafa Yilmaz. Turkiyenin Jeo-Stratejisi Ac1s1ndan Gunumuz Olaylar1n1n Degerlendirilmesi. Ucuncu 1000E Girerken Turkiye: Kutlu Dogum Sempozyumu 1999. Yayina Hazirlayan: Omer Turan. Ankara, 2000, s. 72.
9 Oral Sander. Turkish Foreign Policy: Forces of Continuity and Change. – Turkish Review, 1993, Vol.: 7, winter, p. 45-46.
10 Turkish Probe, 12 May 2002.
11 Dogu Perincek. Avrasya Secenegi: Turkiye Icin Bagimsiz Dis Politika. Istanbul: Kaynak Yayinlari, 1996.
12 Ministry of National Defense: White Paper-Defense 1998. Ankara: Ministry of National Defense, 1998, p. 5.
13 Hikmet Sami Turk. Turkish Defense Policy. – In: The Washington Institute For Near East Policy, Wednesday, March 3, 1999 (http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/media/samiturk.htm).
14 For the “traditional” approaches of top Turkish military officials, see Degisen Stratejilerin Odaginda Turkiye. Istanbul: AD Yayincilik, 1996, written by Necip Torumtay, retired Chief of the General Staff.
15 Sadi Erguvenc. Turkey’s Strategic Importance in Military Dimension: A Regional Balance Holder. – In: Turkey at the Threshold of the 21st Century: Global Encounters and/vs Regional Alternatives. Ed. By: Mustafa Aydin. Ankara, 1998, p.63.
16 See Kaan Ogut. Avraysa Stratejileri Uzerine. – In: Aydinlanma 1923, Sayi: 21 (www.aydinlanma1923.org). These conclusions were confirmed by Colonel Nazmi Cizmeci in a lecture during the 1998 workshop entitled “The Importance of Turkey vis-à-vis the Caucasus, Middle Asia, and Eurasia.”
17 Avrasya Dergisi, II (http://www.avrasya-tr.org).
18 See Kaan Ogut, Avraysa Stratejileri Üzerine, in: Aydinlanma 1923, Sayi: 21 (on-line version). Cem means, surely, the official definition of Eurasia.
19 See the Section 6 (Foreign Policy) of the Party Program of AKP in:http://www.hurriyetim.com.tr/dosya/secim/akp_dis.asp (in Turkish).
20 Sosyaldemokrat Halk Partisi’nin (SHP) program1, 2002. In: Partiler ve Programlar, BelgeNet (http://www.belgenet.com).
21 Yeni Türkiye Partisi’nin (YTP) program1. In: Ibid.
22 See the WWW site of above mentioned NGO: http://www.avrasya-tr.org.
*Prof. Ruben Safrastyan, Ph.D. is a Professor of International Relations at Acharyan University in Yerevan, Armenia. He’s also the Director of the Department of Turkish Studies at Institute of Oriental Studies, Armenian National Academy of Sciences. In the past, he served as a Counselor of the Armenian Embassy in Germany and was the Deputy Director of the Department of Political Analysis for the Office of the President of Armenia.