Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to
Istanbul last week is seen as part of Ankara's increasingly active role in the
Middle East, after decades of passivity in the region. At the same time, some
analysts say, Turkey's ties to the West are deteriorating as its path to
European Union membership continues to run into roadblocks. For VOA, Dorian
Jones reports from Istanbul.
Turkey is now emerging as an important diplomatic actor in the Middle East. Over the past few years, Ankara has established close ties with Iran and Syria, with which it had tense relations during the 1980s and 1990s; adopted a more active approach toward the Palestinians' grievances; and improved relations with the Arab world more broadly.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad (L) and his Turkish counterpart
Abdullah Gul in Istanbul, 14 Aug 2008
"They don't want us, because [of] culture, religion,
living style. It is all about us," she said. "This shows prejudice to our
country but I believe Turkey does not need the European Union to be a powerful
or strong country."
Also contributing to the waning public support of EU membership are important domestic changes in Turkish society. The pro-Western elite that has shaped Turkish foreign policy since the end of World War II is gradually being replaced by a more conservative, more religious, and more nationalist elite that is suspicious of the West. This group has a more positive attitude toward Turkey's Ottoman past. The ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party, or AKP, headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has managed to tap into rising popular nationalism by fusing it with Islam.
But the AKP party has run into problems recently when it narrowly escaped being shut down by the country's constitutional court last month on the charge of undermining the secular state. Since then, there has been a marked change in government policy towards the EU membership process. According to Sabiha Senyucel of the Turkish political think tank Tesev.
"If you want to save your self in the country then the EU is your only guarantee for you," Senyucel said. "The AKP knows very well that, If they don't get back track with the EU process, if they don't continue their commitment with the EU process, they are going to lose their support from the intellectuals circles and from the business circles."
Recent opinion poll numbers show there has been an upsurge in support of EU membership especially amongst government supporters. International relations expert Mensor Akgun says there is now understanding within the government that the process of EU membership is more important than the outcome.
"They may not want us , but that does not matter as long as we fulfill the necessary requirements," Akgun said. "As long as we become a fully democratic country with all the human rights observed, then I don't think it matters lot, whether EU accepts or not."
Prime Minister Erdogan has pledged that he will re-energize his government's efforts to join the EU. Honoring that promise is seen by critics as a crucial test of the government's commitment to protect the secular state. Another test, analysts say, will be whether the AKP will again make Europe its diplomatic priority.
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