Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Turkey joins Islamic fold

President Kenan Evren's attendance this week at the Islamic summit meeting at Casablanca has higlighted the growing importance Turkey is giving to its relations with the Islamic nations.

It also has started to raise questions here about whether this is the first sign of a foreign-policy change by the new conservative government of Prime Minister Turgut Ozal.

About these ads

Evren's attendance at the conference is in itself regarded as a significant change of attitude. Until now, Turkey had refrained from being represented at the Islamic parley at the highest level, preferring a low profile.

In his speech at the conference, the Turkish President abandoned the reserved attitudes of the past and called for an Islamic strategy against Israel,which he strongly criticized. He also urged the Arabs to abandon their differences and unite to defend their just causes. Ozal also spoke, for the first time, of Turkey's role in the Islamic world.

''Because of her geographic position and common cultural ties, Turkey is an unseparated part of the Middle East,'' he said. ''Therefore it is impossible for us to refrain from playing a role in this region.''

Ozal hinted that Turkey could cancel the recent agreement with the US on granting base facilities to the peace-keeping force in Lebanon, and voiced opposition to the US-Israeli strategic accord.

All this is music to Arab ears, and the chorus of approval of these statements by the Islamic countries is seen by many Turkish diplomats and local newspapers as a major diplomatic success.

Foreign ministry officials stress that Turkey's developing ties with the Islamic world is part of its ''multi-dimensional'' foreign policy. They say that this should not be interpreted as alienation from the West. But as a senior Turkish diplomat noted, ''Turkey should not be forced to doubt the merits of her association with the West''.

There is concern here among pro-Western Turks and Western diplomats that Ankara's foreign policy orientation may be affected by two pending developments.

About these ads

One is the attitude of the Council of Europe toward Turkey. The Council's assembly will meet at the end of this month to consider Turkey's readmission. Turkey is sending her newly elected parliamentarians to the assembly to take up their seats after three years of absence due to military rule here. Many European parliamentarians, however, seem opposed to it, arguing that Turkey still does not have a fully representative government. Ozal has warned that a rejection of assembly membership will force Turkey to pull out totally from the Council of Europe.

The other likely development is US congressional opposition to military aid to Turkey. There are signs that the Greek lobby and other critics of Turkey's policy on Cyprus will press for sanctions when the US Congress convenes next week. The signs of such a move are already causing animosity here.

A Turkish political scientist, Dr. Seyfi Tashan, reflected the mood of many Turks in a recent magazine article. Where exactly is Turkey's place in international relations, he asked, and should a Turk consider himself first a Middle Easterner and then a European, or the other way round, as has been the case so far?

The search for such an identity and role is likely to be affected as much by Western attitudes as by Ozal's own pro-Islamic sympathy.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.