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Turkey’s Relations With the West Solid Despite Harsh Talk

Experts differ over repercussions and future

ISTANBUL, Turkey – The recent social unrest that led to the Turkish government's verbal barrage against Western countries has placed Turkey’s relations with those nations into question.

Led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been accusing those countries and their media outlets of exaggerating or even masterminding the protests which began in Istanbul's Gezi Park and spread throughout the nation. Local experts differ over to what extent these accusations will impact on Turkey's relationship with the West.

Nuh Yilmaz, foreign news editor for the daily newspaper The Star, compared Turkey's foreign policy with that of former French President Charles De Gaulle, suggesting that, “[Turkey] is a country that maintains its relations with the West in some way but defines its priorities by looking out for its own interests. In that sense, it is neither pro- or anti- the West.”  Yilmaz believes that while the Turkish government has been using stronger language against the West of late, it will not lead to a policy change.

According to Yilmaz, the Turkish government believes the civil unrest was blown out of proportion by the foreign media and some governments may be behind this, but nothing has happened to affect Ankara’s relations with Washington.

"The US may voice some concerns but will maintain its strategic ties with Turkey,” he opined. “The best example of that would be the talk between President Barack Obama and Erdogan over what policy should be followed regarding Syria, and the ensuing decision to continue working together on this issue."

Ties with Germany, whose relations with Turkey have been stressed for some time, might have been another area of concern.  "However, I do not think that tension will be the same with entire West. This is not the stance of the whole European Union," he said. As proof, Yilmaz cited the latest round in Turkey's long campaign for membership in the European Union which began on Wednesday.  

Ceyda Karan, columnist and news analyst for the daily Taraf disagreed, saying officials are more concerned about Turkey’s relationship with the US than with getting accepted to the EU.

“The government is paying more attention to the US, which is much more determinative in both financial and political means in the whole region and the global system,” she told The Media Line.

Karan added that the current administration and its constituency have always had a deep suspicion of the West, perceiving it as a threat to Turkey. At the same time, she believes the west is confused about the Middle East, demanding both free market economies and a pro-Western culture.

"This creates a useful ground in domestic politics," she added. "Then you can spread propaganda about how the foreigners glorify you while at the same time spreading a message that is picked up by grassroots supporters when events occur that do not serve your position."

Karan does not believe the AKP understands the disadvantages of distancing Turkey from the West in order to keep voters loyal. While she said it was "not possible to set a date," she believes the recent developments are "the beginning of the end" of Turkey's relations with the West.

"Cutting ties with the West is not possible no matter what the government's foreign policy may be,” economist Emre Deliveli told The Media Line. “Turkey is still selling 40 percent of its exports to the European Union; and as much as 50% when the whole continent is included, let alone the exports to the US,” he noted. Although relations with the EU are not what they used to be, “the ties regarding both commerce and hot money are there to stay,” Deliveli said.

The story is no different regarding foreign direct investment, where the American and European shares in this category far exceed foreign investment from other parts of the world, he added.

“Even if the social unrest continues and Turkey finds itself on a collision course with the West in term of rights and freedoms, that would not be the issue to disturb the foreign investor so long as political stability is preserved, Deliveli noted. "This may sound cold, but the foreign investor does not care how democratic Turkey is or isn't," he said.

Turkey is not indispensable for the hedge funds, for example. They can leave Turkey and go somewhere else but there are many companies which have made solid, long-term investments in Turkey, he pointed out. “They would not leave Turkey unless political stability is gravely disrupted,” he predicted.

Political Scientist Maya Arakon told The Media Line that she believes that, “Turkey's foreign policy towards the West has been something like: 'I am your gateway to the Middle East, pay attention to me,' since the very beginning and frankly, I don't think that will change." A neo-liberal party like the AKP cannot cut ties with either the EU or the US when its politics are so deeply rooted in economic relations,” according to Arakon.

"This is all about the upcoming elections," she said. “The ruling administration is making a play for the domestic vote.” Arakon recalled what is popularly known as the "One Minute Incident" –when Prime Minister Erdogan launched a verbal assault at Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in 2009, and how the widely-covered incident boosted support for the AKP among voters.  

The AKP is made up of experienced politicians aware of how important relations with the West are, but who want to compensate for the loss of prestige with the Gezi Park incidents, at least domestically. That is the reason for this current harsh tone toward the West, Arakon said.