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Turkey: Ankara reorients.

Turkey's role in Nato is diminishing with the end of the Cold War, and it is looking hard for a new role. Ankara has for a long time sought closer integration into Europe, but it is also lured by Central Asia. Mustak Parker recently interviewed Turkey's foreign minister, Hikmet Cetin.

THE DIPLOMATIC TRAFFIC in and out of Ankara these days is hectic. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the largely Turkic-speaking Central Asian republics has seen Turkey adopt a changing role in the region. Istanbul has now become a summit capital with unsure leaders in the region from Tirana to Ulan Bator, happily seeking tutelage from the seasoned "Suleiman Baba", as the premier, Suleiman Demirel, is affectionately called by his admirers.

Suddenly, Nato's eastern-flank front-line country, which has seen its importance wane as a result of the end of the Cold War, finds itself in a new leadership role, which some pundits rather sinisterly suggest Ankara is relishing because of pan-Turkish aspirations.

Turkey has emerged as the major force behind the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Pact, which encompasses both the Black Sea bordering states and the Balkan states (apart from the Yugoslav republics) and the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO), which comprises Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and the six Central Asian republics.

Ankara is also championing the cause of the Muslims in Bosnia-Hercegovina, ethnic Turks in Bulgaria and for greater economic development aid for Albania. All this, together with President Ozal's resolute stance against Iraq in the Gulf war, has strengthened Turkey's role in the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), ironically at a time when Ankara is also seeking closer official ties with the European Community.

In the aftermath of the Gulf war and a worsening situation in the south-east border provinces where the Kurdish Marxist group, the PKK, has been fighting a brutal separatist war, Suleiman Demirel has been forced to concentrate on crucial foreign policy issues rather than pressing ones on the economy, such as inflation and unemployment. However, Demitel realises that the dividends from a successful foreign policy can be handsome both in political terms and economic rewards.

The Central Asian markets, especially in oil-rich Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, in agriculture and mineral-rich Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikstan are potential goldmines for Turkish companies which have also been affected by the worldwide recession. Turkish firms using their linguistic advantage, are already winning multi-billion dollar contracts in the oil and gas sectors in countries such as Kazakhstan. They are also promoting themselves as the bridge between Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Demirel will be preoccupied in 1993 with extending Turkish influence as an example of political organisation, education, and economic reconstruction in Central Asia; fostering relations with its northern neighbour, Russia; lobbying for "kith and kin" in Bosnia and Bulgaria; and trying to convince Brussels to sign a "letter of intent" giving a fixed time-table for full Turkish membership of the Community.

Other issues that will dominate thinking in Ankara are the unresolved question of Macedonia's recognition, and precarious "peace" in Kosovo and the Sandjak provinces of Yugoslavia. While Turkey will pursue these goals with a new-found enthusiasm, there will be tepid wait-and-see attitude towards the Cyprus issue.

The bridge-building issues include relations with Turkey's Black Sea neighbours, some of which are in the throes of civil war as in Moldova and Georgia; relations with Iraq, Syria and Iran especially over the continued infiltration of PKK separatists and the Euphrates River water quarrel; and Ankara's associate membership of the European Community, which was reviewed in early November.

Ankara's relations with the Islamic world is being eclipsed save for the issues which involve border states and business interests. Relations with Iran and Libya are very tense. At the recent meeting in Tehran of the Islamic Development Bank's board of governors (the finance and economy ministers from the OIC states), there was a notable absentee. Tansu Ciller, the Turkish economy minister and the only woman minister in Demirel's government, stayed at home following Iran's arbitrary stipulation that the minister dressed in accordance with Iran's Islamic customs. Iran and Turkey are locked in a battle to win influence in central Asia and the contest is heavily one-sided since all the countries have opted to follow the Turkish model.

With Libya, it is a problem of payments. Turkish firms recently impounded a Libyan vessel in Izmir until Tripoli paid debts owed to Turkish contractors.

Turkey's foreign minister, Hikmet Cetin, is at the forefront of this diplomatic offensive. Ankara, he told The Middle East, has already called on Saudi Arabia and other OIC states to put more pressure on the West and Russia to help stop the slaughter in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Asked whether Saudi Arabia, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kuwait and the UAE should consider using the oil weapon to force the West to intervene, Cetin stressed that they should consider the option but it was a matter for these countries. Turkey has already declared that it is in favour of "limited military action as a last resort against Serbian aggression."

It is no secret that Ankara is wary of Iranian moves to seek the initiative in helping the Bosnian Muslims. Iran has been supplying arms to the Bosnian government led by President Aliya Izetbegovic. An arms consignment, destined for Bosnia found on an Iranian plane, was seized at Zagreb airport in Croatia recently.

"If the situation in Sarajevo and Bosnia-Hercegovina does not improve and many Muslims die during the winter months either through starvation, lack of heating or the fighting, then I am afraid that this might radicalise the situation," Cetin warns. "Some freelance or militant Muslim group might try to interfere in Bosnia in a dramatic and brutal way. We have alerted our colleagues in the European Community about this. Such an action, of course, might escalate the conflict and bring in Kosovo and Sandjak provinces of Serbia and Montenegro. This will lead to the involvement of Albania and the whole region could be drawn to the conflict."

Ankara recently signed a defence technology and military cooperation agreement with Tirana. Perhaps more ominous is a second agreement "on cooperation for military preparation."

Turkey is also concerned that UN sanctions against Belgrade are not working well, mainly because a number of countries including Russia, Romania and Ukraine are openly breaking the sanctions. But he dismissed suggestions that Turkey should take action against Russia and Romania by withdrawing export credits extended by the Turkish export-import bank (Teximbank) unless the countries stick to the UN embargo.

The PKK's eight-year struggle for an independent Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey has cost over 5,100 lives. A meeting in November between Cetin and his Iranian and Syrian counterparts, Ali Akbar Velayati and Farouk al Shara, reiterated their commitment to Iraq's integrity as a state, rejected any idea of a separate Kurdish state and warned the West not to play politics using the Kurdish population in northern Iraq against President Saddam Hussein. Cetin says Turkey is satisfied that Syria has closed the PKK bases on its border and that there is a thaw in relations with Damascus.

The foreign minister reiterated his government's determination to join the European Community (EC) and expressed frustration at Brussel's obfuscation. "Turkey on its own accord chose to share Western values. It is a founder member of the Council of Europe, the OECD, Nato and the UN."

Cetin is eager to remind everyone that "there are two and a half million Turks living in Europe and that TurcoEuropean links are deep. Around 53% of Turkish trade is with the EC and of the six million foreign tourists who visit Turkey each year, five million come from Europe." However, whether public opinion at home is as keen on EC membership following the murder of two Turkish sisters and their grandmother in Hamburg by neo-Nazis seeking the repatriation of all foreigners in Germany, must remain a moot point.
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Title Annotation:Outlook 1993
Author:Parker, Mushtak
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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