Osman Orsal / Reuters A worker fixes a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk at the top of the Ataturk Cultural Center in Istanbul's Taksim Square, June 28, 2013.

Turkey's Anti-Imperial Agenda

Turkish Foreign Policy, from Ataturk to Erdogan

With even the short-term political consequences of Turkey’s June 7 election still very much up in the air, it is far too soon to predict with certainty what the vote will mean for the country’s foreign policy. What is clear, though, is that the AKP will no longer unilaterally steer the country’s course.

Even so, elements of AKP foreign policy that have most troubled Washington over the past decade will probably remain in place, at least if the campaign rhetoric of the AKP’s opponents over the past months is any guide. Although the opposition has been quick to criticize Erdogan’s foreign policy failures over the past few years, the fundamentals behind his early successes still command wide support across the Turkish electorate. Specifically, his government’s sympathetic interest in Turkey’s Muslim and Arab neighbors, often a source of conflict with the United States, fits within a long-standing pattern of nationalist anti-imperialism that predates—and may well outlive—the AKP.

Supporters of the Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party cheer during a gathering to celebrate their party's victory during the parliamentary election, in Diyarbakir, Turkey, June 8, 2015.

Supporters of the Pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party cheer during a gathering to celebrate their party's victory during the parliamentary election, in Diyarbakir, Turkey, June 8, 2015.

COUNTER COLONIALS

Before last week’s elections, Selahattin Demirtas, the Kurdish politician whose progressive, liberal campaign unexpectedly shook up Turkish politics, publicly challenged Erdogan: “Let’s go to Egypt together and stay there until they lift Morsi’s death sentence.” “Come on,” he continued, “Let’s go to Gaza together.” If Erdogan was serious about his rhetoric of Muslim solidarity and not just trying to win votes, Demirtas implied, they could join together to be “leaders of the resistance” in Gaza and Egypt. Earlier, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of Turkey’s main secular opposition party, had set out his own foreign policy vision. He called for better relations with the United States and Israel, but, in the same breath, also spoke of improving ties with Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. If anything, his statements recalled the “zero-problems-with neighbors” policy that Erdogan’

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