BACKGROUND: Turkey was among the first countries to recognize their independence of the newly independent states, and over time, relations intensified in various areas. Especially after awareness of the vast oil and gas reserves in the Caspian basin grew, Turkey, like many other countries, developed interest in these vast energy sources. Apart from strategic political objectives, it has a fast-growing demand for energy consumption domestically and sees additional revenue opportunities in the transportation of these resources to world markets through its soil. While Turkey has established a wide spectrum of relations with these newly independent countries, it has tried to avoid any form of conflict with Russia and Iran based on its own important trade relations with both as well as political considerations. However, Turkish relations with the Caucasus and Central Asia have changed dramatically in recent weeks. There has been a shift from an agenda dominated by economical, cultural and social factors toward a more marked military character, due to two events: first, the assault by Iranian fighters and warships on an Azerbaijani oil research ship in the Caspian in August this year; and secondly, and more importantly, the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States and in its immediate aftermath, the US-led military operation Enduring Freedom against Afghanistans Taliban Government and the Al-Qaida terrorist organization. In fact, Turkeys bilateral military contacts with countries in the region began well before NATOs Partnership for Peace arrangement which provided the multilateral framework for military relations. Within this context, Turkey continues to provide military assistance to most of the regions countries, especially in areas such as the training of military officers and students. Each year, large numbers of students are trained in Turkish Military Academies, while others receive Turkish language training. In addition, the Turkish military has taken upon itself the responsibility to establish an efficient military structure in Azerbaijan including the complete training of Azerbaijans military personnel.
IMPLICATIONS: After Iranian warships and fighters attacked an Azerbaijani research vessel, a series of violations of Azerbaijani airspace and Azerbaijans sector of the still contentious Caspian Sea took place in August 2001. This significantly heightened tensions in the Caspian. Although there is still no final agreement on the legal status of the Caspian Sea and seabed, until that time nobody had tried to flex military muscles to solve this problem. Turkey, as a supporter of the east-west corridor pipelines, approached the incident in a two-pronged diplomatic and military way to keep stability in the region. General Hüseyin Kivrikoglu, the Turkish Chief of General Staff, paid a visit to Baku and participated in the graduation ceremony of the first batch of cadets from the Turkish-run military academy, and affirmed Turkeys support for Azerbaijans independence and territorial integrity. The air force demonstration jets Turkish Stars (a modified version of F-5 aircraft) displayed an air show that brought about half a million cheering Azerbaijanis to the streets of Baku - almost six percent of the countrys total population. This visit was a clear demonstration of Turkish support for Azerbaijans government and people, and constituted a lesson to countries trying to exert pressure on their neighbors by means of military force and subversion. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Turkey, like its allies in the west, faced a new set of problems. Although most of the problems are not clearly defined, one thing was very obvious: that the course of actions would lead from diplomatic efforts to the declaration of war on terrorism and terrorist-supporting countries. These attacks were accepted as a direct attack at NATO and thus, for the first time in history, article 5 of the NATO Treaty was invoked. Turkey immediately opened its airspace and bases for military operation against the Taliban and the Al-Qaida network, and shared intelligence reports regarding Afghanistan and terrorist groups with the United States. The Turkish government received approval from the Turkish parliament to send military personnel to Afghanistan for training and liaison purposes. Turkey is already in the process of sending 90 military experts into the Northern Alliance-controlled region as a first group for coordinating ground operations. Furthermore, as a part of this operation, 10 senior Turkish officers are stationed in the Pentagon to coordinate the military actions with US colleagues. Having a long and successful experience in fighting the PKK terrorist organization in its south-eastern region, the Turkish military will provide essential military and peacekeeping efforts during and after the war. Parallel to the military actions in Afghanistan, diplomatic efforts are under way to establish a new Afghan government after the war period. Turkey recently hosted a meeting in Istanbul between the exiled king Zahir Shahs team and Afghan opposition leaders. Turkey, while having some contacts with Northern Alliance powers, has established direct links with Pakistan, a traditional ally and a close friend of Turkey in the region. Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer visited Pakistan and met with President Perviz Musharraf to exchange views and provide political support for the policy course Pakistan has taken so far. A great concern for the Turkish Government is the campaign against countries accused of harboring terrorists, including Iraq. It is very well known that Turkey is dissatisfied with the current situation in Iraq created by the Gulf War. Turkey experienced significant economic losses, social upheaval, PKK camps in the border region, and the establishment of a de facto independent Kurdish entity at its southern border. Turkey clearly communicated its concerns on the Iraq issue to the US. However, according to reliable sources, Turkey is preparing itself for all types of outcomes that might take place along the campaign against terrorism.
CONCLUSIONS: In the light of recent developments, as a NATO partner and a secular Islamic nation , Turkeys role as a key player in the Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as in the Western security system in general, will only increase. Turkeys military presence in the region with western allies will give it a chance to improve and intensify relations with other Central Asian countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. Turkey and the West will have a strong hand to support and enhance the independence of the regions countries. At the same time, Turkey may have a chance to raise longstanding foreign policy issues close to its heart, such as Cyprus, Iraq, and European Union membership.
AUTHOR BIO: Dr. Kemal Kaya is a visiting researcher at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, The Johns Hopkins University-SAIS. He holds a Ph.D. in Aeronautical Engineering, and has long experience in the Turkish Defense Industry. He is currently the Head of the Technical Division of the Turkish Parliament.
Copyright 2001 The Analyst All rights reserved