Turkey: Bridge between East and West?


Dear Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to start by thanking my dear friend, Honourable Michael Mc.Kellar and his colleagues at our Institute for giving me the opportunity, and the honour to speak a second time at this highly esteemed club, OUR club, that I am proud to be a member of....

Dear Friends,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to start by thanking my dear friend, Honourable Michael Mc.Kellar and his colleagues at our Institute for giving me the opportunity, and the honour to speak a second time at this highly esteemed club, OUR club, that I am proud to be a member of.

I would also like to thank my co-speaker Dr. Luca Anceschi for his insightful remarks on Turkey’s place in the global village.

As some of you may remember, my last presentation on Turkey was a bit controversial, this time I want to be even more controversial and stir up your brains and imaginations for a hot Q&A session.

Let’s see what we can do together. J

Firstly, the question:

Is Turkey...

- “A Bridge between East and West?“

A civilization and a geography to be stepped upon and manipulated by

Easterners and Westerners,

Southerners and Northerners?


- A member of the Western family?


- Member of the Islamic world?

- Possible member of (TRIU) Turkey Russia Iran Ukraine group?

- The Neo-Ottoman, or more correctly speaking, re-naissance of the economic zone of Eastern Roman Empire?


- A pivotal emerging power in her own right radiating her economic and political influence from the Balkans to the Caucasus, to the Middle East and Central Asian Turkic States?

These are the questions asked by friend and foe who see the swift rise of the Turkish Republic from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire to the 17th place in world economy, and still rising.

To start with, let me tell you that I will not be apologetic, trying to convince our Western friends that we are with them. And this is in spite of the implicit threat, “If you are not with us, you are against us“ of some of Western media and strategic institutions.

That is an archaic Biblical approach, and a dangerous one for the interconnected global village. In diplomacy, to befriend some family in the global village does not necessitate the enmity of the other family or families just because they have differing lifestyles! We come from a civilization, philosophy of which was “co-survival in harmony“.

Now, let us see what we have in our agenda in the 21st Century.

Are we heading to a

- Uni-polar world?

- Bi-polar world?

- Multipolar world?

Which one worked best in history?

Which would work best in 21st Century?

- How about Bush and Begin Doctrines of pre-emptive strike?

Would any regional or global emerging military power, to challenge that of the USA and Israel be tolerated?

- In the volatile age of information and quantum leaps in innovations, how long can the USA keep supremacy in military electronic technology? In economy? Most importantly, global legitimacy?

From our historical experience, we may, to some extent, predict how responsible Turkey, Russia, Britain or Germany would behave with great power. But it is very hard for us to estimate how China or India would act with great power. How can they convince us that they would act as responsible great powers in 21st Century?

- As the world economic weight is moving to Asia-Pacific, would rising powers, or declining powers.. pose a greater threat to mankind with nuclear weapons?

- As Eastern and Southern peoples wake up to the material goods of this world and cannot get them quickly, they may uprise resembling European uprisings of 19th Century.

- As Europe and USA lose competition in global labor wage wars, and their middle classes erode, they may have social upheavals too.

- Both upheavals from two different starting points may lead to similar totalitarian, fascist regimes in 21st Century, a nightmare for our children and grandchildren.

The reason I spent so much time phrasing these questions asked by strategists all around the world, was to draw the parameters of discussing Turkey’s place in the global village.

Now we can start on Turkey.

For Turkey 101, I should give you a brief explanation on Turkish identity.

We started history at Chinese border, our Turkish speaking Uighur cousins still there. Turkish language is Ural-Altaic, in the same family with Korean and Japanese. Not permitted in by the Chinese to go East anymore, we always went West, still forcing the gates of Europe.

Among the many Turkish states in history, Seljouk Empire who fought against Crusaders, and Ottoman Empire are the most important. Ottomans became a real empire after they took Istanbul. Hence it would not be possible to have a full grasp of Ottoman State mechanism and Civilization without knowing Byzantine history. Add to this the 10.000 years of vertical history of Asia Minor, and you get contemporary Turkish racial and civilizational mix.


Now, let’s go direct into the heart of the most important contemporary question in the minds of our Western Allies. The question of Islamic Religion versus Turkish politics. And the best approach to this issue is to look for the theory and practice of islamic civilization in history, to make a sound projection to our future.


As against the exclusive character of Western Civilization, Islamic theory lets non-muslims be themselves, and starting with Prophet Muhammed and Umayyads, Umayyads of Spain, Abbasids, Seljouk and Ottoman Empires, all practiced this teaching. This was the philosophy of “co-survival in harmony“ in practice.

European Union making a trial of “multi-kulti“ for just about half a century, and throwing the towel with Angela Merkel’s recent words, versus the historical theory and practice of Islamic civilization, I challenge my European friends on the possible behaviour of Europe, how unemployed and demoralized European youth would behave in the near future against gast-arbeiters of “other lifestyles“ among them, especially as Thilo Sarrazin a top German Central Bank officer says in his recent bestseller book that muslims in Germany are an inferior people. Let him slumber as Turks rise...

In spite of the inability of Europe for co-existing with other lifestyles and multiculturalism, and the global power is shifting Eastwards, we still want to join with an ageing Europe having curved the zenith, because it is our historical course, our destiny.

In our procession Westward, we joined Persian civilization in its decline, we joined Arab Islamic civilization in its decline, we joined Byzantine Empire in its decline... We gave them the kiss of life, and became catalyzers of extending what was left of their civilizations, with a new vigor, made a harmonious synthesis, resulting as the all inclusive Ottoman Civilization.

Some European brains like Swedish Historian Gunnar Wetterberg already are looking for alternative regional groupings for a decomposition of EU.

Yet the Turkish Republic on the rise is for a united Europe, and if we join, we would work for the unity and vitality of Western civilization. Not because Europeans want it. But because we want it.


Ottoman state system, as against the feudal, later, class based capitalist European system, was based on Plato’s ruler class and the ruled. This Ottoman practice continued in the Republic until the Anatolian peasants accumulated capital, industrialized and opened to the global market. Now this new, young, many American educated globalized merchant bourgeoisie, with its conservative historical values, religion included, is challenging the quasi-westernized local elite for the transfer of state power in a democratic way.

Now, for the Western strategists who fear the transfer of power to this young, global merchant bourgeoisie, taking small family businesses over from their conservative fathers, I would ask whether Weberian Protestant merchants risked their commercial interests with closing in and live in enmity with the global community.

As President Obama said after G 20 Seul Summit,

"You are seeing a situation where a host of other countries are doing well and coming into their own and they are going to be more assertive in terms of their interests and ideas,"

Similarly, last Wednesday, Hon. Malcolm Fraser, addressing our club said, “If we believe in democracy, we have to accept the outcome.“ Two sound judgments from two wise statesmen.

This is the game of democracy, democracy reflects the culture, civilization, simply lifestyles of peoples, both in internal politics and external. Yes, we Turks will assert our historical, traditional values and interests more, yet in merchant mentality of win win.

Last week, Hon. Malcolm Fraser, also said that “Great Powers always act on their own interests“. Well said. And smaller powers of the jungle of international relations acknowledge the interests of the lions, yet want their just shares even if they are in a lawless jungle. And the ultimate power of great states lies not in their muscles but in their legitimacy.

And now let us talk about loyalty.

The crucial question, a dilemma so-said for Turkey. If Turkey wants to stay in NATO, she should prove her loyalty to the West when trapped between the interests of Western allies and those of her muslim neighbours. Here I want to tumble the question to that of the loyalty of our allies to Turkey. Provided our allies value Turkish friendship seriously. If not, this whole speech is useless.

Start with Iraq. Bush Jr. And Tony Blair lied to NATO members in starting war against Iraq. And Turkey had a very hard time rejecting the tremendous pressure to join in the invasion. Now, in this miserable enterprise, whose loyalty should be tested to whom?

Secondly, we are fighting PKK terrorists since 25 years, and billions of PKK dollars were robbed from Turks and Kurds in Europe, and toured among EU banks, and our NATO allies had deaf ears to our appeals, European Intelligence services playing unawares of the banditry and support for terrorism in their midst. Their reluctance is an insult to our intelligence. As we give full support to our NATO allies on so-called “Islamic“ terrorism, they discriminate between “my terrorist and your terrorist“.

A similar attitude comes in our problems with Armenia. We are in NATO and Armenia is not. Yet in our problems, American and European sentiments are still with Armenia against Turkey, as was in World War I. Where does loyalty belong?

Take another example.

Recently, Israeli soldiers killed an American youth of Turkish descent, on peace flotilla to Palestinians, yet our NATO ally USA sided with Israel against Turkey. We may guess the reasons behind US administration’s apprehension in protecting her muslim citizens against Israel. Yet NATO is supposed to support a member, whose ship has been attacked on high seas and her 10 subjects murdered by a non-member state. Loyalty to whom?

And the last example.

The dispute between Israel and Iran.

Why should it involve NATO? Iran is a nation with millenial, predictable state tradition, and not so insane to declare war on NATO, the collection of the most horrible annihilation firepower in human history. And some of our NATO allies imply that Turkish attitude in missile shield against Iran will be a test case of Turkish loyalty to NATO.

Although we have ideological differences, we have natural borders with Iran, and our borders have not changed since 1639. Iran is a major supplier of our energy, and college kids would tell you that gas and oil are strategic materials. Our allies, doing everything in their power to secure their strategic energy needs, ask Turkey to forgo her strategic interests. Would it not be double standards?

Turkish Foreign Minister Prof. Ahmet Davutoglu in Shanghai, told reporters that it was "out of the question" for Turkey to oppose security measures considered essential by NATO. But he added: "We do not have a perception of threat in our adjacent areas, including Iran, Russia, Syria, and other adjacent countries. NATO should exclude any formula that confronts Turkey with a group of countries in its threat definitions and planning." (Radio Free Europe)

And the emerging merchant class is forcing the government for honourable interest relations with her allies.

Not only the emerging bourgeoisie, but the old establishment elite too.. The Pro-Western main opposition Republican Party MP and retired Ambassador Onur Oymen’s comments are an eye opener for our allies. "The US wants to protect Israel with the Defense Shield – She wants to pull Iran into war through Turkey with the Defense Shield project“ a message clear enough to Turkish Government to state that the project was for protecting Israel against Iran rather than Turkey and NATO members.

The new Turkish approach might be a completely new phenomenon for our Western Allies who have been used to doing business with Turkish high bureaucracy rather than elected governments. Now they may mistakenly or intentionally read it as an islamic, ideological reaction, yet it is not. It is playing the game in the very European style interest relations. And the sentiments of Turks at the grassroots are eroding seeing such double standards.

Another important point.

Western media and politicians make so many negative comments on Turks and Islam, and think they get away with it. In the short term, yes. Yet one serious outcome they cannot calculate is that Eastern cultures are verbal cultures, people do not write, do not speak out promptly, but keep their feelings inside.

In time, perceived injustices build up in their unconscious, and as in the recent polls, Turks rate with the highest percentage of dislike of the USA, to the surprise of our American allies.

Again, another important point, the ordinary Turk says that the West would neither want Turkey die, nor become strong. Just to be kept at the door of the West. And now, as Turkey emerges as a regional power in her own right, she wants her equal and just relations with her allies.

As you see, since start, I have been discussing Turkey’s problems and relation with the West, because it is where we think we belong, and our sentiments should be heeded.

Relations with Islamic World

As for our relations with the Islamic world, we were together with them for a millenium. Just as Christian Europe has grassroots spiritual, sentimental relations among themselves, we cannot deny our spiritual, sentimental relations with the Muslim peoples, and it would be naive to try to hide it.

Yet it would not mean we would side with them when they do injustice. And of course, we would try to refrain our allies when they do injustice to them. In 21st Century, this is our intended mission whether you call it bridging or peace-making mission among Christian and Islamic Civilizations. Turkey’s global legitimacy will be based on this balance of justice, I hope wise men would agree on this important base of global legitimacy for Turkey.

So said, we belong to the West, yet will stand for the just rights of our neighbours, following Ataturk’s motto “Peace at home, Peace in the world“ and its off-shoot, our present strategy of “Zero Problem with Neighbours“. And for the sake of a peaceful region, urge our allies to be more considerate of this approach of Turkish Foreign policy and not push us to the corner for every issue of minor interests, or interests of non-NATO-member states.

And lastly, our relations with Russia, Caucasus and Central Asian Turkic Republics.

Turkish Empires had Orthodox subjects, Russian Empire had Muslim Turkic subjects. Hence we have a common experience and interconnectedness among our peoples. This joint experience may be a base of cooperation and stability in the Caucasus, Balkans and Central Asia.

Engaging Iran which sits on the much needed energy for the West, and on its passage way from Central Asia, Turkish-Russian cooperation, if not alienated by the West, may well be a strategic asset for the Western world for an unpredictable global future...

Now, I hope I was provocative enough for further discussion.

Thank you all for bearing with me.

(Australian Institute of International Affairs 17.10.2010)

Aydin Nurhan

Consul-General of the Republic of Turkey


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