ANKARA: Erdogan Revives Ataturk Diplomacy

Zaman Online, Turkey
Dec 13 2004

Erdogan Revives Ataturk Diplomacy


For months, Zaman’s foreign news desk has been working hard to
prepare a special supplement ‘Why Turkey?’ for Turkish-EU relations
before European Council’s critical 16-17 December summit. One of the
topics, which I asked for a through analysis, was an evaluation of
Turkey’s membership process in terms of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s
principles. Because according to some nationalist-leftist circles,
Turkey’s EU membership is tantamount to a betrayal of Ataturk, hence,
those who are shouldering this project, most especially the Justice
and Development Party (AKP) government, are on a wrong path. To some
however, the EU is nothing more than a modern expression of
“contemporary civilization” as it was envisaged and encoraged by

As a matter of fact, we requested an article from Professor Toktamis
Ates, who we believed would deal with the subject delicately.
However, because of the late delivery of the article and a
translation delay, this article by Professor Ates could not be
included in the supplement’s hard copy version; nonetheless, Turkish
readers can still read this article in our print copy in Turkey, and
our international readers can read it in the “Why Turkey?” section
that will be published on

The alliance between anti-EU Kemalist line, which is on the opposing
side because of its attitude against Westernization and the
nationalist-leftist-Islamist section, presents an interesting
picture. However, let’s leave the analysis of this picture for
another article and deal with the issue of whether huge support of
the Turkish society and state for the EU membership is a betrayal to
the legacy of Ataturk’s world vision and to the notion of his foreign

To clear that picture, first we should focus on the basic approaches
that constitute his vision on Turkish foreign policy. Whenever
Ataturk and foreign policy are mentioned, without the slightest
doubt, his principle of “Peace at home, peace in the world” comes to
mind. Whereas another factor, as influential as this principle in
Ataturk’s foreign policy, was pragmatism. The Lausanne Treaty, which
was almost sanctified by his ideological followers, was an outcome of
that pragmatism. In fact, if the issue was left to Ataturk’s idealist
contemporaries, Lausanne would never have been adopted and even a war
with the Great Britain, the superpower of the time, might have been
waged over the Mosul (Musul) conflict. “Friendship with the Soviets,”
which even today leads some groups to refer to Ataturk as “comrade,”
was also a reflection of his pragmatism.

However, the issue of including Hatay in Turkey’s borders and that of
strengthening hegemony over the Straits through the Montreux Treaty
also indicate how bold he could be when the occasion arose. Maybe for
an Ottoman soldier who witnessed the fall of a 600-year-old plane
tree, his only ideology was the country’s independence and unity.
That’s why his pragmatism stemmed from his meticulousness on this
issue rather than on not having principles.

Another significant foreign policy approach of Ataturk was his effort
to develop cooperation with Turkey’s neighbors. Perhaps, the Balkan
and the Sadabad Pacts were the most concrete examples of this policy.

Today, anyone who analyzes Erdogan’s foreign policy with an objective
view would acknowledge that there is no betrayal of Ataturk, on the
contrary, it is a multisided renewal of his forgotten heritage that
is being realized. Today, while Turkey is experiencing its golden
years with the neighbors, except Armenia, its predominance in the
world is increasing rapidly each day. Let’s look at the historic
events that have materialized within this year alone:

For the first time since the creation of the Syrian state, our
southern neighbor, a president from this country, Bashar al-Assad,
paid an official visit to Turkey. The last NATO Summit in which over
50 states attended, was hosted by Turkey. Despite the rejection of
the [Iraq] motion, President of the United States George W. Bush
visited Ankara in the summer as the leader of world’s only
superpower. For the first time ever, a Russian president (Vladimir
Putin) paid an official visit to Turkey. Again for the first time,
Turkey earned the status of secretary-general in a top caliber
organization like Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

Do not listen to those who are trying to collect political benefits
from tragic operations taking place in Fallujah by putting the blame
on Erdogan government, Turkey’s policy on the Iraq crisis and the
Palestinian cause, that it has been following from the very
beginning, is of such quality that even makes most of the Arabs
envious. While reforms accomplished on the EU issue and peace
initiative pursued over Cyprus have taken Turkey to a strong position
for the first time, it has sent Europe into a state of limbo, not
really knowing what to do.

When you read Professor Toktamis Ates’ article, you will see that he
also emphasizes that if Ataturk were alive today, he would have
worked hard for the EU membership though he would have acted
meticulously on the transfer of sovereignty rights.

In my opinion, viewing the success achieved as betrayal because of
ideological obsessions can only be explained through psychological
factors. There is no need to be pessimistic: I have no doubt that the
accession could have a great contribution to Turkey, to the EU and to
the world in general. However, Turkey is already one of the shining
stars in the region. As a result, let the EU leaders think whether
they will benefit from Turkey’s illumination or not.