Crisis in Libya and Regional Diplomacy of Turkey


Artashes Ter-Harutyunyan

On April 8 the prime-minister of Turkey Recep Tayip Erdogan stated
that his country is elaborating the programme on cessation of the
hostilities in Libya which includes armistice, withdrawal of the
troops loyal to Muammar Kaddafi from some cities, creation of
humanitarian corridor and immediate initiation of the reforms in

When on April 3 the Pentagon stated that it ceased the participation
of the US troops in Libyan campaign after which the troops loyal to
Kaddafi regained the superiority and advanced to the East, in the
direction of Bengazi – the center of the rebels, this statement by
Erdogan may mean that for the international coalition formed against
Muammar Kaddafi the military solution of the issue seemed to lose its

In the initial stage of crisis in Libya France stood out with its
initiatives and it is not a mere chance that the first anti-Kaddafi
congress took place on March 19 in Paris, to which Turkey was not even

But the aforementioned statement by Erdogan not only means that Ankara
at least has support of the United States (e.g. to offer armistice to
Kaddafi on behalf of `international community’) but it also
demonstrates the purpose of the Turkish policy to obtain the role of
the regulator in the Libyan crisis which has turned into an important
regional issue.

And if we consider the issue from the point of view of the territories
of the former Ottoman Empire, and correspondingly, from the point of
view of the influence areas, it becomes clear that the Turkish party
is very interested in the affairs in North Africa and that part of the
Mediterranean. Of course, this is not a novelty in the Turkish foreign
policy of the recent years. But the point is whether the US are going
to support that policy of Turkey only in this part of the
Mediterranean or in the other territories and areas of influence of
the former Ottoman Empire (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Caucasus) either.

Situational survey
In the initial stage of the crisis in Libya Turkey was particularly
against the foreign military interference. On February 28 Erdogan
stated: `NATO has nothing to do in Libya’.

This line of Turkey’s military and political leadership continued even
after the well-known decision of the UN Security Council and the March
19 Conference in Paris, during which international anti-Kaddafi
coalition which included the US, France, Great Britain, Canada,
Belgium, Italy, Spain and Denmark was established. On March 20 at the
session of the NATO council it was Turkey who did not allow the NATO
to undertake the mission of providing no fly zone over Libya.

The main reason for such an approach of Ankara was the ignoring of the
interests of Turkey. As it was mentioned, in the initial stage of the
anti-Kaddafi coalition formation it was Paris that singled out by its
diplomatic, informational and military initiatives. The result was
that for the first time since the 1956 Suez crisis Paris (by the way
again in cooperation with London1) has initiated a military campaign
directed to the widening of their authority and, correspondingly, its
political influence in the Mediterranean which is considered to be
important in the aspect of French interests. But such an activity of
Paris has again put forward the French-Turkish contradictions in the
Mediterranean which has aroused in recent years2. Coming forward with
such an initiative France at the same time made efforts to minimize
the involvement of Turkey in this process. It is not a mere chance
that during the meeting with the Minister of Defence of Macedonia
Zoran Konyanovski on March 21 in Ankara, the Minister of Defence of
Turkey Vecdi Gonul stated that it was difficult to understand the
leading role of France in Libyan campaign.

The situation, however, changed after the phone conversation of Obama
and Erdogan on March 21, during which, according to the official
statement, the crisis in Libya was discussed.

Two days later, on March 23 Turkish parliament not only approved
joining of the Turkish navy to the NATO forces in blockading Libya,
but Ankara also sent the biggest navy forces after the US – four
frigates, one submarine and one support vessel. On the same day the
president of Turkey Abdullah Gul made a statement and called Muammar
Kaddafi to quit.

It is remarkable that the United States turned for the assistance to
Turkey and in consequence of the mediation of the later it became
possible to free four captured correspondents of The New York Times.
And on March 22 the US State Department officially stated that the
interests of the United States in Libya will be presented by the
Turkish embassy.

And finally the most serious evidence of the Turkish involvement in
Libyan issue was the decision of the North Atlantic Alliance to
station the NATO control center responsible for the Libyan campaign at
the military base in Izmir.

It is very remarkable that against the background of events in
Tunisia, Egypt, the ongoing developments in Libya, Yemen, Syria and a
number of other Arab countries Turkey is the only Muslim country on
the international diplomatic and informational stage that tends to
influence the processes. Even Saudi Arabia which is well-known for its
financial possibilities and behind-the-scenes connections in Arab
countries cannot position itself in such a way and Saudi approaches
are often restricted to the measures of official character. As for the
other Muslim power in the region – Iran, the initiatives has not
acquired the same form as in case with Turkey. The Iranian authorities
confined themselves to calling the events in Egypt Islamic revolution
and exerting some diplomatic and informational pressure on the Sunnite
authorities of Bahrain.

On the other hand being involved in the Libyan crisis in this way,
Ankara, in essence, creates precedent for at least diplomatic and
informational interferences (if not military ones) in case of the
similar developments in the Middle East, North Africa, maybe even on
Balkans and in South Caucasus-Central Asia line.

E.g. over the recent period anti-governmental disturbances continued
in Syria and today Turkey is the only country which practically
interferes into Syrian developments. At the end of March about half a
dozen phone conversations took place between Turkish prime-minister
and president of Syria. On March 27 in Damascus Bashar al-Assad
received the chief of the Turkish intelligence Hakan Fidan and several
days later the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey Ahmet Davutoglu
arrived. One of the statements of Erdogan concerning the developments
in Syria in which he called official Damascus to meet halfway the
wishes of the Syrian people and to initiate democratic reforms drew

In all the aforementioned the approach of the US should be singled
out. One can see that Washington initiates some measures to promote
the regional claims of Ankara and the cooperation between Turkey and
US which has been revealed in consequence of the crisis in Libya seems
to be the evidence of that. In this aspect the novelty is that the
American-Turkish contradictions which could have been observed over
the last period of Bush’s governing can be substituted by a
partnership which may acquire new meaning, as, e.g. for the US which
is leaving Iraq it is very important to have such a partner in the
region. But the point is whether Turkey will be able to undertake that

1On October 29, 1956 Great Britain, in the alliance with France and
Israel, embarked on a military campaign against Egypt. The aim was to
restore control over the Suez which had belong to the British and
French shareholders for almost a century (it was opened in 1869) and
in June 1956 it was nationalized by the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel
Naseri. Under the pressure of the Soviet Union Great Britain, France
and Israel who were not supported by the United States were obliged to
stop military actions just in several days (November 6, 1956) and in
1957 they withdrew their troops from the occupied territories of

2Those contradictions are mainly based on the initiative of France to
create the so-called Mediterranean union. From the point of view of
Turkey this initiative contains two dangerous circumstances. Firstly,
in this way French try to increase their geopolitical influence in the
Mediterranean basin; such attempts are also made by Turkey. Secondly,
Paris tries to close finally the doors of the European Union for
Turkey, instead offering Turkey to join the Mediterranean format.
For the first time the idea of the Mediterranean union was put forward
by N. Sarkozy in May 2007 as a format for cooperation of the European
Union countries and countries of the region which are not members of
the EU. The Mediterranean constituent assembly was called in July 2008
in Paris under the name of `Barcelona Process: for the sake of the
Mediterranean’. It is remarkable that some observers in Ankara express
the opinion that the real initiator of such a way of keeping Turkey
out of the EU is the Pope Benedict XVI.

Another materials of author


From: A. Papazian

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