Turkey is one of the few complicated states in the word that is difficult to classify and force into a neat cultural and political grouping. Its land is the setting of Biblical stories, the birthplace of Western Civilization, and the spread of Islam.
Turkey is far more than a bridge between Eastern and Western worlds; it is a land home to both. From an outsider’s perspective Turkey is difficult to classify. From within, Turkey struggles with a perpetual identity crisis.
A year lad a half ago I wrote an article about how Turkey’s strategic geo-political position in the world has them in an identity struggle between Western and Eastern influences.
Is Turkey a future member of the EU (after 48 years of associate membership) or will their large Muslim population perpetually keep them as a special relation to the West? Undeniably, Western Turkey has been a setting where important events in European history have played out over the last 2000 years, thus they can’t be written off as un-European.
With that in mind, where does that line draw on their relations with their Muslim neighbors? Turks are far from Arabs, but what exactly is their current status in the Islamic world?
These types of questions can be thrust upon different eras in history and produce distinctly circumstantial answers each time, just like the layers of influence from different periods built on Hagia Sophia.
Originally Published for Dispatches International in 2011
“Turkey is a medium-sized country and there is going to be a power vacuum because historically we have a perspective of Europe and if we stop having this perspective we will have to have another one. Unfortunately, the closest option for Turkey is the eastern world,” says Asli Postaci, a PhD candidate in political science at Yeditepe Univeristy in Istanbul.
With the ongoing unrest in the Arab world, Turkey is starting to become a major player in the region. It has become clear that the European Union has put any plans to add Turkey as a full member on hold. As a result Turkey has shifted its policies in the Middle East. This past May, Turkish relations with Israel were greatly strained with the Gaza Flotilla Raid. This was a Turkish demonstration to show that it will create its own foreign policy in the Middle East, even if it directly opposes policies that Western powers have in the region.