Turkiye no longer the enviable country of 100 years ago


Turkiye no longer the enviable country of 100 years ago

Turkiye no longer the enviable country of 100 years ago
A poster of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of modern Turkiye on a commercial tower. (AP)
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Turkiye last week celebrated the first centenary of the proclamation of its republic. The dismemberment of the Middle Eastern territories of the Ottoman Empire started in 1916 with the declaration of independence by Sharif Hussein of Makkah, the ruler of Hijaz. Other Middle Eastern Ottoman territories soon became independent one after the other. Syria and Lebanon were placed under the French mandate and Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Palestine under the British mandate. Transjordan was previously part of Ottoman Syria. In 1921, it became the Emirate of Transjordan and, in 1946, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Yemen maintained its relations with the Ottoman state until as late as the end of the First World War.

After the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, the victorious countries of the First World War took control of more than two-thirds of the Ottoman territories. As a reaction to this unfair partition, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk launched a war of independence and recaptured the most critical parts of present-day Turkiye. He negotiated with the victors of the First World War the Treaty of Lausanne and traced the borders of today’s Turkiye. The independence of many countries in the Middle East was also recognized by the same treaty.

The war of independence launched by Ataturk led to the creation of a new and dynamic state that implemented sweeping reforms. These included the introduction of a secular regime for Turkiye and the adoption of a civil code inspired by the Swiss Civil Code and a penal code inspired by the Italian Penal Code.

Another important step was the emancipation of women. Turkish women obtained the right to vote in 1932, which is to say before France (1944), Italy (1945), Belgium (1948), Greece (1952) and Switzerland (1971). A peasant Turkish woman was, in 1935, elected as a member of parliament, together with 18 other female members.

Immediately after Turkiye’s war of independence, Ataturk took the initiative to stabilize the security situation in the region. He made very active contributions to the signing of the Balkan Pact in 1934. This pact was signed as a caution against Bulgaria’s revanchist policy. Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, who was Turkiye’s main opponent during the war of independence, proposed the nomination of Ataturk for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1934. 

The war of independence led to the creation of a new and dynamic state that implemented sweeping reforms.

Yasar Yakis

Regarding peace in the Middle East, Ataturk took a very active part in the signing of the Treaty of Saadabad in Tehran in 1937. This pact was designed to contribute to stability in the Middle East.

In the field of Turkiye’s domestic policy, there were attempts to introduce multiparty democracy as early as the 1930s, but it did not hold. It was eventually achieved in 1945.

In the years leading up to the Second World War, Ataturk capitalized on the precarious atmosphere and was able to set the stage for the signing in Montreux, Switzerland, of an international convention to regulate transit through the Turkish Straits. These straits are the only outlets for all Black Sea countries, including Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and Georgia, as well as Russia’s outlet to the “warm seas.”

The 1936 Montreux Convention gives Turkiye the right to refuse the passage of warships in times of war or if Ankara perceives an imminent threat of war. This renewable convention was initially signed for a period of 20 years. Thanks to the convention, Turkiye has been able to maintain neutrality among the potential users of the Turkish Straits. The balance between the interests of riparian and non-riparian countries is so delicately determined that, despite almost 90 years of application, no state party has so far notified of its termination.

There are also limitations on the tonnage and duration of stay of any warships of non-riparian countries. During the Russian-Georgian conflict of 2008, the US wanted to send a hospital ship to the Black Sea, but it was refused by Turkiye on the grounds that its tonnage exceeded the authorized limit.

After the Second World War, when the trans-Atlantic community and Eastern Europe were becoming two rival blocs, Turkiye decided to join NATO. It also joined the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 

Now that the present government attaches less importance to universal values, Turkiye may lag further behind.

Yasar Yakis

In the field of economic integration, Turkiye has not been able to fulfill the economic and political criteria of the EU and, as a result, it has been kept waiting at the doorstep for more than 60 years. Whether it will ever join the EU is still uncertain.

Turkiye’s name is frequently omitted when Europe-wide cooperation is being discussed.

As time went by, Turkiye remained behind the European — and universal — standards in the fields of democracy and fundamental rights and freedoms. Some major members of the EU, such as Germany and France, believe that Turkiye fails to qualify for membership of the bloc. There were some Balkan countries for which the eligibility criteria was below that of Turkiye, but the EU finds it too big a country to digest.

The most important achievement in Turkiye after the Kemalist reforms was the EU standards. Now that the present government attaches less importance to universal values, Turkiye may lag further behind. However, there is a strong trend in public opinion to embrace universal values.

An anti-Western feeling has always existed in the Turkish public opinion. The present government persistently supported the Muslim Brotherhood ideology. This caused sizable damage to Turkiye’s image in the international arena.

Both Turkiye and the EU have made mistakes in their approaches. In a period when Turkiye could play a useful role within the Euro-Atlantic framework, Turkish-American relations also went astray again for various reasons.

The dismemberment of the Soviet Union led to the independence of several countries that speak Turkic languages, namely Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. Turkiye is now making efforts to bring them together, despite disagreements among them.

The rule of law at one stage became Turkiye’s pride, but with the politicization of the judiciary there are signs of decline in this field. Therefore, the shining star of the 1920s is no longer the enviable country that used to attract the attention of many developing nations.

Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkiye and founding member of the ruling AK Party.

X: @yakis_yasar

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