Is there a change of axis?

Once again we’ve come across the same question: Is Turkey changing its axis in foreign policy? What kind of explanation can be provided for why a foreign policy that has been in effect for seven years and has clearly declared basic principles continues to face this question?

The only explanation for why questions such as “Are we changing axes?” or “Are we moving away from the West and toward the East?” remain on the agenda is the inability to free our mentalities from Cold War thinking.


Turkey is not changing its course from one direction to another. It is trying to achieve a maximum realization of its national interests under the new international circumstances that emerged after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Twin Towers. Those who persistently ask this question need to understand one fact. If the Cold War period has ended, so have the “confining policies” of that time that shackled Turkey’s hands. There is nothing more natural, then, for a country to benefit from its historical wealth and use the resources of its geography to reach its foreign policy goals. That is exactly what Turkey is doing. While it was impossible to do so under Cold War conditions, today it is possible. Let us recall that in 2004 when relations with the EU became intense, people started asking whether Turkey was moving away from the US. When Turkey opposed Syria’s isolation of Sunni Arabs in Iraq in 2005 when efforts to integrate them into the political process gained momentum, people said, “Are we falling into the Middle East quagmire?”

Those who have concerns about a change in axis are looking for an “ideological motive” in the development of relations with Muslim countries such as Iran, Iraq and Syria. But experience does not justify this. It should not be forgotten that relations with the EU have improved to their most advanced level during the rule of a government suspected of being “Islamist.” If that is not enough, then taking a look at Turkey’s relations with Russia will be sufficient to understand the “multi dimensionality” of foreign policy. Ankara and Moscow are on the verge of signing an agreement similar to the High Level Strategic Cooperation Agreement signed with Iraq and Syria. With a trade volume of $40 billion, Turkey is Russia’s largest trade partner.

Superpower America’s vision during the Obama administration is compatible with the basic principles Turkey has been defending in the last seven years. The question of whether Turkey was changing axes during the Bush administration, when interests were in conflict with the US, was understandable to a certain extent but asking the same question at a time when Washington and Ankara are sharing very similar perspectives is simply a waste of time. Ahmet Davutoğlu, the man most influential in managing Turkey’s foreign policy for the last seven years, has been asked this question several times. His response has been, “If someone tells Turkey to leave the West and turn toward the East, that person should be told to ‘Read some history’.” If another person says leave the East and turn toward the West, that person should also be told to ‘Read some history’.”

If there must be a change in axis, then yes there is a change. The “one path, one-dimensional” foreign policy axis imposed by the Cold War that restricted Turkey’s field of play has changed. Is that so hard to understand? During the Cold War years Turkey was surrounded by a “ring of fire.” That ring has evolved into a ring of “security and cooperation” in the new period. Those who have been asking for seven years whether there has been a change in axis should instead be wondering how this result came about.

Gürkan Zengin