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Geopolitical Visions in Turkish Foreign Policy

Authors: Ayşe Ömür Atmaca & Zerrin Torun

Affiliation: Hacettepe University, Ankara & Middle East Technical University, Ankara

Organization/Publisher: Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies

Date/Place: November 10, 2021/UK

Type of Literature: Journal Article

Number of Pages: 23



Keywords: Turkish Foreign Policy, Eurasianism, Neo-Ottomanism, Europeanization, the Justice and Development Party (JDP) 




The foreign policy of Turkey has undergone a significant transformation under the rule of the Justice and Development Party (JDP) since 2002. This party is known for its pro-Russian and anti-Western stance. In this article, the authors identify three geopolitical visions that have shaped and influenced Turkey’s foreign policy: Europeanization/de-Europeanization, Eurasianism, and Neo-Ottomanism. The authors argue that Eurasianism is necessary because Europeanization is no longer on the agenda and Neo-Ottomanism has not produced any positive results. However, the authors also note that geopolitical visions are not the only factors influencing foreign policy; domestic politics and the state’s economic interests are also important.


There is ongoing debate among experts about whether there has been any significant change in Turkish foreign policy. However, in 2004, Turkey’s foreign policy appeared to be increasingly reliant on civilian instruments of law, economics, and diplomacy. As a result, Turkey was popular not only in Europe, but also in the Balkans and the Middle East. In the early 2010s, however, President Erdogan’s advisor Ibrahim Kalin changed the direction of foreign policy by using the metaphor of “precious loneliness” to argue that Turkey had been isolated in the international arena for defending its values. 


There is a lack of literature on geopolitical visions in Turkish foreign policy on a theoretical level. Aras and Fidan were the first to introduce the concept of “geopolitical imagination” to explain the JDP’s engagement with Eurasia. Additionally, Turkey has shifted its commitment from deep Europeanization to loose Europeanization. Another researcher, Yeşiltaş, has used a different approach by evaluating a new geopolitical vision based on the geopolitical rhetoric of Ahmet Davetoğlu, who played a significant role in shaping Turkey’s foreign policy. In international politics, geopolitical visions are often identified through geopolitical reasoning, which is seen as a political process of representation through which statecraft intellectuals create a world and fill it with specific types of drama, subjects, histories, and dilemmas.


To explain and address specific foreign policy crises, experts often use practical geopolitical reasoning through the use of geopolitical discourse, such as analogies, images, and metaphors. The authors also note that during periods of transition, multiple geopolitical visions and discourses may exist in a competitive framework. When a crisis or major geopolitical transformation occurs, governments may reformulate their visions to justify changes in foreign policy. As previously mentioned, these visions can also be influenced by domestic politics.


The Eurasianist mentality in Turkey emerged from the idea of Turkism or Pan-Turkism in the 20th century, influencing Turkish nationalism and Kemalist sections of the country. Its ideological roots can be traced to the Kadro and Yön movements of the 1930s and 1960s, respectively, which were driven by socialist and nationalist ideologies and a pro-Russian stance in foreign policy. It is worth noting that the idea of Eurasianism resurfaced in Turkish politics in the 1990s in the form of Neo-Eurasianism. This was thought to have arisen out of domestic instability and crises with the EU, leading to a prioritization of relations with Russia. While Eurasianism is seen as an alternative geopolitical vision, the term is still ambiguous and means different things to different groups in different contexts.


In addition to Eurasianism, another geopolitical vision promoted by the JDP since the beginning of its rule has been Neo-Ottomanism. However, this vision resulted in incorrect calculations about the consequences of the Arab uprisings. The JDP government had expected that the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies in the region would be successful, but these false calculations led to Turkey’s isolation in the Middle East.


Overall, the foreign policy visions of de-Europeanization/anti-Westernism, neo-Ottomanism, and Eurasianism all contribute to President Erdogan’s assertion that, after almost two decades of JDP rule, “there is a resolute Turkey which is a game-maker and game-breaker in its region.” He also argues that Turkey is now capable of launching operations for its own national security without seeking permission from others and pursuing an independent foreign policy.

By: Ruby Clayton, CIGA Research Associate



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