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Europe's World: How Turkey is re-discovering its Middle East role

After centuries of Ottoman domination in the Middle East, Kemal Atatürk's Turkey and successor governments kept aloof from the Arab world. Stephen Larrabee explains why that policy has now been scrapped

Author: Stephen F. Larrabee
October 28, 2009

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In this op-ed, Stephen Larrabee explains why Turkey has renewed its engagement in the Middle East, suggesting that it is a result of structural changes in Turkey's security environment rather than a sign of "creeping Islamisation." 

One of the most distinguishing hallmarks of Turkish foreign policy since Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development party (AKP) came to power in November 2002 has been Ankara's active engagement in the Middle East. After decades of passivity and neglect, Turkey is emerging as an important diplomatic actor there. Ankara has established close ties to Iran and Syria, two countries with which, in the l970s and l980s, it had tense relations and it has also adopted a more forward-leaning approach to the Palestinian issue and improved relations with the Arab world.

This new activism in the Middle East represents an important departure in Turkish foreign policy. Except for a brief period in the l950s, Turkish foreign policy has been characterised by caution, and by an aloofness from deep involvement in Middle East affairs. For most of the post-WWII period, the Middle East was largely "off limits" for Turkey.

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