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Turkey's War at Home

Author: Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
October-November 2009
International Institute for Strategic Studies


When President Barack Obama visited the mausoleum of Turkish Republic founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in April 2009, he finished his inscription in the ceremonial Honor Book with one of Atatürk's most famous maxims: 'Peace at home, peace abroad'. This is an ideal Turks and their leaders have always aspired to but consistently failed to live up to. Even now, as Ankara enjoys unprecedented influence abroad, Turkey's domestic ideological struggles have taken on a new intensity, threatening both the impressive reforms enacted earlier this decade and the country's new-found international standing. Turkey is more polarised now than at any time since the left-right violence that engulfed the country during the 1970s. Although bloodshed seems unlikely, the consequences of political instability in Turkey will reverberate in the Middle East, Europe and the Caucasus. Western, and particularly American, policymakers need a Turkey strategy that goes well beyond getting Ankara to help in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East in favour of an approach that also addresses Turkey's domestic tribulations.

Ankara's current dilemmas may surprise even those well attuned to foreign affairs. Turkey rarely rates more than a passing mention in major American and European newspapers. It is hard not to see why. Ankara's tortured relations with Brussels, periodic flare-ups between Turkish forces and the terrorists of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, and the culture wars between secularists and Islamists seem to be permanent and unremarkable features of Turkey's politics.



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