The Reflections of the New Approaches in Turkish Foreign Policy to Aegean-Cyprus Problems

Prof. Atilla SANDIKLI
02 April 2008
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The developments in the EU-Turkey relations cause important changes in Turkey’s political, economical and socio-cultural structure. Constitutional amendments,

 passed laws and directives accelerate this change more and more. These changes cause not only to put structural reforms into action but also give new approaches to Turkish intellectual life. The topics that were regarded as taboo once, turned out to be topics that can be disputed on and are open to new discussions currently.

This dynamism emerging in the political, economical and socio-cultural structure affects Turkish Foreign Policy as well and causes the emergence of different applications in the Turkish Foreign Policy. New Turkish Foreign Policy is based on moral values such as, democracy, human rights, peace and respect to international law. Turkey turned out to be a country, living side by side peacefully with her neighbors, trying to solve her problems through peaceful approaches, providing a secure and confident environment in the region, instead of being a country that creates problems in the international arena.


While Turkey develops its new international relations perspective, it has attempted to define the general flow of international relations and the change in the international conjuncture realistically and accurately.

The most general evaluations made about this issue in the previous periods were to make connections between wars and international order. In the modern period, the agreements made in the aftermath of every big war aim at setting the rules of the new world order. However, after the end of the Cold War, a global order has not been established. In this period, covering 1989 to 2001, as there was not a global order in line with the current conditions, the problems were attempted to be solved through ceasefires continuously. This period which is known as long “Ceasefire Period”, includes the events took place in Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia Crisis, Nagorno Karabagh, Palestine, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo after the First Gulf War occurred in 1991. In this period, the actors in the center of the global system started to lose their capability to act in unity. Thus, this resulted in disintegration at a global degree.

The prolonging Ceasefire period led every big global actor to develop its power and do preparations for the seek of the new order to be established in the future. Every big actor is in the attempt of proceeding the following phase, in which the parameters of the new order will be put forward, in an advantageous way.

In this period of time, there occurred crises in the points of geo-political transition, geo-economical transfer and geo-cultural intersection. Turkey is surrounded by the regions of crisis such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, and Former Yugoslavia. Therefore, Turkey is located in a dynamic competitive and risky area in conjunctural means.

September 11 terrorist attacks displayed that this process will not last anymore and led USA towards embodying the international system. This embodying process aims to establish a new world order based on security concept. Afghanistan and Iraqi wars are de facto applications of this order. In Afghanistan war, by the psychological influence of September 11, there has emerged a broad-based coalition. As for in Iraqi war, this coalition has been broken up as a result of the interests of world’s power centers according to their strategies. In the following 10-15 year period, different coalition alternatives will come up into agenda and everyone will try to increase their power.


Turkey’s benefiting from this process depends on having a dynamic and effective vision in her foreign policy. Till now terrorism, domestic political oppositions, political instability and economic crisis have prevented Turkey from using her national power in foreign policy effectively.

From the year 2003, depending on political stability provided with results of the elections, improvement in the economic indicators and new foreign policy vision, Turkey started to implement a more dynamic foreign policy.

In 2003, considerable progress was made about the EU, Iraq and Cyprus issues. These three problematic issues, requiring crisis management, were attempted to be solved with coordination and coherency by the means of time and content. In these attempts, alternative perspectives have also been dwelled on. For instance, about Iraq, while USA’s demands were evaluated, the EU was consulted at the same time. Getting in touch with the groups in Iraq was never lost. Meetings were arranged with the countries of the region. While Turkey was taking these steps, she realized that the war could not be stopped. But these attempts aimed to lower the damages of war for either Turkey or the countries of the region.

Five basic principles come to the foreground in the application of Turkey’s new foreign policy:

The first one is the link between freedom and security. After September 11, global actors ahead by USA suggested security based approaches. Turkey is the only country that widens her freedom area without risking her security.

The second one is the zero problem principle with the neighbors. Turkey, thanks to this principle, gets rid of the psychology of “Turkey is surrounded by permanent hostile countries” and defensive reflex in line with this.

Turkey attempts to develop good relations with her neighbours and the positive outcomes of these attempts are commenced to be seen in the political, economical and socio-cultural areas. The attempts of Turkey for peace in the phases of Annan Plan’s initiation, formation and referendum are followed by the world carefully and appreciated significantly. Developing the relations of Turkey with Syria and Iran led the problematic issues to be solved through peaceful approaches, providing mutual trust among the countries in the region.

The third one is multi-dimensional foreign policy principle. This is a principle dictated by Turkey’s geopolitics. Turkey, on the conditions in which international relations are dynamic, cannot apply a static and mono-parametric foreign policy due to her geopolitics. Turkey should have applied a policy facilitating the solutions of problems rather than the source of them within the polars of Atlantic Alliance and the European Union, the European Union and Asia, Islam and the West, the South and the North, and contributing to the regional and global peace. In this framework, Turkey endeavored to develop her problematic relations with her neighbours and pioneered the regional peaceful initiations. She attempted to prevent the tense relations between the Atlantic Alliance and European Union. While Turkey carries on her strategic relations with the USA, she fulfilled her commitments stated in Accession Partnerships and National Programme for the Adoption of the Acquis in order to start accession negotiations with the European Union. Turkey endeavored to develop her relations with the European Union at all respects. She increased her efficiency in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and endeavored to form common values between the West and Islamic countries.

Turkey also realized foreign policy applications that would develop cooperation with Russia and Asian countries in simultaneous with all the foreign policy applications. None of the attempts were seen as an alternative to one another. As the relations with the European Union is not an alternative to that of the USA, the relations with Russia, East and Islam countries is not an alternative to that of the West. In this initiatives being dwelled on vision and unity.

The forth principle is to develop a new diplomatic style. According to this principle, Turkey, in her relations with the West, assimilate western thought system and is a country that can discuss the future of Europe with a European point of view. At the same time, Turkey is a country that can face her Islamic identity without feeling disturbed, and that can produce arguments and solutions around this identity in her relations with the East. With this application, Turkey is not a “bridge country” but a “center country”. She is an independent actor that can evaluate the world balance.

The fifth principle is dynamism. It is based on Turkey’s applying a dynamic rather than a static foreign policy in the rapidly changing foreign policy arena. According to this new foreign policy principle, Turkey visited several East and West countries selected in balance at the top level. The number of countries that merely the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister visited is about 50. In this period, several heads of states and prime ministers visited Turkey. The total number of these visits are about 50.

Besides, several international summits such as NATO Summit and the Organization of Islamic Conference were held in Turkey with the participation of heads of states, prime ministers and ministers of foreign affairs. The top executives of several international organizations have also visited Turkey.


Once we take into account Turkish-Greek problems within the historical perspective in a neutral and objective point of view briefly, it is seen that the problems and tension between the parties are increased after the 1974 Cyprus Peace Intervention. In 1974, Greece was under the administration of military junta. Nikos Sampson supported by this administration pulled down the legal Makarios administration through intervention. Turkish Cypriots were trying to preserve themselves with the horror of being slaughtered in the internment camps at any moment. Turkey cannot tolerate Greece’s settling Cyprus and control its southern part, as she took the control of all Aegean islands gradually and reached the Western Anatolian coasts in the historical perspective of Turkey. Moreover, the Turks on the island could be slaughtered at any moment. With this anxiety, Peace Intervention was acted in Cyprus in 1974. In the aftermath of Cyprus Peace Intervention, a particular order was provided. Makarios turned back to the island and military junta lost power and democratic developments were enhanced. After Cyprus Peace Intervention, Turkey always wanted to agree on an agreement that would not create the same problems in the island and that would provide permanent peace and stability.

Greece armed the islands near Turkey that were required to be disarmed according to the agreements. She tried to increase the limit of continental shelf to 12 miles through interpreting the results of the Third Sea Law Conference from her own point of view without taking into account justice and equity principles. She argued that Turkey cannot have a continental shelf without her own territorial waters. Greece started to run up a flag to the very small Aegean islands that were not given to Greece according to the Agreements and open them for settlements. With these applications, Greece arguing those islands is her territorial waters, wanted to demonstrate Aegean Sea as the “Greek Sea”. In this situation, Turkey having a long coastal shelf in the Aegean, with the exception of her continental waters, that decrease to 1 to 3 miles in some regions, is put in a situation in which she cannot do fishing, have military forces in the Aegean with the exception of sea forces’ harmless right of passage and do practice/ field exercise. Turkey cannot stay without doing anything in this situation; thus, she put forward counter arguments. In this situation, a vicious political tension was inaugurated between the parties that are going to be used in internal political affairs as well. In some cases, Turkish and Greek Sea Forces have come up against. The last one of these took place in Kardak Crisis. The reason of this Crisis is a small island on which goats are living.

But in the Aegean Sea, there are hundreds of islands like this island and this provides great opportunities to Greece about territorial waters and continental shelf. Yet, Turkey claimed that not even a piece of a territorial area was to be turned over to another country without an agreement and that there are several islands in the Aegean as an instance of it. While this thesis was produced, historical, political and legal aspects had been studied for a long time. This thesis came into agenda about this small island and increased the tension when it was used as a domestic political card.

After this tension, both parties realized that tension creating foreign policy applications would bring them no good, but harm. External pressures also encouraged them to discuss about security enhancing measures. After a while, in the perspective of EU, Turkey and Greece made important progress about security enhancing measures.

While these were going on, 2003 elections took place and the new government was set. Government put into practice the new Turkish Foreign Policy, mentioned above. According to this policy, relations with the EU have been improved. After September 11, while all countries focused on security measures, Turkey improved her democracy besides her security. Freedoms have been improved by the amendments in the constitution, codes and directives.

“Disagreements between countries form cooperation grounds at the same time.” This view is actually the philosophy of the EU. Depending on this philosophy, the conflicts about coal and steel, nuclear energy, market and lebensraum turned into cooperation within the Treaties of the European Coal and Steel Community, European Atomic Community and the European Economic Community.

Turkey, based on this philosophy, in her new foreign policy, took steps about Cyprus, and suggested that the problems between Turkey and Greece could be turned into cooperation as well. Turkey encouraged UN General Secretary to take new initiatives. She used constructive approaches in the formation process of Annan Plan. The aim was to reach a fair and a permanent agreement. Despite the problems put forward by the opposition parties about Annan Plan, government continued its creative, constructivist and peaceful attempts.

In the aftermath of negotiation process; continuing within the framework of Annan Plan that was changed within the demands of the two parties, on grounds of no agreements had been reached by the two parties and after Annan filled the gaps and missing parts of the treaty depending on the commitments made before, the referendum took place on 24 April 2004. In the referendum, 74% of Turkish Cypriots said “yes” and 74% of Greek Cypriots said “no” to Annan Plan.

Agreement attempts, beginning with Turkey’s efforts and then proceeding with Annan Plan have been obstructed by Greek Cypriots. If an agreement had been reached in Cyprus, Aegean problems could have been solved in that settled secure environment as well.


We can state that the strategic importance of Cyprus has increased in relation to the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.

The importance of Cyprus for Turkey is two – folded: First is the responsibility of security that we are obliged to provide for the Turkish Cypriots. The second is Turkey’s security and national interests. The role of Cyprus in Turkey’s security cannot merely be explained by its proximity to Turkey. It is connected to the Turkish rights and interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.

After the referendum on April 24, 2004, it has been clearly understood that the cause of the deadlock in the Cyprus was not the Turkish side. At this point, Cyprus should not be put forward as an obstacle for Turkey’s perspective of membership to the European Union.

The high percentage of the “no” votes of the Greek Cypriots at the referendum have proven that attaining of a permanent, just, and a long lasting solution on the island is extremely difficult.

Our expectation from the relevant parties is to put into effect necessary measures, which will alleviate suffering of the Turkish Cypriots.

Another important issue for our country and for regional security is the Aegean problem. Aegean is the sea, which both Turkey and Greece use in accordance with the balance established in the Lausanne Treaty.

With the establishment of an atmosphere of dialogue, Turkish – Greek relations have entered into a different and a positive phase. However, concrete developments could not be attained for the solutions of the major problems between the two countries.

Turkey cannot make any concessions from her legitimate and vital interest in the Aegean, stemming from her rights such as using international air and maritime routes, security, and natural resources.

For the establishment of a long lasting peace and stability, Turkey and Greece should not solve all their problems in a fair and mutually acceptable manner.

An appropriate way for the solution of the problems seems to be a package approach which combines them all.

Like every other EU candidate, together with Greece, Turkey is expected to solve the Aegean problems according to EU acquit including amongst others application to International Court of Justice.

However, the important point here is that the solution of these problems is not a prerequisite for the commencement of negotiations for full membership as stated in both “AGENDA 2000” and in Helsinki Resolutions of 1999. As indicated in the same documents these problems should be settled before the completion of full membership negotiations.

Our relations with the European Union have entered into an important phase. In this process, Turkey’s priority is to obtain a decision for the commencement of membership negotiations at the end of this year. Turkish Government is determined to facilitate this process and to make constructive contributions in this direction.

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