Turkey’s Geopolitical Dilemma: Dogma of ‘In the Middle’

*Source: Carlos Delgado ©

Turkey’s Geopolitical Dilemma: Dogma of ‘In the Middle’


Many manoeuvres made within interior and foreign affairs axes throughout Turkey’s political history were initiated with the narrow perspective arising from the perception of ‘challenges in the region.’ This attitude led to ‘geopolitical dogmas’ within the dynamics of the country; the silence of distinct voices within the state’s politics and at the grassroots level, therefore, resulted in the formation of a recurring ‘view in the middle.’ The aforementioned view was used as a ‘way out’ by the politicians in the country and was internalised by the society in time. In this context, the present paper will analyse the positions of the mentioned concepts in Turkish politics and their effects on the changing border policy towards Syria.


Social dogmas are the ones unquestioningly internalised, and even worse, can not be considered as something to be questioned. They are generated due to the incorrect interpretation of history and culture; also might be internalised without being intellectualised. There are also some situations where this type of an internalisation process revived under the name of state policy rather than a social condition within the old time practices. For instance, the cold war in the nuclear framework was signalling how and under what circumstances this type of a dogma could be developed. Moreover, delicate relations among states, proxy wars such as the Vietnam war and the Soviet-Afghan war were building the critical variables of the cold war based on the perception that geography determines the politics. However, this approach is closed to different opinions within itself and reveals a paradox supporting a monotonously degraded political mind and leads to a vicious cycle where international actors act as if they have no alternatives; in other words, the approach creates geopolitical paradoxes.

The Ontological Genesis of Geopolitical Dogmas

Turkey is indeed one of the states where the vicious circle with geography-politics index could be analysed most comprehensively. For many years, it has been frequently-cited that Turkey has a strategic importance due to its geographical location.1 The argument of ‘centralised and strong state’ which was imposed by the politics regarding ‘inevitable’ and ‘unalterable’ geography has become unquestionable in time. Stated in other words, the mentioned mechanism left the state politics without any alternatives –convinced that there were no other alternatives- and eliminated all different points of view from opposing politicians in the field of internal and external politics or from the grassroots level. As a consequence of the dogma, the Turkish politics have been shaped with regard to the unquestionable and unrivalled state authority.2 Perceptions such as ‘being stuck in between East and West,’ ‘challenging geographical location,’ ‘obligation for a balance policy’ have arisen in parallel to this political environment and formed both the daily life of the Turkish society and perception of the state to a great extent. Within this framework, the concept of “Foster-land Cyprus”3 can be considered in the same category as Turkey’s “Close Brother Azerbaijan.”4 Turkey is a ‘bridge’ to the West for his brother on the East, and the ‘centre’ upon which Cyprus, his foster-land, is dependent. According to the constructivist approach within the IR theories, these perspectives which are regarded to be formed in the light of the geographical conditions and historical phenomena show a bivious motion; this has an immense impact on the internal dynamics of the country and changes the perception of the public and policymakers accordingly.5 To put it in a different way, geographical and historical events which are considered as the starting point of politics are turning themselves into ‘geopolitical dogmas,’ paving the way for the false pretention that the nature governs politics, and more significantly, forming different dogmas adapting to changing dynamics.

Production of Geopolitical Dogmas

There might be many reasons why geopolitical dogmas play an active role in the Turkish politics. It can be observed that the traumatic memories of the first world war or the “Russophobia,” which dates back to the 1700s6 and continued even during the cold war contribute to this policy. When assembled under the same roof, it is possible to say that geopolitical dogmas which are formed by the security-oriented concerns feature power politics; and as a natural result of this, the influence area of the civil politics is limited. Another equally important aspect is that the logic of ‘being in between’ can constantly renew itself within the Turkish politics. ‘Being in between’ could be introduced as an excuse or a political card of Turkish foreign affairs and the economic partnerships although it never gets too much away from security which is the main focus. To illustrate, the tendency to turn steps towards the Shanghai Five when the desired common ground cannot be found with the European Union7 or accelerating the policy of Turkish Stream8 against the actors on the side of Israel in terms of the natural gas reserves around Cyprus symbolises this perception of being in between. In fact, according to the constructivist approach, manoeuvres occurring within this axis do not constitute a result of Turkey’s policy of being in between but the result of reproduction of its policies. In this sense, changes in Turkish policy orientations regarding Syria possess critical status to comprehend the regenerations arising from ‘being in between.’

Policy Changes on Syria and Being in Between

Micro-size revolts starting in 2010 turned into a series of influential public resistance called as Arab Spring with a domino effect. When the revolts have spread over Syria, Turkey suggested democratic and comprehensive solutions to the Assad government in line with the ‘soft power’ principle applied by Turkey for a long time. After the tensions experienced at the Turkish Embassy in Damascus in 2011,9 F-4 aircraft crisis10 affected the foreign affairs with Syria negatively which have been already deteriorating. Additionally, the choice of a violent act against the public to suppress the resistance forced Turkey to make changes in its foreign policy on Syria and its border security practices. Even though some of the political manoeuvres implemented with regard to the updated foreign policy were not approved by the Turkish government, claims about logistic support to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)11 had a great role to see the mentioned changes with the naked eye.

Before Turkey carried out the policy changes on Syria, border policies of the Turkish state were pursuing an image of a ‘tolerant and stabilising country’ in accordance with the norms of the European Union. However, according to the reports of the Ministry of Interior Affairs (Turkey), the country, on the one hand, has shifted to become a target country rather than being a transit country for refugees; on the other hand, it was trying to implement the EU border policies.12 Turkey was ‘in between’ both in the political arena and in practice in terms of this case. The policy-oriented EU accession processes and the Syrian Civil War arising from the problem of ‘challenging geography’ had forced Turkey to remain ‘in between.’ The geopolitical dogma intertwined with the political mistakes and deadlocks of the country was reproducing the circumstances of ‘being in the middle’ once again. Manoeuvres within the domestic affairs such as ‘the deferment of democratic initiative processes’ or military alliances that occurred after “re-opening of İncirlik base”13 were considered as ‘steps to be taken in the challenging geography.’ More importantly, geographical location of the country was used to legitimise and intellectualise the moves within internal and external politics. Following the implemented policy changes, as in the other examples seen throughout the country’s history, these moves were tried to be socially and politically intellectualised, and ‘being in between’ was chosen as the way for political exculpation on one occasion. At this point, the existence of the concept of ‘geopolitical dogma’ creates question marks in mind since it is evaluated in the given examples that the ‘generated dogma’ actually emerges as a deep-rooted roadmap constructed by the politicians to increase their radius of action at cultural and local scales, to legitimise their mistakes and ensure their existence in the political arena. In other words, ‘geopolitical dogma’ has been transformed into a ‘way out internalised by everyone without any alternatives’ from the perspective of Turkish political figures, ‘the normality of political mistakes’ in the eyes of the public; and more importantly, in every political mistake, this notion justifies the political mind which gives birth to this dogma.

Concluding Remarks

Turkish politics has created a ‘challenging geography’ perception to itself due to ‘being in the middle mentality’ caused by single-sided perspective. As a consequence of this defective insight, Turkey has been forced to analyse political and social developments in the foreign policies uniformly, has limited different voices within the framework of ‘geopolitical dogma.’ Eventually, the government has been gradually become an ‘impeccable and unquestionable’ authority. Due to the geopolitical dogma which was harmonised with the incorrect understanding of history and culture as well as the single-sided perspective, Turkish political mind has remained insufficient for generating distinct alternatives in civil politics; neither apprehended the mechanisms in Syria, nor grasped the dynamics within the country very well. The more problematic part is that the legitimised ‘geopolitical dogma’ has been internalised by the society and it has become the way out for political elites. In conclusion, the perception of political dim sightedness, the phenomenon of authoritarian government, which is not open to criticism, and opportunistic political environment left the country unsettled against the conflicts.

Umut Can Adısönmez, MSc. in Global Studies at Lund University

Please cite this publication as follows:

Adısönmez, U.C. (December, 2015), “Turkey’s Geopolitical Dilemma: Dogma of ‘In the Middle” Vol. IV, Issue 12, pp.42-47, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey), London, Research Turkey (http://researchturkey.org/?p=10255)


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