It has been used to describe Turkish foreign policy under the Justice and Development Party which took power in 2002 under prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Neo-Ottomanism is a dramatic shift from the traditional Turkish foreign policy of the Kemalist ideology. The shift in Turkish foreign policy under Turgut Özal's government can be described as the first step towards neo-Ottomanism.
Kemalist foreign policy used to lean westwards with such determination that it ended up alienating Turkey from its regional neighbours. Israel was the one exception, and its friendship with Turkey underlined Turkey's difficulties with the region it inhabited. In contrast, neo-Ottomanism seeks to anchor Turkey firmly amongst its own neighbours, without losing track of the bigger picture.
The Ottoman Empire was a great power which, at its peak, controlled the Balkans, most of the modern-day Middle East, most of North Africa and the Caucasus. Neo-Ottomanist foreign policy encourages increased engagement in these regions as part of Turkey’s growing regional influence. Turkey uses its soft power to achieve its goals. This foreign policy contributed to an improvement in Turkey's relations with its neighbors, particularly with Iraq, Iran and Syria. However Turkey's relations with Israel, its traditional ally, suffered, especially after the 2008-09 Gaza War and the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid.
Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkish foreign minister since 2009 and "head architect" of the new foreign policy, has however rejected the term "neo-Ottomanism" to describe his country's new foreign policy. “The Turkish Republic," he said, "is a modern nation state and it has equal status with countries in the region. We can build diplomatic relations of equal status with any big or small country which was previously in Ottoman lands. This is what modern diplomacy requires.” Davutoğlu in other words was at pain to emphasize that Turkey has no intention of dominating its neighbours, and that the relations it seeks are relations between equal partners. But the fact remains that Turkey's foreign policy under Davutoğlu is focussed on its regional neighbours, and is more assertive and self-confident. Erdoğan's storming-off at Davos after an argument with Israeli president Shimon Peres is a symbol of Turkey's new self-confidence.
Turkey's new foreign policy started a debate, principally in the Western media, as to whether Turkey is undergoing an "axis shift"; in other words whether it is drifting away from the "West" and heading towards the Middle East and Asia. Such fears appear more frequently in Western media when Turkish tensions with Israel rise. President Abdullah Gül also dismissed claims that Turkey has shifted its foreign policy axis.
Vis-à-vis the European Union, Davutoğlu reaffirmed that full membership is still Turkey's strategic target. This looks however increasingly unlikely given opposition by a number of EU member states. Unsurprisingly, Turkey will stress their new links with the Arab world, Iran and other neighbours, including Russia, and talk up its ability to become a regional power on its own. In the Balkans, Turkey wishes to have a stabilizing influence, while protecting in particular the Muslim populations of Albania and Bosnia.
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