Foreign policy and defense
According to abbreviationfinder, Turkey is a nation in Western Asia. Its capital city is Ankara. In two rounds since the beginning of the 2000s, Turkey’s position in the world has changed dramatically. During the first decade of the century, a greatly improved economy coincided with an increased activity of Turkish companies abroad and an intense diplomatic activity characterized by great self-confidence and an ambition for “zero problems with the neighbors”. From the beginning of the 2010s, things started to go down. Conflicts arose with almost every country in the region and an increasingly authoritarian policy within the country created some anxiety in the western world.
For a long time, membership in the NATO military alliance has been the basis of Turkey’s foreign policy. For many years, the hopes of a future membership of the EU also got the country to emphasize its opportunity to build a bridge between west and east. Membership in NATO is not directly questioned, but not without problems.
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Turkey for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
The United States has two air bases in Turkey and, at least until Donald Trump’s term as president, has placed great emphasis on relations with NATO’s only Muslim member state. But although Turkey has mostly been loyal to NATO, there are fairly widespread anti-American sentiments and often an annoyance to the United States within the Turkish leadership. In recent years, disagreements have risen in view of the war in Syria, where the United States has supported the Syrian-Kurdish guerrilla YPG, which has been one of the most effective opponents of the Islamic extremist Islamic State (IS) movement. Turkey, on the other hand, has fought the YPG, which is considered a branch of the Turkish-Kurdish guerrilla PKK. Following the attempted coup d’état in Turkey in 2016, the United States was accused of failing to distance itself quickly from the coup attempt. It has also been suggested that the United States was somehow involved in the coup by letting pastor Fethullah Gülen, of Turkey designated as the brains behind the conspiracy, live in the United States. There has been strong irritation in Turkey that the United States has not extradited him.
Disappointment to the EU
Turkey’s disappointment with the EU is evident. After long wishing to become a member of the EU, Turkey was recognized as a candidate country in 1999, albeit with reservations. To negotiate membership, the Turks must first improve respect for human rights and correct political abuses. This was precisely what progress-friendly forces in Turkey wanted to do, with the support of the EU. Soon there was a demand that Turkey’s Customs Union must include all EU members including Cyprus. Despite opposition from several EU countries, Turkey was allowed to negotiate membership in 2005, but negotiations were slow. EU adaptation in Turkey lost momentum, while Germany and France, in particular, raised new barriers to the prospect of entering a large, Muslim country in what some considered a kind of Christian community.
The EU has also been criticized for opposing Turkey while it was in a phase of democratization, but relied on Turkish support to resolve the acute crisis that arose with the great wave of refugees to Europe 2015, even though Turkey was then perceived as the next next to a dictatorship. At that time, Turkey was promised billions of euros to take care of refugees that the EU did not want, as well as increased pace in member negotiations. The support to the refugees comes in several forms, including smaller cash grants, but mainly as humanitarian aid through large, international organizations.
The schism between the EU and Turkey deepened after the coup attempt in 2016, when the EU was also accused of dragging its legs by standing on the government’s side. Turkey complained that promised refugee support was not paid and threatened to terminate the agreement. At the same time, Turkey demanded visa freedom for its citizens to the EU, while the EU demanded that Turkey first change the broad definition of “terrorism” which, among other things, led to mass arrests of tens of thousands of people after the coup attempt.
Especially with Germany, which has a large population group originating in Turkey, relations have been put to the test. 900 mosques in Germany are run by the Turkish Religious Authority, which pays the parish leaders’ salaries. In several German states, legislative changes are discussed that could make parishes less dependent on outside financial support (there is a voluntary church tax for Christians proposed as a model).
While the EU has for several years already acted in a way that Turkey perceived as patronizing and ruthless, and the negotiations virtually stopped, the Ankara government was aiming for other alliances. The AKP government began to pursue active diplomacy and trade in virtually all countries that were once part of the old Ottoman Empire. Even with Turkish-speaking former Soviet states in Central Asia, close contacts were made.
Support for Islamist parties
During the “Arab Spring” of 2011, tens of thousands of regime opponents in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries saw the Turkish AKP as an example of the party’s ability to combine basic Islamic values with democratic and secular politics and liberal economic principles. But when a short-lived Islamic government in the most important country, Egypt, was overthrown by a new military regime, Turkey suddenly faced an enemy in Cairo instead of a friend. Turkey has insisted on considering the deposed Islamist President Muhammad Mursi as the legal leader of Egypt.
The attempts to gain influence in Tunisia and Libya since the dictatorship of the countries were overthrown were also unsuccessful, at least in the short term.
In 1949, Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize Israel. For decades, the countries had good relations, but in 2009 it happened when then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan resigned to Israeli President Shimon Peres for Israel’s actions in Gaza. In 2010, the crisis deepened when ten Turks were killed in an Israeli command raid against the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which was part of an international convoy that would try to break the blockade of Gaza. Israel refused to apologize, which ended with Turkey canceling the military cooperation agreement and downgrading diplomatic relations. Following a new Israeli shooting of Gaza in 2012, Erdoğan described Israel as a “terrorist state”. Only in 2016 were relations normalized, since Israel agreed to pay damages to the ten killed Turks’ relatives. The relations were put to the test again in 2017 when the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. At the head of Sunni Muslim countries, Turkey then called for international recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.
The settlement with Israel following the offshore events around the Gaza convoy was interpreted in the outside world as an attempt by Turkey to break the relative isolation the country has endured. This also applied to the reconciliation with Russia that happened at about the same time.
Relations with Russia had been relatively tense following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but when Turkey in 2015 cut down a Russian fighter aircraft in the border regions against Syria, the countries turned into enemies. Russia restricted trade with Turkey and stopped all charter tourism, which hit hard on the Turkish economy. The conflict also involved the most serious confrontation between NATO and Russia since the end of the Cold War. In 2016, President Erdoğan Russia apologized and met his Russian colleague Vladimir Putin. They agreed to try to restore normal relationships. The approach was facilitated by the fact that Russia had fared more quickly than the EU and the US from the coup attempt and that Putin did not criticize the mass arrests in Turkey. Normalization was considered to benefit both countries financially.
Worried leaders in the West feared that a new alliance between authoritarian leaders could be created and disrupt the balance of power in Europe. In the conflicts in Syria and Libya, Turkish-Russian relations have continued to arouse interest. Ankara and Moscow have supported opposite sides in both countries, but at the same time have tried to tie the grip on negotiations between warring parties in a way that has placed the Western powers and the UN alongside the development of events.
Hunting for Kurdish guerrillas
Turkey’s relationship with Syria has long been poor due to Syria’s support for the Kurdish guerrilla PKK and major Turkish irrigation projects that reduced the flow of water to Syria. Relations improved since Syria broke with the PKK in 1998, and Turkey saw itself as the only Western-friendly state that could talk to Syria. But when it failed to stop the bloody persecution of the Assad regime by the spring 2011 opposition, Turkey instead became one of the driving forces for power change in Syria. The disintegration of the Syrian state aroused strong concern in Turkey that Kurdish groups in Syria could establish some form of self-government along the Turkish border, similar to the conditions in northern Iraq. The Turkish government threatened to intervene if the PKK was allowed to establish new bases on Syrian land.
The civil war in Syria also affected Turkey in a concrete way through a strong current of refugees. The Turkish government estimated that the country would not be able to handle more than 100,000 refugees and proposed that the UN establish a protected zone for refugees on Syrian soil along the border. This rejected the Security Council as unrealistic. Turkey appealed to the EU for greater efforts. In 2013, the crisis in Syria worsened rapidly and the number of Syrians seeking protection in Turkey skyrocketed. In 2019, Turkey hosted more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, one-tenth of which were in the established refugee camps.
Turkey’s attempt to contribute to overthrowing the Syrian regime at all costs is believed to have long left the country’s border with the southern neighbor country open to Sunni Muslim extremists, among them jihadists who would later call themselves Islamic State (IS). Turkey was criticized internationally for devoting more force to fighting Syrian-Kurdish guerrillas than IS. Only in late summer 2016 did Turkey pledge to seriously join the fight against IS and until then accept a continued role for the regime in Damascus. When IS was defeated (in 2019 battles were fought in desert areas that knocked out IS’s last real mounts), it was Kurdish-dominated forces that accounted for the largest efforts, with assistance from the US and other countries. But Turkey has not let go of its focus on Kurdish state-building efforts on Syrian soil. Three Turkish military offensive between 2016 and 2019 have focused on the Kurdish forces that Turkey describes as terrorists. The 2019 invasion, when the president also declared his intention to set up a zone where refugees from Syria would be sent back, took place in the face of deteriorating economy in Turkey and reduced voter support for Erdoğan and his party.
Turkey’s hostile attitude to the Syrian regime has strained relations with one of its most important partners, Iran. The fact that since 2011 NATO has a radar station on Turkish soil as a link in its defense shield against Iranian robots has also deteriorated the relationship. Iran has also criticized Turkey’s support for Sunni groups during the “Arab Spring”, as well as in the civil war in Yemen. However, an agreement in 2014 on increased economic cooperation and trade exchange is considered to have thawed relations. In 2017, Turkey, Iran and Russia rallied behind joint initiatives to end the civil war in Syria, with the condition of leaving Bashar al-Assad as head of state.
Although hundreds of Turkish companies operate in Iraq, the political relations between the countries are cool. By contrast, the AKP government has established relations with the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq and has great trade exchanges with the Iraqi Kurds, but without supporting the idea that they should form an independent Kurdish state. The export of oil directly from Kurdistan to Turkey for a time was condemned by the Iraqi government as illegal.
The Iraqi government is also opposed to the Turkish army’s repeated raids against the PKK on Iraqi soil. At the end of 2015, Iraq turned to the UN Security Council to remove a larger Turkish force. Since 2014, each year the Turkish parliament has extended a scheme that allows Turkish troops to be sent into Iraq and Syria to fight organizations that in Turkey are perceived as terrorist groups.
Cyprus sensitive issue
For historical reasons, Turkey-Greece relations have long been strained, but mutual aid following earthquakes in 1999 near Istanbul and Athens created a rapprochement and was followed by Greece’s veto of Turkish membership negotiations with the EU. Relations have been improving ever since, although it angered the Turkish leadership that the coup attempt in 2016 resulted in opponents of President Erdoğan seeking asylum in Greece. Erdoğan visited Greece in 2017, as the first Turkish President in 65 years. But he astonished his hosts by advocating a review of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, in which modern Turkey’s borders were established after the fall of the Ottoman Empire (see Ancient History).
The most serious conflict with Greece concerns Cyprus. The island, located near the Turkish coast, is divided between Greek Cypriots in the south and Turkish Cypriots in the north. The split was completed in 1974, when Turkey invaded northern Cyprus to prevent a military junta in Athens from uniting Cyprus with Greece. Only the Greek Cypriot government is internationally recognized, though not by Turkey. However, the republic proclaimed by the Turkish Cypriots is recognized only by Turkey, which has troops in northern Cyprus.
For many tour nationalists, the Cyprus issue is emotionally charged. Turkey has in the past sometimes threatened to incorporate northern Cyprus, but AKP has taken a softer stance in office. It was probably behind a crucial turn in Cyprus in 2003, when the Turkish Cypriots opened the border between both parts of the island. Among other things, following pressure from the Turkish government, a majority of Turkish Cypriots in 2004 voted in favor of the plan for the reunification of Cyprus presented by the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. However, the Greek Cypriots rejected the proposal and thus the Greek Cypriot government came to represent Cyprus when it joined the EU in 2004. Subsequently, Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Greek Cypriot government, and the entry of Cypriot vessels into Turkish ports, has been a major obstacle to the Turkish EU. -membership. Turkey also protests that the Greek Cypriot government has entered into an agreement on the country’s economic zone in the Mediterranean with, among others, Israel, without consulting Turkey or the Turkish Cypriots. Talks about reunification of the island have been held occasionally but not led to agreements.
When the Soviet Union disintegrated, new states emerged in Central Asia, inhabited by Turkmen. Turkey’s attempts to approach these peoples have had the greatest success in Azerbaijan, whose language is close to what is spoken in Turkey. Turkish companies are very active in Azerbaijan and Turkey supports the country in its conflict with Armenia.
History casts its shadow over the Turks’ relationship with the Armenians (see Population and Languages) and the Armenian issue also disturbs Turkey’s relations with other countries. A number of countries’ official recognition of the expulsion of the Armenians in 1915 as a genocide has always led Turkey to cool down diplomatic relations for a period of time. For example, this happened to Sweden in 2010.
Against China, the Turkish leadership has made sharp markings after reports of mounting repression against the Uighur people in Xinjiang.
In conjunction with the corona pandemic, Turkey 2020, despite the spread of infection in its own country, has contributed protective equipment to, for example, Italy, Spain and Palestine. And besides, sold drugs to Armenia.
Great defense and military exports
Turkey has one of NATO’s largest military alliances in NATO. It consists of around 600,000 men, including 500,000 conscripts. Since 2014, the general military duty for most people has been going on for twelve months.
Turkey has its own production of tanks, military aircraft, satellites and warships. Drones (unmanned vehicles) have been used by the Turkish military both against Kurdish guerrillas in the country and in warfare on the Syrian side of the border, both for reconnaissance and for assault against, for example, armored vehicles. Both state-run Turkish Aerospace and the company Baykar, run by the president’s US-trained sister-in-law Selçuk Bayraktar, are developing drones.
FACTS – DEFENSE
Army: 260,200 people (2017)
The air Force: 50,000 men (2017)
The fleet: 45,600 Men (2017)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 2.2 percent (2017)
Military spending’s share of the state budget: 6.4 percent (2017)