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Dispensing with Tradition?

Turkish Politics and International Society during the Özal

Decade, 1983-93
Author(s): Berdal Aral
Source: Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Jan., 2001), pp. 72-88
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
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Accessed: 06-10-2017 09:37 UTC

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Dispensing with Tradition?
Turkish Politics and International Society
during the Ozal Decade, 1983-93


Turgut Ozal played a leading role in Turkish politics first as prime minister
(1983-89), then as president (1989-93). At first sight, he comes across as
a man of apparent paradoxes. He was part of a political tradition that
represented the revolt of Anatolia (the Asian portion of Turkey) against an
elitist, Westward-looking establishment which tended to despise the values
and traditions of Anatolia (which in fact derived its vitality from Islam);
and yet, it was the same Ozal who enjoyed the unequivocal support of the
USA and international financial institutions on account of his espousal of
free-market economy and support for US policies in the Middle East,
Caucasia and Central Asia. Ozal was also the man who most deepened and
widened Turkey's links with the Islamic world, to the extent that he was
often blamed by some secularists for harbouring 'fundamentalist'
ambitions; and yet it was under Ozal's premiership that Turkey applied f
membership of the European Economic Community (EEC) in April 1987
as the ultimate step in Turkey's search for 'recognition' as part of the
'European family'.
To make sense of this apparent paradox, one has to locate its
background in the specific political culture that has evolved since the
establishment of a secular, Westward-looking and nationalistic Turkish
republic in the mid-1920s. Today these core values of Kemalism, the
doctrinal foundation of Turkish nationalism named after the founder of
the Turkish Republic, appear to have been internalized, owing either to
state coercion or to conviction, on the part of all the political groupings,
with the marked exception of Islamists. In the post-Second World War
era, Turkey's political rulers decided to change the course of Turkish
foreign policy from neutrality to military and economic alliance with the
Western world on the pretext of Stalin's territorial ambitions over parts of
Turkish territory as contained in the Soviet memorandum of 1946.' This
new strategy was widely supported by mainstream political parties,

Middle Eastern Studies, Vol.37, No.1, January 2001, pp.72-88


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including the conservatives, on account of security considerations and a

willingness to integrate Turkey into the 'civilized' Western world.2 In
such a milieu, the language of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism did
not necessarily coincide with the priorities of the Turkish ruling
establishment. Not unlike its predecessor, the Republican Peoples Party,
the conservative Menderes government formed by the Democrat Party,
which ruled the country from 1950 to 1960, identified itself with the
Western world. Its association with the USA and Britain evolved to such
an extent that, in the 1950s, Turkey literally became a mouthpiece of
Western interests in the Middle East.3 However, despite such policies, the
Menderes government continued to enjoy widespread support from the
mostly conservative electorate until the government's overthrow by the
army in 1960.
The legacy of the Democrat Party led by Menderes,4 has not however
died out in Turkey. Historically speaking, the ideological conventions of
conservative political forces in Turkey can be described as a blend of
conservatism which rejects political/systemic Islam, Western-oriented
foreign policy, and xenophobic nationalism that mistrusts most of Turkey
immediate neighbours. That Turkey has been ruled by right-wing
governments (partly nationalistic, partly conservative) for the best part of
over fifty years of multi-party politics in Turkey should not come as a
surprise. Indeed, for Turkish politicians, the use of a universalist language
of Islam without specific ethnic and/or cultural references does not earn
sufficient political gains in a society conditioned (by official policies) to
believe in the particularistic ideas such as 'the unique qualities of the Turks
and Turkey', 'the attraction and superiority of Western civilization', and
'the materialistic conception of the priority of economics and welfare over
other considerations of human life'. Not surprisingly, therefore, the
conservative political forces in Turkey have successfully deployed Islam as
part of the language of nationalism. This is the context in which to
understand Ozalism and its similarities with, and differences from, the ri
wing governments that preceded it.

The first thing to observe about Ozal was his ability to reconcile
contradictory elements and establish harmony between them. That his
Motherland Party consisted of four different political wings (Liberals,
Conservatives, Social Democrats, Extreme Nationalists) is a testimony to
Ozal's appetite for accommodation. Close to his death (1993) Ozal was
planning to overcome the polarization between secularists and anti-
secularists by overseeing a 'reform' in Islam that, in his view, would have
been accordant with 'modem conditions'. As he saw it, this reform would

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make Islam more palatable to Western-oriented, secularist Turks who

resented the 'strictness', 'comprehensiveness' and 'moralistic overtones' of
the Koran and Sunna (two main sources of the Islamic faith). This project
was also intended to 'demonstrate' that genuine Muslims were not
necessarily 'reactionaries', but rather they could be as 'modern' and
'civilized' as the secularists.5
Especially after becoming president6 (in 1989), Ozal began to act as
though he was an opponent of the regime in his search to restructure the
state and its links with the citizens.7 In his fight against the primacy of
Kemalist principles, such as secularism, etatism, and (homogenizing)
nationalism, he acted as a rationalist and pragmatic person.8 With Ozal, the
will to catch up with the elusive 'contemporary civilization', as had
hitherto been sanctified by the official ideology, was replaced by the will
to catch up with the more concrete notions of the 'modern and
(economically) developed world'. Hence rather than prioritizing political,
ideological and cultural dispositions, Ozal laid particular emphasis on
economics as such.9
It is also evident that Ozal was greatly impressed by the American
system of political governance. During his tenure as president, he disclosed
his plans for a presidential system. However this project never materialized
on account of powerful opposition. Nevertheless this did not deter him from
acting as though he was the president of a presidential system." Ozal
wanted to strip off the educational system from the statist yoke and delegate
this matter to the communities themselves. In his view, the principle of
competition had to prevail in the health service too.'' Ozal persistently
emphasized three fundamental freedoms in his speeches: freedom of
expression, freedom of religion, and freedom of enterprise. Although such
emphasis on classical freedoms seems too superficial in human rights
debates, its significance in the Turkish context should not be
underestimated, given that these freedoms had never been transformed into
reality, despite the contrary proclamations of the Turkish constitutions and
As part of his project, Ozal wanted to spark off a consciousness, among
people and within the state alike, of the glorious Ottoman past. In his view,
sooner or later, Turkey would have to come to terms with its Ottoman
heritage.'2 The Ottoman experience, to him, contained many lessons in
tolerance and pluralism. Ozal was convinced that, without 'peace at home',
his vision of a strong and influential Turkey would not materialize.
Therefore he wanted to put an end to the exclusion (by the state) of the
cultural manifestations of Islam, of the Kurdish identity, and other repressed
identities. Indeed Ozal advocated a non-ideological state whose primary
task was to serve the citizens.3 He believed that the mosaic of different

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cultures and identities would facilitate the formation of a dynamic and

efficient society which was at ease with itself and with others. Therefore, in
his view, the largely superficial polarization between 'Islamists' and
'secularists' on the one hand, and the 'Turks' and the 'Kurds' on the other,
had to be resolved. This meant that, rather than outlawing them, the views
and claims raised by Kurdish rights' activists and the Islamists (as the two
scapegoats of the republican regime, alongside socialists, since its
inception) had to be legalized.
Two peculiarities of his individual background increased his popularity
during his presidency: he was a civilian and he was religious. These
qualities were a rare breed among Turkish presidents since the
establishment of the Turkish republic in 1923. As he saw himself, Ozal was
a missionary who wanted to mastermind an Islamic renaissance in Turkey
through blending religious tolerance with modern science and knowledge.'4
However Ozal's preoccupation with Islam, according to many secularist
Turkish intellectuals, was encouraged by the USA as part of its global
strategy to use 'neo-conservatism' as a means to keep pro-Western regimes
in power.'5 According to this view, it is irrelevant whether the religion in
question is Islam, Christianity or Hinduism, so long as it is stripped of its
revolutionary and anti-imperialistic content. Indeed, the 'Turkish-Islamic
synthesis', fashioned by the ruling establishment in the wake of the military
takeover in 1980, which was supposed to reconcile nationalism with Islam,
was neither anti-Western nor anti-capitalistic.'6 Surely this view says a lot
about the truth. Nonetheless, it tends to portray Turkish politics simply as a
by-product of American strategies, which surely is an exaggeration. Looked
through the prism of culture, identity and (domestic) politics, the case of
Ozal can equally be seen as an indigenous movement which sought to
reconcile modernity with the Turkish/Islamic tradition. This article seeks,
inter alia, to emphasize certain aspects of Ozalism that are specific to

Ozal's international outlook was premised on the rejection of the

supposition of an inescapable hostility between the Islamic and the Western
world. He instead advocated the economic and political integration of
Muslim countries into the world system, even if it was patently dominated
by the USA and its allies. In Ozal's view, this was the only way for Muslims
to enjoy the fruits of modern science and technology, and to achieve
considerable economic growth. For Ozal, the ideal of an Islamic union was
therefore both unnecessary and impractical.'7
It is thus clear that Ozal's passion for 'reconciling the irreconcilable'
also extended into the sphere of foreign policy. Ozal sought to 'prove' that

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Islam was perfectly reconcila

foreign policy.'8 He was the
imperialism, economic exploitation, or injustice. For Ozal, the Islamic
'connection' could be useful as a foreign policy instrument to turn Turkey
into a regional power. To this end, he established cordial relations with the
Islamic world, particularly with Middle Eastern countries. Ozal wanted the
Islamic world to adopt secularism, liberal democracy, and a pro-Western
outlook as the defining features of their official ideology.9 Gozen argues
that, 'Turgut Ozal's sympathy for the Muslim world was not less than his
sympathy for the Western world'.20 If this is true, one has to note that this
was partly an outcome of his strong religious faith which proclaimed
Muslims as 'brothers'. As he was familiar with liberal ideals and Western
way of life, he sought to blend them with Islamic values in a pragmatic
However, his interest in the Middle East was also the result of his
genuine desire to see the establishment among these countries of an
economic pact based on free trade and economic co-operation.2' Ozal's ill-
born proposal to distribute Turkish waters through pipelines down to the
Gulf region (including Syria and Israel) was, in his view, to be a unique
contribution to the cause of peace in the Middle East. He even called the
project 'peace-water' .22 This project never materialized, mainly for two
reasons: first, it was too costly; second, it would give Turkey too much
political weight which no (Arab) Middle Eastern country was prepared to
accept.23 This aborted attempt at least testifies to Ozal's belief in the
primacy of economics in international politics. He was convinced, for
instance, that the Greco-Turkish disputes could be resolved through
deepening economic links between the parties. He likewise formulated the
motto 'trade not aid' as a major principle of Turkey's relations with the
Ozal's ultimate objective was to install Turkey as the leader of a Turkic
world stretching from the Adriatic to the great Chinese wall under the
protective umbrella of pax Americana. The primacy of the Western world
and the Turkic republics in his world view, brought him closer to the
establishment. It is no wonder, then, that, in spite of the 'eccentricity' of
some of his views, his unorthodox activism, and strong religious
orientation, Ozal was never openly rejected by the Turkish establishmen
including the army, as an 'outsider'.25
Ozal believed that Turkish national interests generally coincided with
those of the USA in the Middle East, Caucasia and Central Asia. Ozal
reckoned that the USA could be infinitely destructive against its enemies.
He therefore conducted his policies on the basis of a pro-American bias. He
was convinced that Turkey did not possess the necessary means and

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resources to pursue an 'independent' strategy which could potentially harm

US interests.26
Not surprisingly, therefore, Ozal uncritically accepted the three main
roles envisaged for Turkey by the USA and its Western allies in the post-
Cold War era: first, Turkey was to act as a bulwark against Iranian
(Islamic) influence in the Middle East, Caucasus, and Central Asia.
Under this scheme, Turkey was to 'export' its secular and (liberal)
democratic model into these newly independent states as an alternative to
the radical Islamic model promoted by Iran.27 Secondly, Turkey would
also play a vital role in Western, particularly US, efforts to constrain and
contain radical states and/or political movements in the Middle East,
such as Iran, Iraq and Hamas, as part of a pro-Western bloc of status-quo
oriented states; thirdly, the West would ensure that Turkey remained
committed to European integration. While the US would have
presumably supported Turkey's full integration with the EEC, the
Europeans seemed to perceive Turkey as a subordinate partner. Turkey's
qualified rejection for EEC membership in December 198928 was indeed
part of this European approach to keep Turkey at arm's length, without
necessarily letting it in. Although this strategy has frustrated the Turkish
ambitions to become a 'respectful' player in European politics, the fact
that the EEC Council of Ministers did not entirely rule out the possibility
of Turkish membership at some time in the future has at least given
Turkey's pro-Western establishment a pretext to cling to the EEC as the
frame of reference for Turkish foreign policy strategies. Not surprisingly,
therefore, Turkey felt the need to emphasize that it had not perceived the
Black Sea Economic Project of 1990 as an alternative to EEC
membership. Hence the need to reiterate the priority of the Western
world.. 29
Ozal's influence in Turkish politics and foreign policy became more
marked in the second half of the 1980s as the influence of the army began
to wane because of greater democratization. His influence became even
more conspicuous after his election by the parliament as president in 1989.
This fact interestingly coincided with the historic changes that had been
taking place in eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and, partly, the Middle
East.30 Looking retrospectively, Ozal seems to have been the only Turkish
political leader who had the necessary insight and vision to catch the
momentum of the time.
Ozal did not at all think that Turkey's geopolitical and strategic
significance for the Western world diminished with the coming to an end
of the Cold War. He instead saw the emergence of a Turkic world and the
developments in the Balkans as an opportunity to expand the Turkish
influence in international politics. According to Ozal, as a remnant of an

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empire, Turkey was bound to show close interest in territories formerly

ruled by the Ottoman Empire.3' This meant that Ataturk's motto 'peace at
home, peace in the world', which precluded active involvement outside
Turkey's borders, could no more be a valid principle of Turkish foreign
policy. Revolutionary changes in the ex-Soviet Union and eastern Europe,
in his view, required a broader outlook than Turkey's hitherto status-quo
oriented disinterest in the external world.32
Ozal believed that, if Turkey became a member of the EEC, Turkey's
international standing would likewise increase. He hoped that through
membership no further quotas on Turkish textile exports to the EEC
markets would be imposed.33 However, Turkey's continuous
condemnation by various European institutions and individual
governments for systematically violating human rights on the one hand,
and the rejection of its application for membership of the EEC on the
other, brought Ozal even closer to the USA. In contrast to Europe, the
question of human rights was only of marginal concern to the US in the
case of strategic allies like Turkey. Ozal also hoped, somewhat
paradoxically, to urge the US administration to lobby the European
governments to admit Turkey for full membership of the EEC.34 Ozal had
a sufficient arsenal in stock to secure reasonable US support for Turkish
demands: Turkey had no objections to the strategic designs of pax
Americana in a now unipolar world and was prepared to collaborate with
the US in different parts of the world; as a secular and pro-Western state,
Turkey was a bulwark against Islamic expansionism in the Caucasus and
Central Asia. Ozal hoped that the range of activities that Turkey could
perform under the imperial wing of the USA could possibly elevate it into
a regional power in the New World Order.

Ozal's pro-American reflexes, his pragmatism and willingness fully to

exploit external events to Turkey's advantage (although time has proved
Turkey to be among the losers) is graphically testified in the Gulf conflict,
to which this article now returns.
Immediately after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait at the beginning of
August 1990, the UN Security Council (SC) Resolution No. 661, adopted
on 6 August 1990, imposed economic sanctions against Iraq to force its
withdrawal from Kuwait.35 From the moment Iraq invaded Kuwait, the USA
and the UK seized the initiative in the SC. According to this resolution, all
states, including non-members, were under an obligation to impose large
scale trade, economic and financial embargoes on Iraq. For this purpose,
a Sanctions Committee was set up to supervise the implementation of
the resolution.

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Less than four months later, the SC adopted Resolution 67836 on 29

November 1990 which seemed to sanction the use of force against Iraq.
This resolution authorized 'Member States co-operating with the
Government of Kuwait.. .to use all necessary means' to eject Iraq from
Kuwait if, by 15 January 1991, Iraq had not complied fully with its
obligations. Instead of relying on Chapter VII which governed the rules on
'collective measures' against violators of international peace and security,
the resolution referred to collective self-defence of 'states co-operating with
the government of Kuwait'. This resolution was adopted simply to confirm
a de facto situation, since it was adopted after the massive deployment of
US and UK troops and equipment in the Gulf area. Therefore, this
resolution was politically biased and legally precarious.
However Ozal did not seem to have any qualms about the strategy
adopted by the US during the crisis. Indeed, at no point in the conflict did
Ozal raise any objections to the US motives, political strategy, or legal
posturing in the SC. He consistently justified his support for the US war
effort on the basis of the UN Security Council decisions.37 The legality and
the legitimacy of these decisions, to him, were unquestionable. Even
before the outbreak of the Gulf war, Ozal had told CNN that the USA
commander in Incirlik could have used the air base whenever he wanted.38
All along, Ozal was aware of US intentions to destroy Iraq, and saw this
as an opportunity to recover the Mosul and Kirkuk regions of northern
Iraq for Turkey.39 A confidant of Ozal refers to a meeting between Ozal
and US President Bush in September 1990 during which Ozal allegedly
asked for US support for his plans to annex Mosul and Kirkuk to Turkey.40
Upon Ozal's initiative, the Turkish parliament passed legislation
permitting the deployment of Turkish troops abroad and foreign troo
Turkish soil. Turkish troops did not however join the coalition forces
against Iraq, as the military high command dissuaded Ozal from sending
at least a token force which he had been advocating.4 In his
uncompromising support for the US in the process leading to the
Ozal received little support from the Turkish public, the press, and the
military. Even some factions in his party objected to his posture.42 This
lack of consensus came into the fore with the dramatic resignation of the
Chief of the General Staff along with the Defence and Foreign Ministers
during the Gulf crisis.
In Ozal's view, as Turkey was an important regional power, it had to be
actively involved in the war against Iraq.43 Under his presidency, Turkey
assisted the anti-Iraqi coalition in a number of ways: first, the Iraqi oil
pipeline that crossed the Turkish territory was effectively closed; second,
Turkey extended the US-Turkish Defence and Economic Cooperation
Agreement until December 1991 which gave the US freedom to use its

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military bases in Turkey; third, Turkey deployed nearly 100,000 troops near
the Iraqi border, which forced Iraq to move a substantial portion of its troops
to the north; last, but not least, Turkey permitted the US to launch air strikes
in northern and central Iraq from NATO air bases in Turkey.'
The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and the resulting crisis
gave Ozal a unique opportunity to 'prove' Turkey's continuing worth to the
Western world. The logistical and political support given by Turkey to the
US-led coalition against Iraq was primarily planned by Ozal. By adopting a
staunchly pro-American line throughout the crisis, Ozal wanted to
demonstrate that Turkey was an indispensable part of Western security and
strategic interests at a time when its worth was not sufficiently appreciated
by the US and Europe.45 Ozal was convinced that a deteriorating Turkish
role would harm Turkish interests. He believed that, in such an eventuality,
the US administration could easily be manipulated by Greek and Armenian
lobbies.46 Indeed soon after the US President had declared the dawn of a
'New World Order', the US Senate voted a draft bill on the 'Armenian
genocide' allegedly perpetrated by Ottoman Turks during the First World
War. At almost the same time, the US administration accepted the Greek
demand for an addendum to the US-Greek defence treaty on guaranteeing
Greek security in case of an armed attack from outside (presumably from
As Turkey played a crucial role in the Allied victory against Iraq, Ozal
was certain that the US would be more supportive of Turkey in the future.
Indeed, before the war, in return for Turkish support, Ozal had been
promised by the US that Turkey would have received substantial
economic aid and extensive military equipment, while enjoying greater
access to the US market for textile products.48 This promise was partially
fulfilled. In appreciation of the Turkish support during the Gulf war, the
US increased the security assistance and trade benefits enjoyed by Turkey,
doubled the quotas for Turkish textile exports, and intervened with third
countries to (partially) compensate for the economic and financial losses
suffered by Turkey as a result of the events leading to the Gulf war.49 As
far as Europe was concerned, Ozal wrote a letter to the EEC member
states in March 1991 reminding them of Turkey's active contribution
during the Gulf war. Ozal argued that Turkey deserved a 'fairer treatment'
from its European partners.5" However European support was never as
firm as that of the US.

Ozal deemed that the termination of the Cold War and, connected with this,
the dismantling of the Soviet bloc in the beginning of the 1990s turned
Turkey into a model and centre of attraction in a vast geographical space

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from the Adriatic to Central Asia. Indeed it was widely expected that
Turkey would lead these countries towards the market economy and
multiparty democracy. However the economic problems faced by these
republics were too serious for Turkey to solve alone. Ozal knew well that
Turkey did not possess the necessary resources, such as capital, expertise
and technology, to satisfy their foreign investment needs. Therefore he
presented Turkey as a channel for Western and Japanese investments in the
exploration, production and distribution of oil, gas and mineral riches of
these republics. Accordingly, Turkish businessmen tried to take part in
projects for which they had been short of capital and technology.5 Within
the confines of its economic resources, Turkey managed to allocate some
one billion dollars of aid and trade credits for these republics in 1992.52
Apparently, in spite of his genuine endeavours, Turkey failed to provide
significant economic assistance to the Turkic republics during Ozal's
To compensate for Turkey's lack of material resources, Ozal focused
his attention on international economic co-operation. Indeed Ozal played
a key role in the revitalization of the Economic Co-operation
Organization (ECO), originally set up between Turkey, Iran and Pakistan,
by extending its membership to five of the Turkic republics, namely
Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan (note that the dominant language,
Tajiki, is a Persian dialect) Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, in February
1992. The ECO, which now embraces some 300 million people, was
designed to harmonize transport and communications, relax customs
tariffs, and establish a joint investment and development bank among
member states.54The Western world tended to encourage the tightening of
Turkey's relations with the Turkic republics in preference to Iranian
Under Ozal's presidency, Turkey also played an active role in the
establishment of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Zone in December
1990. Founded among the littoral states, namely Turkey, Russia, Bulgaria,
Romania, Georgia and Ukraine, along with Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan,
Greece and Moldova, this trade pact was intended to encourage economic
co-operation and greater freedom of trade among member states. Ozal was
all too aware that, for the first time in 200 years, Turkey was 'free of
Russian pressures', a situation he wanted to exploit to the full.56
However, Turkey's involvement with the Turkic republics generally
produced less fruitful results than originally expected.57 This was partly due
to the fact that, despite Ozal's enthusiasm, Turkey still lacked a 'practical
strategy' and the 'political will or diplomatic clout' to implement its plans
vis-a-vis the Turkic republics.58 Also noteworthy is the fact that Ozal had
unrealistic expectations of these republics. To put it bluntly, Ozal was over-

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optimistic (in his opening sp

of October 1992), when he p
would eventually lead to the establishment of a free trade zone among
member states.59 His project, which also included the free movement of
persons and services, as well as the establishment of an investment bank,
was politely rejected by other participants in favour of a looser economic
Ozal's disillusionment was also an outcome of his failure to appreciate
the political, cultural and philosophical differences among these newly
independent republics which required in-depth studies. He similarly acted
as though no cultural or conceptual gaps existed between Turkey and the
individual Turkic republics. Indeed Ozal was part of a political
establishment which viewed the Turkic republics as a homogeneous
whole which needed the helping hand of Turkey as the 'big brother'. This
missionary zeal did not require a deep understanding of their distinct
histories, ethnic and cultural characteristics, political traditions, collective
aspirations and a list of other specific features.6 Turkey's single-minded
preoccupation with 'spreading the Turkish model' (secularism, free-
market economy, Western-oriented external outlook, multi-party politics)
was an apparent testimony to the lack of a genuine dialogue between
Turkey and these republics. That these countries were perhaps weary of
'alien' models in view of their lamentable experience with the Soviet
communist model did not seem to interest Ozal and members of the
establishment. Ozal saw economic assistance and foreign investment as
main vehicles to expand the Turkish influence in the Caucasus and Central
Asia. This self-centred pragmatism and lack of understanding probably
explains a great deal about Turkey's deteriorating influence and prestige
in these regions.62
During the Ozal years, although Turkey's human rights record still
remained one of the worst among members of the Council of Europe,
significant strides were made in this area. Under Ozal's premiership, in
January 1987, the Turkish government recognized the competence of the
European Commission of Human Rights to receive applications from
individuals or non-governmental organizations claiming to be victims of a
violation by the Turkish state.63 This democratic opening appears to have
been an outcome of European pressures and part of preparations for the
Turkish application to the EEC to be made a few months later, as well as
Ozal's genuine concern with human rights.
Among Ozal's bold initiatives was the unbanning, in January 1991, of
the use of the Kurdish language in public and the celebration of the
Kurdish new year.64 However, typically, Ozal was not only prompted into
action by a concern with human rights per se, but he also saw the Kurdish

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problem as a symptom of a deeper malaise in Turkish politics. Ozal

wanted to achieve two primary objectives by increasing the sphere of
freedom enjoyed by the Kurds: first, to undercut the popular support
enjoyed by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party), the political wing of the
Kurdish guerrilla group seeking independence from Turkey; second, to
improve Turkey's performance on the question of minority rights.65 Ozal
was convinced that the granting of cultural rights, combined with
economic incentives, was the only realistic solution to the Kurdish
problem.66 As Turkey was a remnant of a multiethnic empire which had
not interfered with the intra-community affairs of different ethnic and
religious communities, Ozal saw 'cultural pluralism' and 'decentralization'
as essential prerequisites for resolving some of Turkey's long-standing
social and political ills. This, in his view, was the Ottoman legacy of
political governance.67
Ozal knew well that Turkey's inflexible approach towards the Kurdish
problem was an obstacle on the way to Turkish membership of the EEC.
Indeed the EEC Commission's report of December 1989 which considered
the viability of Turkish application for membership noted that 'within
Turkey.. .minority rights still fell short of EEC norms despite
improvements' 66 This was also a major consideration behind Ozal's liber
handling of the Kurdish problem. The 'European context' similarly play
crucial role in the unbanning of the so-called 'thought crimes' in April
by the Turkish parliament. This time, as the president, Ozal was pivotal in
adaptation of a reform package which abolished Articles 141, 142, and 163
the penal code outlawing Communist and Islamist political activities.69
Apparently, Ozal's contribution to the improvement of Turkey's hum
rights record was not less significant than his contribution to the
transformation of Turkish politics and economy. One should always bear in
mind that, in implementing his policies, Ozal was surrounded by forces of
status quo and, therefore, had to act with great caution and restraint. His
success indeed lay in his capacity to bend an extremely rigid system without
inviting violence in return.

From one angle, Ozal seems to represent a radical breakthrough from the
conventions of Turkish politics. His peculiar approach to Turkish politics
and foreign policy differed from those of his predecessors with its
dynamism, boldness, unorthodox style, and adaptability to changes in the
international environment.70 Undoubtedly, Ozal was an intelligent, clever
and ambitious leader who sought to exploit external circumstances to
enhance Turkey's international stature and national interests. He was also
a leader who rarely hesitated to take initiatives and calculated risks

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throughout his political career. In spite of considerable objections, he

started a dialogue with the Greek Prime Minister, Andreas Papandreou, in
Davos, Switzerland, in 1989. Ozal visited Athens later in the same year.
His willingness to take the initiative became manifest again when he
invited the Kurdish leaders of northern Iraq for talks in the wake of the
Gulf war.7' That this meant the defacto recognition of their status weighed
little in his desire to exert Turkish influence in reshaping Middle Eastern
According to Ozal, the polarization between different ideological
groups, both in Turkey and abroad, was mostly arbitrary, as the fall of
communism testified. He was rather skilful in co-opting a heterogeneous
body of ideas and individuals into his 'grand projects'. The composition
of his party as well as the content of his politics seemed like a patchwork
of contradictions. His party included a respectful number of
Turkists, conservatives and liberals in its ranks, which seemed to
strike a chord with the electorate, as the victory of his party in the 1983
and 1987 elections testified. Meanwhile, Ozal persistently used
Islamic motifs to enhance the legitimacy of the Turkish state. He
wanted to turn Turkey into the patron of the large Turkic world,
and yet he endorsed the Turkish desire of full integration with the EEC,
although this would inevitably limit Turkish actions vis-'a-vis the Turkic
Ozal wanted to transform Turkey from being an isolated, bureaucratic
and military republic into an open democracy.73 In his crusade against the
official taboos, Ozal was both innovative and imaginative. He managed to
discharge the energy and dynamism of a people long dormant due to
traditional thinking and economic and political etatism. In the realm of
economics, Ozal sought to integrate Turkey into the world economy.74
Even his critics agree that liberalization and transition to a free market
economy are among his most durable legacies.75 Today none of the major
political parties in Turkey dare to oppose these economic policies for fear
of risking electibility.
One should also note that Ozal was among the first of the Turkish
statesmen not to have hesitated to stress the 'Islamic' dimension of the
Turkish national identity. To him, rather than being a burden, this was an
asset that could be utilized for the stability and prosperity of the country. In
line with this assessment, he adopted a cosmopolitan approach that
transcended the parochial boundaries of ethnicity and national territory
this sense, too, Ozal was unique in questioning the nationalist discourse
which romanticized about republicanism, (rigid) secularism of the French
type, and state-centrism. In Turkish politics, then, his role was not dissimilar
to that of a revolutionary.

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From another angle, however, Ozal appears not to have broken with the
fundamentals of Turkish politics, particularly in the area of foreign policy.
Like those of his predecessors, his external policies prioritized the West. His
concern with Third World countries and initiatives was negligible. However
Ozal sought to establish constructive bilateral and multilateral relations with
other Islamic countries and the Turkic republics, especially through
economic devices. Given the extent and depth of his commitment in this
regard, he was undeniably unique in the history of republican Turkey.
However, not unlike his predecessors, he never attempted to question
Turkey's military, political and economic alliance with the Western world.
On the contrary, his was the most comprehensive partnership with the US
since the Menderes government in the 1950s. What however distinguished
Ozal was his visionary zeal to use the US as a leverage to turn Turkey into
a prominent regional power. He said: 'If we do not make major mistakes,
the next century will be the century of the Turks' .76 Only time will tell if this
prophecy comes true.


1. Mehmet Gonlubol and Haluk Ulman, Olaylarla Turk Diz Politikasi, 8th edi
Siyasal Kitabevi, 1993), pp. 191-209.
2. At the time, pro-Islamic parties were banned in Turkey.
3. Philip Robins, Turkey and the Middle East (London: The Royal Institute of International
Affairs, 1991), pp.24-279.
4. Soon after his deposition, he was hanged, alongside his Minister of Finance and Minister of
Foreign Affairs, for, inter alia, giving too much concessions to the (Islamic) 'reactionary
5. Yavuz Gokmen, Ozal Yayasaydi (Had Ozal lived) (Ankara: Verso Yayincilik, 1994),
6. Ozal became president in 1989 upon his election by the parliament for a seven-year term.
7. Ahmet Altan, in Osman Ozsoy, Unliilerin Turgut Ozal'la Hatiralari (Recollections of the
Famous with Turgut Ozal) (Istanbul: Tiirdav, 1994), p.144. On this rather paradoxical
position, see the interview with Cengiz (andar, a well-known Turkish journalist and an
unofficial adviser to Ozal, conducted soon after Ozal's death, in Metin Sever and Cem Dizdar
(interviewers), Ikinci Cumhuriyet Tartiqmalari (The Discussions on the Second Republic)
(Ankara: Ba$ak Yayinlari, 1993), pp.91-114.
8. Abdurrahman Dilipak, in Ozsoy, ibid., p.207.
9. See for instance his speech during the Third Economic Congress of Izmir on 4 June 1992, in
Ikinci Cumhuriyet Tartimalarl, 15-31.
10. Ramazan Gozen, 'Turgut Ozal and Turkish Foreign Policy: Style and Vision', Foreign
Policy, Vol.20, Nos.3-4 (1996), pp.69-101, 73. Especially during his presidency, in the
course of his active involvement in foreign policy, Ozal tended to bypass the division of
power as envisioned under the Turkish Constitution. He similarly disregarded the
bureaucratic mechanisms which he saw as a stumbling bloc in decision-making. However his
attitude frequently caused strains in the government. His exaggerated statements about
Turkey's readiness to accept some one million Turks fleeing from Bulgaria in 1989 on
account of the Bulgarian policy of forcible assimilation allegedly resulted in the resignation
of the Foreign Minister in protest. (Ibid, pp.71-2).

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11. Part of his speech in the Third Economic Congress of Izmir, in 2. Cumhuriyet Tartlimalarl,

12. Sevinq (;okum, in Ozsoy, Unlulerin, p.163.

13. Mehmet Altan, in 2. Cumhuriyet Tartqmalari, pp.33-59, 56-7.
14. Cengiz 4?andar, in Ozsoy, Unliulerin, pp. 140-4.
15. See, for instance, Taha Parla, Tiirkiye'nin Siyasal Rejimi: 1980-1989 (The Political Regime
of Turkey: 1980-1989) (Istanbul: Onur Yayinlari, 1993), p.220.
16. Ibid.
17. Gbkmen, Ozal YaEasaydi, p.301.
18. Ufuk Giildemir, Texas-Malatya, second edition (Istanbul: Tekin Yayinlari, 1992), p.360.
19. Gokmen, Ozal YaEasaydz, p.235.
20. Gozen, 'Turgut Ozal', p.77.
21. Ibid., pp.78-9. Not unexpectedly, Ozal played an active role in the Islamic Conference
Organization (founded in 1969). During his premiership, Turkey held a special status in the
Standing Committee for the Economic and Commercial Co-operation of this organization.
22. Ibid., p.81.
23. Ibid., p.82. Indeed most of Ozal's visionary designs vis-a-vis the Middle East never
materialized for a number of reasons. First, the animosities in the Middle East (first and
foremost the 'Arab-Israeli conflict') were too deep to overcome through economic co-
operation. Secondly, most of the Middle Eastern countries were too dependent on US and the
EEC countries to forge close economic links among themselves (ibid., p.91).
24. Sabri Sayari, 'Turkey: The Changing European Security Environment and the Gulf Crisis',
The Middle East Journal, Vol.46, No. 1 (Winter 1992), p. 1 8.
25. According to Gbzen, the military's apparent docility towards Ozal was partly due to his
resignation to the fact that the security matters were the exclusive realm of the military. Ozal
was discreet enough not to interfere with the 'military's business' (Gozen, 'Turgut Ozal',
p.73), as he was all too aware that the only challenge to his authority could come from the
army, as the iron fist of the official ideology.
26. Guldemir, Texas-Malatva, p.97.
27. See, for instance, the article entitled 'An Ally Deserves Better', Time, 28 Jan. 1991, p.63.
Similar observations are made by Omer La9iner and Tanil Bora, 'Tiirki Cumhuriyetler ve
Tiirkiye: Ikinci Vizyon' (Turkic Republics and Turkey: The Second Vision), Birikim, No.37
(May 1992), 7-16, p.16; Philip Robins, 'Between Sentiment and Self-Interest: Turkey's
Policy Toward Azerbaijan and the Central Asian States', The Middle East Journal, Vol.47,
No.4 (Autumn 1993), p.601.
28. 'Commission Opinion on Turkey's Request for Accession to the Community', Brussels, 20
Dec. 1989, SEC(89) 2290 final/2.
29. Robins, 'Between Sentiment', p.595.
30. Sayari, 'Turkey', p.17.
31. Cengiz (iandar, Nokta, 25 Nisan-1 Mayis 1993, Sayi 18, Ozel Ek, 31-32.
32. Ibid.
33. Atilla Eralp, 'The Politics of Turkish Development Strategies', Andrew Finkel and Nukhet
Sirman (eds.), Turkish State, Turkish Society (London and New York: Routledge, 1990),
pp.219-58, p.249.
34. Ihsan Duran Dagi, 'Turkey in the 1990s: Foreign Policy, Human Rights, and the Search for
a New Identity', Mediterranean Quarterly, Vol.4, No.4 (Fall 1993), p.64.
35. Resolution 661, International Legal Materials, 1990, pp.1325-7.
36. Resolution 678, International Legal Materials, 1990, p.1565.
37. Hulki Cevizoglu, Korfez Savapi ve Ozal Diplomasisi (Istanbul: Form Yayinlari, 1991), p.76.
38. Ibid., p.38.
39. Gokmen, Ozal Yasasaydz, p.93. The Council of the League of Nations handed over these two
regions, also claimed by Turkey, to British mandated Iraq in 1925, to which Turkey
reluctantly consented.

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40. Ibid., p.100. It must be noted that, at the time, the SC resolution which authorized the use of
force against Iraq had not yet been adopted. Throughout the crisis, Ozal was continuously
blamed by the opposition for harbouring unrealistic ambitions and for his willingness to join
the war on the side of the US (Cevizoglu, p.39). However, after the war, Ozal opposed the
possibility of the disintegration of Iraq as he came to realize that Turkey would not be among
the beneficiaries of such an eventuality. Indeed he became aware that the emergence of a
Kurdish state in the north of Iraq would only exacerbate Turkey's own Kurdish problem.
(Sayari, 'Turkey', p.14).
41. Andrew Mango, Turkey, the Challenges of a New Role (London: Praeger, 1994), p.111.
42. Sayari, 'Turkey', p.16.
43. Cevizoglu, p.86.
44. Bruce R. Kuniholm, 'Turkey and the West', Foreign Affairs, Vol.70, No.2 (Spring 1991),
45. Kutlay Dogan, Turgut Ozal Belgeseli (The Turgut Ozal File) (Ankara: Turk Haberler Ajansi,
1994), pp.318-19.
46. In Turkish foreign policy discourse, Greeks and Armenians are portrayed as the 'ardent
enemies' of Turkey.
47. Guldemir, Texas-Malatya, pp.95-6.
48. Kuniholm, 'Turkey and the West', pp.34-8.
49. Sayari, 'Turkey', p.19.
50. Newspot, 7 March 1991.
51. George J. Church, 'Across the Great Divide', Time, Vol.140, No.16, 19 Oct. 1992, p.35.
52. The Economist, 25 Dec.-8 Jan.1993, p.82.
53. Robins, 'Between Sentiment', p.593.
54. Keesing's Contemporary Archives, 1992, p.38792. At least initially, Iran was inclined to see
the ECO as an incipient model of an Islamic common market, while Turkey laid emphasis
on its economic side.
55. Keesing's Contemporary Archives, Reference Supplement, 1992, p.R.128.
56. The Washington Post, 24 Feb. 1993.
57. Suat Bilge, 'Bagimsiz Devletler Toplulugu ve Tiirkiye' (The Commonwealth of Independent
States and Turkey), Avrasya Etudleri, Vol. 1, No.4 (Winter 1995), p.91.
58. Robins, 'Between Sentiment', 1993, p.609.
59. Part of his speech can be found in Bilge, 'Bagimsiz Devletler', p.89. 'BBC Summary of
World Broadcasts', Middle East, 2 Nov. 1992.
60. Ibid., p.90.

61. Laqiner and Bora, 'Tuirki Cumhuriyetler', pp.12-14.

62. On the (partial) disillusionment of the parties see, Robins, 'Between Sentiment', 1993,
pp.593-5. Robins notes that, after gaining independence, these republics, rather than asking
for Turkey's mediation, wanted to establish direct economic links with the West (p.593).
63. Human Rights Law Journal, Vol.1, Nos.3-4 (1990), pp.456-8.
64. Keesing 's Contemporary Archives, Vol.38, 1992, Reference Supplement, p.R. 127. However
Ozal's bold initiatives on the Kurdish problem were confronted with strong objections, even
from factions of his own party: Omer La9iner, 'GeqiE Siirecinde Ozal ve ANAP' (Ozal and
the Motherland Party in time of Transition), Birikim, April 1991, No.24, 3-7, pp.6-7.
65. Ibid.
66. Among Turkish politicians, he was the only hope of Kurdish rights activists for a peaceful
solution to the Kurdish problem ((andar, in Ozsoy, Unlilerin, p.233).
67. See the extensive interview of Mustafa (alik with Ozal, Tuirkiye Guinliigui, No.19 (Summer
1992), pp.5-23.
68. 'Commission Opinion on...' (note 28).
69. Keesing's Contemporary Archives, April 1991, p.38159.
70. Dogan, Turgut Ozal Belgeseli, p.315.
71. Sayari, 'Turkey', p.18.

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72. The membership, inter alia, re

towards third countries. Besides
membership, Turkey will be barre
states without the prior authorisation of the EEC.
73. Yilmaz Oztuna, in Ozsoy, Unliilerin, p.247.
74. (andar, in ibid., p.233.
75. Hasan Cemal, in ibid., p.220.
76. Gokmen, Ozal Yasasaydi, p.51. Ozal expressed this view on numerous occasions. See for
instance his opening speech in the Third Ecoonomic Congress of Izmir, 4 June 1992, in
Cumhurbaskani Turgut Ozal'in 111H. Izmir iktisat Kongresindeki KonuEmalari (Ankara:
Ba~babanlhk, 1992); Cumhurba~kani Turgut Ozal'in '21. Asir Tuirkiye'nin ve Turklerin Asri
Olacaktir'Konulu Konuimalari, Bursa-(elik Palas, 22 Mayis 1991 (Ankara: Ba,bakanlik,

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