The End Of The Empire
The Turkish Republic was founded on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. The years leading to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire caused a big trauma for the Turks. Losing most of the Ottoman lands after several years of bloody wars all around the former Ottoman territories didn't lessen the pain of seeing all the young and most of the older generations die in masses in frontiers. Many schools didn't have any of their students come back from battle fields that were as far as Yemen in the east, Libya in the south and the Balkans in the west. At some point, it even got to the point, where the military draft age had to be lowered down to 13 to find eligible males in the country to defend Anatolia. All that was left behind from these long bloody and painful years was a much smaller and poorer Turkish heartland with no educated classes (90% illiteracy rate) and a 40% refugee population from the former territories.
These unfavorable factors paved the road for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the legendary Turkish commander of the Gallipoli campaign in the first World War, to emerge as one of the most brilliant leaders of the century and lead his nation to a new future through one of the darkest days of its history. Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, was an exceptionally visionary leader, reforming his nation toward a goal of modernization and increased civil rights in a world, where dictators were ruling all around Europe, including Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany and later Franco in Spain.
Transition to Democracy
After Ataturk's death, the road to pluralistic democracy was tumultuous and the Turkish political system was transformed from one-party authoritarian rule to multi-party democracy in 1946 after the Second World War. In the following decades, the Turkish democracy was interrupted three times by military coups and during one of them, Turkey even endured the execution of one prime minister and two ministers by a military junta in 1960.
The 1983 elections were an important milestone for the Turkish democracy. Under Turgut Ozal's leadership, Turkey adapted market economy and speeded up its integration with the global system. However, a more important milestone in Turkey's democratization took place in December 1999, when Turkey was officially declared as a candidate country for the European Union. Extensive democratic reforms meeting the Copenhagen Criteria marked the next five years in the Turkish domestic politics. And, as a result, in December 2004 the European Union declared its offical decision to start negotiations with Turkey by October 3rd of the following year.
The New Turkish Foreign Policy
During the first 70 years of the Turkish Republic, partly due to the big trauma caused by the bloody wars in the early part of the century and partly because of the world conjuncture, more specifically the Cold War, Turkey followed a very intraverted and insular foreign policy, ignoring its region, and had almost no relations with any of its neighbors.
However, things have started to change after the late 1990s. With the unprecedented reforms and developments in both Turkish economy and democracy, Turkey has again assumed a more active role in the international arena by switching to a new foreign policy that dictates zero problems with its neighbors and promoting peace and stability in and beyond its immediate region. As a result of its improved relations with neighbors, Turkey has used its soft power to intervene as a key mediator in many regional conflicts, including those between Syria and Israel, Palestine and Israel, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Russia and Georgia, and in Lebanon. Turkey's new policy of exporting peace and stability to a very volatile and unstable region with many deeply rooted conflicts made the country an important and a respectful actor in the global stage. Turkey has also been continously cooperating with the U.S. not only in the Middle East, but also in the Balkans and in Afghanistan.
Turkey also started being more engaged outside of its immediate region. With the goal of being one of the top ten world players by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic, Turkey opened seven new embassies in 2009 and is planning to open an additional 26 new embassies around the world in 2010. In addition to its G-20 and United Nations Security Council memberships, in 2008 the African Union declared Turkey a strategic partner after China, Japan and India.
Turkey uses all these international platforms to use its current experience as a promoter of stability and democracy on a broader level, especially in bridging the divide between East and West.
Turkey: An Emerging Global Peacemaker
Turkey, with the fastest growing economy and the youngest population in Europe and its new energy hub position between the energy-rich countries of Central Asia and the Middle East and Europe, has emerged as a regional power. Not surprisingly, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Turkey an "Emerging Global Power" in one of her recent foreign policy addresses in July 2009. If the internal reforms continue, and Turkey can solve its Kurdish issue and restore relations with Armenia, the last roadblocks for Turkish global role as a peacemaker will be removed. A Turkey, with its rising importance and willingness to engage in mediating conflicts, has a lot to offer in promoting peace on a global level.