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Turkey, Democracy, and the Middle East

The days when the Ottoman Empire ruled the Middle East are long gone, but modern day Turkey remains the best equipped nation to guide the region towards unity and stability. On June 7th, 550 members will be elected to the Grand National Assembly in what marks the 24th national election of the Turkish Republic. In a region beset by sectarian conflict and war, Turkey’s example of popular rule caps another chapter in which a civilian democracy grows more resilient and serves as a stronger voice for democratization in its broader neighborhood.

Turkey is in a position to serve as a unifying force for positive change. This comes from a unique ability to identify with its transatlantic partners while simultaneously playing an insider role in Eurasia and the Middle East. Leveraging a means to harmonize Western and regional dynamics has been the primary foreign policy goal of the Justice and Development Party, which seeks to form its fourth-term majority government in the upcoming elections.

While there is much more work to be done to bring peace, stability and prosperity to the Middle East, during the past 12 years Turkey has initiated a progressive foreign policy that provides the greatest opportunity to achieve these worthwhile ideals. The aim has been to further strengthen and consolidate Turkey’s humanitarian efforts, support regional state building, and relentlessly seek common ground.

These objectives are not easily achieved. Turkey faces ongoing conflicts that draw their roots from the revolutionary wave of public protests known as the Arab Spring. What was initially recognized as a historic opportunity to legitimize political order and create economic opportunity derailed due to incompatible regional and global power rivalries. Some actions by Western governments, such as a failure to stand up for a democratically elected leader in Egypt, created further frustration among people who dream of living a life free of repression and violence.

Turkey’s political ideals led to principled decisions to side with the voice of the people rather than the now defunct regimes in Libya, Egypt, and Syria – not because it made sense for the short-term, but because it was the right thing to do in line with our democratic values. Those values draw from a motivation to show the world that Islam and democracy are compatible; countries in transition deserve international support; and a multi-dimensional, realistic and responsible foreign policy can achieve lasting outcomes.

In the face of the Arab Spring, Turkey supported peaceful transformation, encouraged civic engagement, and promoted diplomacy and political solutions. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been outspoken in calling for peaceful administration changes in Libya and Egypt. After the U.N. Security Council failed to come to a resolution condemning Syria, Turkey hosted representatives of Western nations and the Arab League at a Friends of Syria summit to discuss new paths to resolve a tragic crisis. Turkey has also extended humanitarian help to those individuals whose nations collapsed, including almost two million Syrians and Iraqis displaced from their homes who now reside in Turkey.

Current world order calls for a renewed attempt for international cooperation. Turkey offers unique access and an ability to coordinate between its regional neighbors in the Kurds, Iranians, and Arabs, and with other international actors whom are relied upon to play a constructive role, namely the U.S., EU and Russia. As such, U.S.-Turkish relations require closer coordination to stem the current tide of sectarianism and extremism. Part of this process has already begun with the development of a security pact that will improve cooperation and information sharing between both nations. As a long-time NATO ally, Turkey acts as a stabilizing force in Afghanistan even while U.S. forces are drawing down. Turkey currently hosts a NATO radar system that is key to the alliance’s missile defense and will continue to play a constructive role in the coming decade by leveraging its military capabilities and considerable diplomatic and economic soft power.

Turkey will not tolerate repression of the innocent in the hands of anachronistic strongmen. The prevalence of Middle Eastern sectarianism and extremism must be replaced with the universal and Islamic values of peace and tolerance. Turkey is the first to gain from regional security and stability and is ready to assist countries in their quest for freedom. Indeed, Turkey’s foreign policy goals not only take into account the welfare of people throughout the region, but the benefits of a peaceful Middle East to the entire world.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Policy Digest. Ali Sarikaya is a chief advisor to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu of the Republic of Turkey.