More often than not over the decades, this strategically located nation has helped the United States deal with various crises overseas. Furthermore, Turkey is the only Islamic country with a respectful, cooperative working relationship with Israel.
Now the Justice and Development Party (known in the Turkish language as AKP) threatens to move the nation in the direction of an Islamic state. AKP played a major role in the parliament's recent passage of laws that, in the words of Daniel Pipes, "dramatically reduc[ed] the political role of the country's armed forces."
Dr. Pipes, a Middle East expert, goes on to explain that "what might seem like bureaucratic wrangling has such potentially profound importance because the Turkish armed forces have long been Turkey's main bastion for political moderation and close relations with the United States and Israel."
Despite official protests that the AKP is not essentially religious and has no desire to impose Islamic law on the country, observers like American journalist Robert Kaplan suggested that this Turkish party could "usher in an Islamic version of the Protestant Reformation."
What are some of the key events that have led us to the present crossroads in Turkish national life? Author Andrew Boyd helps explain: "In some Muslim countries (first and foremost in Turkey; later, notably in Iran) this century saw a movement towards religious toleration and a separation of religious authority from government. Now, in many places, a backlash against this secularism has brought a surge of Muslim fundamentalists; modernizing policies are branded as alien ‘westernizing' ones. A dramatic example was the 1979 revolution in Iran" (An Atlas of World Affairs, 1998, p. 95, emphasis added).
Now, nearly 25 years later, is Turkey about to join Iran as a fundamentalist Islamic nation? And must the European Union (EU) share in the responsibility for the present Turkish plight? Greece, an EU member, has continually quarreled with Turkey over the Mediterranean island of Cyprus and has successfully lobbied against Turkish desires for membership in the EU. In spite of U.S. urging to open its doors to Turkey, the European Union has a habit of delaying Ankara's requests for membership, citing human-rights violations.
These recent developments in Turkey are sobering because the stakes are enormous. Washington's relationship with Ankara was already somewhat strained by the decision of the Turkish parliament to stay out of this year's war in Iraq. If things continue in the present direction, both the United States and Israel may see an important, strategically placed ally become another potential enemy in this crucial region.
(Sources: New York Post, An Atlas of World Affairs, The Sunday Telegraph [London].)