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Civilizational Discourse, the ‘Alliance of Civilizations’ and Turkish Foreign Policy

The main orientation of Turkish foreign policy has recently been described as Europeanization, Middle Easternization, or Islamization. This article offers an alternative reading of its discourse as a civilizational one, arguing that the concept of civilization has increasingly, albeit vaguely, been employed in Turkish foreign policy discourse in three different layers – national, regional and universal. Turkish foreign policy makers often invoke (and occasionally switch between) these different layers of civilization in a flexible manner, which adds dynamism to Turkish policies. Often integrated with the domestic and foreign policies of the AK Party government, this pragmatic discourse has proved useful for its proactive and assertive diplomacy. Based on the discourse analysis method, this article explores how and why the concept of civilization is utilized within this discourse.

Civilizational Discourse the Alliance of Civilizations and Turkish Foreign Policy
UN Secretary General Ban Kimoon and delegates pose for a group photo during the sixth United Nations Alliance of Civilizations conference in Nusa Dua on the resort island of Bali on August 29, 2014. The forum runs from August 29 to 30. AFP / Sonny Tumbel


The concept of “civilization” was not very popular among most Western social scientists in the 20th century, although it was somewhat influential in 19th-century scientific thought. More recently, civilization has been rediscovered by social scientists in the West after it was inserted into politics through the “clash of civilizations” thesis and the September 11 attacks as well as with the rise of the “Asian tigers” with their different civilizational roots. A final factor has been the increasing migrations to the industrial, Western countries from different parts of the world.1 In Turkey, too, the concept has increasingly been used in foreign policy discourses as well as in popular political debates. President R. Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, in particular, frequently make references to “civilization.” These references (and the AK Party’s civilizational discourse in general) might be taken as manifestations of Davutoğlu’s “strategic depth doctrine,”2 which has, according to many, heavily influenced Turkish foreign policy.3 

The Islamic credentials of the AK Party leadership and the recent intensification of relations with neighboring countries have led some to argue that Turkish foreign policy has undergone a Middle Easternization

The Islamic credentials of the AK Party leadership and the recent intensification of relations with neighboring countries have led some to argue that Turkish foreign policy has undergone a “Middle Easternization,” or even a radical shift toward “neo-Ottomanism.”4 Others believe that the increasing tide of “Islamization” in Turkish society has led the AK Party to shift its emphasis from the West to the East/Muslim World.5 Still others, however, argue that Ankara’s foreign policy remains principally Western-oriented; they often read Turkey’s recent foreign policy activism as part of a wider trend toward the Europeanization or democratization of foreign policy, noting the close links between Turkey’s foreign policy and domestic politics.6 There is, however, little attention paid to the discourse of civilization in Turkish foreign policy.7 

Assuming that Turkish foreign policy maintains a multi-directional orientation, rather than simply a “Middle Easternization,” “Islamization” or “Europeanization,” this paper provides an alternative reading of Turkish foreign policy. The AK Party government’s general foreign policy approach has been based at least partly on a civilizational discourse that is somewhat ambiguous but also very flexible. This article tries to demonstrate that the concept of civilization in Turkish foreign policy discourse has a vague meaning, entailing at least three different layers, the national, regional and universal dimensions. Thus, Turkish political actors often refer to “our civilization,” implying a vague Turkish civilizational tradition; with this they sometimes refer to the Islamic civilization, the Muslim people or cultures of the Middle East and the Balkans. However, they also often invoke universal humanitarian values and a “common legacy of humanity,” including justice and freedom. The exact boundaries of these layers of civilization are not clear; these actors also often switch between them in a pragmatic and skillful manner. Furthermore, this ambiguity adds dynamism to Turkish foreign policy and is useful within the pragmatic discourse of the AK Party leadership. 

Secondly, the paper demonstrates that the Alliance of Civilizations is located, both as a concept and an institution, within the third dimension of Turkish foreign policy discourse, particularly in relation to Turkey’s EU membership process. Thus, on the one hand, the Alliance of Civilizations is constructed as a concept that brings Turkey (as the representative of the Muslim World) and Europe (as that of the West) together on the common ground of the “legacy of the humanity.” On the other hand, it is presented as a sociopolitical project and institution – the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) – that will end current divisions and clashes among different regions and countries on a global scale.8 This double utilization of the Alliance of Civilizations (as a concept and institution) proves useful in the self-presentation of Turkish foreign policy and as an element of Turkish diplomacy. The paper explores how civilization is variously utilized within this framework. Finally, the paper ends with a discussion on why the AK Party leadership finds the civilizational discourse useful for Turkey’s assertive foreign policy performance and the party itself. 

The article is based on the discourse analysis method inspired by Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault, which conceives discourse as both reflecting actual sociopolitical developments and practices formed within a historical context, andconstitutive of these social relations (and social reality in general). Studying discourses is important because they function as indicators of social change (in this case, that of Turkish foreign policy under the AK Party) by both affecting and being effected by sociopolitical events – that is, by making sense of these events and thereby informing actors’ decisions. Therefore, discourses not only justify actors’ positions in power struggles, but also influence their dispositions; actors utilize discourses to create and impose a legitimate vision of the world that makes sociopolitical divisions possible.9 The symbolic power of language, or what Bourdieu calls the “theory effect,” refers to the ability to define, classify and determine things – that is, the capacity to order and shape social relations in the way that powerful actors/institutions envision. Furthermore, as Foucault insists, the notions of truth and power are intricately tied to one another, often through discourse. Thus, this view suggests that discourses not only refer to or show sociopolitical configurations, but also signify and constitute them.10 The AK Party leadership’s discourse of civilization, too, might be examined from this perspective. 



“Civilization” and the AK Party 

During the first several years of its rule, the AK Party adopted a Western-oriented discursive strategy in its foreign policy because of the impact of the unfavorable domestic and international politico-ideological conditions for a government party with Islamic roots, such as the hostile post-September 11 atmosphere occupied by the clash-of-civilizations debate and the Turkish military’s harsh stance against previous Islamic movements following the February 28, 1997 coup d’état. 

Despite these unfavorable conditions, the AK Party gradually adopted a more civilizational foreign policy discourse, particularly with the appointment of Davutoğlu as Foreign Minister in 2009.11 However, as we shall see below, this new discourse is not exclusive of the Western orientation that Turkey had previously adopted; the AK Party government improved Turkey’s relations with Western countries and cultivated its EU accession process, particularly during its first two terms. Thus, many scholars agree that the AK Party’s foreign policy choices did not exclude Turkey’s traditional pro-Western orientation; rather, its first term was characterized by “Europeanization.”12 However, I argue that the existing political, military, economic and cultural relations with Western countries have increasingly been framed as a “civilizational alliance” or “meeting of civilizations” with this new discursive strategy since 2009. 

On the other hand, there has also emerged a discursive emphasis on the “Islamic civilization” and the significance of neighboring regions that has increasingly been visible in Turkish foreign policy in parallel to the recent intensification of sectarian conflicts in the Middle East --a discursive strategy that is sometimes used in an attempt to prevent these conflicts. In addition, we also observe an increase in references to Turkish history in both domestic politics and foreign policy.13 These developments could be read as signs of a significant, albeit partial, transformation at the discursive level in Turkish foreign policy under the AK Party. This discursive change was made clear by the party leadership during the AK Party’s 4th Grand Congress on September 30, 2012. Erdoğan mentioned “civilization” 14 times in his long speech, whereas he used the term “conservative democrat,” which is the Party’s official ideological position, only two times.14 Moreover, he emphasized the Party’s mission (rather than service and development) as the main discursive strategy through various historical references and themes like the “2023 and 2071 vision.”15 

Furthermore, by emphasizing the inclusive aspects of this civilizational discourse, the AK Party constructs it on a transnational scale, going beyond the Turkish national identity and borders. It discursively positions the other peoples in the Middle East, particularly the Kurds and the Arabs, within the framework of “brotherhood,” which functions as the new subject position for these peoples within this discourse. The party leadership is also careful to frame this discourse so as not to harm the existing institutional (political and military) cooperation with the West.



Turkish Foreign Policy’s “Civilizational” Discourse

The main feature of the AK Party’s civilizational discourse is that it is multi-layered (or multi-dimensional) and vague, but with a very dynamic character at the same time. For this discourse simultaneously accommodates Turkey’s national identity, history and values on the one hand, and its membership in the Muslim World and the Middle East on the other. At the same time, it often makes references to the common values and heritage of “the humanity.” Let us now discuss each of these three layers in more detail.16


The National Dimension

The first dimension of this flexible discourse contains a number of discursive elements, including (i) frequent references to the glorious episodes of Turkish history, with a particular emphasis on the “opening of the gates of Anatolia” by the (Muslim) Turks with the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, and on the “War of Independence” that resulted in the establishment of the Republic in 1923; (ii) the related signification of two dates, 2023 and 2071, as the turning points in Turkey’s future; (iii) a stress on Turkey’s territorial integrity as a fundamental condition to be protected at any cost and the crucial significance of the “brotherhood” between Turks and Kurds for this integrity; (iv) an emphasis on Turkey’s regional leadership as a “pivotal country” (or “central power”) and on (v) the significance of its mediator role to solve inter-state problems among neighboring countries (e.g., through “rhythmic diplomacy”) and, consequently, its rising profile as a “wise country” in the region; and finally, (vi) the promotion (until 2013) of the so-called “Turkish schools” controlled by the Gülen movement through proprietary and facilitating policies. For instance, in his above-mentioned congressional address, Erdoğan invoked the glorious episodes of Turkish history in quite a comprehensive manner: 

“Sultan Alparslan sowed the seeds of a ‘civilization of love’ that would last for centuries. This civilization burgeoned at the hands of Osman Gazi turning into an offshoot and then a sapling, which in turn transformed into a large plane tree that branched out to heavens and covered seas, from the Caucasus Mountains to the Alps, from the Euphrates and the Tigris to the fiery Danube. … There is no blood in the shadow of this large plant tree –the Seljuk, Ottoman and Republican tree. There is no discrimination in the shadow of this plant tree. There is no oppression, repression, and otherization in the shadow of this tree. … Now, as the AK Party, we are one of the branches of this large plant tree. The path we follow has been forged by Alparslan, Melikşah and Kılıçarslan [as well as] Osman Gazi, Fatih Sultan Mehmet, Sultan Süleyman, Yavuz Sultan Selim.”17

The AK Party government’s general foreign policy approach has been based at least partly on a civilizational discourse that is somewhat ambiguous but also very flexible

This “national” layer of the Turkish foreign policy’s civilizational discourse is supported and solidified by concrete policies designed and pursued according to the interests of Turkey as a nation-state. Constituting the non-discursive bases of the first dimension of the Turkey’s civilizational discourse, these policies include, among others, the increasingly expanding humanitarian efforts through the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA); the renovation and reconstruction of historic buildings, such as mosques, tombs, madrasas and cemeteries, in the former Ottoman territories;18 efforts to revitalize and promote traditional Turkish culture through Yunus Emre Centers all over the world; the foundation of Turkish universities abroad, particularly in Central Asia and the Balkans; and attempts at a greater role in international politics, such as the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in 2011, hosting the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit and moving UNDP’s regional bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States to Istanbul.19


The Regional Dimension

The second dimension of the civilizational discourse entails two elements: the Middle East as a geographical identity/membership, and the wider Muslim World as a cultural identity. In their speeches, the AK Party leadership frequently makes references to these two elements relatively flexibly, sometimes emphasizing the geographical dimension and, at other times, the cultural one. This regional dimension entails a number of discursive practices, including (i) a rather possessive and protectionist approach to the Palestinian cause and the related critical attitude toward Israel, manifested with continuous, coherent and occasionally harsh criticism; (ii) efforts to support the living conditions and defend the humanitarian, economic and political rights of Muslim peoples from Somalia to Myanmar, and from the Balkans to Syria and South Africa;20 (iii) a concern and diplomatic affinity for some Islamic political movements, such as Palestine’s Hamas and Tunisia’s Ennahda; (iv) discussions (and Ankara’s self-promotion) on Turkey as a “model country” for the region during the “Arab Spring;” and, underlining all these elements, (v) Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy and economic and cultural integration approach, which are among the essential elements of the Strategic Depth doctrine.21 

These discursive practices imply a three-dimensional strategy regarding Turkish foreign policy’s regional elements, including (i) a humanitarian dimension that entails a continuous support for those who suffer from either political oppression or natural disasters; (ii) a value-oriented approach that emphasizes the need for democracy, pluralism and human rights as essential principles of governance in the Middle East; and (iii) the strategic position that often favors the notion of integration and “zero-problems” with neighboring countries, especially non-oppressive regimes.22

Davutoğlu openly declares that Turkey desires the formation of a “new order” within the “region” (including the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East) based on four principles: “common security, cultural interaction within a multi-cultural environment, economic interdependence, and a consciousness of common destiny.”23 He often justifies these objectives with reference to a civilizational framework: 

“While the humanity and the international system are going through a general restoration, our region … has been experiencing a great internal restoration, [which] I call the closing of a hundred-year parenthesis… following colonization and the Cold War… This region seeks integration and internal restoration. This region is where our authentic and immemorial (kadim) civilization was born… Look at the Malabadi Bridge [in Diyarbakır] and the Mostar Bridge [in Bosnia], you’ll see that we share common values beyond the borders drawn [by others] for us. And then you’ll understand the necessity of the reintegration of the Middle East and the Balkans, of the Caucasus and North Africa forever… It is impossible to build the future with emergent notions of statehood based on conflicting nationalist ideologies that emerged out of Sykes-Picot maps, colonial administrations, and unnaturally drawn borders. We will break the template imposed on us by Sykes-Picot!”24

Davutoğlu’s more recent comments on the hostage crisis, where two Turkish pilots and nine Lebanese pilgrims were rescued on October 19, 2013, further exemplifies this trans-nationalist discourse: 

“… We have also paid close attention to the Lebanese pilgrims. From the very beginning, we have approached to the issue from a humanitarian perspective and put all the efforts we could, even though it wasn’t part of our responsibility… Whoever feels the pain of separation in our region, we feel the same. It doesn’t matter which sect or ethnic group they belong to. We work hard for them all.”25

Erdoğan’s recent speech at a conference held by the International Union of Muslim Scholars in Istanbul also affirms this emphasis on Ankara’s position as the (only) model that transcends the Sunni/Shia divide in the region: He strongly emphasized that sectarian conflicts such as in Syria and Iraq are against Islamic values, implicitly criticizing Iran and Hezbollah, but also explicitly mentioning the significance of the “Prophet’s grandsons, whose tomb has been a main target for ISIL militants in Iraq, for the Islamic world.”26 Likewise, Erdoğan’s public address during a recent visit to Kosovo, where he enthusiastically declared that Kosovars and Turks are part of the same history and civilization, further signifies the second layer of Turkey’s civilizational discourse: 

“Turkey is Kosovo, and Kosovo is Turkey. Languages can be different, religions, sects, faces can be different, but we are all children of the same country… My family, I, and ministers of my delegation feel at home here. Today I greet all Albanians, Bosnians, Turks and Gorans… We will build our future together, just like our grandfathers, our ancestors did. We have lived here as brothers for centuries and we will continue to do so.”27

As with the first dimension, these discursive practices have been supported by a number of concrete policies that are designed to improve relations with neighboring and Islamic countries. Constituting the non-discursive bases of the second dimension of Turkey’s civilizational discourse, these policies include taking over the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) General Secretariat and intense diplomatic efforts for mediation and facilitation, particularly in crisis areas such as Bosnia, Iraq and Syria (e.g., organizing the meeting of Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas in Ankara in 2007, indirect talks between Israel and Syria in 2007, direct talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2007, trilateral consultation mechanisms among Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia initiated by Turkey in 2009, the Conference of the Interior Ministers of the Neighboring Countries of Iraq started by Turkey in 2004, the Group of Friends of the Syrian People launched in 2011, hosting several hundred-thousand refugees, efforts on behalf of Arakan Muslims suffering in Burma, and the mediation between the Philippines government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front).28 Furthermore, agreements with many regional countries for visa exemptions and trade and strategic partnerships, as well as some of the “national” policies mentioned above (such as the TİKA’s activities), are often presented as part of Turkey’s regional policy at the discursive level. 

The AK Party government improved Turkey’s relations with Western countries and cultivated its EU accession process, particularly during its first two terms

Distinct from traditional Turkish foreign policy, which was mainly Kemalist-
oriented and parochial,29 this new discourse and the practices associated with it have played a positive role in terms of increasing Turkey’s regional influence. For instance, Turkey’s Israel policy, which initially took the form of controlled tension followed by open and harsh criticisms as well as political and military isolation (e.g., canceling a collectively planned military maneuver in October 2009), reached its peak with the Mavi Marmara crisis that eventually resulted in an official apology by the Israeli government. (The Israelis also seem to have agreed on paying compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims killed by Israeli soldiers.) Turkey has also played a role in the resolution of various regional conflicts, such as the feud between Hamas and al-Fatah, Syria and Israel (which was not successfully concluded due to Israel’s withdrawal), Iran and the P5+1 group, and most recently between Syrian opposition forces and the Iranian and Lebanese governments during the hostage crisis in September-October 2013, which also resulted in the freeing of two Turkish airline pilots. These success stories may contribute to Turkey’s possible leadership in the region. Thus, for example, the leader of Tunisia’s Ennahda movement, Rashid al-Ghannuchi, reportedly said that “the AK Party has moved Turkey to the heart of the [Islamic] ummah after living in the margins of history for more than hundred years.”30 Similarly, Michael Rubin, a member of the American Enterprise Institute and a harsh critic of the AK Party, has criticized Turkish foreign policy for the same reason: 

“There has been a profound shift in Turkish foreign policy. The [AKP] has sought to reorient Turkish policy away from the United States, toward both Europe and the Islamic world… The first victim of Turkey’s shifting diplomacy has been Israel.”31

Though these statements are quite partisan and exaggerated, the stress in Turkey’s civilizational discourse on the Muslim World is unmistakable. This orientation often takes the form of either emphasizing the peaceful and cooperative aspects of Islamic culture and history, or drawing attention to the current Muslim suffering and invoking the historical and recent injustices that are the cause of their present problems. However, it does not always involve blaming Westerners for Muslims’ political and economic backwardness. For instance, in his address at a conference organized by the OIC’s IRCICA on the significance of the Qur’an (a discursive act -and Foucaultian “enunciative modality”- which is itself significant), Erdoğan put the blame for the current crisis in the Muslim World squarely on Muslims themselves, still invoking Islamic sources and history and maintaining the perfection of Islam, however: 

“…In Islamic countries I have seen … extreme poverty, increasing income gap, intolerance, wars, conflicts and terror… Upon witnessing these scenes, I wondered why today’s Muslims are so far away from building the monuments that people will admire and constructing glorious cities, despite the fact that they [Muslims] established countless virtuous cities, and magnificent states and great empires based on the Qur’anic message throughout history… Our profound civilization, which has greatly contributed to humanity, and to the mankind’s common cultural and scientific legacy in history, will one day revert to type and reclaim its well-deserved status on the globe.”32

Furthermore, the emphasis on “democratization” and “common destiny” with the Muslim World, which has been present since 2003, has been intensified with the process of the “Arab Awakening.” This intensification might, together with the economic and cultural integration policies of the last decade (such as the increase in trade volumes, visa exemptions and cultural exchanges with Muslim countries), strengthen the second dimension of the AK Party’s civilizational discourse. 


The Universal Dimension

The third dimension of this discourse entails an emphasis on “universal” values of mankind and its common legacy. Within this framework, the AK Party leadership frequently refers to the “family of mankind” that shares the “common legacy of humanity” as a basis of their argument for the necessity of a global expansion of peace and cooperation. This emphasis becomes visible in their discourses on two particular themes: justice and environmental concerns. Thus, during his address to the 2010 UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun (and at the preceding Preparatory Meeting of Foreign Ministers in New York), Davutoğlu said that participants should “act as the Interior Minister of the entire humanity, rather than as Foreign Ministers of individual nation-states” for the protection of the environment.33

The Turkish government also supports this discourse with a dynamic diplomacy, often taking leading initiatives in international organizations, such as the 5th World Water Forum (Istanbul 2009), the Istanbul European Capital of Culture (2010), the Summit of the Heads of States of South East Europe (Istanbul 2011) and the United Nations Least Developed Countries Conference (Istanbul 2011). Ankara often presents these initiatives as part of its effort to promote global peace and cooperation as well as intercultural and inter-civilizational dialogue. Moreover, these initiatives discursively function as manifestations of Turkey’s increasing role in regional politics and its rising profile in international relations. 

A significant feature of the “universalist” dimension of this discourse is its critical tone, which centers particularly on justice. Despite Turkey’s strong Western orientation (e.g., continuing loyalty to NATO membership and the EU accession process, “model partnership” with the U.S., etc.), criticizing advanced Western countries based on the universal notion of justice constitute an important element of this civilizational discourse. This is particularly evident in Turkish leaders’ criticisms of the double standards applied by Western governments, especially members of the UN Security Council, in the face of humanitarian crises in different countries (e.g., Myanmar, Somalia, Egypt, Iraq and Syria). The AK Party openly criticizes these powerful states’ attitudes, which often take the form of either active support or reluctance (as in the case of Syria), on the basis of such universal concepts as “justice” and “shared humanitarian responsibility.” Davutoğlu recently criticized the UN and Western governments for failing to act properly in Syria, emphasizing the need for acting (again) like the “Interior Ministers of Humanity,” instead of relying on parochial national interests and callous geostrategic calculations.34

By emphasizing the inclusive aspects of this civilizational discourse, the AK Party constructs it on a transnational scale, going beyond the Turkish national identity and borders

Still, Turkish foreign policy’s discourse is not entirely critical toward the West; this third dimension also involves the Turkish government’s desire to improve its relationship with the West in general and the EU in particular. Here the most frequently emphasized discursive elements include the historical relations and cultural exchanges with the West, rooted in the classical Ottoman period in the 15th century, as well mutual economic interdependence, which is often emphasized in the context of trade and natural gas. On the other hand, this non-critical aspect of Turkey’s universalist discourse is crystallized in the case of the “Alliance of Civilizations.” 



Alliance of Civilizations 

The Alliance of Civilizations also represents the discursive layer where the operationalization of “civilization” is most clearly visible in the third dimension of Turkish foreign policy’s discourse. Parallel with the latter’s general characteristics, the utilization of this concept entails flexibility and plurality. For, on the one hand, the UNAOC, which was launched in 2005 as a UN initiative by Erdoğan and former Spanish PM José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has increasingly been framed within this discursive layer, whatever the initial concerns were for Turkey’s involvement. On the other hand, as a more abstract concept, the “alliance of civilizations” is discursively constructed by the Turkish leadership as the main framework of Turkey’s relationships with the EU. Moreover, in both aspects of the concept, one may observe connections with the three dimensions of Turkey’s civilizational discourse. 

First of all, the Alliance of Civilizations initiative, an institution organized under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General and supported by 130 UN member countries, aims “to prevent potential tensions and conflicts among cultures and civilizations,” and is particularly concerned with “tensions that have emerged between Muslim and Western societies” due to post-9/11 Islamophobia.35 Turkey has been actively involved in this initiative, playing leading roles in various projects and committing resources for them. It also frequently figures as a concrete element of Turkey’s emphasis on global cooperation and universal values. For instance, in his address to the UNAOC’s Second Forum, Erdoğan placed Turkey’s efforts for the institution within the larger discursive field of inter-civilizational cooperation: 

“We have wholeheartedly believed that Christian, Islamic and Jewish worlds can understand one another… We have declared against those who push forward the clash of civilizations that alliance of civilizations is possible… We need to foster an understanding that will overcome the ‘us and them’ dichotomy, which is the symbol of polarization. The first step toward this is to enhance tolerance, dialogue and solidarity.”36

Yet, the significance of this element is not confined to the discourse’s third dimension; the Turkish government often presents the UNAOC (and Turkey’s co-founder position) as one of the steps to make Turkey a “global actor” and a “pivotal country” that assumes regional leadership in inter-civilizational relations. In other words, the new Turkish foreign policy discourse frames the UNAOC’s function as connected to the increasing power of Turkey as a nation-state within the first dimension, and to its “leadership role” in the Middle East and Muslim world within the second. For instance, in a recent comment about the UN’s “unjust” structure, Erdoğan inserted the Alliance of Civilizations as a significant discourse particle into his criticism:

“As Alliance of Civilizations I’d like to ask: Does the UN Security Council represent the entire world?… Do its members represent all religious groups in the world? No, they don’t!… If the UN exists for world peace, then it urgently needs reform.”37

On the other hand, Ankara also presents, in a stark contradistinction to previous periods, the concept of “alliance/dialogue/meeting of civilizations” as the main framework of Turkey’s EU accession perspective. This framework fundamentally assumes that the two parties have a non-hierarchical inter-subjectivity and negotiation-centered relationship on an equal ground. The subjects of this relationship (Europe and Turkey) are thus discursively constructed as partners who must respect each other’s civilizational identity and cultural specificity in order to nourish a non-asymmetrical, cooperative relationship, which would be mutually beneficial. A reflection of the increasing self-confidence in Turkish foreign policy, this concept implies that far from being a Third World country hopelessly waiting at the gates of Europe – a common image in previous periods – Turkey is now a strong candidate that desires a partnership (“meeting”) with the EU as an equal subject with its increasingly stronger economy and its “pivotal country” position. Manifestations of such a foreign policy perspective are abundant in the AK Party’s discourse on Turkey’s relations with the EU. For instance, Erdoğan thus explained his government’s EU perspective in an interview with Independent in 2004: 

“Huntington declares that there might be a conflict of civilizations. Turkey is a catalyst to make sure we have harmony of civilizations. It is a bridge between the Islamic world and the rest of the world … [To have] a country like Turkey, where the cultures of Islam and democracy have merged together… will bring harmony of civilizations. That is why we think it is the project of the century. We are there as a guarantee of an entente between the civilizations.”38


Likewise, in 2006 Erdoğan said: 


“We have put forward our most significant mission as alliance of civilizations. We have also argued that otherwise the EU will remain as a Christian club. When Turkey joins the EU, the EU will no longer be remembered as a Christian club. Conversely, it will become a locus of the alliance of civilizations.”39

Turkey’s former Prime Minister (current President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during the Alliance of Civilizations Partners Forum in Istanbul, on May 31, 2012. | AFP / Bülent Kılıç

What we see here is an intertwining of the two elements of the alliance of civilizations concept (the UNAOC and Turkey’s EU membership): the phrase “the project of the century” is the UNAOC’s official slogan. The fact that Erdoğan inserts both meanings simultaneously into one sentence implies that he constructs a subject position for Turkey (and himself) as a representative of a different civilization40 of equal status with his European counterparts at the negotiation table. 

Therefore, it is safe to argue that an essential element of the AK Party government’s critical approach to the EU is a civilizational discourse, which has historical, geographical and cultural dimensions that are often emphasized by Turkish political elites. In fact, this discursive framework might also help explain the increasingly bold claim by members of the Turkish government that Turkey’s EU membership will be more beneficial for EU countries, many of which are in financial crisis, than Turkey itself, which is accompanied by their discursive emphasis on Turkey’s economic and demographic dynamism. 

On the other hand, the concept of an “alliance/dialogue of civilizations” also shows the interlocking of the universal(ist) discursive layer with the others. On the one hand, it assumes a conceptual ground on which universal human values and the “common legacy of the humanity” are of paramount importance; on the other hand, it implies the existence not only of a multi-civilizational world order, both historically and currently, but also of an authentic Turkish-Islamic civilization, which is different (and independent) from that of the West. This concept further implies that Turkey is the most important representative of this authentic civilization, which the Westerners should talk to as a main interlocutor. Therefore, it refers to civilizational pluralism and differences, which are not to be understood as reasons for a civilizational clash, but for a new multi-civilizational world order based on “dialogue,” “cooperation,” and even “alliance.”41

Within this framework, a specific element included in the discourse of the Alliance of Civilizations is that these dialogue and alliance are to be established primarily between the Islamic and Western civilizations, and that their philosophical/ideational foundation is to involve the notions of “family of humanity” and “common destiny,” as Davutoğlu often emphasizes. In this sense, “alliance/dialogue of civilizations” contains the apparent traces of Davutoğlu’s own discourse in his academic studies.42

On the other hand, the three concentric circles of this flexible civilizational discourse bear similarities, in both content and form, with the three intellectual perspectives that were dominant in the late-Ottoman Turkey in the early 20th century: Ottomanism (the idea of the unification of all Ottoman peoples, regardless of religion and ethnicity, under the Ottoman flag), Islamism (the idea of the unification of Muslims under Turkey’s leadership), and “Westernism” (the idea of full integration with the “European civilization”). Though different and rival, these ideologies existed simultaneously and sometimes intermingled with one another. Their traces are also manifested in the AK Party’s discursive strategies, such as making various historical references, emphasizing national values and/or the “common legacy of the humanity,” thereby producing a hybrid discourse, which is not without its internal contradictions. Thus, we often observe the juxtaposition of an emphasis on identity with authentic Islamic civilization and a desire to expand originally Western values, such as democracy and human rights, to the wider Muslim World. 

The emphasis on “democratization” and “common destiny” with the Muslim World, which has been present since 2003, has been intensified with the process of the “Arab Awakening”

Finally, discourse cannot, of course, exist in a vacuum, nor can it live without any ‘actual’ basis formed by political, ideological, economic and military power sources.43 In the case of Turkey’s civilizational foreign policy discourse, these power sources are crystallized in the three main non-discursive factors that help this discourse survive: Turkey’s increasingly strong economy and continuing growth, Erdoğan’s strong leadership and charismatic personality, Davutoğlu’s foreign policy activism and ideological guidance, and Turkey’s military muscle.44 The first factor facilitates Turkey’s supportive attitude toward particular Turkish and Islamic populations, thereby enhancing Turkey’s standing in regional and international platforms. The second helps maintain trust in Ankara’s foreign policy in both Turkey and the Middle East, thereby strengthening the legitimacy of specific policies. Finally, the new “hyper-active” foreign policy paradigm formed around Davutoğlu’s strategic vision and personal dynamism help to constantly expand its horizon to new areas, both geographically and methodologically. When banded together, these three factors either reconcile the potential contradictory elements within the hybrid foreign policy discourse or cover them by emphasizing some elements on certain occasions while ignoring or de-emphasizing others. Consequently, the internal coherence and relative efficacy of Turkey’s civilizational discourse are improved through such an accommodation, or what I call a “meta-discursive strategy.”45 Clearly, however, the ultimate success of this discourse depends on concrete developments and practical results, as any discourse needs to be supported by relevant action in order to be effective. On the other hand, as Foucault emphasizes, discourse is not merely a reflection of “real life;” at the same time, it is one of the essential elements that constitute and shape social reality.46 Thus, to the extent that it is effective, the new Turkish foreign policy civilizational discourse also exemplifies a case of such constitutive character. 



Conclusion: Why Civilizational Discourse? 

I have argued throughout this paper that the AK Party’s general foreign policy approach has been based – at least partly – on a civilizational discourse that is ambiguous but also very flexible. This discourse has been increasingly visible in the speeches of Turkish political elites, particularly Erdoğan and Davutoğlu, for the last decade. I have tried to demonstrate that this discourse consists of three main layers or concentric circles (national, regional and universal), which respectively invoke Turkish history and culture, Islamic history and Middle Eastern geography, and the common legacy and destiny of the humanity. I have examined them by analytically separating them from each other, although in reality they are closely connected and often mixed with one another, which is what makes this discourse vague, flexible and effective. I have also suggested that the AK Party’s discourse of “alliance/dialogue of civilizations” might be better understood if located within the third (universal) layer. Employed by the AK Party leadership both as a main conceptual framework of Turkey’s EU membership process and as a mechanism of intercultural rapprochement through the UNAOC initiative, this discourse and the policies associated with it simultaneously facilitate Turkey’s claim for regional leadership and enhance its relations with the West. We have also observed that the Turkish leadership often backs this discourse with concrete policies through a very dynamic diplomacy to increase the efficiency of this multi-faceted civilizational discourse. 

An essential element of the AK Party government’s critical approach to the EU is a civilizational discourse, which has historical, geographical and cultural dimensions

At this point, it might be useful to briefly discuss the possible factors, in addition to Davutoğlu’s obvious ideological and academic influences, that have led the AK Party leadership to adopt such a civilizational discourse. First of all, processes of globalization and democratization have facilitated the ascendance of the AK Party (and the previous National Outlook tradition), whose members were already familiar with the concept of “civilization.” Debates on civilization have been present in Turkey and the wider Muslim World since the mid-19th century; intellectuals and statesmen from the “Young Ottomans” (e.g., Namık Kemal), Ziya Gökalp and Prince Sabahattin to Necip Fazıl Kısakürek and Sezai Karakoç, and from Jamaluddin al-Afghani to Rashid Rida and Mawdudi, have extensively debated the past, present and future of the Islamic civilization vis-à-vis the West.47 Second, religious middle classes in Turkey have become stronger and more assertive politically and economically with the help of globalization, liberal economic policies and the relatively free political competition, all of which have been growing in Turkey since the early 1980s. In the 1990s, members of this new middle class started seeing themselves as beneficiaries of globalization, rather than victims. Equipped with a newly found but increasing self-confidence during the 2000s, this group began to regard the cultural, economic and political requirements of globalization – including Turkey’s EU membership – with sympathy rather than fear and enmity.48 As Kösebalaban discusses, Europe turned from a Hobbesian “other” (enemy) into a Lockean “other” (rival) for Turkey’s religious middle class in Alexander Wendt’s classification.49

On the other hand, Turkey’s democratization since the 1950s has been advantageous for religious-conservative groups in Turkish politics. Relative relaxation of the public sphere for religious conservatives, particularly in the last three decades, has further enhanced their status and political power, eventually opening the way for their rise to power – first with the Welfare Party (1996), then the AK Party (2002) following the 1997 coup d’état. Kept under constant political, economic and cultural pressure by the Kemalist elites in the name of secularism, these religious-conservative groups have nevertheless made use of “opportunity windows” (in the form of enhanced opportunities for higher education, political participation, trade and business) offered by a relatively democratized milieu.50 For the last decade, moreover, they have been transforming the Turkish political system, which was under the military’s tight control, from within. AK Party leaders initially opted for a Western-oriented foreign policy discourse and practice due to the legitimation problem that they experienced in the eyes of both the Western powers and the local bureaucratic and economic elites. However, with the self-confidence that they developed as a result of their victory over the existing military-bureaucratic tutelage system through various politico-legal battles (particularly the Ergenekon and Balyoz court cases) since 2009, the AK Party leaders have had the opportunity to bring the question of “civilization” to the fore more comfortably. Furthermore, under Davutoğlu’s guidance, this concept has increasingly turned into a “discourse” – a series of systematic, integrated and coherent statements. 

However, there is also a third, external, factor that has contributed to the crystallization of this concept: the regional security context of the Middle East, which has been transformed as a result of the September 11 attacks and the following Iraq War. As the region became critical for the US and other global powers, the Middle East has become one of the two most important dossiers (the other being the EU) in Turkish foreign policy as well. Moreover, the “Arab Spring” has solidified the situation, which is further complicated by the Syrian civil war. As a result, the Middle East has probably gained a more prominent status than EU membership in Turkish foreign policy: Erdoğan, Davutoğlu and the foreign ministry bureaucracy (and consequently the Turkish media) have started spending more time and energy on the region than on the EU. For this reason, the above-mentioned change in the international politico-military context forced Turkish foreign policy to be more focused on the Middle East, thereby making it an issue that the AK Party had to deal with for geopolitical reasons – and not seem to be paying special attention to it for cultural-religious reasons. Consequently, it has expanded the AK Party’s maneuvering capacity and enhanced its discursive transformation in relation to the Middle East, thereby contributing – as an unintended consequence – to the strengthening of the “regional dimension” of Turkey’s FP foreign policy discourse. It is thus with the help of this external factor that TFP Turkish foreign policy has, after a long hiatus caused by the Kemalist ideology and institutions, firmly returned to the Middle East.51

Fourth, this civilizational discourse is fairly rational and quite useful for the AK Party government, for it expands its foreign policy options. Simultaneously invoking both “Eastern” and “Western” cultures, this discourse helps Turkey claim its membership in both the Islamic/Middle Eastern and Western world, while also allowing for an emphasis on Turkish national identity. Furthermore, it forges discursive ground for one of Davutoğlu’s (and increasingly the government’s) central assertions – that Turkey is a “pivotal country” within the Afro-Eurasian geopolitical continent, rather than a “bridge” or a “frontier country” (or Huntington’s “torn country” for that matter) between the East and West. It is on this ground that the AK Party leadership bases Turkey’s claim for being a “regional and global actor.” 

AK Party leaders initially opted for a Western-oriented foreign policy discourse and practice due to the legitimation problem

A fifth factor in this civilizational discourse is an advantage for Turkey in both domestic and international politics. The first two layers of the discourse emphasize the peaceful co-existence and cooperation, both historically and currently, of different ethnic and religious groups within Turkey and the wider Middle East (Arabs, Kurds, Shias, Alevis, Sunnis and Turks) on the one hand, and justify and reclaim Turkey’s territorial integrity and historical depth by invoking the glorious epochs of Turkish history (particularly the Ottoman and Seljuk periods) on the other. On a more practical ground, the discursive synthesis of Turkish, Middle Eastern, Islamic and Western identities and values plays a mitigating function that softens potential criticisms from both domestic and global actors. Therefore, this inclusive discourse carries a positive function for both the legitimacy of the AK Party government and the desired integrity of Turkey and the Middle East.52

Finally, the AK Party leadership also makes an effective use of historical references as part of this multi-faceted discourse. The primary implication of references to such historical turning points as 1071, 1453 and 1923 is that they simultaneously invoke both domestic politics (particularly the issue of territorial and cultural integrity in the context of the Kurdish question) and Turkish foreign policy’s new direction with its more inclusive and cosmopolitan identity.53 Moreover, this discourse makes it possible to establish parallels between the historical co-existence (“brotherhood”) of Turks, Kurds and Arabs in both Turkey and the Middle East on the one hand and Turkish foreign policy’s civilizational orientation on the other. Thus, Erdoğan clearly states that Turkey should play “a leading role” in the construction of “a new civilizational consciousness” in the Muslim World.54 Hence, the AK Party’s somewhat ambiguous, but quite flexible and dynamic civilizational discourse. 




  1. See Said Amir Arjomand and Edward Tiryakian (eds.) Rethinking Civilizational Analysis, (London: Sage, 2004).
  2. The “Davutoğlu vision” may be seen, in addition to his influential work, Strategic Depth, in his various interviews with the media since 2002, when he was appointed as the Chief Advisor to Prime Minister. See “Türk Dış Politikasına Bakış (2002-2003),” Editör Özel, CNN Türk (2004); “Türkiye Küresel Güçtür!” Anlayış (2004); “Dış Politikanın Temel İlkeleri,” Turkishtime (2004); “Türk Dış Politikasında 2006,”Eğrisi Doğrusu Özel, CNN Türk (2006); “Türkiye’nin Stratejik Derinliği ve Gelişmeler,” Enine Boyuna, TRT1 (2007); “Türk Dış Politikasında 2007,” Editör, CNN Türk (2008) –all published in Teoriden Pratiğe Türk Dış Politikası Üzerine Konuşmalar (İstanbul, Küre, 2013); “Turkey’s Foreign Policy Vision: An Assessment of 2007,” Insight Turkey, Vol. 10, No. 1 (2008), pp. 77-96; see also, Davutoğlu, Küresel Bunalım, (Istanbul: Küre, 2002).
  3. Davutoğlu has usually been recognized as the chief architect of Turkey’s “assertive and proactive foreign policy activism” in the last decade. See Şaban Kardaş, “Turkey: Redrawing the Middle East map or building sandcastles?” Middle East Policy, Vol. 17 (2010), pp. 115-136; Ziya Öniş, ‘’Multiple Faces of the “New” Turkish Foreign Policy’’, Insight Turkey, Vol. 13, No. 1 (2011), pp. 47-65; Sabri Çiftçi, “Social Identity and Attitudes Toward Foreign Policy: Evidence from a Youth Survey in Turkey” Int.J. Middle East Studies, Vol. 45 (2013), pp. 27-28. 
  4. Tarık Oğuzlu, “Middle Easternization of Turkey’s Foreign Policy: Does Turkey Dissociate from the West?” Turkish Studies, Vol 9 (2008), pp. 3-20; Michael Rubin, “Shifting Sides? The problems of neo-Ottomanism,” National Review, August 10, 2004, retrieved September 15, 2013,, accessed
  5. Steven A. Cook, “Turkey’s War at Home,” Survival, Vol. 51 (2009), pp. 105-20. 
  6. Ziya Öniş and Şuhnaz Yılmaz, “Between Europeanization and Euro-Asianism: Foreign Policy Activism During the AKP Era,” Turkish Studies, Vol. 10 (2009), pp. 7-24; F. Stephen Larrabee, “Turkey’s New Geopolitics,” Survival, Vol. 52 (2010), pp. 157-80; Şaban Kardaş, ‘’Turkey: redrawing the Middle East map or building sandcastles?”; Henri J. Barkey, “Turkey and the Great Powers,” in Turkey’s Engagement with Modernity: Conflict and Change in the Twentieth Century, ed. Celia Kerslake, Kerem Öktem, and Philip Robins (Oxford: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 239–57; Ziya Öniş,”Multiple Faces of the “New” Turkish Foreign Policy.”
  7. Exceptions to this gap include Burhanettin Duran, “Understanding AK Party’s Identity Politics: A Civilizational Discourse and its Limitations,” Insight Turkey, Vol. 15, No. 1 (2013), pp. 91-109; Ali Balcı and Nebi Miş, “Turkey’s Role in the Alliance of Civilizations: A New Perspective in Turkish Foreign Policy?” Turkish Studies, Vol. 9 (2008), pp. 387-406. 
  8. Balcı and Miş provide a similar reading of Turkey’s position in terms of a civilizational perspective (see Idem, “Turkey’s Role in the Alliance of Civilizations”) whereas Ramazan Kılınç sees it in terms of norm adoption as a survival strategy focusing on domestic factors (see Kılınç, “Turkey and the Alliance of Civilizations: Norm Adoption as a Survival Strategy.” Insight Turkey, Vol. 11, No. 3 (2009), pp. 57-75. 
  9. See Pierre Bourdieu, “Social Space and Symbolic Power,” Sociological Theory, Vol. 7 (1989), pp. 20-23; Idem, Language and Symbolic Power, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993). 
  10. Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge (trans. S. Smith, London: Tavistock, 1972): 57-64. See also Idem, “Truth and Power: an Interview with Alessandro Fontano and Pasquel Pasquino” in M. Morris and P. Patton eds. Michel Foucault: Power/Truth/Strategy (Sydney: Feral, 1979): 29-48; “Powers and Strategies: Interview between Michel Foucault and Revoltes Logiques Collective” Ibid: 49-58. 
  11. Though this discourse has been intensified since 2009, Erdoğan and then-FM Abdullah Gül occasionally adopted this discourse previously (see e.g. Gül’s speech at the 30th Session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers on May 28, 2003, and Erdoğan’s speech at the American Enterprise Institute on January 29, 2004, both cited in Balcı and Miş, “Turkey’s Role in the Alliance of Civilizations” p. 388).
  12. Henri Barkey and Larrabee argue that Turkey’s recent foreign policy activism was a rational strategy to adapt to the changing international context with no serious signs of abandoning its Western-oriented tradition, whereas Ziya Öniş and Şuhnaz Yılmaz labels the AK Party’s first term (2002-2007) as “Europeanization” and its second term as “loose Europeanization and soft Euro-Asianism.” See Henri J. Barkey, “Turkish Foreign Policy in the Middle East,” CERI Strategy Papers 10 (2011), (accessed July 20, 2013); Larrabee, “Turkey’s New Geopolitics”; Ziya Öniş and Şuhnaz Yılmaz, “Between Europeanization and Euro-Asianism: Foreign Policy Activism During the AK Party Era.” For a detailed analysis of the notion of “Europeanization” in TFP and its reflections in Turkey’s Middle East policy, see Mesut Özcan, Harmonizing Foreign Policy: Turkey, the EU and the Middle East (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008). 
  13. Duran, “Understanding AK Party’s Identity Politics,” 94. 
  14. For the text of Erdoğan’s speech, see; see also Duran, ‘’Understanding AK Party’s Identity Politics,” 93. 
  15. See AK Parti 2023 Siyasi Vizyonu: Siyaset, Toplum, Dünya (30 Eylül 2012),, accessed 4 January 2013. Here 2023 refers to the centenary of the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, and 2071 to the millenary of the arrival of the Turks in Anatolia/Asia Minor. One should note that this new civilizational discourse also represents an alternative vision among the competing domestic and foreign policy orientations in Turkey, such as liberal-Westernism and secular nationalism. However, it is beyond the confines of this article to discuss these orientations.
  16. Duran (“Understanding AK Party’s Identity Politics”) is the first to pay attention to these three layers in the AK Party’s civilizational discourse. His examination covers, however, more of domestic politics than Turkish foreign policy discourse. Furthermore, the second layer in Duran’s classification entails the Middle East only, rather than the entire Muslim World. Moreover, his study is based on a brief textual examination of Erdoğan’s statements in connection with the AK Party’s political struggles with domestic and foreign power actors, rather than a thorough discourse analysis. Finally, Duran’s examination does not involve the concept (and institution) of “Alliance of Civilizations” that is an integral part of the AK Party’s civilizational discourse. Despite these limitations, however, his examination is quite useful to understand the AK Party government’s current discourse. 
  17. See
    konusmasinin-tam-metni/31771, accessed January 4, 2013. 
  18. See e.g. Cemalettin Haşimi, “Turkey’s Humanitarian Diplomacy and Development Cooperation” Insight Turkey, Vol. 16, No. 1 (2014 ), pp. 127-141. 
  19. See e.g., accessed September 29, 2013. 
  20. Duran (“Understanding AK Party’s Identity Politics,” 94) correctly calls these efforts “Islamic solidarity politics.”
  21. See e.g. Kemal Kirişci, “Turkey’s ‘Demonstrative Effect’ and the Transformation of the Middle East,” Insight Turkey, Vol. 13, No. 2 (2011), pp. 33-55; Žarko Petrović and Dušan Reljic, “Turkish Interests and Involvement in the Western Balkans: A Score-Card,” Insight Turkey, Vol. 13, No. 3 (2011), pp. 159-172; Mehmet Ekinci, “A Golden Age of Relations: Turkey and the Western Balkans During the AK Party Period,” Insight Turkey, Vol. 16, No. 1 (2014), pp. 103-125; Emre Erşen, “Geopolitical Codes in Davutoğlu’s Views toward the Middle East,” Insight Turkey, Vol. 16, No. 1 (2014), pp. 85-101. Erdoğan’s recent statement offering Turkey’s condolences to Armenians for the 1915 massacres, which marks a significant change in Turkey’s attitude toward the issue, is also a clear instance of the civilizational discourse
  22. See Davutoğlu, Teoriden Pratiğe Türk Dış Politikası Üzerine Konuşmalar (pp. 16-39) for a discussion on the principles guiding the new Turkish foreign policy. For a useful summary of the main concepts that shape Ankara’s foreign policy based on the Strategic Depth doctrine, see Ali Balcı and Murat Yeşiltaş, “AK Parti Dönemi Türk Dış Politikası Sözlüğü: Kavramsal Bir Harita” Bilgi, 23 (Winter 2011): 9-34; see also Şaban Kardaş, “From Zero Problems to Leading the Change: Making Sense of Transformation in Turkey’s Regional policy,” TEPAV-ILPI Turkey Policy Brief Series, 5 (2012) for an overview of Turkey’s oft-discussed “zero problems” policy. 
  23. Ahmet Davutoğlu, “Büyük Restorasyon: Kadim’den Küreselleşmeye Yeni Siyaset Anlayışımız” March 15, 2013., accessed October 12, 2013. 
  24. Ibid
  25. “Ahmet Davutoğlu’ndan pilotların son durumlarıyla ilgili açıklama,” October 19, 2013,, accessed October 20, 2013.
  26. “PM Erdoğan calls on Islamic scholars for regional unity” July 17, 2014,, accessed July 17, 2014. 
  27. “PM Erdoğan: Turkey is Kosovo and Kosovo is Turkey” October 24, 2013,, accessed October 25, 2013. The Turkish leadership is also careful to stress that Turkey’s interest in the Balkans does not stem from any “neo-Ottomanist ambitions” but Turkey’s “historical and cultural depth” in the region. (See e.g., Davutoğlu’s statements in an interview with a Bosnian journalist: “Davutoglu: ‘I’m Not a Neo-Ottoman,’” April 26, 2011,, accessed October 25, 2013.) The Balkan case further complicates Turkey’s civilizational discourse because it is quite inclusive and accommodative as it reserves room for non-Muslim, as well as Muslim, peoples of the region, including Serbs, Croatians and Bulgarians, by invoking common history and “cultural depth.” The Balkans as an object of Turkish foreign policy discourse thus represents the boundaries of this discourse – by simultaneously signifying these boundaries and blurring them. 
  28. See Ahmet Davutoğlu, “Turkey’s Mediation: Critical Reflections From the Field,” Middle East Policy, Vol. 20 (2013), pp. 83-90; Bülent Aras, “Turkey’s Mediation and Friends of Mediation Initiative,” SAM Papers, 4 (2012). 
  29. See Ali Balcı, Türkiye Dış Politikası: İlkeler, Aktörler, Uygulamalar (İstanbul: Etkileşim, 2013) for an overview of traditional Turkish foreign policy. The AK Party’s vision and practices are also different than those of the Erbakan government, which essentially aimed to make Turkey a “leader country” in the Muslim World. Unlike the AK Party, moreover, it failed to integrate its foreign policy with domestic politics (political and economic structures and relations with the military). For an account of the foreign policy vision of Erbakan’s Refah (Welfare) Party government, see Ziya Öniş, “The Political Economy of Islamic Resurgence in Turkey: The Rise of the Welfare Party in Perspective,” Third World, Vol. 18, No. 4 (1997); cf. Mehran Kamrava, “Pseudo-Democratic Politics and Populist Possibilities: The Rise and Demise of Turkey’s Refah Party,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 25, No. 2 (1998), pp. 275-301. 
  30. “Gannuşi: Türkiye, İslam aleminin tam kalbinde” December 30, 2012,, accessed March 14, 2013. 
  31. Michael Rubin, “Shifting Sides? The problems of neo-Ottomanism,” National Review, August 10, 2004, accessed September 15, 2013. 
  32. “Başbakan: Suçlu biziz Kur’an’ı anlamadık” September 5, 2010,, accessed September 15, 2013. Note also that the term “virtuous city” is a central theme in the political philosophy of the famous 10th-century Islamic philosopher al-Farabi and the title of his well-known book. The glorification of Islamic civilization with reference to the historical achievements of Muslims in science and arts (and urban development) at an academic conference mostly attended by Islamic scholars is quite significant in terms of manifesting Erdoğan’s inspirations. Though probably not directly connected to this, Davutoğlu too makes references to al-Farabi (and other Muslim scholars) quite frequently in his earlier, more philosophical, works (e.g., Davutoğlu, Alternative Paradigms: The impact of Islamic and Western Weltanschauungs on political theory (University Press of America, 1994). 
  33. “Dışişleri Bakanı Sayın Ahmet Davutoğlu’nun Dünya Kadınlar Haftası Vesilesiyle Türkiye İş Kadınları Derneği Tarafından Düzenlenen Toplantıda Yaptıkları Konuşma, 9 Mart 2013, İstanbul”, accessed March 14, 2013. 
  34. Davutoğlu: Tarih hepimizi yargılayacak” March 8, 2013, accessed March 14, 2013. 
  35. Alliance of Civilizations Second National Implementation Plan Turkey, nd., p. 8. See also, accessed March 15, 2013. 
  36. “Erdoğan, dünyaya Mevlana dizeleriyle mesaj verdi” April 6, 2009,, accessed March 16, 2013. 
  37. “Başbakandan BM’ye kritik soru,” February 27, 2013,
    823641-basbakandan-bmye-kritik-soru, accessed July 11, 2013. Note the ambiguous use of the term “alliance of civilizations” here. 
  38. “The Monday Interview: Prime Minister of Turkey” Independent, December 13, 2004. 
  39. “Kadına karşı ayrımcılık ırkçılık kadar tehlikeli” Yeni Şafak, January 29, 2006,, accessed March 16, 2013. 
  40. Whether this “different civilization” refers to an “Eastern” or specifically a “Turkish-Islamic” one is left unclear, of course, in line with the intrinsic vagueness of this discourse. 
  41. Talha Köse correctly observes that the UNAOC’s “action-oriented agenda and practical environment conducive to flexible, interactive and reflexive interaction” offer an important potential to create “spheres of dialogic interaction” (SODIs) to overcome inter-civilizational conflicts. See Köse, “The Alliance of Civilizations: Possibilities of Conflict Resolution at the Civilizational Level” Insight Turkey, vol. 11 no. 3 (2009): 91. From a conflict-resolution perspective, Köse also explores the possibility of an alternative conceptual ground to help manage existing inter-civilizational conflicts based on the concepts of “cultural violence” and “dialogue of civilizations” vis-à-vis the Huntingtonian “clash of civilizations,” citing the “Alliance of Civilizations” project as an important venue for the realization of such an approach. See Köse, “From Cultural Violence to Dialogue of Civilizations: A Critical Examination of the Conceptual Toolbox” in Global Orders and Civilizations (ed. by Sadik Ünay, Muzaffer Senel, Nova Science, 2009): 354. 
  42. For an examination of Davutoğlu’s discourse of civilization in his academic work, see Nurullah Ardıç “Modernite, Kimlik, Siyaset: Ahmet Davutoğlu’nun Medeniyet Söylemi” in Stratejik Zihniyet: Kuramdan Eyleme Stratejik Derinlik , eds. T. Köse, A. Okumuş, B. Duran, İstanbul, Küre, (forthcoming).
  43. For a sophisticated theorization of these four sources of power, see Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power, vol 1 (New York: Cambridge UP, 1986), particularly ch. 1.
  44. A full analysis of Turkey’s military muscle is beyond the scope of this article. 
  45. I use the concept of “meta-discursive strategy” to refer to a general discursive strategy that connects and/or brings together all specific discursive strategies (in the Foucaultian sense) within a general framework. See Nurullah Ardıç, Islam and the Politics of Secularism: The Caliphate and Middle Eastern Modernization in the Early 20th Century (London and New York: Routledge, 2012), pp. 35-36 for an explication of the concept of “meta-discursive strategy.” 
  46. Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge, p. 64. 
  47. For a useful discussion on these debates, see İsmail Kara, Türkiye’de İslamcılık Düşüncesi (Istanbul: Dergah, 1986) and Cemil Aydın, “Between Occidentalism and the Global Left: Islamist Critiques of the West in Turkey” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Vol. 26, No. 3 (2006), pp. 446-461. 
  48. See Nurullah Ardıç, “Friend or Foe? Globalization and Turkey at the Turn of the 21st Century,” Journal of Economic and Social Research, 11 (2009) for an account of globalization and its effects on Turkey; see Nurullah Ardıç and Sevinç Alkan Özcan (eds.) Küyerel Dönüşümler: Küreselleşme, Zihniyet, Siyaset, Politics (İstanbul: Küre, 2012) for a collection of articles that examine this issue from different angles. 
  49. Hasan Kösebalaban, Turkish Foreign Policy: Islam, Nationalism, and Globalization (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) pp. 18-19; Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).
  50. Kösebalaban, “The Rise of Anatolian Cities and the Failure of Modernization Paradigm,” Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 16, No. 3 (2007). 
  51. See also Hasan Kösebalaban, “Globalization and the Crisis of Authoritarian Modernization in Turkey,” Insight Turkey, Vol. 11, No. 4 (2009), pp. 77-97. 
  52. Duran (“Understanding AK Party’s Identity Politics,” pp. 93-95) argues that this discourse primarily allows the AK Party to accommodate the three challenges that it has been facing since 2002: the “Islamic past,” “Kemalism’s legacy” and “regional power balances.” 
  53. As Duran (“Understanding AK Party’s Identity Politics,” p. 94) argues, these historical references are also functional in terms of forging an identity for the AK Party itself. 
  54. R. Tayyip Erdoğan, Küresel Barış Vizyonu (İstanbul: Meydan, 2012), p. 23.

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