Türkiye successfully conducted both presidential and parliamentarian elections on May 14, the second elections since the change of the governmental system, so completing yet another election process without encountering significant issues. The People’s Alliance led by AK Party has secured the majority in the legislative body, the Grand National Assembly of Türkiye. Although President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came first in the first round of the presidential elections, he could not pass the 50 percent threshold. President Erdoğan received 52 percent of the votes after the runoff elections on May 28. Thus, both President Erdoğan and AK Party, which has won all general elections since 2002, are continuing in the task of ruling the country for the next five years.
Both Turkish and foreign observers and officials have attached great importance to these elections. Some even claimed that this year the Turkish elections are the most important globally due to the implications for international politics. However, it is crucial to emphasize that a significant number of Western media outlets and experts, influenced by their inclination to envision a Türkiye without Erdoğan, were unable to accurately forecast and analyze the election outcomes. In certain instances, they even launched direct attacks on Turkish democracy and President Erdoğan. Nevertheless, the election results, which genuinely reflect the national will, served as a profound lesson for all, highlighting the importance of recognizing and respecting the democratic choices made by the Turkish people. Yet the discussions surrounding the election results and their potential impact on Türkiye, its foreign policy, and the broader international political landscape are well-founded.
There are several expectations from President Erdoğan and his government for the next five years. First of all, President Erdoğan and the AK Party government will consolidate and institutionalize the new governmental system that was introduced after the 2016 July 15 coup attempt, one of the main turning points in the recent history of the country. Although there are high expectations that the Erdoğan government will make some revisions within the new political system, there is no chance to return to a parliamentarian system, which was the main promise of the opposition during the election campaign.
Second, the current Turkish foreign policy orientation will be consolidated and institutionalized. In recent years, Türkiye has been following a relatively independent and Ankara-centered foreign policy orientation. Türkiye has abandoned its Western-oriented foreign policy orientation and diversified its foreign relations. In an interview with the press during his first foreign visit since his re-election on May 28, 2023, President Erdoğan has clearly underlined Türkiye’s diversified foreign policy understanding. He has pointed out that Türkiye, which pursues the policy of balance based on national interests, is close to both the West and the East.
Third, with the separation of internal and external security after the change of the governmental system, the two inward looking security institutions, namely the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), have experienced a large-scale transformation. Thus, TSK and MİT have become real foreign policy actors and begun playing a more effective role in foreign policy issues, especially in the protection of the country’s national security against external threats and in the struggle against anti-Turkish terrorist organizations deployed in different countries.
Since then, Türkiye has been taking more initiatives in foreign policy issues as a result of high-level harmony between these security institutions and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Furthermore, under the leadership of President Erdoğan, this large-scale harmony among foreign policy actors has enabled Türkiye to mobilize hard and soft power at the same time, which is an indication of Türkiye’s high-level capacity and its strategic autonomy.
Fourth, with the increase of the number of foreign policy actors, after the introduction and transformation of some state institutions, Türkiye has increased its effectiveness in international politics. Governmental institutions such as the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA), the Presidency of Turks Abroad and related Communities (YTB), Yunus Emre Institute (YEE), and Turkish Maarif Foundation have begun to play effective roles in the foreign policy field. Diversification in foreign policy actors is an indication of Türkiye’s autonomous foreign policy orientation. Türkiye has been deploying different foreign policy actors in different issue areas.
President Erdoğan has declared that Türkiye will prioritize security policy for the next five years. By mobilizing hard, smart and soft powers of the country and also by activating different foreign policy actors, Türkiye will follow an integrated foreign policy understanding. The main responsibility of the new government will be the protection of Türkiye’s national interests and the provision of peace and stability in its regions. Türkiye, which opposes the return of a polarized world politics, is determined to use diplomatic means and take initiatives in the resolution on international crises.
President Erdoğan and his new government will continue to attach great importance to its relations with the Western countries and to the NATO alliance. However, Türkiye expects the alliance to take more effective counterterrorism measures and the Western countries not to safeguard anti-Turkish terrorist organizations. Türkiye will continue to have a bilateral relationship with the West based on equal partnership. The new government will push for visa liberalization and updating the customs union in its relations with the European Union.
One the one hand, Türkiye is determined to improve and enhance its relations with other Turkish states, especially with Azerbaijan. Following the signing of a military alliance after the Second Karabakh War, its bilateral relations with Azerbaijan are unique. Türkiye will continue to strive for the further integration of the Turkish world. On the other hand, Türkiye will continue its efforts to bring peace and stability to its regions. The Erdoğan government is determined to continue the normalization process with other regional countries in the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Eastern Mediterranean.
To sum up, Türkiye is determined to consolidate its strategic autonomy, to play a leadership and stabilizer role in its regions, and to improve its relations with all countries in the world. The main priorities of Türkiye are the protection and maximization of its national interests, the promotion of the normalization processes, and the formation of a Turkish axis in the near future. Türkiye expects to achieve these objectives with its strong infrastructure, manufacturing industry, self-reliance in the defense industry, and strategic investments in the energy sector, among others. Thus, it will be possible to make an effective start for the vision which has been called ‘Century of Türkiye.’
With that being said, the forthcoming issue of Insight Turkey, building upon the previous edition that delved into Türkiye’s domestic affairs and the upcoming general elections, strives to shed light on Türkiye’s foreign policy while providing a thorough analysis of past general elections. Within this context, the current issue presents a comprehensive compilation of four expert comments and four research articles focusing on the subject matter. Additionally, it broadens the scope by including one off-topic comment and three off-topic research articles, thus enriching the range of topics covered.
Our commentary section starts with Talha Köse’s valuable contribution that tackles the relations between Türkiye and the West, in particular with the EU. Emphasizing that President Erdogan’s re-election in the 2023 general elections is considered an unexpected development in Europe and many Western countries, Köse argues that this state of surprise stems from the misinformation of decision-makers and the public in Türkiye and the West by “experts” and “pollsters.” For this reason, the European states, who thought that the Table of Six would come to power, suspended their relations with Türkiye until the elections, while the post-election Erdoğan victory encouraged the European states to congratulate Türkiye’s leader and accept the result as soon as possible. Köse states that various media outlets and think tanks in Europe have taken a more balanced stance against the Turkish president after treating him as an enemy for the last six months, and argues that this situation has started a new era in Türkiye-Europe relations.
As the Russia-Ukraine war continues, NATO enlargement remains one of the most important topics in the West. In this context, Arif Bağbaşlıoğlu focuses on NATO-Türkiye relations through the lenses of the enlargement policy by focusing especially on the case of Sweden and Finland. The author expresses Ankara’s stance and cautious attitude towards Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership applications and also emphasizes that Türkiye has been generally a supporter of NATO’s enlargement policies and that NATO’s decision-making process positively affects Türkiye’s relations with candidate countries.
In our next commentary, Valeria Giannotta provides an overview of Western media perception of the general election of Türkiye. Gionnotta emphasizes that the Western media included news that was distorted and created a false perception in the general elections in Türkiye, especially in the first round, that it was a biased reading based on ideological connotations and aimed to influence the result of the vote. She continues that the election results should be seen as a lesson on how to look at Türkiye, its government, and its people, and therefore produce more accurate and authentic information, rejecting all kinds of superficial foresight and manipulation attempts. On the other hand, Bünyamin Bezci evaluates in detail the May 2023 elections and the reasons that secured the victory of President Erdoğan and the failure of the opposition. According to Bezci, the most important factor that contributed to President Erdoğan’s victory has been the popular appreciation of his deeds and performance.
This issue centers on Turkish foreign policy, and within it, Burhanettin Duran and Kemal İnat present a research article that offers a comprehensive framework for a deeper understanding of the subject. Their article delves into the intricacies of Turkish foreign policy, addressing both regional and global challenges that it encounters. Duran and İnat argue that Türkiye took advantage of the deepening competition between global powers under the AK Party to part ways with its traditional foreign policy tradition and pursue a more independent foreign policy. Accordingly, the country expanded its economic and military capacity significantly during the relevant period to make possible the policy of balance between the West, Russia, and China. Following up, Muhidin Mulalić and Mirsad Karić, focusing on Turkish foreign policy in the Balkans, apply Ulrich Beck’s theory of cosmopolitanism, reflexivity, and risk on Türkiye’s diplomatic relations with the Western Balkans countries.
In our next research article, Adnan Özdemir aims to investigate the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on the foreign trade volume of Türkiye. Özdemir’s article discusses the effect of the Russia-Ukraine war on the tourism and contracting sectors, which make the most positive contribution to Türkiye’s current account deficit and are at the forefront of the economic sectors. On the other hand, Laçin İdil Öztığ takes a distinct approach to Turkish foreign policy by focusing on neighboring countries. Her research paper compares Türkiye’s position on the Azerbajani-Armenian conflicts and discusses its impacts and implications in the context of regional dynamics. In this article comparing the strategies implemented by Türkiye in foreign policy by evaluating the first and second Karabakh wars, Öztığ claimed that Türkiye’s support to Azerbaijan in the first Karabakh war was seen as insufficient to change the course of the war, while it played a more assertive role in the second Karabakh war.
In an off-topic commentary, Gökhan Çınkara and Batu Çoşkun analyze the Abraham Accords, the subsequent diplomatic initiatives and efforts to create a security umbrella through regional geopolitical shifts, and ideological transformations. The authors state that the main factors behind the emergence of the Abraham Accords were elite preferences in the Persian Gulf, rising nationalism, and the quest for permanent political stability sought by the constituents of the Gulf society. According to Çınkara and Çoşkun, the Abraham Accords is one of the most significant geopolitical developments in the Middle East in this decade.
Our spring issue is enriched with three off-topic research articles, expanding the breadth of our coverage. One of these articles, authored by Sarmad Ali Khan and Saira Nawaz Abbasi, delves into the contemporary understanding of warfare in the 21st century, which evolves alongside advancing technologies. Specifically, they address the pressing subject of cyber warfare and its role in unconventional strategic competition. The authors, who claim that the U.S. and China are in competition in every domain, argue that cyberspace is militarized and reveals it as the fifth battleground. According to Khan and Abbasi, cyber campaigns developed by Beijing and Washington for various targets cause a cyber arms race between the two countries. Tunç Demirtaş aims to analyze the Tigray crisis in Ethiopia based on the policies of global and regional powers in the context of the African neo-colonial order and emphasizes that although the colonial system has ended in the international system, the power struggle in Africa continues through neo-colonialism. Last but not least, Ersin Aksoy and Aytaç Kadıoğlu focus on the integration dynamics in the case of Iraqi refugees in Syria. Aiming to analyze barriers to integration by addressing geographic proximity, cultural threat, acceptance processes, political rent, and limited economic resources, the authors evaluate the refugee flow from Iraq to Syria since the 2003 Iraq War in their research papers to understand the impact of these factors.
As we witnessed one of the most significant elections –both for Türkiye and the world– on the centennial of the Turkish Republic’s founding, Insight Turkey proudly presents a special issue that meticulously evaluates the elections and examines how Türkiye’s foreign policy will be shaped in their aftermath. Through this special edition, our aim is to offer our readers a comprehensive analysis of Turkish foreign policy, while outlining the implications of the election results in this regard.