When World War I ended, the United Kingdom and France occupied numerous countries in Africa and Asia, most notably the vast lands of the shattered Ottoman Empire. Beginning with the Industrial Revolution, the domination of Western Europe over the globe concluded with a process of rapid colonization. Controlling much of southeastern Europe, western Asia and northern Africa for almost six centuries, the Ottoman Empire shrank back into its own Anatolian shell by the end of World War I.
Although Turkey immediately won its war of independence against occupying powers, Turkey and Afghanistan were the only independent countries among the Muslim countries. After the end of World War II, the Muslim world achieved its independence from Western colonialism. Nonetheless, most of these countries have remained dependent upon Western powers not only in financial, technological or administrative terms but also psychologically.
After the end of the Cold War, the unipolar hegemony of the United States did not last long and a multipolar balance of power begun to dominate in the international arena. While the economic competition between the U.S. and China escalated, President Donald Trump denounced the U.S.' role of "global policeman" during the post-Cold War era.
In this new multipolar world order, the Syrian crisis served as a litmus test for measuring the strength and diplomatic influence of global and regional players in the international arena. At the beginning of the Syrian civil war, Turkey hastily and somewhat recklessly got involved in the Syrian crisis at the direction of former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
As a member state of NATO, Turkey got involved in the Syrian crisis as an ally of the U.S. However, during the course of the Syrian civil war, it was clearly seen that the interests of the U.S. were not congruent with those of Turkey. The inefficient and confused policies of the Obama administration in the Syrian crisis enabled not only Iran to extend its control in the region but also Russia to come back to the world stage as a superpower.
As Ankara began to pursue an independent foreign policy in Syria, Turkey had the chance to test its emerging status as a regional power. In the Palestine question, Turkey did not abstain from going head to head with Israel, the principal ally of the U.S. in the Middle East. After years of tension, diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel have recently made a new start under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Terrorist organizations arose as a serious obstacle to Turkey’s emergence as a regional power. Penetrating into the state structure for decades, the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) attempted to overthrow the civilian Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government with a coup d’etat. Thanks to the widespread support of the Turkish people, the attempted coup d’etat promptly failed.
In its war against terror, Turkey launched massive police and military operations against Daesh both within and across its borders. In fact, Turkey was the first country to wipe out Daesh from the Syrian lands. Similarly, Turkey’s military operations against the YPG/PKK in Iraq and Syria eliminated their political agenda of dividing these countries and establishing a new state.
During the course of the Syrian crisis, Turkey succeeded in cooperating with Iran and Russia despite a number of occasions when Turkey and Russia came face to face on the battlefield.
Although the U.S. provided significant political and military support to the YPG/PKK in Syria, Turkey succeeded in expeling these terrorists from its borders.
While Turkey proved its status as a regional power in the Eastern Mediterranean with its intervention into the Libyan crisis, a massive military operation has recently begun in northern Iraq against the PKK. This is not only a military move but also a sophisticated strategic message.
Being a regional power requires Turkey both act proactively on the battlefield and conduct diplomatic relations with a multidimensional perspective. It seems that Turkey has already broken its shell of inertia as a regional power.
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