Photo: The Armenian Reporter

Amid attempts to establish relations with Armenia and further its influence in much of the Middle East, Turkey has a new Minister of Foreign Affairs: Ahmet Davutoglu.

In the words of The New York Times:

In a major cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, Ahmet Davutoglu, the official who has shifted Turkish foreign policy toward a greater focus on the Middle East, was made foreign minister. Mr. Davutoglu previously served as a foreign policy adviser to the prime minister.


According to the Turkey-based Hurriyet, “Ahmed Davutoğlu advocates a foreign policy based on ‘zero problems with neighbors’ in line with what he terms the Ottoman identity of Turkey’s past.”

While ‘zero problems with neighbors’ suggests normalizing relations with Armenia – which has been blockaded by Turkey for almost all of its post-USSR existence – Davutoglu may not be the moderate some media make him to be.

In fact, Foreign Policy makes the claim that Turkey is attempting to become a cultural hegemon in the Islamic world and a regional power in the ancient Ottoman boundaries:

…Not only is Turkey sending emissaries throughout the region, but a new vogue for all things Turkish has emerged in neighboring countries. The Turkish soap opera Noor, picked up by the Saudi-owned MBC satellite network and dubbed in Arabic, became a runaway hit, reaching some 85 million viewers across the Middle East. Many of the growing number of tourists from Arab countries visiting Istanbul are making pilgrimages to locations featured in the show. In February, Asharq Alawsat, a pan-Arab newspaper based in London, took note of changing attitudes in a widely circulated column, ‘The Return of the Ottoman Empire?’

The article calls now-Foreign Affairs Minister Davutoglu the person behind “neo-Ottomanism:”

The mastermind of this turnaround—‘neo-Ottomanism,’ as some in Turkey and the Middle East are calling it—has been Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister’s chief foreign-policy advisor. In his 2001 book, Strategic Depth, he argued that in running away from its historical ties in the region, Turkey was also running away from political and economic opportunity. His strategy has paid off, literally, for Turkey. Trade with the country’s eight nearest neighbors—including Syria, Iran, and Iraq—nearly doubled between 2005 and 2008, going from $7.3 billion to $14.3 billion. And, from being on the verge of war with Syria a decade ago, Ankara is now among Damascus’s closest allies in the region […].

Nationalism is nothing new in Turkey. Yet for much of the last century, it has meant rejecting the country’s Ottoman history. Today it means claiming it.

Is solving the problem with Armenia – the darkest spot of the imperial heritage – the return to the future of Ottomanism for Turkey?

Whatever the case, the Armenian issue is a priority for “neo-Ottomanism.” In fact, it was Davutoglu himself who perhaps convinced President Obama, despite latter’s adamant stance up to that point, not to use the g-word while talking about the Armenian Genocide. As the Armenian Reporter detailed in March 2009:

Ahmet Davutoglu, senior foreign policy advisor to Turkish leaders, last week met with U.S. officials to discuss President Barack Obama’s visit to Ankara and Istanbul on April 5-7.

After meeting Mr. Obama’s national security advisor Jim Jones on March 19, Mr. Davutoglu told Reuters that he could not say what the Obama administration’s intentions were with regard to the president’s pre-election pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide […]

Mr. Davutoglu suggested that U.S.-Turkey relations were ‘in a historic era where our policies are almost identical on all issues,’ Associated Press reported him as saying on March 19. He added that the Armenian Genocide issue ‘could be debated from a historical perspective, but should not hijack the strategic vision of Turkish-American relations or Turkish-Armenian relations.’


During a visit to Washington shortly before the presidential elections, Mr. Davutoglu insisted that Turkey wants ‘to have best relations with Armenia,’ and ‘good relations’ with Armenians in the diaspora.

Davutoglu comes across as a moderate, but was he appointed to this position because he was able to convince Obama not to use the g-word?

Much of the discussion about the recent development of Turkish-Armenian relations has been about ‘strategic culture.’ That is, annalists look at foreign policy as a dynamics of internal and external developments: how societal moods – in this case nationalism – reflect or shape discussions, how leaders make decisions based on national interest as defined or contested by different groups, etc. More importantly, questions of whether Turks or Armenians are “honest” in the developments or whether a piece is “really possible” amid the history of genocide are often raised. Culture, and its implications on policy, are taken for granted.

It is common for foreign policy analysis to think of state actions as a “group” action, deeply reflective of domestic change or conflict. Much of this may be true for the Armenian-Turkish developments, given that more Turkish citizens seem to be open to dialogue, that Turkey wants to broaden its influence in the region, and that Armenia seeks a more economic viable future. All of the above, and other factors, are true, but strategic culture creates stereotypes, homogenizes governments, and leaves little room for change. Armenians talk whether they should trust “the Turks,” vice versa.

Individuals like Ahmet Davutoglu seem to be influential and leading the charge. He is, what researchers call, a goal-driven leader who clearly has a vision of making Turkey an uncontested regional power – even if such an attempt includes normalizing relations with ancient foe Armenia. But Turkish leaders, for that matter leaders of regional-hegemon-wanna-bes, are commonly instrumentalist – using nationalism to advance their often personal goals. It remains to be seen whether Davutoglu will be willing and able to broker an opening of the Armenian-Turkish border, which will hopefully open the door for Turkey to face its past in order to have a better future.

Perhaps it is in the interests of ‘neo-Ottomanism’ to recognize the Armenian Genocide?