International Relations Turkey
Sinem Akgul-Acikmese, Inan Ruma
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 November 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0309


Turkey is a country that has been the outcome of domestic and global political, economic, societal challenges over two thousand years of massive transformations, from the nomadic Asian steppe to the Mediterranean agrarian world, to Islam, and to modernity, as well as from the cosmopolitan Ottoman ruling class to the modern Turkish nationalist elite and, recently, globalization and identity politics. Turkey’s history has been marked by confusion about the Ottoman Empire, which has been viewed as too European/Roman to be considered distinctly Asian and too Eastern to be considered European. Its successful centuries-long rule in Southeastern Europe has been a matter of curiosity, as has its turbulent modernization, which started pretty soon after the French Revolution. Its heir, the Turkish Republic, has been a typical modern state in accordance with the European political geography. Yet another recurrent theme has perhaps been the curious paradox of strong state and low state capacity. No matter whether foreign or domestic policy, economy or politics, history or present-day, (self-)perceptions and studies have oscillated between a strong Turkish state and its lower capacity on such issues as institutions, identity cleavages, class, gender, regional inequalities, protracted poverty and deprivation, and so on. Turkey has often been thought of as a latecomer to modern development, and this tension of missing and catching universal development has often been a recurrent theme since the Ottoman modernization in the 1830s or the proud new Republic’s substantial reforms in the 1920s, and at a level ranging from everyday life conversations to the highest level of official discourse. The political elite have often failed in state-society relations, but the country has often been subject to discussions on democratic consolidation; the economy has often been unstable, but it is still a member of the G20. In sum, the Republic of Turkey has been but one manifestation of world history: a modern state heir to a universal agrarian empire that disappeared like its fellows, a swift authoritarian modernization in the interwar years whose heritage still occupy minds, a Cold War security state that has developed in America-centered global capitalism, a post–Cold War state of neoliberal globalization trying to find its way in the turbulences of world politics and economy, with a failed desire of leadership in its neighborhood. Accordingly, the more than eighty sources cited and annotated here guide the readers through various manifestations of Turkey within historical, political, cultural, societal, economic, and foreign policy (with focus on the regional and the European dimensions) contexts. All in all, Turkish society has always been able to cope with all the above-mentioned challenges and manifestations, but it has been often very difficult for those earning and enjoying life with their honest labor.

General Overviews

To begin this overview with a history fueled by key readings, Faroqhi 2004 reveals that the Ottoman elite and people had been pretty similar to its contemporary European empires such as the Habsburg. The modernization has emphasized the dilemma and the struggle with religious conservatives, as elsewhere. The history of Turkish constitutions explained in Özbudun and Gençkaya 2009 has been described as “missed opportunities” because political institutions, especially with regard to consolidation of democracy, could not necessarily receive the consent of significant parts of the society. However turbulent state-society relations have been, Turkish sovereignty in the form of the modern nation-state, which was initially led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, whose biography is detailed in Kinross 1964, has been decisively established. Secular Turkish nationalism has been its core, and hence religious conservatism and the Kurdish movement have been main oppositions, as analyzed in the various chapters of Özerdem and Whiting 2019. The consolidation of the secular Turkish nationalist modern state (as it is still defined as a “secular, democratic and welfare state governed by the rule of law” in its constitution as late as September 2021, however much the validity of these principles has been debated in practice) has created a nonreligious conservatism, which has been mostly observable in Turkish foreign policy, which is widely covered in Oran 2010. Despite following some oscillations of the ruling AKP’s enterprise to supposedly lead a form of Islamic internationalism, the nationalist conservative core eventually remained in Turkish foreign policy, although AKP aimed at a massive transformation, which is portrayed in Uzgel and Duru 2013. Pamuk 2018 contends that the background or the companion of all these political and social developments and discussions has been the economic history that is marked by underdevelopment (in the sense of human development) despite regular and sometimes impressive economic growth. Therefore, it is concluded in Akat and Gürsel 2021 that Turkey has had decent but mediocre economic growth due to weak institutionalization. Throughout all these historical facts and discussions on sovereignty, state, territory, representation, development, and so on, it can be said that what is essential for the ordinary citizen has been daily life, which has remained subject to unfairness and fragmentation as regards social class, (ethnic) identity, and gender, as depicted in Kandiyoti and Saktanber 2002. In the final analysis, Findley 2005 argues that Turkish state formation has manifested a learning capacity from ancient times to neoliberal globalization. This learning capacity is currently challenged by the so-called deglobalization.

  • Akat, Asaf Savaş, and Seyfettin Gürsel, eds. Turkish Economy at the Crossroads. Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific, 2021.

    This comprehensive analysis, ranging from institutional change to productivity, from finance to income distribution and to the labor market, aims to apply institutional economics to the actual economy, dwelling on the causality between institutional development and economic performance. The preliminary conclusion is that, following a comparison to a peer group of fourteen countries between 1970 and 2018, “Turkey’s economic growth has been decent, but also mediocre.” Moreover, recent institutional degradation evidently resulted in economic decline.

  • Faroqhi, Suraiya. The Ottoman Empire and the World Around It. London: I.B. Tauris, 2004.

    As a well-known and respected historian, Faroqhi challenges prevalent assumptions about the Ottoman Empire and argues that the Ottoman elite and people were not disassociated from the world, were similar to contemporary European empires such as the Habsburg, and “inhabited a common world”; Ottoman elites showed cohesion, but there were also intra-elite struggles on decisions of war and peace; and, finally, modernization, beginning in the 18th century, was “accompanied by a takeover” of Muslim officials.

  • Findley, Carter Vaughn. The Turks in World History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    In a short history, partly as a critical response to the claim of a clash of civilizations, Findley observes that in two thousand years of Turkish expansion in Eurasia, Turkish state formation exposed a significant learning capacity in massive transformations, such as from nomadic Asian steppe life to the Mediterranean agrarian world, to Islam, and to modernity; and from a cosmopolitan Ottoman ruling class to a modern Turkish nationalist elite, and now globalization and identity politics.

  • Kandiyoti, Deniz, and Ayşe Saktanber, eds. Fragments of Culture: The Everyday of Modern Turkey. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

    This dense edited book, observing a “crisis of representation following the demise of grand narratives of social change,” and a redefinition of the relationship between sovereignty, state power, and territoriality, focuses on daily life, for it reveals “the intricate weave of society,” and concludes that continuities and commonalities are observed as well as fragmentation and incoherence, and that class, ethnicity, and gender remain essential, though they are to be questioned.

  • Kinross, Patrick. Atatürk: The Rebirth of a Nation. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964.

    Any reading on modern Turkey would be extremely inadequate without the biography of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. Lord Kinross, who worked on this biography for about five years in Turkey, narrates Atatürk’s life in the late Ottoman era, throughout the days of the War of Independence, the foundation of the Turkish Republic, and finally in the modernization process.

  • Oran, Baskın, ed. Turkish Foreign Policy, 1999–2006: Facts and Analyses with Documents. Translated by Mustafa Akşin. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2010.

    This sine qua non volume for any-level readers of Turkish foreign policy, first published in Turkish in 2001, and revised/translated into English in 2010, provides a comprehensive breakdown of Turkish foreign policy from the end of the Ottoman era until 2006, not only through a chronological approach but also an easily readable style across specific themes, including but not limited to Turkey’s relations with Europe, NATO, the Middle East, Balkans, USSR/Russia, USA, Caucasus, and Central Asia, from various theoretical perspectives.

  • Özbudun, Ergun, and Ömer Faruk Gençkaya. Democratization and the Politics of Constitution-Making in Turkey. Budapest and New York: Central European University Press, 2009.

    In this (current) historical analysis, Özbudun and Gençkaya observe that the country’s constitutions have been crucial aspects of the transition to and consolidation of democracy, and that “the Turkish experience in constitution-making can be described as a series of missed opportunities to create political institutions based on broad consensus.” Also mentions the effects of the hope of accession to the EU, reflecting the liberal mood of the 2000s.

  • Özerdem, Alpaslan, and Matthew Whiting, ed. The Routledge Handbook on Turkish Politics. London and New York: Routledge, 2019.

    This extensive collection on Turkey comprises chapters on Turkish history, politics, economic state, external affairs, and issues related to the Kurdish question and the societal aspects of Turkish politics. With its search on how the nature of secularism in Turkey has altered and “political Islam as a statist phenomenon” has developed in Turkey over the years under JDP (Justice and Development Party) rule, this volume provides a useful overview for readers on various aspects of Turkish politics.

  • Pamuk, Şevket. Uneven Centuries: Economic Development of Turkey since 1820. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv346nnz

    Pamuk aims to analyze economic growth and human development in the modern period from a comparative global perspective. It is concluded that even following the transformation from an agricultural to a more productive urban economy, Turkey had average growth and arguable human development. The discussed reasons have been the lower state capacity due to identity cleavages and their instrumentalization by the political elite, nepotism, and patronage; inequalities; and consequent underused human capital.

  • Uzgel, İlhan, and Bülent Duru. AKP Kitabı: Bir Dönüşümün Bilançosu. Ankara: Phoenix Yayınları, 2013.

    This collection is a must-read in order to understand the neoliberal and neoconservative transformation of Turkey in the 21st century through a focus on the ruling Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP; or Justice and Development Party, JDP) since the 2002 elections. Thirty-two chapters provide critical perspectives not only on the party per se but also on the political, societal, and economic dynamics of change in Turkey in the first decade of AKP rule.

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