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Cumartesi, 28 Nisan 2018 06:33

Protracted Conflicts and Foreign Policy Crises in Turkish Foreign Policy

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Fuat Aksu, "Protracted Conflicts and Foreign Policy Crises in Turkish Foreign Policy", New Concepts and New Conflicts in Global Security Issues, Eds. R. Kutay Karaca and Fatma Zeynep Özkurt, İstanbul: İstanbul Gelişim University Press, 2017: 65-98.


Fuat Aksu****


The notion of crisis is usually defined as a kind of situation that suddenly confronts us and forces us to react or make a choice when we’re not prepared. In terms of international relations, the definition of crisis is relatively different from that. In a common way that states are as main actors in international community with the relations with each other, the concept of crisis is defined somewhat in different manners. Charles Hermann, one of the leading scholars in this field, defines “crisis” on the basis of three essential characteristics; for him a situation is accepted as crisis if there is a threat against one or more than one important goal/objective of the state, if there is a limited time to make a decision and if it is kind of shocking/surprising event for decision-makers.[1] With this definition, Hermann regards the threat, time and surprise as determinant characteristics in crises.  However, it is a quite limiting definition. It fails to explain the limiting or ambiguous character of a threat directed to the important objectives and/or goals of the state which is a decision-maker actor in foreign policy as well as the fact that crises are not always sudden, unexpected events and on some occasions they might be designed by the state itself.

Another definition of crisis is suggested by Michael Brecher. Brecher, as distinct from Hermann, interprets a situation as a crisis when there is a threat (simultaneous or successive) against basic values, when time is limited to react against given threats and as an option, the probability of military attack increases. As definitions implicate, Brecher, unlike Hermann, focuses on basic values instead of the main objectives of the state and points the limited period of time instead of the obligation to react/make a decision in short time. Moreover, he puts a special emphasis on the increase in military tension and the possibility of war between the major actors of the crisis rather than the surprising character of the crisis.

If we head away from these definitions, we have to conceptualize the crisis that we confront in international relations within a quite narrow framework. However, both the increase in the number of actors and the presence of non-state actors within the system could lead us to face international crises more frequently than before. Additionally when we look at the empirical data, it can be seen that crises are not situations that only defensive parties confront and therefore they have difficulty in reacting against. For, crises can be both managed and designed by either of parties. In this case, at least for the offensive/designer party, it is impossible to say that crises are sudden and surprising events. On the other hand crises, as transformations filled with meaning and value have certain meanings for very people who attribute this meaning to them. In other words, people attribute meaning to crises and respond them within the frames of decision-makers’ perception.

The definition of crisis that we use in our studies stretches the framework presented by Hermann and Brecher to some extent. Clearly, regardless of whether it’s perceptual or real, the verbal-actual situation accepted as “crisis” has these typical characteristics for decision-makers:

  • Regarding issues that may occupy the foreign agenda of decision-maker,
  • The situation that occurs suddenly or in a particular time period,
  • The situation impacting a change upon decision-makers’ basic values and priorities in their perception and/or reality,
  • The situation that is perceived as risk, danger, threat for decision-makers,
  • The situation that urges decision-makers to make a choice among limited alternatives and make a decision in a limited time,
  • The situation consisting a possibility of military conflict/war between respondent actors due to the specific decisions is seen as crisis.

On the other hand, three different levels come forward when crises are examined by level of analysis:[2]

  • Systemic crises,
  • International crises,
  • Decision-making crises.

Brecher distinguishes two types of crises according to the level of analysis; foreign policy crises and international crises. In foreign policy crises, the number of actors is few. However, in international crises there are more actors and the impact of the crises is more widespread on regional-systematic levels. So Brecher necessitates two conditions that define international crisis:[3]

If we observe an increase in the transformations of relations between two or more countries and/or in the intensity of destruction in these relations while there is an increase in the possibility of military conflict between parties, and if this situation disrupts the structure and relations of global, dominant or subaltern systems, it is possible to refer that an international crisis.

This work focuses on the foreign policy crises of Turkey. Thus, it excludes international and systematic crises that lots of actors got involved, except the cases which Turkey directly became a party to and Turkey led in terms of decision-making process. In this context, putting “foreign policy crises” in the Turkish foreign policy in a chronological order, it is necessary to take 1923 as a starting point since Turkey joined international community as an independent country at that year. The period between 1923 and 2015, as we refer as Republican era, the foreign policy crises that Turkey directly took side presents knowledge about not only a kind of foreign policy analysis but also the characteristic of decision-making process in crisis in Turkey. Furthermore it shows us the countries and subjects that these political crises intensify aside from Turkey.

The crises that Turkey, in his foreign relations, directly became a party to are analyzed in the scope of our project titled as “Decision-Making and Crisis Management Process in Turkey’s Foreign Policy Crises”,[4] but only the cases that can be identified as “foreign policy crisis” are brought under examination. According to that, the number of foreign policy crises that Turkey got involved until 2015 is 34 “for now.” The majority of these crises was concluded during the crisis management process, yet on-going foreign policy crises are 3[4]. When all foreign policy crises are taken into consideration, the crises originated from the dispute-conflict between Turkey and Greece over Cyprus and Aegean Sea, according to Michael Brecher’s classification, have the characteristic of the crises causing “protracted conflicts.”

The Relation between Dispute, Conflict and Crises

It is quite unlikely to say that there is always a harmony in the relations between the actors of international system. It is possible for actors to have different priorities, sensibilities and approaches about any issue in their agenda. In the end of conferences that parties generally realize by using diplomatic-politic communication channels at normal level, there could be situations in which their opinions on a current topic diverge. When this divergence occurred on an issue whose importance is very vital for one or more parties, it causes dispute. In general terms, if it is concluded that parties have different opinions, interests and expectations regarding any current issue which they discuss, it can be referred as a dispute between parties. In other words, the situation that I identify as dispute exposes that a verbal divergence has already happened between parties. Therefore, given that states mostly have different opinions on various topics, this situation is actually a “normal” one. Besides, the “disagreement” between parties’ opinions and expectations does not always cause “dispute.” Then, in order to call a situation as dispute, at least one of the parties must tend to escalate the problem. It is seen as a process which decision-makers have to manage to prevent any disputes turn into conflicts, crises and even hot war. Most typically, decision-makers think that they could solve these disputes by peaceful methods, so they benefit from not only negotiations but also legal, politic methods and tools. Another method used in the solution of disputes is resorting to power, and it is regulated by strict UN rules. Disputes come into being due to the lack of the constituent legal ground or status between the conflicted parties and non-compliance to this ground or status if there is any. Hence, if there is a previously-formed legal-political consensus, it is relatively easier to solve a new kind of “dispute”.

Figure 1. The Relation Between Discrepancy, Conflict and War

dispute war

When dispute could not be solved despite all attempts, a chronically process that could easily turn into open conflict begins. One or all of the parties’ activities aiming to imposing their opinions on others, justifying and proving itself turn the verbal space of dispute into the operational space of conflict. Then this process itself witness the horizontal and/or vertical escalation of reciprocal challenges. Reciprocal challenges, in the course of the process, complicate any solutions by revealing the trust, security concerns and negative perceptions formed on delicate balance. If they fail to solve these disputes because of that, they start the managing process that aims to prevent this conflict turn into crisis and war. Related parties try to keep the conflict within the peaceful negotiations by their own will and/or the involvement of third parties.

Figure 2. Crises in Protracted Conflicts


Source: Michael Brecher, International Political Earthquakes, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2008, p.29.

In cases where conflicts failed to be managed, a triggering action initiated by one of the parties escalates the situation into a crisis. What conflict means here is the operational emphasis of differences of opinions and conflicts in relations and the intense effort to prove their legitimacy-property. Generally there is rarely military violence in this process but it is possible to encounter non-violent military methods. In some cases, it is not possible to establish a ground of negotiation and consensus despite all attempts to eliminate disputes and conflicts. An inured dispute-conflict continues between parties. In this process which is formed by reciprocal challenges, it is possible to face with new disputes and conflicts.

Brecher, within the framework of examination of international crises, analyses this situations with the concept that he borrows from Azar, protracted conflict. [5][6] Hereunder, some conflicts date back to old times and they continue by feeding on the long past or generating new conflicts and crises. Though there may be some hesitancies occasionally, it is possible for them to be triggered again and escalate. Given these characteristics, not individual events but all processual features are taken into consideration when these kinds of conflicts are under examination.

In case of foreign policy crises emerged within protracted conflicts, it is expected that both a threat against basic values and the level of violence would escalate. The action triggering crisis may consist of violence and it is very likely that parties resort to violence in crisis management process. On the other hand, if crises emerge as a consequence of long-termed and non-protracted conflict, these levels would be lower.[7] There are lots of examples for protracted conflicts in international system; the disputes between Turkey and Greece, Cyprus, Kashmir, Arab-Israeli conflict are the most mentioned cases.

 Figure 3. Turkish – Greek Foreign Policy Crises in Protracted Conflicts (1923-2016)

Yeni Resim 1

 Source: Created by autors using  table in Brecher, International Political Earthquakes…, p. 38.

Turkey’s Foreign Policy Crises

In Republican era, the number of foreign policy crises that Turkey directly involved is 34 by year 2015. Seven of these crises happened before 1945, 15 of them between 1945 and 1991, and 12 of them between 1991 and 2015. The foreign policy crises that occurred during the classical balance of power era, except MV Struma crisis, happened with neighbour countries. Among these crisis, Mosul, Hatay (Sandjak), The Little Ararat and Soviet Demands is directly related with Turkey’s borders, security and territorial integrity. The SS Lotus Case (Lotus-Bozkurt) is related with jurisdiction which was seen vital by Turkey and it is very important for decision-makers who struggled for the termination of capitulations. Given the crisis management processes of all crises before 1945, it is important to note that each crises escalated into wars. Except Mosul crisis in which Turkey consented by accepting the current situation, Turkey accomplished all his objectives to a large extent. Thanks to international law and peaceful negotiations, parties could solve the problem before it turned into hot war. The Soviet Demands in 1945 was an important breaking point for Turkey’s foreign policy since it forced Turkey to comply with a systematic change. After that, Turkey chose to be a part of Western Bloc and balance his relations with the USSR.


Table 1. Changes in International System and Turkish Foreign Policy Crises
Pre-Cold War Cold-War Post-Cold War
1924 Mosul Land Crisis 1955  6-7 September Case 1991 Turkey-Armenia Nakhchivan Crisis
1926-27 The Case of SS Lotus-Bozkurt 1957 Turkey - Syria Confrontation 1992 TCG Muavenet Crisis
1929 Little Ararat Crisis 1958 Iraq Upheaval Crisis 1994 Aegean Sea casus belli Crisis
1935 Bulgaria-Turkey Crisis 1964 Johnson Letter Crisis 1996 Kardak / Imia Crisis
1936 Hatay / Sandjak Crisis 1963-64 Cyprus Crisis-I 1997 S-300 Missile Crisis
1942 MV Struma Crisis 1967 Cyprus Crisis-II 1998 Syria (Öcalan) Crisis
1945 Turkish Straits and Kars Ardahan Crisis 1972-73 Poppy Cultivation Regulation Crisis 2003 Sulaymaniyah “Hood” Crisis
  1974 Cyprus Crisis-III 2003-  Eastern Mediterranean Maritime Jurisdiction Areas Crisis
  1974-80 NOTAM-FIR Crisis 2010 – MV Mavi Marmara (Gaza Filotilla) Crisis
  1974-76 Aegean Sea Continental Shelf Crisis-I 2011 - Turkey-Syria Crisis
  1981 Limnos Militarization  Crisis 2014  ISIS Hostage Crisis
  1987 Aegean Sea Continental Shelf Crisis-II 2015-  Tomb of Suleyman Shah
  1989 Assimilation and Exodus of Bulgarian Turks 2015-  SU-24 Russian Jet Crisis
  1989-90 (Minority of) Western Thrace Crisis 2015-  Turkish Bashika Base  Crisis
  1988-91 Iraqi Refugee Crisis  
7 Crises 15 Crises 12 +2 Crises

The Bulgarian crisis in 1935 is actually Turkey’s unilateral crisis. With concerns about Italian threat, Turkey’s attempt to develop a defensive alliance in Balkans and defend Thrace and Straits by his own army caused security concerns in Bulgarian side. With his delegates sent to Bulgaria, Turkey explained the reasons why Turkey militarized Thrace and Straits, and guaranteed the security; however, these two countries failed to harmonize their interests and expectations. Bulgaria rejected to join the Balkan Entente and with this event two countries polarized in terms of security. In addition the “crisis” for Turkey was the failure to persuade Bulgaria and the revisionist foreign policy of Bulgaria.

In the period from the end of the World War II to the end of the Cold War in early 1990’s, there was an increase in the foreign policy crises of Turkey; however the majority of these crises were originated from the long-termed and protracted conflicts between Greece and Turkey. The crises emerged from disputes relating minorities; Cyprus and Aegean Sea take an important place in the foreign policy particularly after 1960. Given the long-termed/protracted character of the conflicts between Turkey and Greece, it can be seen that the attempts causing or triggering crises were originated from either parties’ willingness to create an actual state or to change status quo unilaterally.

The fact that regime establishing texts between parties were not enough to bring solutions to some discrepancies and they required a new basis of sovereignty share increased reciprocal challenges. Although the Republic of Cyprus that was established as a consequence of 1960 agreements established a balance, it did not last and after the 1963-64 crisis, a violent and discriminating process erupted between two communities of the island. Though 1950-60 process witnessed a series of negotiations conducted by Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom in terms of diplomacy and politics. The solution intensified people’s hopes and expectations that the conflict was over.

The disputes regarding Aegean Sea were relatively formed in the shade of Cyprus problem. Particularly reciprocal challenges regarding the maritime jurisdictions after 1970’s brought two countries to the verge of hot conflict with the Kardak Crisis in 1996. These crises confronted them with an issue which was left “lacking” in the Lausanne Peace Treaty in 1923: the determination of sea frontiers between Turkey and Greece. Therefore the lack of specific sea frontiers of two countries since 1923 generated a source of dispute regarding which country would have sovereignty over islands, islets and rocks that weren’t given any country by jurisdiction of any agreements.

After the 1963-64 Cyprus crisis, Turkey added the use and/or the threat of using hard power in his foreign policy strategies. In 6-7 foreign policy crises between 1964 and 1999, Turkey achieved his goals by resorting to coercive diplomacy. The common point of these crises is that Turkey processed a defensive crisis management.[9] Thus, it made the threat of using hard power a diplomatic tool in order to preserve status quo against those who want to change it unilaterally.

Among the Cold War era crises, 1964 Johnson’s Letter Crisis, 1972 Opium Cultivation Crisis were the ones that necessitate the asymmetrical balance of power between Turkey and bloc leader USA. Particularly 1965 Johnson’s Letter crisis was the first traumatic example in terms of changes it inflicted on the general course of the relations between two countries. Somewhat similar situations would come to the fore with the shot of the TCG Muavenet  crisis in 1990’s and Sulaymaniyah crisis in 2000’s.

The new international and regional system after the Cold War generated new sources of conflicts and crises for Turkey. Especially he had to confront with numerous crises in his geographical proximity in contexts of international crises. In some of those, there were developments caused by external transformation and drew Turkey directly. In 1991 refugee crisis after the US intervention to Iraq and Armenia’s occupation of Nakhchivan during the Armenia-Azerbaijan War dragged Turkey into a crisis with Iraq and Armenia. Another important development of 1990’s was Turkey’s coercive diplomacy against Syria. Due to Syria’s financial, political and military support to Ocalan, PKK and other terrorist organizations, Turkey described it as an aggressor country and declared that he would use his right of self defense as long as Syria continues to harbour them in its territories. After Syria could not take the risk of war and carried out Turkey’s demands, they signed the Adana Protocol and their relationship followed a cooperative line until 2010.

Among the foreign policy crises occurred after 2010, two cases are extremely important. These two crises almost emerged synchronously and affected Turkey’s relationship with two important Middle Eastern countries in a very negative way. In May 2010, the Mavi Marmara Crisis affected the relations between Turkey and Israel negatively. The aspect that made the crisis an interesting one was the fact that Israel stopped an international humanitarian activity in international waters with a military operation. During Israel’s military operation in international waters, 10 activists in the Mavi Marmara were killed, lots of passengers were wounded. The fact that the deceased were all Turks (one of them was American citizen) and there was a ship carrying Turkish flag in the fleet led Turkey to react.[10] This crisis brought up another special situation for Turkey. In terms of the parties in the crisis, non-state actors could also get involved in changing conditions. In case of the Mavi Marmara crisis, the factor triggering the crisis for Israel was a non-governmental humanitarian organization.[11]

Another ongoing crisis of Turkey is the problem over Eastern Mediterranean with Greek Cypriot Administration (GCA). In Cyprus crisis, without reaching a solution that reflects two people’s rights, status and common decision, the fact that GCA signed EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) agreements and established off-shore licence areas, opened international tender. GCA’s attempts caused disputes in various levels. From the point of Turkey, GCA’s activities both ignore the structure of two communities in the island and violate Turkey’s sovereignty rights. Same situation is also true for TRNC.[12] Upon GCA did not change its policies regarding maritime jurisdictions, TRNC showed its reaction by giving licences for oil exploration around Cyprus Island with an agreement with TPAO (Turkish Petroleum Corporation). Some areas of licence were guzzled with the areas that GCA gave licences on purpose. Therefore TRNC and Turkey followed a retaliation and “tit for tat” strategy against GCA.

 Frozen or Suspended Crises of Turkey

Table 2. Turkey’s “Frozen” – “Suspended” Foreign Policy Crises



1981 Limnos Militarization Crisis


1992 TCG Muavenet Crisis


2003 Sulaymaniyah “Hood” Crisis 


From another angle, particularly in case of two crises occurred with the USA, the conflict between parties were frozen, the escalation and spread of the crisis were prevented. The fact that both crises were triggered in military field between Turkish Armed Forces and US Armed Forces. Though they had an impact that could shake the relations between two allies, these two countries prevented it to become a bigger crisis that would include their publics. Both the shot of the TCG Muavenet destroyer  in 1992 and the Sulaymaniyah crisis in 2003 were military assaults targeted TAF and its elements. The case about the shot of TCG Muavenet destroyer by two Excoset missiles launched from US Saratoga and over bridge was rescinded on grounds of the research indicating the event as an “accident”.[13] In 2003 the Sulaymaniyah crisis that were triggered by the detention of Turkish military liaison team and putting sack over their heads, USA hid behind the excuse that they operated according to their military intelligence.[14]

Civil and military policy-makers in Turkey seemed to leave these crises into oblivion instead discussing them publicly and escalating them.[15] However, both crises still have impact over Turkish society’s memory as examples enforcing anti-American attitudes.

Dispute-Conflict Relation and Consequences of Crises

As listed in Table 3 and 4, the majority of Turkey’s foreign policy crises were solved in terms of crisis management. Yet, there is still a dispute-conflict situation in some of these crises. These crises, to great extent occurred with Greece and GCA, are classified as repetitive conflicts. Since they are related to given parties’ essential values and priorities as well as their status and sovereignty rights, these same crises carry risks of further crises. There is always a risk for the escalation and spread of conflicts/discrepancies and crises unless given parties fail to find a solution which would satisfy all in case of Aegean Sea and Cyprus. 

Table 3. Dispute-Crisis Relations and Results of Turkish Foreign Policy Crises 
USA 1964 Johnson Letter Crisis  solved solved
USA 1972-73 Poppy Cultivation Regulation Crisis  solved solved
BULGARIA 1935 Bulgaria-Turkey Crisis  solved solved
BULGARIA 1989 Assimilation and Exodus of Bulgarian Turks  solved solved
ARMENIA 1991 Turkey-Armenia Nakhchivan Crisis  solved solved
FRANCE 1926-27 The Case of SS Lotus-Bozkurt  solved solved
FRANCE 1936 Hatay / Sandjak Crisis  solved solved
IRAQ 1958 Iraq Upheaval Crisis  solved solved
IRAQ 1988-91 Iraqi Refugee Crisis  solved solved
IRAQ (Under British Mandatory  1924 Mosul Land Crisis  solved solved
IRAN 1929 Little Ararat Crisis  solved solved
USSR 1945 Turkish Straits and Kars Ardahan Crisis  solved solved
SYRIA 1957 Turkey - Syria Confrontation  solved solved
SYRIA 1998 Syria (Öcalan) Crisis  solved solved
UNDEFINED 1942 MV Struma Crisis  solved solved
ISIS 2014  ISIS Hostage Crisis  solved solved
USA 1992 TCG Muavenet Crisis  suspended suspended
USA 2003 Sulaymaniyah “Hood” Crisis   suspended suspended
IRAQ 2015-  Turkish Bashika Base  Crisis  solved in progress
ISRAEL 2010 – MV Mavi Marmara (Gazza Filotilla) Crisis  in progress in progress
CYPRUS (GCA-GREECE)  1963-64 Cyprus Crisis-I  solved in progress
CYPRUS (GCA-GREECE)  1967 Cyprus Crisis-II  solved in progress
CYPRUS (GCA-GREECE)  1997 S-300 Missile Crisis  solved in progress
CYPRUS (GCA-GREECE)  2003-  Eastern Mediterranean Maritime Jurisdiction Areas Crisis  in progress in progress
RUSSIAN FEDERATION 2015-  SU-24 Russian Jet Crisis  in progress in progress
SYRIA 2011 - Turkey-Syria Crisis  in progress in progress
SYRIA 2015-  Tomb of Suleyman Shah  in progress in progress
GREECE 1955  6-7 September Case  solved in progress
GREECE 1974 Cyprus Crisis-III  solved in progress
GREECE 1974-80 NOTAM-FIR Crisis  solved in progress
GREECE 1974-76 Aegean Sea Continental Shelf Crisis-I  solved in progress
GREECE 1981 Limnos Militarization Crisis  suspended in progress
GREECE 1987 Aegean Sea Continental Shelf Crisis-II  solved in progress
GREECE 1989-90 (Minority of) Western Thrace Crisis  solved in progress
GREECE 1994 Aegean Sea casus belli Crisis  solved in progress
GREECE 1996 Kardak / Imia Crisis  solved in progress

The Crises Turkey Still Continue to Manage

As it can be seen in Table 5, in Turkish foreign policy agenda 3 separate crises are still in management process. These crises are those with Syria, Israel and Cyprus (GCA). Hence, Turkish foreign policy-makers almost simultaneously manage these three crises. In case of the relations with these actors, any crises could easily affect others and it complicates the management process. The deterioration and crisis in the relations between Turkey and Syria, in delicate agenda of Middle Eastern politics, could suddenly cause changes in balance of power unfavourably of Turkey. In fact, in the course of tense relations with Israel due to Mavi Marmara crisis, Israel could strengthen its relations with GCA easily; so to say Israel and GCA (and Syria though indirectly) came together on same front against Turkey. EEZ agreement and military cooperation agreement between Israel and GCA are solid examples of that.

Table 4. Foreign Policy Crisis Whose Dispute-Conflict Relations Continue
SYRIA   Pressures Against Civilians and Violation of Human Rights
 RF4 Plane’s Falling
Relocation of Suleyman Shah’s Status
Border Security 
ISRAEL   Mavi Marmara Attack
 Gaza Blockade
Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus   Cyprus’s Status
GREECE   Minorities
 Disputes on Aegean Sea 
USA   The Attack on TCG Muavenet
 Sulaymaniyah Raid
ISIS   Suleyman Shah 
 Others ??? 

It is possible to say that there is a challenging situation going on for Turkey that has to manage more than one foreign policy crises simultaneously. It seems that systematic changes in international and regional subsystems have influence on the decision-making processes of Turkey and national decision-makers, against the pressure generated by those changes, have difficulty to manage solid processes of crises. They cannot find national and international support against the rapid changes in regional balance of power and agenda. Gradually, Turkey becomes isolated in his efforts of managing the crisis in his perspective towards regional problems. Although this situation is referred to as “precious loneliness”, it reflects the inconsistency of Turkey’s foreign policy.[16]

Turkey’s insistent and partisan attitude during the anti-regime uprisings in Middle East – also called as Arab Spring – caused the emergence of anti-Turkish public opinions and governments particularly in case of Libya, Egypt and Syria; confuted the argument that Turkey supports any regimes and governments respecting peace, democracy and human rights. Each day, his current foreign policy distorts the relations with Middle Eastern countries that were hardly established since 1980 and affects the perception towards Turkey in negative way.

New sources of disputes, conflicts and crises have come into being in relations between formal authorities particularly for Syria and Iraq. For example in 1998, Turkey’s coercive diplomacy forcing Syria to cut its support to Ocalan and PKK resulted in success; then Syria banished Ocalan from its territories and with the Adana Protocol it guaranteed that it would never support PKK. Until 2010, the relations between Turkey and Syria had continued in an unprecedentedly very peaceful and cooperative way. However in 2010, Turkey’s critiques against Syrian regime/government and his sponsorship to anti-regime forces suddenly eliminated the diplomatic-political cooperation between two countries and generated a highly tensions atmosphere. After Turkish RF4 shot down  over Syrian territorial waters and international waters on 22 June 2012, Turkey changed his engagement rules and declared strict measures against Syria on 26 June 2012.[17]

Table 5. Turkish Foreign Policy Crises in Progress
2015-  SU-24 Russian Jet Crisis   Russian Federation
2015- Turkish Bashika Base  Crisis Iraq
2015-  Tomb of Suleyman Shah Syria
2011- Turkey-Syria Crisis
2010-  MV Mavi Marmara (Gaza Filotilla) Crisis Israel
2003-  Eastern Mediterranean Maritime Jurisdiction Areas Crisis Cyprus (GCA / Greece)

Turkey’s declarations targeting the Assad administration in Syria and his direct sponsorship and active encouragement to anti-regime insurrectionist groups are concrete expressions of the fact that Turkey has abandoned his traditional foreign policy principles. Radical transformations have been conducted on principles like neutrality about the discrepancies of Arab countries and non-intervention to their domestic affairs; and Turkey clearly showed his “partisan” claims. At this point, in the foreign policy of JDP (AKP) governments, identity, interest and security definitions have been effective for the perception of general process. Turkey’s partisanship by claiming that Turkey cannot be indifferent to the problems within this geography due to its Sunni Islamic identity and covert Ottoman historical-cultural legacy seems to drain Turkey’s energy and shake the foundations of his security.

Concretely speaking, instead of supporting the development of stable regimes-societies in Iraq and Syria, Turkey’s attitude which caused additional instabilities not just generated a power void but also opened Turkey’s south-eastern territories to the activities of international terrorist organizations. As a result, the last remaining Turkish soil within the borders of Syria, Suleyman Shah’s Tomb, was carried to the close proximity of Turkish border by a military operation even though its status was determined by international agreements.[18] That means generation of a new “crisis” on several counts.[19]

The other crisis that has not ended and is still going on is the one with Israel. Israel’s attack to humanitarian fleet and causing civil casualties due to its use of excessive and disproportionate force on the Mavi Marmara ship escalated the consequent events but Turkey’s harsh reaction to Israel turned it into vertical escalation. In this context, the official demands of Turkish government explained in the course of crisis management, to some extent, complicated any possible detente. Especially the demands requiring the termination of Israeli blockade on Gaza, the compensation payment to the victims and an apology from them made the detente very difficult. Though non-state actors or states can become intermediator relatively easier for the solution of compensation issue, the demand on Israel to apologize from the victims and Turkey is not the kind of request Israel could accept. After the assault, the representatives of two countries expressed some formulations in their direct/indirect contacts; however, they could not take concrete steps. After devastatingly long efforts, thanks to US President Obama’s involvement and intense diplomatic contacts between two parties, Israel “apologized” in a satisfying way for Turkey during the telephone conversation between Prime Minister Erdogan and B. Netanyahu on 22nd October 2013.[20] The formal statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs consists of following expressions: “In the light of ongoing interrogation which points a series of operational faults conducted by Israel related to Mavi Marmara event, Prime Minister Netanyahu, in behalf of Israeli people apologize from Turkish people for their faults which caused deaths and injuries; in turn, Our Prime Minister accepted this apology on behalf of Turkish people.”[21]

disputes crisesAlthough some prerequisites of Turkey were met related the Mavi Marmara crisis, it will take time to “normalize” the relations with Israel at the level of international public. The continuation of cooperation in economy and security in the background is the most appropriate solution for both these two countries and USA. Yet, given the facts that the lawsuits against Israeli officers still continue, the issue of compensations could not entirely solved and there is no significant change in Israel’s practices and blockade over Gaza, some propagandas will keep the event alive in Turkish people’s memories and the end of crisis seems to take time. From another perspective, Turkish policy makers often show their insistency on the protection of their popularity which they gained by their attitudes in front of domestic or partly Palestinians during the Mavi Marmara crisis.

It is possible to commend that the crisis whose cause was Greek Cypriot Administration’s activities on maritime jurisdictions in Eastern Mediterranean will remain on the agenda. After the election of Mustafa Akıncı as President of TRNC in May 2015, related parties decided to continue intercommunal negotiations which were interrupted in October 2014. Yet, there is still a challenge on maritime jurisdictions despite the search for radical solutions. The factor affecting the course of negotiations is GCA's effort to break the resistance of TRNC and Turkey by relying on its advantages, namely its international recognition and EU membership. TRNC and Turkey tried to balance the situation by retaliation, against the jurisdiction actions of GCA, NOBEL Energy's drilling activities and MEB limitation agreement with Israel. It is very unlikely to expect that this reciprocal showdown would bring related parties into consensus. Turkey needs to develop more effective escalation strategies that would deter the opposite side, so that GCA cannot transform de facto situation into a fait accompli. After its rejection to the Annan Plan, TRNC's rejection letters sent to UN Secretary against the de facto attempts of GCA shows that he maintains his claims, interests and arguments. In this context, the solid balancing element of GCA's activities is the agreements in the relationship between TRNC and Turkey. These agreements could be also a matter of negotiation in terms of agreements and liabilities of which a new state becomes the party in the course of resolution process of Cyprus issue. In case of Cyprus, in negotiations by which parties try to determine which agreements would be accepted by delegations of two founding people, the same adjustments which are the liabilities of GCA must be accepted by TRNC. For example, the retribution of the agreement with Nobel Energy is the agreement with TPAO.

The dispute on maritime jurisdictions in the Eastern Mediterranean is directly linked with countries' rights of sovereignty. Therefore, it is integral to the political equity between Turkish and Greek communities on the island. According to the 1960 Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus, natural resources are at the disposal of unitary state. Also the Annan Plan required same status for the newly-established country.

However, GCA pursues its unilateral practices regarding this issue, even though the parties can easily have an agreement upon it. From TRNC and Turkey's viewpoints, GCA's EEZ fait accomplis indicate that it follows an aggressive strategy of crisis management. On the other hand, GCA's licence agreements and bilateral border adjustments are under the scrutiny of a sovereign country in legal terms; and GCA is a sovereign country. So GCA claims that it follows a defensive strategy with adjustments guarding its rights and interests on maritime jurisdictions. In an already long-termed crisis, related parties continue to challenge each other on the issue of maritime jurisdictions. As distinct from Mavi Marmara and Syria crises, this crisis is far more complex than others since it is linked with a repetitive conflict on maritime jurisdictions. Thus, it is expected that new conflict-triggering events could happen in the future.

Actors in Turkey’s Foreign Policy Crises

In the research project regarding the foreign policy crisis in Republican Era, the actors that Turkey had conflicts with were either his neighbours or allies in 33-34 foreign crises. The biggest number of crises had occurred with Greece. When the conflicts on Cyprus are included, one third of Turkey's crises had emerged with Greece. Furthermore, these crises came into being as repetitive conflicts between two countries. As Brecher indicates, the changes in status/balance within the issues regarded as very important by parties due to their values and priorities generate a very delicate relationship. Greece's attempt to change the balance behalf of itself after the Lausanne Peace Treaty is perceived as threat by Turkey; and Turkey's respond is mostly a coercive diplomatic strategy.

Other crises occurred with USA (4), Syria (3) and Bulgaria (2). As it can be seen in table, two crises with France happened before the 1945 system and they were solved according to Turkey's demands. The other crisis with the UK was solved against Turkey's demands. Besides Greece, the other ally that Turkey had conflict with is the USA even though they were put off. In terms of the course of relations with the US, there is a difference between the crisis during Cold War and after Cold War. In terms of conflicting relations, two crises after 1990 reflect the delicate balance and complexity between Turkey and USA. In these crises Turkey chose to lull them instead of following a challenging strategy that would take USA on economically, politically and militarily. We can observe the asymmetrical relations between a superpower and a medium-scaled country.

One of the interesting examples of crises was the one occurred with Armenia on the status of Nakhchivan. Although the crisis came to an end with the fact that Armenia stopped the occupation of Nakhchivan, the territorial integrity of Nakhchivan in next years will be a delicate issue for Turkey-Armenia relations.

In terms of relations with neighbour countries, Turkey in the course of history has had various crises with almost all of them. In terms of balance of power, the crises with USSR, USA, UK, Israel and Iran were different. In terms of asymmetry of power, the demand of USSR after the WWII was rejected thanks to the support of USA and this asymmetry was reversed.

In case of the Mavi Marmara crisis, for the first time Turkey and Israel has turned each other into a target in an unprecedented way. This crisis is distinctive for another reason; for Israel's view, a humanitarian action of a humanitarian/non-governmental organization in Turkey was perceived as threat and prevented by military violence. Thus for Turkey, the action of a NGO generated an atmosphere of crisis. Mavi Marmara can be seen as a peculiar example for non-state actors' role as triggering element of crises.

Table 6. Turkey’s Foreign Policy Crises By Its Parties (1923-2015)
USA  4 1964 Johnson Letter Crisis 
1972-73 Poppy Cultivation Regulation Crisis 
1992 TCG Muavenet Crisis 
2003 Sulaymaniyah “Hood” Crisis 
BULGARIA  2 1935 Bulgaria-Turkey Crisis 
1989 Assimilation and Exodus of Bulgarian Turks 
ARMENIA  1 1991 Turkey-Armenia Nakhchivan Crisis 
FRANCE  2 1926-27 The Case of SS Lotus-Bozkurt 
1936 Hatay / Sandjak Crisis 
IRAQ  3 1958 Iraq Upheaval Crisis 
1988-91 Iraqi Refugee Crisis 
2015 Turkish Bashika Base  Crisis 
IRAQ (Under British Mandatory)  1 1924 Mosul Land Crisis 
IRAN  1 1929 Little Ararat Crisis 
ISRAEL  1 2010 – MV Mavi Marmara (Gaza Filotilla) Crisis 
CYPRUS(GCA-GREECE)  4 1963-64 Cyprus Crisis-I 
1967 Cyprus Crisis-II 
1997 S-300 Missile Crisis 
2003-  Eastern Mediterranean Maritime Jurisdiction Areas Crisis 
USSR  1 1945 Turkish Straits and Kars Ardahan Crisis 
RUSSIAN FEDERATION  1 2015-  SU-24 Russian Jet Crisis
SYRIA  4 1957 Turkey - Syria Confrontation 
1998 Syria (Öcalan) Crisis 
2011 - Turkey-Syria Crisis 
2015-  Tomb of Suleyman Shah 
GREECE  9 1955  6-7 September Case 
1974 Cyprus Crisis-III 
1974-80 NOTAM-FIR Crisis 
1974-76 Aegean Sea Continental Shelf Crisis-I
1981 Limnos Militarization  Crisis 
1987 Aegean Sea Continental Shelf Crisis-II 
1989-90 (Minority of) Western Thrace Crisis 
1994 Aegean Sea casus belli Crisis 
1996 Kardak / Imia Crisis 
UNDEFINED  1 1942 MV Struma Crisis 
ISIS  1 2014  ISIS Hostage Crisis 

Among the crises of which Turkey became a side, there were examples that other sides were not states. In general, one of the parties is a state while the other one is a non-state actor in these kinds of crises. In the crisis emerged with the occupation of Mosul Consulate by ISIS on 11 June 2014 and taking of our citizens and representative as hostages, Turkey could not find any official/legitimate respondent. It had to resort to untraditional methods and tools. The hostage crisis with ISIS is another example in terms of Turkey's attitude against terrorist organizations. Normally crises between states are managed by official/legitimate channels on diplomatic/political levels, in this crisis there was no equality between the parties. If we limit the success of the crisis management with the release of hostages, diplomatic representatives and others could be brought to Turkey without casualties. However this situation could be described as Pyrrhic victory of the government.

 Table 7. The Characteristic of the Actor in Turkey's Foreign Policy Crises









In terms of unilateral crises, two crises are particularly significant. In case of the crisis in 1935 with Bulgaria, Turkey avoided to refer the development as a "crisis". Yet Bulgaria saw Turkey's attempt of militarization in Thrace and Straits as a threatening assault. Turkey appeased Bulgaria by caring not to follow a alienating foreign policy against Bulgaria. The second one was the Struma crisis in 1942.[22] There were Jewish refugees in the ship departing from Constanta Port in Romania. After arriving to Turkish territorial waters in Black Sea and the Marmara Sea, demands and status of refugees contained a great risk and threat for Turkish decision-makers. UK, Germany and the USSR disapproved refugees' demands. In war time, they couldn't find a satisfying solution for refugees, warring parties and Turkey. Eventually Turkish decision-makers resorted to send back the ship but this solution meant disaster for refugees.


In terms of disputes, conflicts and crises, it can be said that Turkey's foreign policy crises were shaped by the disputes between a newly founded country and its neighbours. According to the specific structure of international system, Turkey cared to stay within the framework of juridical legitimacy in crises. His priorities and management strategies in crises mostly followed the defensive principles proposed by Alexander L. George. Since 1960's, in case of Cyprus it has executed coercive diplomacy and deterring strategies which are based on threat of using force and done it brilliantly. It is also seen that Turkey paid attention both the shifts in balance of power in international system and regional agenda. In terms of the role of national structure and leader in foreign policy crises, these two factors seem to have a significant importance in foreign policy crises. In important foreign policy events, the coherent relation between ruling party, opposition and public facilitated the decision-making and executing process in both one-party era and multi-party system.

If crises are solved without causing a military conflict or total war, it is accepted that they are managed "successfully". In this respect, in most of Turkey's foreign policy crises decision-makers could get favourable results. While it cared to remain within the limits of legitimacy since it supported status quo, they did not exaggerate their demands. The possibility of a total war was came into being only in the military intervention to Cyprus in 1974; however, Turkish decision-makers did not cause a horizontal escalation by giving necessary guarantees. The other example in which the conflict could turn into a military war was the Kardak Crisis in 1996 was solved with Greece's regression. On top of Turkey's determination, the political structure of Greek decision-making process and the effective role of US played important roles.

From another perspective, despite to the "success" in crisis management, parties could not manage disputes and conflicts "successfully". The "failure" in the management of disputes and conflicts mostly emerged in the disputes between Turkey and Greece or GCA. In fact, the crises emerging in an atmosphere of protracted conflicts indicate that they could not establish a relation based on mutual trust. Although it seems that the measures for trust and exploratory negotiations created a dialog between the parties, they have not reached a permanent solution yet.

It could be said that Turkey's "traditional" disputes over Aegean Sea and Cyprus continue to be major issues of governments in short and middle terms, given the regional conflicts. On the other hand, beyond "traditional" conflicts, there are important developments could put Turkey against both Syria and non-state actors in the region. The status of Syrian refugees, the lack of border security, the attacks of local and international terrorist organizations, the revolt against the Syrian regime and assaults generate an unstable region. Given the disrupted relation between Turkish government and Assad Administration in Syria, Turkish foreign policy seems to catalyze additional conflicts and crises. In fact the normalizing relations after the Ocalan crisis in 1998 began disrupting, lots of escalating events occurred in the course of this crisis. In this process, Turkey caused a new juridical-political discrepancy with his own hands by moving Suleyman Shah Tomb to Turkish border with a military operation. The discussion of Turkey's covert/overt sponsorship to anti-regime forces within Syrian borders among international public shakes the legitimacy of Turkish policies.

In this respect Turkey's foreign policy crises after 2010 caused harsh critiques of the foreign policy principles and methods of the government. The spreading opinion in international area is that Turkey abandons his peaceful, non-interventionist policy and started to follow an aggressive, security consuming policy.




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* This chapter  was supported by the TUBITAK/SOBAG 1001 Project (Project No: 112K172).

** Assoc. Prof. PhD; Yıldız Technical University, Department of Political Science and International Relations, Bu e-Posta adresi istenmeyen posta engelleyicileri tarafından korunuyor. Görüntülemek için JavaScript etkinleştirilmelidir.

[1] On this subject see Charles F. Hermann, “Threat, Time and Surprise: A Simulation of International Crises”, International Crises: Insights from Behavior Research, Charles F. Hermann (Ed.), New York: Free Press, 1972, p. 187.

[2] For Charles Hermann’s triangular categorization see Charles Hermann, “Crisis”, The Oxford Companion to Politics of the World, Joel Krieger (Ed.), New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 205.

[3] Charles F. Hermann, “International Crisis as a Situational Variable”, International Politics and Foreign Policy, James N. Rosenau (Ed.), New York: Free Press, 1969, p. 408.

 [4]“Türkiye'de Dış Politika Krizlerinde Karar Verme ve Kriz Yönetimi Süreç Analizi”, TÜBİTAK /SOBAG 1001 Projesi / Proje No. 112K172; For the details regarding the project please check its website:

[5] Edward Azar et al, “Protracted Social Conflict; Theory and Practice in the Middle East", Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol.8, Autumn 1978, p.50.

[6] Michael Brecher, Crises in World Politics, Oxford: Pergamon Press,1993.p.5.

[7] On this subject see Michael Brecher, International Political Earthquakes, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2008, p.29.

[8] For Brecher’s original list see Brecher, Crises in World Politics…, p.72.

[9]For details regarding this topic see Fuat Aksu, Türk Dış Politikasında Zorlayıcı Diplomasi, İstanbul: Bağlam Yayınları, 2008.

[10]Unlike most people think, the Mavi Marmara was under the flag of Comoros during the crisis. Only ship with the Turkish flag in the fleet was the vessel named Gaza. The fact that the Mavi Marmara used Turkish flag before the launch and changed its flag during the trip caused some confusion. For the response of the Ministry of Transportation to the Turkish Assembly see

[11]For a detailed analysis regarding this subject see Ayşe Küçük, “Türkiye - İsrail İlişkilerinde Mavi Marmara Krizi: Kriz Yönetimi Açısından Bir İnceleme”, Yildiz Technical University, Institute of Social Sciences, (Unpublished Graduate Thesis, 2015).

[12]For the discussion on this subject see Sertaç Hami Başeren (Ed.), Doğu Akdeniz'de Hukuk ve Siyaset, Ankara, A.Ü. SBF Yayınları, 2013; Fuat Aksu, “Doğu Akdeniz Deniz Yetki Alanları Sorunu ve Türkiye-AB İlişkileri”, Doğu Akdeniz'de Hukuk ve Siyaset, Sertaç Hami Başeren (Ed.), Ankara: A.Ü. SBF Yayınları, 2013, pp. 159-196. For an analysis within the perspective of crisis management see Tuğçe Kafdağlı, "Kriz Yönetimi Açısından Doğu Akdeniz Deniz Yetki Alanları Uyuşmazlığı", Yildiz Technical University, Institute of Social Sciences, (Unpublished Graduate Thesis, 2013).

[13]Although, American court dealing with the case sued by Muavenet victims defined this event as “political” after its evaluation and avoided to continue the case. If this event had been defined as an accident, its natural result would have been the persecution and investigation of people who were responsible for this event and compensations for victims; yet none of these things happened. On this subject see  ; also see

[14]For a recent work on this subject see Tolga Tanış, Potus ve Beyefendi, İstanbul: Doğan Kitapları, 2015, pp. 21-55, 461-466.

[15]It is possible to say that various reasons could be effective in this situation. With available documents, it is very hard to explain why Turkish decision-makers avoided the escalation of conflicts. The complex interdependency between USA and Turkey as well as the assymetrical power balance between these two countries  played an important role on this result.

[16] The phrase of “precious loneliness” was coined by Prime Minister Erdoğan’s senior adviser İbrahim Kalın in a situation when the communication channels between Middle Eastern countries disrupted and the difference of opinions sharpened. In his Tweet Kalın used these expressions: “‘Turkey became alone in Middle East’ would be not true but if this is a critique we must say, it is a precious loneliness.” On this issue see Zeynep Gürcanlı, “Dış Politikada ‘Değerli Yalnızlık’ Dönemi”, Hürriyet, 21 August 2013,; Tahir Alperen,“Yalnız Değiliz Ama Yalnızlığı Göze Alacak Kadar İlkeliyiz”, Star, 26 August 2013,

[17] “İşte Suriye'ye Karşı Eylem Planı”, Milliyet, 27 June 2012,

In the process the rules of engagement were put into operation within these principles:  On September 16th 2013, a Syrian M-17 military helicopter was brought down; and on March 23rd 2014, one of two Syrian MIG-23 planes was shot down. On 17th March 2015, Syrian aerial defense shot an American Predator Drone. “Hükümete Göre Suriye Helikopteri Vuruldu, Askere Göreyse Hava Aracı”, Cumhuriyet, 16 May 2015,

[18] Uğur Ercan, “Süleyman Şah Saygı Karakolundaki Askerler Tahliye Edildi”, Hürriyet, 22 February 2015,

[19] On the other side, it is possible to expect that Turkey’s political-military support to anti-government forces in Syrian civil war would adversely affect Turkish foreign relations and even lead to a crisis. Especially the event reflected on press as “MİT Trucks” and the fact that offical explanations confessed that they assisted those forces ith military equipmant could bear negative effects on Turkey based on UN principles. Turkish press started to reflect these events and raise critiques about government s war crimes. On this issue see “İtiraf Ettiler”, Cumhuriyet, 30 May 2015,

[20]The disruption in the relations between Israel and Turkey due to Mavi Marmara crisis caused detoriations in their relations between each of them and USA. USA made efforts to resolve the conflict between his two regional allies. The phone call in which this apology occurred during US President Obama’s visit is shown as an important success of the USA. For a detailed analysis of this “apology” issue see Tanış, “Potus ve Beyefendi”…, pp. 136-155.

[21]For the offical explanations from Turkish Foreign Affairs see

[22]For an original and detailed analysis of the foreign policy which Turkish policy-makers followed during Second World War and regarding Struma crisis and Jewish refugees see Çağrı Erhan, “İkinci Dünya Savaşı Yıllarında Yahudilerin Türkiye’ye Kabulü Meselesi”, A. Halûk Ülman’a Armağan, Gökhan Erdem (Ed.), Ankara: AÜ SBF Yay.,2013, 22. 125-150;  Tahir Kodal,” Türk Arşiv Belgelerine Göre II. Dünya Savaşı (1939-1945) Yıllarında Türkiye Üzerinden Filistin'e Yahudi Göçleri”, Atatürk Dergisi, Cilt 5, No.3, 2007, pp. 133-163.

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