Turkey announced this week it would freeze the financial assets of Syria, its southern neighbor, and prevent all weapons deliveries to the country until the regime of Bashar al-Assad ceases its assaults on civilians protesting autocratic rule and agrees to step down. This is also the same Turkey that has co-negotiated a deal with Iran on limiting nuclear weapons developments. This is the same Turkey who's leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is beloved by Muslims around the world for his fiery language leveled toward Israel in the wake of diplomatic snafus and the flotilla incident last year. This is the same Turkey that has made the foreign policy choice to negotiate with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
How is the Western world to understand Turkey taking the lead with sanctions against Syria and the vehement Turkish defense of democracy?
Already well on its way to becoming a regional power, the Republic of Turkey was thrust into the global spotlight by the Arab Spring earlier this year. Its commitment to true democratic governance, majority Islamic population, and rapid economic growth has caused many to cite it as a model for struggling nations like Egypt and Libya. However, there are many in the Western world that view Turkey's rise with suspicion and even scorn. These fears are misplaced, and governments all over the world should be seeking to partner with Turkey in reshaping a region long fraught with instability and violence.
After rising from ashes of a once proud Ottoman Empire in 1923, the Turkish Republic spent its first seven decades as a moderately industrialized nation but with hardly any major influence on any international platform. At the turn of the millennium, Turkey had just gone through a Japanese-style lost decade and was at the brink of economic collapse. Inflation was at 70 percent by 2001 (having hit a high of 116 percent in 1994) and GDP was at negative 5.7 percent.
The 1990s were also a time of severe political instability and democratic failure in Turkey. The government was crushed by a fourth military coup in four decades. Kurdish terrorism in Turkey's southeastern region claiming thousands of civilian and military lives. And by 2001, the Istanbul Stock Exchange was in collapse, the banking system was leaning hard on the International Monetary Fund as a savior, and Turkey's long-standing membership process to the European Union received scant attention in Brussels.
The general elections of November 2002 proved to be the starting point of a major overhaul in Turkey's economy, political systems, democratic credentials and rising regional importance. A newly established party won a majority of seats in the Turkish Grand National Assembly and began a program focused on liberalizing the economy - starting with the privatization of state owned enterprises - and eventually the introduction of the now famous "zero problems" foreign policy to make peace with all Turkey's neighbors.