Turkey and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation: Part 2

Increase of Turkey’s role in the OIC

As a result of 2002 proportional parliamentary elections, the newly created “Justice and Development” party, that had split away from the party “Welfare”, came to power with Abdullah Gul and Recep Tayyip as the party’s co-founders. The outlook of these leaders who had passed the school of Islamic ideology have essentially influenced the domestic and foreign policy of Turkey which urged many analysts say that Turkey gradually leaves the West and gets closer with the East.

Agreeing on this viewpoint it is necessary to state that the collapse of the bipolar world system and the elimination of the soviet threat gave Turkey a chance to give up his limited opportunities in relations with the Western countries and find alternative vectors of foreign policy like the Islamic world. As Turkish political scientist Sami Cohen mentions, Turkey started to operate in its own national interest. The most apparent goals arisen from those interests that Turkey pursued during the implementation of its foreign policy including its actions within the framework of the OIC will be illustrated below.

  1. The neo-Ottomanism
  2. “Bridge” between the West and the East
  3. Unification of the Muslim world under the leadership of Turkey

Many experts call new political ideology posed in the 21st century in the Republic of Turkey “neo-Ottomanism” which implies the rehabilitation of the Turkish influence in former Ottoman territories. Turkish analyst-journalist Kemal Ozturk has an interesting review on this. In his analysis “Does Turkey Have a Neo-Ottoman Dream?” the analyst refers to the Turkish foreignpolitical changes mentioning that in his speeches Erdogan periodically inflames the public’s neo-Ottoman feelings and urges rebuilding the bridges with the Ottoman history. The fact that Erdogan introduced a tradition of having 16 presidential guards clad who symbolize the warriors of all the 16 great empires that the Turs established throughout history is especially remarkable. These warriors, thereafter always being present at ceremonies of presidential palace, reflect the attempt of restoration of the bridge with the past and reconciling with Turkish history.

15 years ago Abdullah Gul who was a member of the Islamic “Welfare” («Refah») party during that time confessed to an American journalist that his dream was to create a companionship of countries in which Turkey would be able to unite Europe with the Muslim world.

Gul’s idea was developed by R. Erdogan during the OIC forum in 2004 developed. According to Erdoghan the geopolitical shift of priorities towards the Middle East lets Turkey play the role of a “bridge” between the East and the West, become a one of a kind political, economic and cultural “buffer”, stability factor in the region due to its unique geographical location and historical experience. For Erdogan Turkey is the country that can bring the culture of “conciliation and honest mediation” to the region’s countries.

This kind of turkish strategy, at first sight, was also profitable for the USA since in the name of Turkey the USA and Israel would have powerful ally like Turkey and better opportunity to change the situation in the Middle East to their own benefit. A reminder: the main objectives of the OIC were the solution of Palestine problem and the liberation of the holy places of Jerusalem. Hence, the US sees Turkey as mediator who could become a peacemaker between the OIC and the US-Israel alliance.

Meanwhile no matter how tempting the expectations forthcoming from the West are, Turkey cannot ignore its interests and opportunities in relations with the Middle Eastern countries. Many scientists and politicians in Turkey were against the US’s “the Great Middle East” plan. If we take into account Muslims’ recent struggle to control their own resources on their own, this plan was a new way of colonialism for the Muslim world and is taken extremely painfully by them.,. Besides, the USA’s support of the Kurdish parties, whose aim is to create an independent Kurdish state, is unacceptable for Turkey. On the other hand, as a result of the prolonged process with preconditions of the membership of the European Union, nternal political discontents and splits erupted in Turkey.

All of these caused Turkey to activate its pro-Islamic policy. This viewpoint that Turkey needs to increase its role in the OIC started to circulate in the political circles of the country. Turkey’s reputation considerably increased in organizations when the Turkish parliament denied the resolution of providing its military bases to the US forces for the invasion of Iraq. Erdogan’s anti-Israeli statements and the aggravation of Turkish-Israeli relations also fostered the boost of Turkey’s reputation.

Turkish diplomat – the OIC leader

Due to thewide Turkish lobbying on July 15, 2004 during the 31stsession of the OIC’ Foreign Ministers’ conference Turkish scientist and diplomat Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu was elected the OIC Secretary General.

During his office (2004-2014 January 31) Ihsanoglu made changes in the OIC somehow increasing the effectiveness of the largest Islamic organization. The new name of the organization which is – Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) contributed to the deepening of the cooperation between Islamic countries. Among the reform program were the “the Ten-Year Program of Action” to Face the Challenges of Twenty-first Century” and the revised OIC Charter which was passed by the OIC in 2008.

With these 2 documents the Turkish politician introduced new ideas and principles in the OIC among which were, for instance, the creation of the Standing Committee on Human Rights, projects on the strengthening of cultural dialogue and development of actions against terrorism, etc. Ihsanoglu’s activities on the implementation of the organization’s trade and economic reforms are remarkable. He highlighted especially the importance of the activation of trade turnover within the organization. And his most important initiative was the so-called “cotton program” of the OIC the aim of which was to support the economic development of the member countries of the organization particularly the West African countries.

One of the successful steps of the Turkish diplomat was the establishment of the OIC office in Brussels, by which the organization solved two major problems. First, the OIC, as a unified voice of the Islamic world, ensured its constant contact with the EU and created a platform for the development of joint actions with the help of the Permanent Mission. And secondly, it was to become the representative of Europe’s 20 million Muslim population, which was to protect the interests of the latter if there was a necessity.

In January 2005 Ihsanoglu announced that the OIC would reach its goals:”If we are able to change our strategy of adopting resolutions and find a mechanism to achieve them. Otherwise many of our resolutions would just be an expression of friendly attitude towards one another.” In 2006 the OIC held a meeting between the religious leaders of Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite communities. As a result a conciliation agreement was signed, which called for stopping the loodshed in Iraq. Thus, with this step Ihsanoglu tried to expand the scope of the OIC’ activities by entitling conflict resolution and peacekeeping operations to the latter.

In recent years, the OIC has been actively involved in the implementation of the policy against “Islamophobia” which manifested itself in the form of a particularly sharp reaction connected with the Danish caricatures incident1 . The stance of the Islamic Cooperation Organization has contributed to the internationalization of the issue. Thus, Ihsanoglu made a statement by which he called on the UN to adopt a resolution banning attacks on religious beliefs. Further the OIC made diplomatic suggestions to the countries of the West, to apply the UN Human Rights Commission’s 16/18 resolution, to fight “against intolerance, negative stereotyping and religious stigmatism.” Within the framework of such policies, in January 2013 the OIC organized a meeting of legal scholars of Human Rights in Istanbul which reestablished the organization’s upcoming actions like examining the legal methods, by which religious intolerance against Muslims would be prohibited.

The circle of Turkey’s leadership in the OIC coincided with the events of the ‘’Arabic Spring’’. Moreover, as the OIC leader E. Ihsanoghlu repeatedly showed his positive attitude towards these revolutions. During one of the meetings organized by the “Brookings Doha center” he said that those revolutions in fact became “a fall for the Arab dictators” while the Arab population was given the opportunity to “enter the context of history,” because they had been out of the history for a very long time because of their political elite. Ihsanoglu’s stance affected the OIC’s policy. For example, during the Libyan “Spring” The OIC was the first international organization to condemn the violence against peaceful citizens, moreover, it rendered aid through Egypt and Tunisia. Without going into the details of the Arabic “Spring” events, let us just conclude that the decline of the most powerful Arabic countries was beneficial for Turkey. Thus, from the exhausted countries neither Libya, nor Egypt or Syria were able to restore their leadership position in the Muslim world after the revolutions and in the OIC.

The 13th OIC summit, assessment of the organization’s activities

After the end of Ihsanoglu’s term of office in 2014 and Saudi Arabia’s former Minister of Culture and Information Iyad Emin Meden’s election as a Secretary General of the OIC, Turkey continues its activity within the framework of the organization. On April 14-16, 2016 the 13th OIC Summit was solemnly held in Istanbul. In the adopted declaration points that were directly related to Turkey’s national interests particularly in the Western Thrace the protection of the rights of the Turkish population (№96), Mtskheti Turks repatriation process (№97), as well as the security of the Crimean Tatars, guarantee of their religious, educational, cultural rights (№98) found a place.

Another manifestation of the Turkish initiative is reflected in paragraph 113, in which the conference welcomes the joint statement of Turkish President R. Erdogan and Kazakhstan President N. Nazarbayev on April 13, 2016 on launching a process of Islamic rapprochement, the aim of which was the resolving of conflicts with the principle of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.

With №202 point the declaration also included №8 / 40 resolution adopted during the 40th session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers, which was presented by Turkey. According to that resolution a decision was made to operationalize the Center forPoliceCooperation and Coordination as an OIC specialized institution based in Istanbul.

The points 113 and 202 show that Turkey endeavors to undertake the functions of development, management and coordination of political directions within OIC. However, according to our prediction in the foreseeable future Turkey will not be able to transfer the organization’s activities in a matter of conflict regulations from declarative nature to a more practical level.

Summing up, it should be stated that Ihsanoglu’s holding of office as well as enhancing the role of Islam in Turkish politics contributed to the restoration of confidence among the Islamic countries towards the former pro-Western Turkey. Turkey’s economic ties with the member countries of the Organization were expanded, actions protecting theincid rights of Muslims in non-Muslim countries became more systematized. It is also clear that Turkey wants to restore its historical mission left from the Ottoman Empire and tries to use the OIC to unite the entire Islamic world. After all this, however, the efficiency of Turkey’s efforts to take over the leadership of the Islamic world with the help of the OIC is not feasible for a number of reasons. There are considerable shortcomings in the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation. First of all, there are serious political, ideological, socio-economic, geographic and demographic differences between the members of the organization that impede the full consolidation of the Islamic world. Besidesthese differences, there also exist border conflicts, religious, or ethnic issues between the members of the organization. The OIC will fail to manage to take over the international leading role unless it overcomes these issues. The above-mentioned problems are well visible for Turkey either, so it is trying to increase the effectiveness of the OIC in any way possible. After the events of the Arabic Spring, Turkey has put forward the viewpoint that the Islamic Cooperation Organization shoul act in line with the changes in the region. Davutoglu has spoken about this on different platforms, mentioning that during the period following the Arabic Spring the OIC is “the only umbrella organization” of the Muslim world and it needs to increase its effectiveness by properly responding to the region’s transformation.2 Apparently by this factor the speculations on Nagorno Karabakh conflict was conditioned by Turkey during the 13th OIC Summit,which we will cover closely in the 3rd part of the analysis.

1 Ա. Հովհաննիսյան, «Թուրքիա. ազնիվ միջնորդություն, թե՞ քաղաքական սակարկություն», էջ 347, Թուրքագիտական և օսմանագիտական հետազոտություններ VI, ՀՀԳԱԱ Արևելագիտ ին-տ, Երևան, 2009:

2 Նույն տեղում:

3 Bolukbash Suha. “Behind the Turkish-Israeli Alliance: A Turkish View”, Journal of Palestine studies 113. Autumn 1999.

4 2005թ. Սեպտեմբերին դանիական Jyllands-Posten ամսագրում հրապարակվեց իսլամի հիմնադիր Մուհամադ մարգարեի կերպարի մոտիվներով 12 ծաղրանկար

5 Muhittin Ataman, Ayşe Nur Gökşen, Sembolizm ve Aktivizm Arasında, Islam Işbirliği Teşkilatı, p. 26


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Author: Armine Muradyan © All rights are reserved

Translated by Tatevik Tumanyan