TURKEY AND THE US: AN ON-AGAIN AND OFF-AGAIN RELATIONSHIP
TURKEY AND THE US: AN ON-AGAIN AND OFF-AGAIN RELATIONSHIP
After World War II, the United States began to show close interest in Turkey, seeing it as a safety valve against communism and the Soviet Union. However, this judgement has never seen any bearing.
The Ottoman Empire was one of the first states the New World’s young nation the U.S. had established a relationship with. An American committee had signed a free movement deal for the Mediterranean region with an Algerian governor in 1795 and in return had become significantly indebted with taxes to the Ottomans.
In 1853, epitaphs were requested from various towns to build a monument in the name of George Washington. In fact, the Ottoman government had sent an epitaph marked with Sultan Abdulmecid I’s signature (tughra) in calligraphy through Kazasker Izzet Efendi. It was placed next to others on the epitaph after it was finally built in 1884.
The most interesting incident in the relationship between the two countries was the American side’s request from the Ottomans to use camels in the desert during Mexican-American War that started because of Texas. In 1855, the Ottoman government sent a camel-mounted brigade and cameleers to America as military aid. The Americans built an epitaph in Arizona in 1938 on top of the shrine of Hacı Ali, who was one of the cameleers.
Bare your heart
The U.S., who had become one of the super powers of the world after World War I, refrained from centuries-old traditions and disliked monarchies. For this reason, it supported Ankara against Istanbul in line with Wilson’s Fourteen Points, the founding manifesto of new nation-states. In fact, at one stage, an American mandate was being discussed in the Anatolian region. However, after the U.S. shied away from it, the heroes of Ankara also stepped back. Ankara representatives even traveled to America and collected money. The U.S. played a significant and constructional role in the founding of the Republic of Turkey, at least as much as England.
Speaking at the Izmir Economic Congress in 1923, War Veteran Atatürk told the U.S. to “keep your hearts open to the Turkish people.” The Americans were granted a series of economic concessions called the Chester Concession, notably on the Mosul railway and its mines. Despite the loss of Mosul, American newspapers covered Atatürk’s death under the headline “The Great Turk has died”.
America was to play its actual role in global politics after World War II. As the absolute victor of the war, the U.S. was now the world’s number 1 super power. Everyone was lined up at the US.’ door to grab a spot at the United Nations established to continue this function, and to receive aid distributed for war-torn countries.
One of these countries was Turkey, who chose to live isolated until then. Ankara had accepted democracy in the name of being under the protection of the U.S. against Red Russia, which was evidently its most beneficial role in recent history. However, Russia and the U.S. had already divided the world in Yalta; Greece and Turkey were a part of the U.S.’ share. Using communism to scare off other nations was always beneficial to America.
The death of Ankara’s ambassador to Washington, Münir Ertegün, turned a new page. In 1946, the USS Missouri brought his funeral to Turkey. The ship was greeted with enthusiasm; “welcome” signs were hung on mosques’ minarets. Casino workers were told to treat their guests ‘well’.
According to the Doctrine President Truman announced on March 12, 1947, Turkey’s and Greece’s debts would be written off and military aid would be sent to them to save them from falling under the influence of Russia. Following this, the Marshall Plan was initiated to help rebuild European economies. When Turkey stood next to America as its ally during the Korean War, it paved its way to NATO. The danger of communism was eliminated, and if Russia attacked, America would protect us.
President Celal Bayar’s visit.in 1954 made waves in the U.S. Many agreements were signed during his visit. In 1957, Bayar said: “We hope that 30 years later, this sacred country will be a Little America with a population of 50 million.”
Economic assistance and democracy changed social and political life in Turkey. Everyone was now using American products; notably Frigidaire refrigerators, Chevrolet automobiles, American cigarettes that were being sold at the PX shopping center where American troops shopped, nylon stockings and clothes, sandwiches, jeans, American crew cuts, dances, comic books and Hollywood movies. American culture was quickly spreading in Little America. Training drills for the military were also changed from German methods to American methods.
The fight against communism and the ideal of spreading democracy was introduced as the basis for Turkish-American relations. The song Celal Ince sang quickly became very popular: “America America, as the world stops, Turks will remain by your side in the fight for independence.” However, Turkey was protecting NATO’s (in other words the U.S.’) southern border with its 600,000 soldiers and in return was receiving only a third of the support Greece was getting.
A new world?
However, this relationship began to take a new, complicated route during the Cold War after 1960. The coup plotters’ declaration “We are a part of NATO and CENTO” brought to mind the U.S.’ involvement in the May 27, 1960 military coup. Soon after, the Cuba Crisis in 1962 plotted the U.S. and Russia against each other. Kennedy warned Russia to remove its nuclear weapons from Cuba. Russia in return showed its nuclear weapons in Turkey. When the U.S. accepted this without consulting Ankara, a new crisis was born.
President Johnson warned of a potential military operation by the Greeks in Cyprus in his famous letter to then-president Inönü in 1964. He threatened to leave them alone against Russia. An intervention was prevented. Aid was cut back. Inönü who had all along kept his distance from Anglo-Saxons uttered his famous words: “A new world will be established, and Turkey will take its place in it.” This crisis slightly drove the U.S. and NATO away from Ankara. Nonetheless, when coupist president Gürsel fell sick, he was flown to America with Johnson’s personal jet, receiving treatment at the best hospitals in the country.
Yankee Go Home
The U.S.’ imperialist activities (even if in a post-modern sense), the events in Vietnam, its attitude towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which was an especially sensitive topic for Turkey, led romantic leftists and radicals to react. In 1996, the American News Center was bombed unidentified persons. The government ordered all American personnel to be searched at entries and exits in May 1967. The Incirlik Air base was always a matter of negotiation.
The protests that took place in June 1967 as the 6th fleet arrived in Turkey, and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance’s landing in a military area instead of the Ankara airport that was invaded by people, caused a stir. The following year, many people lost their lives in the protests held for the same reason. American soldiers were beaten and thrown into sea. In 1969, a group of students at Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) torched the American ambassador’s car. A crisis was averted as the U.S. chose to pass it off.
When Süleyman Demirel, who was known as Morrison Suleyman by his opponents because of his previous work at American company Morrison, came into power it was construed as the establishment of a pro-American government. In the eyes of the people, the Justice Party (AP) represented the American bloc, while the Republican People’s Party (CHP) the National Salvation Party (MSP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) represented the anti-American bloc.
The U.S., who was suffering from drug use and abuse, had requested from Turkey to limit its hashish cultivation after blaming it for the era’s largest drug trafficking incident. This request was accepted in October 1970. And, on March 12, putchists completely prohibited the cultivation of hashish and the production of opium. However, when Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit lifted the ban in 1974, it caused tension.
The biggest crisis broke out over the 1974 Cyprus Peace Operation and its influence continues to this day. The American government imposed sanctions on Turkey for refusing to leave the island after the chaos ended. On one side the terrible devaluation of the lira, high costs of living, poverty and long queues and on the other anarchist-led incidents which were said to be supported by the EU had rendered the country unlivable. Even when the sanctions were lifted in 1978, the damage had already been done. On top of this, a pro-US military faction took over the control of the government on September 12, 1980 with a bloody coup. It is a known fact that the U.S. sometimes resorted to military intervention, coups and economic crises to put others in their place.
Turgut Özal, who got the chance to get to know the U.S. better through his frequent working visits to the country since the beginning of the 50s and establish a friendship with its president, saw Washington as a strategic ally, giving the country more importance than it did for Europe. Özal believed that creating an alliance and collaborating with the U.S. would benefit Turkey greatly. Özal thought that the rigid, lopsided system could be fixed this way. His beliefs stemmed from the U.S.’ power in the world, as well as its symbolization of liberalism, human rights and democracy, rather than his infatuation with the country
A new crisis was born when the second resolution about soldiers being sent to Iraq on March 1, 2003 and foreign forces being deployed on our land was rejected in Parliament. The U.S., who had completed all preparations and spared no expense in accordance with the first resolution previously passed by Parliament, the, decided to put off its response. Instead, it entered Iraq from the south. However, this cost the U.S. dearly, both in lives and spending.
On July 4, 2003, when U.S. soldiers in Süleymaniye invaded the Turkish headquarters belonging to special forces, put sacks over Turkish soldiers’ heads and interrogated them another crisis erupted, but was soon resolved.
On October 8, 2017 another crisis erupted after a member of the U.S. consulate staff in Turkey was arrested. Despite Ankara insisting that the official had no diplomatic immunity, the U.S. still suspended visa applications from Turkey for 4 months. Thus the American-Turkish relationship dating back 2.5 centuries and the partnership that started on a sweet note ended up where it is today; up and down, all around. The number of those who see recent developments as the result of a British plan based on bringing Turkey closer to the Russian bloc are not few.
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