Giorgio Spagnol
Date de publication: 


Erdogan has announced a new perspective on foreign policy for Turkey’s second century. He has named the long-term foreign policy vision as the “Century of Turkey” and declared his determination for building a “Turkey Axis”.

Stressing that the fight against domestic and global tutelage represented the most important step toward enabling Turkey to pursue an independent policy, the Turkish leader outlined his views on this issue by announcing that “Even our decision to reinstate the Hagia Sophia as a mosque was a great challenge against global guardianship.”

Having assumed the responsibility for defending the country against external, as opposed to internal, threats, Erdogan made game-changing moves within the framework of Turkey’s involvement in regional crises like Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.

An important geopolitical actor is the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB), established to address the scope of Turkish foreign policy. YTB emerged as a global player in international education and cultural activities, primarily dealing with Turks living in other countries by attracting international students from across the world.


The birth of the Turkey Republic dates back to 1923. In the aftermath of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire found itself on the defeated side, ceding vast swathes of its territory and sovereignty to foreign powers. Under the resolute leadership of Kemal Ataturk, a triumphant liberation movement was set in motion: in 1922, the monarchy was dismantled; in 1923, the Republic was ushered in; 1924 witnessed the abolition of the Caliphate; 1930 brought the acceptance of universal suffrage, and 1937 enshrined secularism as a constitutional cornerstone.

According to Turkey, at the end of the Second World War the liberal international order has fallen short of offering sustainable peace and security for all. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world order moving from unipolarity to bipolarity, and finally to multipolarity proves that current global governance mechanisms are unable to address global challenges timely, fairly, and effectively.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently acknowledged that “Today’s multilateral institutions that were created after the Second World War reflect the power and economic dynamics of that time, and so, they need reform.” This observation resonates with Turkey’s longstanding call for a reform of the UN and other multilateral organizations, in order to create a just and fair new order.

Current challenges such as armed conflicts, terrorism, irregular migration, xenophobia, Islamophobia, climate crisis, food shortages, and cyber threats heighten each other. None of these challenges are confined by national borders and no state can tackle them alone.

President Erdogan

The Turkish president, who celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Republic on October 29, is reviving sultans and strongmen, while relying on a dramatization of the national narrative. He aligns characters and events with his ideological vision in a neo-Ottoman-inspired bid for renaissance.

He did not stop smiling for the longest time as he looked out at the crowd in front of him, who couldn't stop shouting their joy. The man who won the Turkish presidential election for the third time on Sunday, May 28, has demonstrated a keen sense of politics throughout his life. At 69, he has been able to impose his words, feel the zeitgeist better than anyone else and stick to his convictions of the moment. By once again donning the mantle of head of state, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in power since 2003, knows he has reached a milestone, a singular marker in Turkey's turbulent young history.

President Erdogan's address on Turkish Republic's first century

President Erdoğan set a number of targets for the 21st century, which he described as the Century of Turkey. Having set ambitious targets for 2023, 2053 (600th anniversary of the conquest of İstanbul), and 2071 (1000th anniversary of the Battle of Manzikert which conquered Anatolia) he most recently identified Turkey’s objectives and expectations within the context of its efforts to become a global power.

In the address delivered on the Turkish Republic’s first century (1923-2023), Erdogan outlined his vision for the 21st century and identified the future goals. Noting that “We added character to our foreign policy to make our state more powerful, our flag more glorious and our nation more respected,” he made the case that Turkey had become a country that others follow, as opposed to a country following others.

Furthermore, Erdogan reiterated his commitment to making Turkey one of the world’s top ten nations in politics, economy, technology, military, and diplomacy.

He also did maintain: “We share with humanity the news that the Century of Turkey represents a revolution that shall bring democracy, development, peace, and welfare to all parts of the world, starting with our country and our region.” That sentence was an expression of the plan to build the Turkey Axis.


While it sits at the forefront of many of the world’s most pressing issues, Turkey has at the same time come under heavy criticism from Western countries, based on their notion that Turkey is abandoning secular democracy for sectarian authoritarianism and on Turkey’s adoption of an autonomous and assertive foreign policy, which has been branded as Neo-Ottomanism.

Neo-Ottomanism is an irredentist  and imperialist Turkish political ideology that, in its broadest sense, advocates to honour the Ottoman past of Turkey and promotes greater political engagement of the Republic of Turkey  within regions formerly under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor state that covered the territory of modern Turkey among others.

Neo-Ottomanism emerged at the end of the Cold War with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, forming two distinct waves of the ideology: the first, in the early 1990s, the second associated foreign policy goals of establishing Turkey as an influential power within the Balkans, Caucasus and the Middle East.


The term has been associated with Erdogan's irredentist, interventionist and expansionist foreign policy in the Eastern Mediterranean and the neighbouring Cyprus, Greece, Iraq, Syria, as well as in Africa, including Libya, and Nagorno-Karabakh.


In July 2020, after the Council of State annulled the Cabinet's 1934 decision to establish the Hagia Sophia as museum and revoking the monument's status, Erdogan ordered its reclassification as a mosque.

On August 26, 2020, Turkish President Erdogan gave a speech, saying that "in our civilization, conquest is not occupation or looting. It is establishing the dominance of the justice that Allah commanded in the region. First of all, our nation removed the oppression from the areas that it conquered. It established justice. This is why our civilization is one of conquest. Turkey will take what is its right in the Mediterranean Sea, in the Aegean Sea, and in the Black Sea

International education and cultural activities

The soft power exercised through Turkish schools and the success of Turkish television series contribute to creating a cultural humus favourable to Ankara’s penetration. Likewise, contracts to Turkish companies abroad and trade agreements are another pillar of Ankara’s foreign policy.

An important actor of Turkish foreign policy is the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (Yurtdışı Türkler ve Akraba Topluluklar Başkanlığı, YTB). YTB emerged as a global player in international education and cultural activities despite primarily dealing with Turks living in other countries by attracting international students from across the world. The number of foreign students, which was 18,000 in 2000, has now reached a total of 302.000, in line with its growing role within Turkish foreign policy. Today, YTB is one of the most effective institutions bolstering Turkey’s public diplomacy efforts and soft power.

A further actor, the Yunus Emre Institute (Yunus Emre Enstitüsü - YEE) was also established by Erdogan and has been active in the field of foreign policy. Tasked with promoting Turkish language and culture worldwide, the institution has already opened 80 Yunus Emre Cultural Centers in 60 countries ranging from East Asia and the USA to Central Asia and Africa. YEE makes significant contributions to Turkish foreign policy thanks to its activities in the field of cultural diplomacy. Indeed, Turkish has become one of the five most learned foreign languages globally thanks to the Institute’s efforts.

Initiatives in the Region

Turkey prioritizes the development of multidirectional and multidimensional relations with countries in the region. Seeking to lead economic efforts to rebuild the relevant countries in this part of the world, where state structures suffered heavy damage in recent years, Turkey promotes the creation of common free trade zones.

Furthermore, the country established itself as a game-changer by countering anti-Turkish projects regarding regional issues that were directly or indirectly linked to its interests. It is important to note, however, that Turkey does not just react to regional developments but also takes initiatives more and more frequently. For example, Turkey has established a successful mediatory role between Ukraine and Russia and provided the platform for the conflicting sides to sign the grain deal, which prevented a global food crisis. Ankara has been trying to prevent the spread of the Ukrainian-Russian war to other countries in the Black Sea Region. Another example of a Turkish regional initiative are the Turkish constructive efforts in the South Caucasus. After the liberation of the Azerbaijani territories from the Armenian occupation, Turkey has invited Armenia together with other regional countries to form a regional stability axis in the South Caucasus.

The Turkic and Muslim Worlds

Turkey builds on concepts like the Turkic world, the Muslim world, and the “geography of the heart” to work more closely with some states or groups of states on the basis of shared cultural and religious values. Turkic is a language family originated around Central Asia and Siberia, Turk is a person whose mother tongue belongs in the Turkic group and raised by culture of Turks, Turkish is one of the many subgroups under the Turk identity.

Turkey further strengthened its relations with other Turkic states as it increased its state capacity and bolsters its economy. Especially since Turkey played a key role in the liberation of Nagorno-Karabakh after three decades of the Armenian occupation by supporting Azerbaijan, other Turkic states have come to appreciate the advantages of working more closely with Ankara. Furthermore, Turkey and Azerbaijan signed an alliance treaty on June 15, 2021 to set an example to the relevant nations.

Turkey has played a leading role in the creation of the pan-Turkic international organization, namely the Organization of the Turkic States (OTS), and in the institutionalization of intra-Turkic relations. Having spearheaded the 2009 establishment of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States, the country led the effort to transform that entity into a proper international organization at its 2021 meeting in İstanbul. Thus, OTS, whose headquarters is based in İstanbul, has become the main platform for the Turkic world. Through OTS, Turkey has been trying to improve its military, diplomatic, political, and economic relations with the Turkic world.

Similarly, Turkey has been investing in its relations not only with its neighbouring countries but also with Muslim countries further afield, such as those in Africa and South East Asia. Turkey has played a constructive role in the Libyan crisis. Ankara was/is the only real power that supports the legitimate Government of National Accord based in Tripoli. By providing military, political, and economic support to the legitimate government, Turkey de-escalated violence in the country and maintained hopes for a lasting solution to the crisis.

Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh, Qatar

Libya is thus the terminal from which the strategic depth in Africa unravels. The Western line of expansion reaches the Atlantic coast through Algeria, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Gambia. The East African route reaches the Indian Ocean through Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. All these countries are linked to Turkey by close ties.

The second Azerbaijani-Armenian war over Nagorno-Karabakh allowed Turkey to reset the status quo in the Caucasus. Ankara’s military support was not only decisive for Baku’s victory, but also allowed Turkey to secure a direct link with Central Asia.

Furthermore, Turkey has contributed to regional stability in the Gulf by preventing regional intervention in Qatari domestic affairs against the blockade of other Gulf countries. It has provided military, political, diplomatic, and economic assistance to the Qatari government. Eventually, Qatar has maintained its autonomous status and its independent perspective of regional politics. Later on, together with Qatar, Turkey has normalized its relations with other Gulf countries. Thus, Ankara has shown to other regional actors that its main objective in taking regional initiatives is securing regional stability, not to deepen the regional crises.

The effectiveness of Turkey's alliance with Azerbaijan, the emergence of the Turkey-Qatar bond as an axis of resistance in the Middle East, and the role that Ankara played in Somalia’s state-building project all reflected the growing influence of Turkey in international politics. As Turkey proved more capable in foreign policy, various Turkic and Muslim nations have opted to work more closely with this country in many different fields.

Axix in the Century of Turkey

Recover the Ottoman Empire’s geopolitical space and balance between ambitions and means. This is the paradigm that has driven Turkey’s foreign policy since its foundation in 1923. Ideology, Islam and secularism are mere tools at the service of the Turkish nation.

Streaking to build the Turkey Axis in the Century of Turkey, the country notably expanded its diplomatic network in recent years to elevate its global standing. With 257 diplomatic missions abroad, it currently has the world’s fifth-largest network. At the same time, the number of foreign diplomatic missions (foreign embassies and consulates) in Turkey climbed to 326. Finally, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs increased its human resources and rendered it more effective as the number of Turkish diplomatic missions abroad soared.

Turkey's Foreign Policy

Having significantly increased its state capacity, Turkey aims to end its hierarchical relationship with the Western nations, which remained intact throughout the 20th century, and resume its relations on the basis of equal partnership. The Western states, however, reacted negatively to Ankara’s demand and began to otherize it. In response, the Turkish government was compelled to take stock of its relations with the relevant nations. Diversifying its foreign policy with a multilateral and multidimensional approach, Turkey thus started engaging with non-Western countries and regions. Accordingly, it sought to attain a global status by increasing its footprint worldwide and trying to strike a healthy East-West and North-South balance.

One of the most significant steps that Turkey has taken toward becoming a global power was to elevate its foreign policy to the global scale by engaging with all continents and regions through its official and civilian actors.

In this context, one of the most successful endeavours has been Turkey’s newly developed partnership model with Africa where the number of Turkish embassies  increased from 12 to 44 over two decades. During the same period, the trade volume between Turkey and African nations skyrocketed from $4.3 billion to $40 billion annually. Similar developments occurred between Turkey and Latin America and the Caribbean where the number of Turkish embassies soared from 6 to 19 over two decades and the trade volume climbed from $1 billion to $15 billion.

Furthermore, Turkey launched the Asia Anew Initiative in 2019 to promote closer cooperation with Southeast and East Asian countries in many different areas.  Specifically, the Turkish government attaches importance to developing stronger relations with China, as Asia’s greatest rising power. Accordingly, the country aims to take advantage of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and develop its own projects to contribute to that plan. In this context, a railroad route was established between China and Turkey in 2019, which enabled the Chinese Rail Express to reach Ankara via the Caspian Sea. Turkey also seeks to develop institutionalized relations with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (called “NATO in Asia”) , which continues to increase its influence over the Asian continent, to play a more active role within the relevant regional cooperation mechanisms.


Erdogan's vision represents a “new world order” manifesto that defines Turkey as a regional leader and an influential player globally. At the same time, it is a call on global powers to stop meddling in the country’s internal affairs. Turkey is determined to signal its growing strength and influence in the age of global power politics and instability.

Turkey aims to use all of its different identities (Turkic, Muslim, Middle Eastern, European, etc.) simultaneously and actively. Having played an active role in the management of regional and global crises over the last two decades, the country continues to become an influential player amid the ever-deepening and ever-escalating global struggle for power.

As part of its efforts to build the Turkish Axis, Turkey aims to become a country with the state capacity and a powerful economy to pursue an independent foreign policy and to have a military might to deter domestic and foreign threats and diplomatic instruments to involve itself in regional and global developments. The main purpose of that plan is to promote national security, attain regional leadership, and build a just global order. At the same time, Turkey  calls for shaping the next century on the basis of shared values and common reason. Having restructured its official institutions and increased its capacity to meet those targets, Turkey shall continue to use all resources at its disposal to further its national goals.

Turkey has evolved from a small, rump state trying to consolidate its regime, economy, and army, into an important regional and global player. The country is now the home of NATO's 2nd  largest army and the world’s  19th largest economy; it is also the world’s 12th largest arms exporter,  the 12th largest country by manufacturing output, and the host of more refugees than any other country. While it sits at the forefront of many of the world’s most pressing issues, Turkey has at the same time come under heavy criticism from Western countries, based on their notion that Turkey is abandoning secular democracy for sectarian authoritarianism.

Today, Turkey is one of the rising  powers pursuing an independent path. Its moves on the global stage, especially in the military domain, to demonstrate that the balance of global power is determined by much more than great power competition. Those moves are a reminder for the West that developing countries are shaping and will continue to influence the course of international relations.


As Turkey embarks on the Century of Turkey, its foreign policy is reshaped to address the complex challenges of the 21st century more effectively. In the face of pressing challenges, Turkey recognizes the importance of assuming responsibility as a system-building actor on the international stage and will continue to act accordingly. It will be at the forefront of efforts towards a more inclusive and effective international system by adjusting to changing global dynamics, improving organizational efficiency, and further bolstering diplomatic capabilities.

Through improved coordination and cooperation, Turkey seeks to present a unified and coherent foreign policy agenda on the global stage. It aspires to contribute to a more equitable and secure world order, and is poised to play a more influential and proactive role in shaping the global landscape with determination and dedication.

The West should seriously take into account  Turkey's transformation from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire to a rising power. In the mid-nineteenth century, Russian Tsar Nicholas I called the Ottoman Empire the “sick man of Europe.” After a centuries-long decline, the empire officially crumbled in 1922. Yet from those ashes, the Turkish Republic arose; and over just a century, it has established a different trajectory.