On the recent history of US-Turkey relations - MERVE ŞEBNEM ORUÇ

On the recent history of US-Turkey relations

If we don't count the last two-year tension between Ankara and Washington until the latest agreement made within the context of fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, we can say that Turkey-U.S. relations seriously faltered twice in recent history. One time was when the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM) rejected on March 1, 2003, ahead of the U.S.'s invasion of Iraq, the memorandum suggesting U.S. soldiers pass through Turkey, while the U.S. had made all plan and preparations accordingly. The memorandum rejected by 264 votes against 250 had caused a great wave of shock on the U.S. side.

In his book “Known and Unknown,” published in 2011, the former U.S. Defense Secretary described the lack of support from its key NATO ally in the region, as a serious operational mishap and political shame for the U.S. administration that was certain the memorandum would be approved. In these pages, which is the most interesting section of the book, Rumsfeld explained the impact of the rejection of the memorandum on the invasion of Iraq in terms of the U.S. as: “The U.S. soldiers who would be advancing through Turkish territory having no threat toward Saddam's forces in the country's north and west, was going to give enemy fighters the chance to escape north and to operate in predominantly Sunni regions where there were no coalition soldiers at the time. Our inability to invade Iraq from Turkey could be a key factor in the rise of the Sunni-backed revolt following the end of the great combat operations.” Rumsfeld, who wrote that the center of resistance in Sunni regions was in the west of Iraq, continued: “By the time the U.S. soldiers had reached here, the large-scale combat operations had ended. This meant [Sunni] cities such as Fallujah, Tikrit and Ramadi had not been in great battles with American soldiers and had become an asylum for the rebels.”

In brief, he was implying that Turkey, because of its approach, was responsible for the Iraq invasion turning into a scandal. If Rumsfeld were to be asked today, he might say that the transformation of Iraq's al-Qaida, which joined forces with the former administrators of the Saddam regime supported by the Sunni clans in Iraq, into ISIL, is also Turkey's fault. The U.S. army, which attacked Turkish troops in Sulaymaniyah a couple of months after the shock, took Turkish soldiers hostage, and after the “bagging” incident, U.S. enmity in Turkey had reached its peak. Claims back then that former U.S. Chief of General Staff Richard Myres threw the telephone during a call with his Turkish counterpart, presented a projection regarding the state and future of relations. The U.S.'s support of the Ergenekon case, allowing the elimination of a “left inclined” Gladio organization – created and financed by the CIA during the Cold War years and which was later left idle - by the hand of the Gülen organization is explained in some circles as the U.S.'s revenge of the March 1 memorandum; which is true.

Another crisis between the two countries prior to this erupted with the U.S. preferring to openly stand close to Greece during the 1963-1964 Cyprus incidents, and continued until the 1974 Peace Movement and later. Relations were damaged in the years following the Cyprus crisis and weapon embargo, the U.S. taking a side in the tension between two NATO allies, was one of the fundamental reasons behind the rise of anti-Americanism in Turkey. Upon U.S. President Lyndon Johnson's June 5, 1964 letter to İsmet İnönü, which could be summarized as “If you attack Cyprus, you will be in trouble,” threatening that the NATO agreement will not apply in the event of a possible attack by the Soviets, İnönü had said, “A new world can be established with Turkey in it.” Yes; he had said this, but shortly after on Feb. 20, 1965, he had to leave his post to the Suat Hayri Ürgüplü government. Just like Adnan Menderes, who he ousted and who was hanged...

The airplane carrying Menderes and his staff going to the U.K. for Cyprus talks fell on Feb. 17, 1959 due to a “technical failure,” with only seven of the 21-person cortege surviving. Menderes, one of those who survived the accident, had returned to the country as “the conqueror of Cyprus.” If he had not been ousted on May 27, 1960, he was going to make a visit to Moscow to find new alternatives for the Turkey which NATO did not want to turn from an agriculture society to an industrial country and would not even give any loans. In fact, Menderes was neither anti-American, nor was he against NATO. President Celal Bayar and Menderes's attitude toward U.S. authorities who wanted Turkey to give a base to the U.S. was that such a request could not be accepted without NATO membership. In order to surround the Soviet Union and be close to the Middle East, the U.S. convinced the U.K. and hence the door for Turkey's NATO membership was opened. Despite this, Menderes could not escape the dismal ending.

That which happened to Bülent Ecevit, whose prestige in the country increased with the 1974 Peace Movement and who was also called “the conqueror of Cyprus,” was not very different. Ecevit resigned from his post as prime minister to go to early elections to evaluate his increased prestige following the movement, but his plan for early elections failed. A government couldn't be formed for over 200 days, which was followed by a period of coalitions. The years when street incidents, the right-left fight gradually gained height was followed by the 1980 coup.

More examples could be given, yet we don't have enough room. In brief, whether right-wing or left-wing, whether Muslim or secular, whether former friend or not, the U.S. has always called to account anybody that objects to its will over Turkey. Yet, the sad part is that it has never required an invasion force to do this, it had always done this with the support it finds within the country. Without a doubt, what we are experiencing today is no different to that which happened in the past.


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