By: Hyacinth Mascarenhas
In the 17th century, the Ottoman Empire was a significant force to be reckoned with. Today, Turkey possesses the world’s 17th biggest economy, one of the ten largest military’s in the world, and a vibrantly growing population.
Possessing a primary location between Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia, Turkey’s “domestic economy, rising Muslim middle class and expanding tourism, and export-oriented economy” seem to place it at a significant position globally.
But is Turkey poised to be a global superpower?
Having witnessed record-breaking economic growth in the past decade, Turkey is seen as a significant power to reckon with. While the rest of the financial world faced the brunt of a crumbling global economy, not a single banks or insurance company failed in Turkey during the financial crisis.
Sporting a 9.6 percent expansion in the first nine months of 2011, the Turkish economy is now one of the fastest growing economies in the world due to a tighter fiscal policy, renewed investor interest and IMF support.
Brent E. Sasley, Assistant Professor in Political Science at the University of Texas at Arlington, says Turkey certainly has the ability to be a regional power, especially in the Middle East.
“The shift to a private sector economy, combined with the foreign loans, gave a real boost to the economy,” Sasley said. “It has a large population, a dynamic reserve of human capital, a growing economy, a central location, and a history of being a contiguous great power with a high civilization and leadership role.”
With a population of 74 million, 67.4 percent of the total population fall within the working ages of 15-64 making Turkey a relatively ‘young’ country.
Turkey does, however, face a number of social problems including education, health of a growing aging population, unemployment, widening income differences between social classes and a deepening stigma towards disabled people who account for 12.3 percent of the total population.
With support from the private sector, NGOs, and academics towards social projects and now, a new Turkish constitution in the making, Turkey is definitely changing.
Alternative Life Association (AYDER), for example, founded by Ercan Tutal, is a non-government organization that strives to raise awareness of the needs of socially and physically disadvantaged people and ease their integration into society.
Through initiatives such as Alternative Camp, Dreams Academy, Diving for Freedom and others, AYDER aims to engage this ‘major minority’ and integrate them as a productive, active and independent part of society.
Moreover, universities such as Istanbul Bilgi University and Sabanci University have also begun to introduce courses such as social innovation to spark and create new initiatives to address social needs regionally, nationally and internationally.
Functioning as a republican parliamentary democracy, Turkey was often just seen one of the countries desperately seeking accession into the European Union.
However, A.K.P, the ruling Justice and Development Party in Turkey, has now turned its attention to former Ottoman lands in the Middle East and elsewhere giving rise to new commercial and political ties.
Sasley says secular Turkish leaders acknowledged a new potential role for Turkey in the Middle East in the 1990s towards the end of the Cold War.
“When the Islamists came to power in 2002, that potential had increased as a result of positive changes in Turkish-Arab relations, Turkey’s role as facilitator between Israel and the Arabs, Turkey growing economy (and therefore need for energy supplies and markets for investment and trade), and a growing disillusionment with the EU especially,” Sasley said.
“Its size, population, location, and long history of being part of the Europe also acts as an enabler for it that the Arab world can’t achieve, Sasley said. “Despite its lingering tendencies toward repression, it has long had a free press and space for initiative–the Arab world and some of the Islamic world doesn’t have this.”
Is this enough to frame Turkey as a potential global super power?
“Turkey is one of the Middle East’s strongest military powers, but it does not have the ability to project power outside of its immediate regions–for example, by ferrying troops and equipment around the world,” said Sasley.
“At the same time, global powers have global responsibilities, and they are expected to exert leadership Turkey is not considered to exert that kind of influence, nor does it seek to become involved outside its immediate circle of regions. It is still working out lots of its own issues, including the state-religion relationship, the demands of its Kurdish population, and struggles to determine where, exactly, its orientation should lie.”
Perhaps there may be scope for Turkey in the future, but for now, it can certainly claim the title of a strategically located, regional super power.