Presenting Turkey as a "soft power"in the Middle East was made possible by Turkey's broader democratization since the end of the Cold War and in particular since September 11, 2001. There seems to be a relationship between greater democratization and Eastern oriented foreign policy initiatives throughout Turkish political history. The three longest serving prime ministers (Adnan Menderes, Türgüt Özal, and Recep Erdoğan) have all implemented at least one Eastern oriented initiative (Baghdad Pact 1955, Central Asian Initiative 1991, and "Strategic Depth" 2004) along with their domestic democratization efforts. These same prime ministers commanded the largest percentage of the parliament and were among the most responsive to public opinion, which led often to tenuous relationships with Turkey's traditional purveyors of foreign policy, the military. There is something electorally attractive about Eastern initiatives even if they are less institutional or formalized in the same way than Western initiatives have tended to be (NATO 1952, EC Application 1987, and EU candidate status 2004). Within the democratizing Turkey of the last decade civilian leaders cannot as easily ignore public opinion on critical foreign policy questions in the same way as military leaders who previously dominated Turkish foreign policy decision-making.
The role of history and imperial memories has further facilitated the transformation in Turkey's outlook on the Middle East. Turkey's "rediscovery" of the Middle East has been greatly initiated by the AKP's historical memory and ideas about Turkey's "rightful" place as the heir to the Ottoman Empire both in and outside the region. The rise of the AKP has subsequently meant a de-emphasis of the "othering" and "Islamic threat" in Turkey's view of the region. Closer Middle Eastern relations are not seen as being dichotomous or detrimental to Turkey's western orientation, at home or abroad, as they had been seen under military rule in the 1980s. Hence, a more "Islam-friendly" approach that focuses on economic opportunities and shared heritage has come to permeate Turkey's policy towards the region.
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