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Turkish–American relations
Turkey   United States
Map indicating location of Turkey and USA
     Turkey      United States

Turkey – United States relations in the post-WW2 period evolved from the Second Cairo Conference in December 1943 and Turkey's entrance into World War II on the side of the Allies in February 1945, as a result of which Turkey became a charter member of the United Nations.[1] Difficulties faced by Greece after the war in quelling a communist rebellion, along with demands by the Soviet Union for military bases in the Turkish Straits, prompted the United States to declare the Truman Doctrine in 1947. The doctrine enunciated American intentions to guarantee the security of Turkey and Greece, and resulted in large scale U.S. military and economic support.[2] This support manifested in the establishment of a clandestine stay behind army, denoted the "Counter-Guerrilla", under Operation Gladio. After participating with United Nations forces in the Korean War, Turkey joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1952.

The friendliness of Turkey towards the United States has declined markedly over the past five years. A June 2007 Pew Research Center survey found that only 9% of Turkish citizens have a favorable opinion of the United States, the lowest percentage out of all 47 countries surveyed, below the Palestinian territories (13% have a favorable view of the U.S.) and Pakistan (15%).[3] The decline of U.S.-Turkish relations is primarily a result of the United States' instigation of and action in the Iraq War. Turkey views the Iraq war as a significant threat because northern Iraq acts as a safe-haven for a Kurdish terrorist group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Furthermore, Turkey views the destabilization of Iraq as a possible impetus for Kurds to claim their independence from Turkey, Iraq, and/or other Middle Eastern countries with significant Kurdish populations. In October 2007, the quality of the Turkish-American relationship was further degraded by attempts in the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a bill condemning the Armenian Genocide, perpetrated from 1915–1917 by the Ottoman Empire.[4]


Early relationship

Turkey's most important international relationship has been with the United States since the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War. Turkey's association with the United States began in 1947 when the United States Congress designated Turkey, under the provisions of the Truman Doctrine, as the recipient of special economic and military assistance intended to help it resist threats from the Soviet Union. A mutual interest in containing Soviet expansion provided the foundation of U.S.–Turkish relations for the next four decades. As a result of Soviet threats and U.S. assistance against them, Turkey moved away from a single-party government towards democracy; in fact holding the first democratic elections in 1950, as a result of which self-declared "National Chief" Ismet Inonu was finally toppled by the people and Adnan Menderes was elected by popular vote. In support of overall United States Cold War strategy, Turkey contributed personnel to the United Nations forces in the Korean War (1950-53), joined NATO in 1952, became a founding member of the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) collective defense pact established in 1955, and endorsed the principles of the 1957 Eisenhower Doctrine. In the 1950s and 1960s, Turkey generally co-operated with other United States allies in the Middle East (Iran, Israel, and Jordan) to contain the influence of those countries (Egypt, Iraq, and Syria) regarded as Soviet clients. Throughout the Cold War, Turkey was the bulwark of NATO's southeastern flank, directly bordering Warsaw Pact countries and risking nuclear war on its soil during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Turkey received around 2.5 billion dollars in military aid from 1950 to 1970 (in 1970 dollars).[5] Since 1954, Turkey hosts the Incirlik Air Base, an important operations base of the United States Air Force, which has played a critical role during the Cold War, the Gulf War, and the recent Iraq War.

Invasion of Cyprus

The most difficult period in the U.S.–Turkish relations was the time of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, which was in response to a Greek-inspired coup that ousted the Cypriot President Archbishop Makarios and installed Nikos Sampson in his place. At the time, the military forces of Cyprus were under heavy influence of the Greek military junta. In response to the Turkish intervention, which took place in violation of US and International Law, the United States halted arms supplies to Turkey. Ankara retaliated by suspending United States military operations at all Turkish installations that were not clearly connected with NATO missions. The Cyprus issue affected the U.S.-Turkish relations for several years. Even after the United States Congress lifted the arms embargo in 1978, two years passed before bilateral defense co-operation and military assistance were restored to their pre-1974 level.


During the 1980s, relations between Turkey and the United States gradually recovered the closeness of earlier years. Although Ankara resented continued attempts by the United States Congress to restrict military assistance to Turkey because of Cyprus and to introduce congressional resolutions condemning the Armenian Genocide, the Özal government generally perceived the administration of President George H.W. Bush as sympathetic to Turkish interests. Ronald Reagan was sympathetic to the Armenian cause and is the last American to have officially recognized the Armenian Genocide. .[6] It was in this period that the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) was established and started to licence-build F-16 Fighting Falcon jets in Turkey. Washington also demonstrated its support of Özal's market-oriented economic policies and efforts to open the Turkish economy to international trade by pushing for acceptance of an International Monetary Fund program to provide economic assistance to Turkey. Furthermore, the United States, unlike European countries, did not persistently and publicly criticize Turkey over allegations of human rights violations. Also, the United States did not pressure Özal on the Kurdish problem, another issue that seemed to preoccupy the Europeans. By 1989 the United States had recovered a generally positive image among the Turkish political elite.

After the Cold War

The end of the Cold War forced Turkish leaders to reassess their country's international position. The disappearance of the Soviet threat and the perception of being excluded from Europe have created a sense of vulnerability with respect to Turkey's position in the fast-changing global political environment. Özal believed Turkey's future security depended on the continuation of a strong relationship with the USA. For that reason, he supported the United States' position during the Persian Gulf War, although Turkey's economic ties to Iraq were extensive and their disruption hurt the country. After the war, he continued to support major United States initiatives in the region, including the creation of a no-fly zone over northern Iraq, the Arab–Israeli peace process, and expanded ties with the Central Asian members of the CIS. Özal's pro-United States policy was not accepted by all Turks. The United States' use of Turkish military installations during the bombing of Iraq in 1991 led to antiwar demonstrations in several cities, and sporadic attacks on United States facilities continued in 1992 and 1993. Nevertheless, among Turkey's political elite, a consensus had emerged by January 1995 that Turkey's security depended on remaining a strategic ally of the United States. For that reason, both the Demirel and Çiller governments undertook efforts to cultivate relations with the administrations of presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

War on Terror

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Barack Obama meet in Ankara, April 6, 2009

Turkey has remained a close ally of the United States, supporting it in the war on terror in the post September 11 climate. However, the Iraq war faced strong domestic opposition in Turkey and as such, the Turkish Parliament couldn't reach the absolute majority of 276 votes needed for allowing U.S. troops to attack Iraq from Turkey, the final tally being 264 votes for and 250 against. This led to a brief period of cooling in relations, particularly following the "hood event", which was perceived as an act of hostility in Turkey. However, bilateral relations between the two allies soon regained momentum through diplomatic, humanitarian and indirect military support. The vast majority of the military and civilian logistic support to U.S. troops stationed in Iraq goes through Turkey by land, or through Turkish air space.

Ankara is particularly cautious about an independent Kurdish state arising from a destabilized Iraq. Turkey has fought an insurgent war against the PKK, a guerrilla group (recognized as a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union) seeking Kurdish independence, in which more than 37,000 people have lost their lives. This has led Ankara to pressure the U.S. into clamping down on guerrilla training camps in northern Iraq, though the U.S. remains reluctant due to northern Iraq's relative stability compared to the rest of the country as well as its lack of spare forces to divert away from the more contentious areas of Iraq. On October 17, 2007, the Turkish Parliament voted in favour of allowing the Turkish Armed Forces to take military action against the PKK rebels based in northern Iraq.[7] In response, U.S. President George W. Bush stated that he did not believe it's in Turkey's interests to send troops into Iraq.[8]

In late 2007, Turkey recalled its ambassador to the United States, after the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed a United States resolution on the Armenian incidents in the Ottoman Empire. This resulted in a delay of a full House vote on Res. 106. Speaker Pelosi has pledged to bring the resolution to a full vote, but pressure from the White House and Turkey has kept her from doing so.[9]

Nevertheless, the two NATO, OECD, OSCE and G-20 allies continue to cooperate in important projects, such as the Joint Strike Fighter program. The United States also actively supports Turkey's membership bid to join the European Union, lobbying frequently on behalf of Ankara through its diplomatic missions in EU capital cities. In June 2008, The United States and Turkey began to cooperate on peaceful uses of nuclear energy with a pact that aims for the transfer of technology, material, reactors and components for nuclear research and nuclear power production in Turkey for an initial 15-year period followed by automatic renewals in five-year increments that provides a comprehensive framework for peaceful nuclear cooperation between the two nations under the agreed non-proliferation conditions and controls. A parallel U.S. bipartisan resolution has recently highlighted the importance for Turkish Republic's key role in providing her western (EU and US) and regional allies Eurasian energy security.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies has recently started a one-year initiative project to evaluate and enhance the Turkish Republic - United States strategic partnership, aiming for a plan of implementation of the concluded framework at the end of this phase.

Current relations


2009 US presidential visit to Turkey

US President Barack Obama made his first official visit to Turkey, stopping off in both Ankara and Istanbul, on April 6-7, 2009. There had been critics in the U.S. who claimed that Turkey should not be rewarded by an early presidential visit as its government had been systematically reorienting foreign policy onto an Islamist axis, but as former US Ambassador to Turkey Mark Parris has stated, “Whatever the merits of this argument, the Obama administration, by scheduling the visit, have decisively rejected it.”[10]

During his visit Obama urged Turkey to come to terms with its past and resolve its Armenian issues. Prior to this, during the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, he had criticised the then US President George W. Bush for his failure to take a stance and stating that the "Armenian genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence".[11] He responded positively to an announcement from sources in Ankara and Yerevan that a deal might soon be struck to reopen the border between the two states and exchange diplomatic personnel by indicating that although his own personal views on the subject remained unchanged, he may, in order to avoid derailing this diplomatic progress, refrain from using the word genocide in his upcoming April 24 speech on the question.[12]

Turkish President Gül later referred to the visit as “evidence of a vital partnership between Turkey and the US,” whilst Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu pointed out that, “You are changing the psychological atmosphere,” of what was before “seen as a military relationship,”[13] but as Obama made clear, “We are not solely strategic partners, we are also model partners,” and with this change in terminology, “The President wanted to stress the uniqueness of this relationship. This is not an ordinary relationship, it’s a prototype and unique relationship.”[14] A US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing entitled The United States and Turkey: A Model Partnership under the chairmanship of the Head of the Subcommittee on Europe Robert Wexler was convened following, “the historic visit that Obama paid to Turkey,” and concluded that, “This cooperation is vital for both of the two states in an environment in which we face serious security issues in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, the Balkans, Black Sea, Caucuses and the Middle East, besides a global financial crisis.”[15]

Following Obama’s visit Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chief of the Turkish General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ played host to US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen in Ankara. In the course of the closed-door meeting they discussed the pledging of further Turkish support troops to Afghanistan and Pakistan where Turkish authorities have influence, the secure transport of troops and equipment from the port of İskenderun during the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, and the pro-Kurdish terrorists operating in south-eastern Turkey and northern Iraq.[16]

On April 22, 2009, shortly after Obama’s visit, Turkish and Armenian authorities formally announced a provisional roadmap for the normalisation of diplomatic ties between the two states.[17] The US responded positively with a statement from the office of US Vice President Joe Biden, following a phone conversation with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, which stated that, “The Vice President applauded President Sargsyan’s leadership, and underscored the administration’s support for both Armenia and Turkey in this process.”[18] Turkish columnists however criticised the timing of the announcement believing it to have been made to placate the US President in advance of his April 24 speech, with Fikret Bila writing in the Milliyet that, “the Turkish Foreign Ministry made this statement regarding the roadmap before midnight,” as it would allow Obama to go back on his campaign promise, to refer to the incident as genocide, which the Turkish government denies profusely, by pointing out to the Areminan diaspora that, “Turkey reached a consensus with Armenia and set a roadmap,” and, “there is no need now to damage this process.”[19][20]

President Obama on the Armenian Genocide

“Ninety-four years ago, one of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century began. Each year, we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. The Meds Yeghern must live on in our memories, just as it lives on the hearts of the Armenian people,”[21] stated the Statement of President Barack Obama on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. As previously indicated US President Obama had chosen to avoid the use of the word genocide in order to avoid upending recent pledges of a closer partnership with Turkey but for many the use of the Armenian term Meds Yeghern, translated as “Great Calamity”, did little to placate critics within the country.[22][23]

Official Turkish response was highly critical with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stating, “We regard the statement concerning the 1915 events as an interpretation of history that does not reflect the truth and is thus unacceptable. We are saddened that the issue is being persistently exploited and many politicians are trying to win votes out of the controversy over the 1915 events. Turkey is not a country that can be flattered and then fooled.” Whilst Turkish President Abdullah Gül claimed, “Hundreds of thousand of Turks and Muslims also died in 1915. Everyone’s pain must be shared.”[24] Although no official complaint was lodged US Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey was summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry the day after the statement, where officials expressed “views, comments, assessments, as well as the reaction.”[25]

Obama confirmed in his speech that, “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts.”[21] In response former US Ambassador Parris has stated that the new US administration had been “true to its public declarations of readiness to listen and be responsive to Turkish viewpoints and concerns”, before concluding that, “had the statement contained the word ‘genocide’, US-Turkish relations would have gone into a deep freeze that would have taken years to thaw,” and although criticised Obama’s speech, “did no lasting harm.”[10]

Continued cooperation in the war on terror

Incirlik Air Base hosting USAF operations

The 2009 US Secretary of State’s Country Report on Terrorism confirmed that cooperation in terrorism is a key element in America’s strategic partnership with Turkey, before going on to praise Turkish contributions to stabilise Iraq and Afghanistan and highlighting the strategic importance of the İncirlik Air Base in Adana used by both US and NATO forces for operations in the region.[26]

Questions have been subsequently raised, however, over the continued presence of US nuclear weapons, reportedly stationed at the air base during the Cold War as part of the NATO nuclear sharing programme, after recent parliamentary debates in Belgium and Germany called for the removal of weapons stationed there under the same programme. Bilkent University Professor Mustafa Kibaroğlu speculates that if the Obama administration presses for the withdrawal of these weapons, which Turkey wishes to maintain, then Turkey-US relations may be strained.[27]

The US Secretary of State’s report also contained information on the PKK and other terrorist groups operating in Turkey, whom the US and Turkish authorities share intelligence on, highlighting the September 12, 2006 attack on Diyarbikir and the July 27, 2008 attack on Güngören before going on to mention the ongoing Turkish investigation into the Ergenekon network and concluding that, “the details of the case were murky, however, and Ergenekon’s status as a terrorist organisation remained under debate at year’s end.”[26]

A separate report presented to US President Obama by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which had previously urged him to raise the subject of religious freedom during his 2009 presidential visit to Turkey, concluded that Turkey’s interpretation of secularism, “resulted in violations of religious freedoms for many of the country’s citizens, including members of the majority and, especially, minority religious communities.”[28]

A US Democratic Party delegation group including US Senators Robert Casey, Edward E. Kaufman, Frank Lautenberg and US Congressman Timothy Waltz met with Turkish officials in Ankara on 30 May to confirm, “Turkey can always depend on the US, while the US can always rely on its close friendship with Turkey.”[29]

2009 Conference on US-Turkish Relations

The 28th American Turkish Council Annual Conference on US-Turkish Relations entitled “US-Turkey: Overcoming Challenges in an Era of Change” commenced in Washington on 31 May 2009 with key speakers Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül and Chief of the Turkish General Staff İlker Başbuğ both thanking the US for its support in anti-terror actions against the PKK, with Başburğ adding, “Or relations are very comprehensive and cannot be limited to one specific issue,”[30][31] and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu elaborating “I think where there’s the most promise is in the idea that Turkey and the United States can build a model partnership, one in which a majority Christian and a majority Muslim nation, a Western nation and a nation that straddles two continents can come together; we can create a modern international community that is respectful secure and prosperous. This is extremely important,” and, “Model partnership is not an issue of preference, but it is a necessity.”[14]


Guest Host Place of visit Date of visit
Turkey Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit United States President Bill Clinton White House, Washington, D.C. September 27, 1999
United States President Bill Clinton Turkey President Süleyman Demirel Çankaya Köşkü, Ankara November 15, 1999
Turkey President Ahmet Necdet Sezer United States President Bill Clinton White House, Washington, D.C. September 4, 2000
United States President Barack Obama Turkey President Abdullah Gül Ankara and Istanbul April 6-April 7, 2009

See also

JFKennedy November1963.ogg
President John F. KENNEDY addressing the Turkish people on Kemal Atatürk and the Anniversary of the Republic. Recorded in October 1963.


  1. ^ "Growth in United Nations membership (1945–2005)". United Nations. 2006-07-03. Retrieved 2006-10-30. 
  2. ^ Huston, James A (1988). Outposts and Allies: U.S. Army Logistics in the Cold War, 1945-1953. Susquehanna University Press. p. 198. ISBN 0-9416-6484-8.,M1. 
  3. ^ "Global Unease With Major World Powers". Pew Research Center. June 27, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-26. 
  4. ^ "Armenia genocide measure to advance". Reuters. October 14, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-26. 
  5. ^ Call of Turkish Minister of Defense Ahmet Topaloglu on Secretary Laird. Washington National Records Center, OASD/ISA Subject Files: FRC 33072 A 6309, Turkey 333–, 1969. Confidential. Drafted on April 11 by Krebs and approved by Nutter. The meeting took place in Secretary Laird’s office. Washington, April 9, 1969, 5:35–6:45 p.m. United States Department of State.
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ "Turkish MPs back attacks in Iraq". BBC News. 2007-10-18. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  8. ^ "Turkey approves Iraq incursion". 2007-10-17. Archived from the original on 2008-02-09. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  9. ^ "Turkey recalls ambassador over genocide resolution". 2007-10-11. Archived from the original on 2007-10-12. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  10. ^ a b Aslan, Ali H. (2009-05-02). "Parris: ‘Genocide’ reference would have frozen Turkey ties". Today's Zaman. 
  11. ^ "Turkey and Armenia set 'roadmap'". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-04-29. 
  12. ^ Paul Richter (2009-04-03). "Turkey, Armenia are likely to ease conflict". L.A. Times.,0,3309217.story. Retrieved 2009-04-03. 
  13. ^ "Davutoğlu expects Obama message to Muslims to change ‘atmosphere’". Today's Zaman. 2009-06-03. 
  14. ^ a b "Model partnership with US necessity rather than preference". Today's Zaman. 2009-06-04. 
  15. ^ "Wexler urges US to positively ‘channel’ Turkey’s value". Sunday’s Zaman. 2009-05-16. 
  16. ^ "Top US commander discussed Afghanistan, Iraq in Turkey talks". Today's Zaman. 2009-05-01. 
  17. ^ "Turkey and Armenia move to ease tensions". Today's Zaman. 2009-04-25. 
  18. ^ "Turkey and Armenia expect gradual normalization in ties". Today's Zaman. 2009-04-25. 
  19. ^ Dişli, Fatma (2009-04-25). "Turkey makes last-minute move to placate Obama administration". Today's Zaman. 
  20. ^ Sami, Kohen (2009-04-25). "Road map is OK, but…". Today's Zaman. 
  21. ^ a b "Statement of President Barack Obama on Armenian Remembrance Day, 2009". Press release. 2009-04-24. 
  22. ^ "Obama avoids g-word, brands Armenian killings ‘great atrocity’". Sunday's Zaman. 2009-04-26. Retrieved 2009-04-26. 
  23. ^ Dişli, Fatma (2009-04-27). "Obama and ‘Meds Yeghern’". Today's Zaman. 
  24. ^ "Obama’s message brings no relief to Ankara". Today's Zaman. 2009-04-27. 
  25. ^ "US envoy summoned to ministry over Obama message". Today's Zaman. 2009-04-28. 
  26. ^ a b "US says anti-terror cooperation key in partnership with Turkey". Today's Zaman. 2009-05-02. 
  27. ^ "Turkey to face pressure over US nukes on its soil". Today's Zaman. 2009-05-04. 
  28. ^ "‘Religious freedoms in Turkey curbed by hard-line secularism’". Today's Zaman. 2009-05-02. 
  29. ^ "Turkey can always count on America, say US senators". Today's Zaman. 2009-06-02. 
  30. ^ "Government, military VIPs in Washington for ATC conference". Today's Zaman. 2009-06-02. 
  31. ^ "Başburğ: Anti-PKK fight ends when its presence in northern Iraq ends". Today's Zaman. 2009-06-03. 

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.

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