Bart Redford
Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies

Annual security conference to focus on the role of Turkey in global affairs

Wed, 02/26/2014

LAWRENCE — Experts and scholars from around the country will come to the University of Kansas next month to discuss Turkey and its potential to be a game changer in global politics. The University of Kansas Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies and the Center for Global and International Studies will host the fifth annual Security Conference: From Köprü (Bridge) to Merkez (Center): Turkey’s Regional and Global Impact. The conference will be 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday, March 3, in the Alderson Auditorium in the KU Memorial Union. There is no registration fee to attend the conference.

Located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Turkey has always been pivotal in global affairs. While its international stature has been on the rise since the end of World War II, the nature of Turkey’s role in global affairs and its foreign policy directions continue to undergo considerable change. During the Cold War, it was common to describe Turkey using the metaphors of “buffer” or “bastion.” At the close of the 20th century, Turkish political elites began actively promoting an image of the country as a köprü or “bridge” between East and West.

After the accession of the Justice and Development Party to power, the new economically liberal and religiously conservative elite began referring to Turkey as a merkez or “center locale,” suggesting a place of significance in and of itself to which people come, rather than merely a space “in between.” This seemingly subtle discursive shift has been accompanied by increasingly pro-active Turkish public diplomacy, building on Turkey’s expanding soft power in the Balkans, Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia. As Turkey engages new regions and actors and continues building relations with old allies, it develops new capacities in regional and global contexts.

Turkey’s evolving role in regional and global affairs, in tandem with major historic developments, including the global economic crisis and changes in the Middle East and North Africa following the Arab Spring, begs the question of the extent to which Turkey is a “game-changer” in the region and the world. The goal of this conference is to assess Turkey’s current role in regional and global contexts, its effect and foreign policy in relation to Middle Eastern nations, including Iran, Iraq, Syria and Israel, and its relations with Russia, the EU/Europe, China and the United States.

Notable speakers at the all-day event include Kemal Kirişci, TÜSİAD senior fellow and director, Center on the United States and Europe's Turkey Project at the Brookings Institution; Sinan Ciddi, executive director, Institute of Turkish Studies, and Roger Kangas, academic dean and professor of Central Asian Studies, Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. The list of attendees at the annual conference generally includes a wide variety of educators, students as well as a mix of military personnel from Fort Leavenworth and elsewhere. The security conferences are part of a larger grant project awarded to KU by the Army Research Office.

Global and International Studies Assistant Director Mike Wuthrich noted the critical importance of these themes and the timeliness of such a conference.

“Turkey’s recent domestic political tremors leave the country’s future trajectory as an open question with critical implications for the U.S. and Turkey’s neighboring regions in terms of politics, security and economics,” Wuthrich said. “Ongoing developments in Turkish foreign relations with Russia and its Eurasian neighbors and the country’s changing roles and relations in the Middle East, highlighted by developments with Israel, Syria and Iran, have far-reaching ramifications. This conference at KU will address these issues through the research and insightful perspectives of top scholars on Turkey and its neighbors.”

While the conference is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., students and faculty are welcome to come and go, depending on their class schedule.  To see the conference program and register, see details online.

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