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Mustafa KAYMAZ

Mustafa KAYMAZ

According to a news[1] from Today’s Zaman, an agreement was signed between Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 27 November 2013. The agreement was about oil and gas exportation from KRG to Turkey. I think this specific foreign policy decision can be analyzed best by Image Theory. To prove this argument I will briefly explain what Image Theory is in the second part of this paper and implement the theory to that specific decision in the third part.


I.            Image Theory

International Image Theory is a theory used in analyzing foreign policy patterns of states.

There are five images of states through which they are perceived by another state in international political arena. “Enemy, ally, dependent, imperialist, and barbarian” (Bilali, 2010, p. 276) images are constituted by using three dimensions: “perceived goal compatibility between states, assessment of relative power capability, and evaluation of the cultural status of the other actor.” (Bilali, 2010, p. 276) Since I think both Iraqi Central Government (ICG) and KRG are seen as dependent by Justice and Development Party (JDP) Government of Turkey, I will explain only dependent state image in this paper.

“The dependent image portrays the other nation as inferior in both power capability and culture but as posing an opportunity for increasing one’s gains.” (Bilali, 2010, p. 277) A state tends to exploit a “dependent” state.

The agreement between Turkey and KRG is against the Iraqi Constitution which abide KRG to take consent of the central government in international relations.[2] So, why Turkey violated this rule? I think since the images of ICG and KRG are dependent in the eyes of Turkish foreign policy decision makers (namely the Prime Minister Erdogan and the minister of foreign affairs Davutoglu), Turkey did not see any problem in doing so.

II.            Implementation of Image Theory to the Decision

First of all Turkey has more power capabilities than ICG and KRG economically and militarily. Iraq was invaded by international powers in 2003 and collapsed economically and militarily. In post-invasion era ICG still does not have full authority over its territory. There are ethnic and sectarian conflicts in every parts of Iraq. KRG behaves like an independent state despite being an autonomous regional government under the authority of ICG. These are objective accounts.

The most important part is that Turkey has seen itself superior to the Middle Eastern countries since its foundation. Being successor of the Ottoman Empire, strengthens this perception. After a long period of isolation which ended in 1980s, Turkey started to develop relations with neighboring countries. To have good relations with the Middle Eastern Countries became important with former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan and has been a dominant aspect of Turkish foreign policy during the rule of JDP. The emphasis of Ottoman era, discourse of being “regional power” and “protector and last hope” of Muslims in speeches and writings of JDP members and supporters enable scholars to describe the party as “neo-Ottomanist”. In this point of view, Turkey is and has to be the most powerful country in the region.

Secondly, being “a bridge between the West and the East”, to have “an imperial background”, being “a country where high civilizations lived and got mixed” and so on, enable Turkish society and ruling elites to see themselves culturally superior to other Middle Eastern countries.

And finally Turkey’s goals in international relations are comparable with those of the Middle Eastern countries. Those countries have to “develop” themselves and Turkey is the best example for them, according to JDP’s members and supporters. To develop their economy, they need to have strong economic ties with Turkey. They need to export to and through Turkey.

The Kurdish question of Turkey, makes it inevitable to have close relations with KRG. This is another element of “goal compatibility” between Turkey and KRG. Masood Barzani, the president of KRG, wants to gain prestige and become the leader of all Kurds. This goal makes it inevitable for him to develop relations with Turkey.

Turkey is an oil and gas importer country. To buy cheap oil and gas is crucial for Turkish economy. Turkey tries to increase the number of countries from which it imports oil and gas to decrease its energy-dependency to Russia and Iran. On the other hand, KRG needs to export oil and gas to finance its state formation. Today, Turkey is the only neighbor of KRG that needs oil and gas. This agreement enables KRG to export oil and gas not only to Turkey but also to European countries via Turkey.

Based upon all these, we can argue that KRG fulfills dependent image for Turkey. Turkey sees this agreement as a right and has no intention to give it up. I think Turkey did not sign this agreement based upon cost and benefit calculation. To violate a neighboring country’s constitution, to harm Turkish-U.S. relations and to disturb Iran cannot be explained rationally. JDP and especially Erdogan, make decisions based on their perception of the world.

III.            Conclusion

During the rule of JDP, Turkish foreign policy seems to be based upon perceptions of top decision makers of JDP. They and their supporters see Turkey as “regional leader” or even sometimes “world leader”. It is hard to analyze Turkish foreign policy decisions with rationalist accounts because some of them led disastrous results like the one about supporting armed opposition in Syria. In my opinion Turkish foreign policy decisions can be best understood by international image theory. The decision about signing an oil and gas agreement with KRG without consent of ICG is one of them.


Mustafa KAYMAZ

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Bilali, R. (2010). Assessing the Internal Validity of Image Theory in the Context of Turkey-U.S. Relations. Political Psychology,, 31.

REUTERS, ANKARA. (2013, November 29). Retrieved from Today’s Zaman:

TODAY’S ZAMAN, ISTANBUL. (2013, November 28). Retrieved from Today’s Zaman:

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