Vol. 4, No. 15 (August 01, 2011)

Ankara’s strategic depth concept and its approach to Azerbaijan

Nikola Zeljković
International Fellow
Caucasus Resource Research Center
Tbilisi, Georgia

Ankara’s approach to the South Caucasus in general and Azerbaijan in particular reflects the concept of “strategic depth” that has been articulated by its current foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, who more than his predecessors has insisted that Turkey play a key role in the South Caucasus and more generally in international affairs.  Davutoglu’s concept is outlined in his book entitled Strategic Depth, where he argues that in the last two decades Turkey has emerged from its position as a forward base of NATO to become a regional and global actor and consequently must seek to end long-term hostilities with all of its neighbors (Sariibrahimoğlu 2009).

According to Davutoglu, Turkey is at one and the same time a Middle Eastern, Balkan, Caucasian, Central Asian, Caspian, Mediterranean, Gulf and Black Sea country.  As a result, Ankara can simultaneously exercise influence in all these regions and claim a global strategic role.  And because of that reality, he rejects the notion that Turkey should be viewed as a bridge between Islam and the West, because that conception would limit Turkey to being an instrument of others rather than an actor in its own right.  Rather, he attributes to Turkey a unique geographic position as the “Heart of Eurasia” (Tanasković 2010, p. 37).

In Strategic Depth, Davutoglu calls for Ankara to adopt a balanced approach towards all important global players including the United States, Russia, European Union and China.  Moreover, he specifies that Ankara must pursue six goals: a balance between security and freedom, zero problems with neighbors, proactive diplomacy in Turkey’s surrounding regions, compatible global relations, active participation in all global and international issues, and active involvement in international organizations. [1]  

Davutoglu lays particular stress on the importance of the multi-ethnic character of Turkish society and thus on the influence of diasporas on Turkish foreign policy: “There are more Chechens in Turkey than in Chechnya and more Abkhaz there than in Abkhazia.  In Turkey live more Bosnians and Albanians than in Bosnia and Albania.  Turkey is their safe shelter and their home. … We will reintegrate Balkan, we will reintegrate Middle East and we will reintegrate Caucasus on the principles of regional and world peace, not only for us but on behalf of all humankind” (Tanasković 2010, p. 45). 

Others have made a similar point.  Bulent Aras (2005), for example, wrote that the Caucasian diaspora influences Turkish foreign policy towards the Caucasus in a number of ways.  For example, the diaspora has established NGOs and foundations in order to pursue closer relations with states in the Caucasus.  Ethnic Azerbaijanis, Abkhazians and Georgians have been the most active in this regard.  Thus, Turkish foreign policy is influenced by Turkish diasporas from territories that Ottoman Turks once ruled and is led by sophisticated pragmatism and socio-cultural characteristics.  The following part of the article specifically examines Turkish involvement in the South Caucasus and looks at the perceptions of South Caucasian populations towards Turkey and Turks.

The demise of Soviet Union provided Turkey with a unique opportunity to exercise its interests in the South Caucasus region.  On a multilateral level, Turkey launched a regional initiative in 2008—the Caucasus Platform for Cooperation and Stability—in order to promote greater regional cooperation among Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan (Larrabee 2010, p. 107).  Turkish foreign policy in the area has been shaped by both material and ideological factors.  It is ideological in terms of socio-cultural links with Muslim populations and material since Turkey is one of the main investors in the region. 

Despite the expansion of ties with Georgia and the tentative opening of conversations with Armenia, Azerbaijan remains Turkey’s closest ally in the region.  This reflects some similar socio-cultural features, and it helps to explain Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. “One nation-two states” has been a popular motto of Azerbaijani and Turkish leaders since Azerbaijan gained independence in order to promote close ties between the states (Ismailzade 2005).  Data from the Caucasus Barometer 2010 show that this is a two-way street: Azerbaijanis have the most positive attitudes toward Turks compared to a large list of other national/ethnic groups. [2] For instance, 87% of Azerbaijanis approve doing business with Turks, while 67% approve of doing business with Russians.  54% of Azerbaijanis approve of an Azerbaijani woman marrying a Turkish man, which was the highest rated result for the question.  This was followed by much lower approval rates for marriage with other groups and higher rates of disapproval, from 74% disapproval of marriage with Iranians to 98% disapproval of marriage with Armenians.

Nevertheless, relations between both Turkic nations have not been without occasional problems.  The most serious strain in relations was in 2009 when Turkey increased diplomatic activities with Armenia.  Baku expressed reservations about these activities which were perceived to be “developing at the expense of Azerbaijan” (Kardas 2009).  Azerbaijan has been the most important and only source of Turkish oil and gas from the Caspian region (Kramer 2010, p. 21). 

Moreover, since the Turkish geo-strategic position is crucial for European energy security in order to decrease its dependency on Russia, one of the goals of Turkish foreign policy is to become a crossroad of pipelines from the Middle East and Caspian regions toward Europe.  To this point, it is necessary to stress the significance of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline and possible Nabucco project, which is planned to link Caspian gas deposits with Europe via Turkey.

Turkey is thus an ascending power and therefore is likely to have more intensive political, economic and social engagement with the region.  However, Turkey will have to compete with other powers in order to exercise its influence, especially that no power in this multi-polar world will have the capacity to be a hegemon in the South Caucasus.  


Aras, B. (2005) “Turkey and the South Caucasus,” Global Dialogue 7(3-4), available at http://www.worlddialogue.org/content.php?id=355, accessed 27 July 2011.

Caucasus Research Resource Centers (2010) Caucasus Barometer [dataset], available at http://www.crrccenters.org/caucasusbarometer/, accessed 27 July 2011.

Grigoriadis, G. (2010) “The Davutoglu's Doctrine and Turkish Foreign Policy,” Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, Working Paper 8, pp. 1-12.

Ismalizade, F. (2005) “Turkey-Azerbaijan: The Honey Moon is Over,” Turkish Policy, available at http://www.turkishpolicy.com/images/stories/2005.../TPQ2005-4-ismailzade.pdf, accessed 27 July 2011. 

Kardas, S. (2009) “Turkey Prioritizing its Relations with Azerbaijan,” Eurasia Daily Monitor 6(87), 6 May, available at http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=34956, accessed 27 July 2011.  

Konstantides, S. (1996) “Turkey: The Emergence of New Foreign Policy Neo-Ottoman Imperial Model,” Journal of Political and Military Sociology 24, pp. 323-334. 

Kramer, F. (2010) “AKP's ‘New’ Foreign Policy Between Vision and Pragmatism,” SWP Berlin, Working Paper FG 2, 1 June.

Larrabee, F. (2010) Europe in the Year 2010: Implications for Central Europe and the Balkans (Santa Monica, CA: RAND).

Sariibrahimoğlu, L.  (2009) “Davutoglu Promoting ‘Strategic Depth’ in Turkish Foreign Policy,” Eurasia Daily Monitor 6(89), 8 May, available at www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=34973 (accessed 27 July 2011).

Tanasković, D. (2010) Neoosmanizam—Povratak Turske na Balkan (Beograd: Službeni glasnik Republike Srpske).


[1] Speech made by Turkish Foreign Minister at Harvard University (sponsored by the Kokkalis Program), 28 September 2010, available at http://www.kokkalisfoundation.gr/page.ashx?pid=5&aid=385&cid=25&qcid=77 (accessed 27 July 2011).

[2] Every year the Caucasus Barometer asks Armenians, Azerbaijanis, and Georgians to indicate how much they approve or disapprove of: 1. doing business with, and 2. women of their ethnic/national group marrying people from a long list of other groups.  For 2010, this list of groups included: Turks, Iranians, Germans, Russians, Georgians, Kurds, Italians, Ukrainians, Americans, Indians, Greeks, Jews, Chinese and Armenians.