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Fletcher Students and Faculty Travel to Türkiye to Explore its Role in Geopolitics between Russia and the West

By Hannah Campeanu, MALD 2024 Candidate, The Fletcher School

From March 16 through 26, 2023, eleven students from The Fletcher School traveled to Türkiye for a study trip with the Russia and Eurasia Program to explore the evolving role of Türkiye in geopolitics between Russia and the West. The students used the study trip to learn about Türkiye’s roles as a supporter of Ukraine, a potential mediator between Russia and Ukraine, a member of NATO, a regional power, a guarantor of maritime security in the Black Sea region, and an emerging energy transport hub. 

During the study trip, the Fletcher delegation met with local foreign policy experts, practitioners, and students; interacted with Russian and Ukrainian scholars; participated in panel discussions, roundtables, and guest lectures at local universities and think tanks; and briefed U.S. and Turkish diplomats and policymakers. The study tour was overseen by Fletcher faculty and staff, including Chris Miller, Volodymyr Dubovyk, Monica Toft, Ivan Arreguín-Toft, and Arik Burakovsky.

Ramsha Hameed, an MIB 2023 student who participated in the trip, said, “Türkiye has maintained a situational relationship with Russia despite disagreeing on various issues relating to energy, security, terrorism, conflicts in Syria, etc. While being a NATO member, Türkiye has maintained a mutually acceptable and stable bilateral relation with Russia, and [this trip allowed us to study] this unique relationship…in greater detail, as many lessons can be learned by other countries who are finding it difficult to maintain a similar balance.”

The Fletcher students and faculty spent the first weekend of the study tour sightseeing in Istanbul, including visits to the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, and Topkapi and Dolmabahce palaces, among other notable sites. The first two weekdays were spent visiting think tanks and universities in Istanbul, including the Global Relations Forum, Koç University, Bogazici University, and Kadir Has University. They took part in roundtables on “The Transformation of Turkey-West Relations and Prospects for the Future” at the Global Relations Forum, “Turkey as a Mediator Between Russia and Ukraine” at Koç University, “Turkey’s Asia Anew Initiative in Light of the Russia-Ukraine War” at Bogazici University, and “Geopolitical Shifts in the Black Sea Region” at Kadir Has University.

Andrew Fitzgerald, a MALD 2023 student, reflected on these discussions, “I learned that Turkey is facing numerous issues, ranging from humanitarian disasters to geopolitical crises breaking out on its border. I was surprised that we often look at Turkey’s problems from a single perspective instead of taking a holistic and full picture approach. This realization prompted me to reevaluate my perspectives on global affairs and be more aware of the complexities and multidimensionality of issues that states face.” 

On March 22, the delegation traveled to Ankara, the capital of Türkiye, where they visited the Grand National Assembly of Türkiye and met with members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Later that week, the students visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and met with diplomats working on Russia and Eurasia. They also attended a panel discussion at Bilkent University on “Russia-Turkey Relations amid the War in Ukraine,” featuring faculty from Bilkent University and The Fletcher School. On March 24, the working group met with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, followed by a visit to the Foundation for Political Economic and Social Research (SETA) and a meeting with Ukrainian Ambassador to Türkiye Vasyl Bodnar at the Embassy of Ukraine in Ankara. The last day of the study trip wrapped up with sightseeing, including a visit to a local winery and a tour of Anıtkabir (Ataturk’s Mausoleum), the Ankara Castle, and the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.

Collin Husted, a MALD 2023 student, stated, “I was very surprised by the candor of the participants in every meeting, whether from the Turkish government, think tanks (both administration and opposition-aligned), U.S. diplomats, the Ukrainian ambassador, and the myriad policy experts on the panel discussions we attended. Everyone was very straightforward in their opinions and predictions. There was little, if any, flowery diplomatic avoidance of the questions we asked, regardless of how pessimistic the statement was.” 

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