Thursday, July 11, 2013

Turkey and its Black Sea Neighbors: A Common Regional Identity?

Countries of the Black Sea Region
by Allyce Husband

On April 19, 2013, University of Illinois faculty and students had the privilege of listening to Professor Ronald H. Linden present a lecture titled Turkey and its Black Sea Neighbors: Foreign Relations in an Area of Transition. According to Professor Linden, Turkey is a point of intersection for different neighborhoods in the Black Sea region1. As one of the leaders who is creating its own community and relationships in the Black Sea region, Turkey and its ties with other neighboring countries make it a case worthy of analysis. Russia, for instance, built a nuclear power plant in Turkey, despite differences in their politics toward Syria. After examining Turkey’s power and diplomatic initiatives in the Black Sea region, Professor Linden concluded that Turkey is assertive in establishing its own framework in the region2. Aside from energy dependence, there are real economic benefits, such as trade, tourism, and investment returns that can be gained by Turkey playing a stronger role in the region. While discussions about Turkey’s ascension to the European Union continue to remain stagnant, Turkey is busy building its own community. The European Union needs Turkey for several reasons, including energy. Turkey does not seem to be waiting around for the European Union to let them in and is moving forward with initiatives in its own neighborhood.

After listening to Professor Linden’s lecture, the geographical characteristics of the Black Sea region seemed similar with the Mediterranean in terms of implications for identity formation and the proximity of different histories, cultures, and customs. While the economic opportunities, possibilities for trade and energy make the Black Sea region an intriguing area, the region is also an area rich in history and culture that creates different notions of an emerging regional identity.

The Mediterranean is geographically linked and shares a common past, but each country remains diverse3. While the Mediterranean is an intersecting point for Europe and Africa, clear boundaries are established in terms of religion, culture, politics, and economics. Initiatives, such as a University exchange where students in different Mediterranean universities visit other countries, are aimed at strengthening Mediterranean identity and contributing to a sense of community in the region.

In the Black Sea region, on the other hand, individuals tend to see themselves as post- Soviet or South Eastern European, but a specific Black Sea identity is missing. The lack of regional understanding makes it difficult to acknowledge a common identity. Countries such as Romania and Moldova, however, are perceived as being close countries due to language and historical ties4. Other neighboring countries, however, possess far more differences.

A common identity contributes to problem solving and increases the possibility that countries in these regions will work together. As Turkey asserts its identity, influence, and strengthens its partnerships, it will be interesting to witness if a “Black Sea Community” with a common identity truly emerges.

Allyce Husband is a second year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies (MAEUS) degree program at the University of Illinois. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Psychology from the University of Illinois in 2011. This summer, Allyce worked for the U.S. Department of State as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France. As an undergraduate, she studied abroad in Florence, Italy and will be spending the fall semester abroad at the University of Bologna in Bologna, Italy. Allyce was awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship for Italian language study for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 academic years. She was also awarded a summer FLAS Fellowship to study French in Paris prior to her internship. Her research interests have included immigration and the media. In her free time, Allyce loves to cook and travel.  



1Linden, R. (2013, April). Turkey and its Black Sea Neighbors: Foreign Relations in an Area of Transition. EUCE Center of Excellence Director Lecture Series. Lecture conducted from University of Illinois, Champaign, IL.

2Linden, R. (2013, April). Turkey and its Black Sea Neighbors: Foreign Relations in an Area of Transition. EUCE Center of Excellence Director Lecture Series. Lecture conducted from University of Illinois, Champaign, IL.

3The Mediterranean identity: What is it and who uses it? (n.d.) Department of Anthropology: University of Illinois. [Brochure]. Anderzon, H: Author.

4Ustun, C. (n.d.). Lack of regional understanding and of a common identity in the Black Sea region. EU 4 Seas. Retrieved from eu4seas.eu.

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