Istanbul - TEN MONTHS have elapsed since the gulf war ended with the liberation of Kuwait. But the picture of the post-crisis period has been a gloomy one so far. Not only do uncertainties and instability persist in the Middle East, but the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of new Turkic republics have, in effect, expanded the volatile boundaries of the region.
In Iraq, the situation remains fragile. Lack of progress toward full implementation of United Nations Resolution 687, which sets the conditions for a permanent cease fire, has prolonged the embargo against Iraq -- and has prolonged the suffering of the Iraqi people. Discord between opposition groups and the Baghdad regime continues.
There seems to be a wide difference of opinion in the country about democratization, with no indication of agreement in sight. As far as this neighbor can see, unless a genuine move toward representative democracy takes place soon in Iraq, the unity of that country cannot be guaranteed. And neither can peace and stability in this region.
We must bear in mind that Saddam Hussein may create new problems that will eventually affect other Arab countries, as well as the entire Islamic world. The prevailing situation in Iraq may not only have negative effects on the Middle East peace process, but also encourage fundamentalism in the Islamic world.
Beyond the situation in Iraq itself, many people wonder whether the gulf war left anything behind but devastation, waste of resources and human misery. Is there no spark of hope for the future that arises from the ashes of this war? The gulf war undeniably had several positive results.
First, let us not forget that the occupation and annexation of Kuwait by Iraq took place when the first scaffolding of the new world order was going up in the wake of historic developments in Eastern Europe. The international community defeated this serious challenge to the new order with a remarkable show of solidarity in rejecting aggression. The United Nations emerged with increased prestige and power.
Second, a chief consequence of the gulf war has been the revelation of the magnitude of deadly weapons amassed by Iraq. This has dramatically enhanced awareness of the dangers inherent in the existence of weapons of mass destruction in the region, inviting a more determined effort by all countries in the area to curb and eliminate them. In addition, the spotlight has focused on countries outside the region who are supplying such weapons or the means to create them.
Third, since the war, the gulf countries have been searching for confidence-building remedies, both bilateral and collective, for their own security. In this context, I firmly believe that economic cooperation in the Middle East is not only mutually beneficial to all powers in the region, but also vital to creating a level of interdependence that can alone sustain a political atmosphere for dialogue and understanding.
Finally, the crisis once again underscored the fact that, without finding an equitable compromise to the deep rooted Arab-Israeli conflict, lasting peace and stability cannot be reached in the Middle East. Although it is already clear that the move toward peace will be long and painstaking, the Middle East peace conference launched by President Bush remains a promising venture. Everyone in the region seems to understand that, if this opportunity slips away, it will be many years before another one comes along.
The gulf crisis once again demonstrated the explosive nature of the Middle East, a region that is now passing through a delicate transition period. And, as a consequence of the dismantling of the Soviet Union and developments in the Balkans and Caucasus, the borders of the Middle East have been extended.
Turkey stands alone as an island of stability in this triangle of turmoil. The newly independent states that have emerged from the crumbled Soviet empire carry high hopes for democracy, human rights and free enterprise. We have a common history, deep cultural affinity and strong ethnic ties with these new Turkic republics of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizistan and Uzbekistan.
Turkey was the first country to recognize these independent states and we are now in the process of opening embassies there. However, erasing the vestiges of a totalitarian regime and making the transformation from a completely different frame of mind will require time.
Therefore the transition period for the newly emerged states toward democracy and free-market economies may last longer than expected. Turkey, the only secular, representative democracy in the Middle East that hosts a free-market economy, is seen as something of a model for these newly emerged states. We are well placed to open new fields of cooperation with these states, as well as with the splintering Balkans, with whom we also have close historical ties. In this context, I believe new opportunities for expanded relations with the West will open for Turkey as the anchor of a new world order in this extended Middle East.
The birth pangs of a new era have thrust Turkey into a leading role as the stable link between worlds in transition. We are prepared for such a role.
Turgut Ozal is the president of Turkey.