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Turkey welcomes Obama

Nation of Muslims looks forward to improved relations with US.


Still, US-Turkish relations have not yet recovered from the shock they received in 2003, when the Turkish government barred U.S. forces from invading Iraq through its territory. And despite U.S. support — highlighted by Obama’s speech to the European Union this Sunday —Turkey has still been kept out of the E.U.

There also remain two vital issues that could drive a wedge between the allies despite their best intentions: the so-called Armenian genocide and nervousness in Ankara over the implications of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Turkey is concerned about how the U.S. will handle the massacres of Armenians that occurred as the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1915. For years, Obama has called the incident "genocide" and promised to recognize it as such if elected president. Turks vehemently deny any mass killings, and Erdogan, in a speech Friday in London, again dismissed the "so-called genocide."

“It was in the past and bringing it up is just another excuse to make a fight,” said Yesim Tunc, 29, a dancer living in Istanbul. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we can get over it and think about the future?”

The recent warming of relations between Turkey and Armenia — and the rumors that they could soon announce a deal aimed at reopening their borders and restoring relations — may provide Obama with the excuse he needs to bow out of the issue gracefully.

“Obama needs a moral cover to not use the g-word because he has based his ascendancy on a kind of morality play. Now the AKP [Turkey's current ruling party] have very effectively provided him with a story that he can embrace and emerge with his dignity intact,” said David Judson, editor-in-chief of Turkish Hurriyet Daily News.

The invasion of Iraq has also long strained the friendship between the U.S. and Turkey. Turks not only opposed the war in Iraq, but grew infuriated that the U.S. was also preventing them from chasing down the PKK, the Kurdish guerilla organization that has been hiding out in northern Iraq and attaching Turkish soldiers.

Recently relations have warmed on this front when the U.S. changed their stance and began providing Turkey with not only the airspace to invade but also with intelligence to help the Turks in their fight.

With Obama’s announcement that he intends to honor the U.S.-Iraq security pact by withdrawing all U.S. troops by the end of 2011, good relations on this issue are increasingly important. U.S. access to Habur Gate and Incirlik airbase in eastern Turkey will be vital to this monumental logistical task.

During his visit, Obama will address the Turkish parliament — the first U.S. president to do so since Bill Clinton in 1999 — and meet with religious leaders. He will also make high-profile visits to the tomb of secularist national founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Ankara and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, one of Islam's most stunning sites.

In Obama’s inauguration Day address he sent an important message to this region when he said, “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” His first visit to this region is a chance to see that message in action.

“Obama has shattered the image of America Bush left in Turkey but right now it’s a blank slate and people are waiting to see what he plans to write on it,” said Judson.

More GlobalPost dispatches from Turkey:

Young Turks question their identity

Turkey offer the US a path out of Iraq