When more than 500,000 Iraqi refugees flooded the Turkish border in the late 1980s and early 1990s, many of them ended up sleeping on the streets with little assistance.
Today, around the same number of Syrians are being hosted in Turkey – more than 220,000 of them in state-of-the art refugee camps.
In Indonesia, Turkey is now associated with the warm bread it distributed following the 2004 tsunami, and in Somalia, it is linked to some of the first humanitarian aid provided during the 2011 famine.
From humble beginnings, Turkey is maturing into a major player in international humanitarian aid. In 2012, the last year for which there are complete statistics, Turkey became the world’s fourth largest government donor of humanitarian aid and the largest non-Western provider of development assistance outside the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC).
It owes this new role to a growing economy, a more international outlook and a series of disasters on its doorstep, notably the Syrian crisis.
“Recent economic and social developments, along with Turkey’s geopolitical situation, have changed Turkey’s position as a country that needs a hand to a country that gives a hand,” says the website of the government’s coordinating body for foreign aid, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA).
And as it has grown, Turkey’s aid has taken its own form – largely bilateral and on the frontlines – arousing both critics and admirers.
Turkey has dispensed international aid since the 1950s, though it was often limited. In 1993, following the Cold War, the government created TIKA, which largely directed aid to former Soviet states along its eastern border.
But with the recent changes, Turkey opened up to the world, adopting a new foreign policy that saw aid as an important component.
“Turkey has understood that the world has changed profoundly and new allies, strategic calculations and planning are a must in a rapidly shifting global economy,” writes doctoral candidate Mehmet Özakan in an article in Turkey Policy Quarterly.