The Turkish president is bulging his foreign policy muscles in several areas – he wants the Ottoman Empire, which disintegrated a hundred years ago, but it will be easy.
In the great powers it is very often thought that if they have ever possessed any territory, it would actually belong to them forever.
In Russian thinking, a country is part of Russia if it is once conquered. “That way we still belong in their thinking on their side,” the president Mauno Koivisto wrote The idea of Russia in his book (2001).
In France, the former colonies are still considered to be under French influence. It is seen, for example, by the President Emmanuel Macronin in a paternal tone during his repeated visits to Lebanon.
Turkey and Russia are on many fronts, but now Turkey is also applying the “Russian idea” and inflating its foreign policy muscles as if the territories of the Ottoman Empire, which had disintegrated in 1923, were its own power.
It is the territories of the Ottoman Empire stretched at their widest, in the 17th century, from North Africa all the way to Hungary and, for example, to the present regions of Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.
With this ideology, the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan however, it works. Last May, on the occasion of the anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul, then Constantinople, he Ottoman-era costumes. He has also spoken of how the real “essence” of Turkey is the same as that of the Ottoman Empire.
Another pillar of ideology is a stronger reliance on Islam than its predecessors. It was also visible in July when Erdoğan moved Hagia from the Sofia Museum back into a mosque. It was originally completed as a church in 537.
Turkey an even more bulging foreign policy has been analyzed extensively this week by, for example, the British BBC’s, German Deutsche Wellen, Qatari Al Jazeeran, Indian Outlook and many U.S. media outlets, such as The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times articles.
All of these note that Erdoğan’s ideology is now increasingly influencing regional conflicts and power relations from the Eastern Mediterranean to Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh.
In Nagorno-Karabakh there have been full-scale wars between Azerbaijan and Armenian forces since the end of September.
The early leadership of the Soviet Union transferred the Armenian-majority territory to the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, but Armenia gained control of it in 1991 when the Soviet Union disintegrated after a short war.
Christianity is important to Armenia, and Russia supports it. Azerbaijan is a Muslim country and is receiving armed support from Turkey, which has allegedly also transferred mercenaries under its command from Syria.
Nagorno-Karabakh has declared itself “independent” but is dependent on Armenia. According to the UN, the region still belongs to Azerbaijan, and this is what the Turkish leadership is calling for.
This week Azerbaijan announced also destroyed Armenian targets, and Armenia, meanwhile, reached out on Friday on the Azerbaijani side of the city of Ganja, killing twelve civilians and injuring dozens. The conflict therefore seems to be expanding in a very dangerous way.
Russia has given security guarantees to Armenia, but said this only means the territory of Armenia, not Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey will not very much be able to bring Nagorno-Karabakh to power once and for all, but it is a potentially useful pawn in Russia-Turkey front-line negotiations.
You can read more about the background to the conflict behind this link.
Northern Cyprus has been occupied by Turkey since 1974 and has established the territory of the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”.
Some kind of aspiration for independence in Northern Cyprus has also been seen with regard to Turkey. Incumbent president Mustafa Akıncı has vowed to support the reunification of the whole of Cyprus into a federation if it gets a second five – year term. The president has also accused Turkey of meddling in the elections and even outright intimidation against himself and his family members.
Turkey strongly supports a more right-wing and more leaning Prime Minister Ersin Tataria, which opened a closed and negotiated post-war Cyprus Varosha beach area spectacularly again as part of his election campaign.
Neither of the main candidates won a majority in the first round of the presidential election. The second election day is now Sunday, October 18th. You can read more about the election campaign behind this link.
In Syria Turkey has conducted three large-scale military operations, supports Idlib Province rebels and wants to narrow down the Kurdish independence aspirations.
During the confusing civil war in Syria, Turkey was immensely irritated by the wider unified territory that had come under Kurdish rule. It was also influenced by U.S. support for the Kurds in their fight against the atrocities of the extremist Islamist Isis.
However, U.S. support for the Kurds was temporary. When Isis was defeated, Turkey was given a freer hand to attack the Kurds outside its borders by declaring a “safe area” that also covered northern Iraq. President of the United States Donald Trump seemed to give Turkey a free hand for this from the end of 2019.
In Libya Turkey has been supported more generally by the UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarrajia for example, with arms shipments while this is at war with the general Khalifa Haftarin against the troops
The subsidy came at a price. Last November, Turkey demanded and received an agreement from al-Serraj to strengthen the territorial waters between Libya and Turkey.
It will help Turkey in its dispute with Cyprus and Greece over territorial waters and drilling rights. Even in those controversies, Turkey has bulged with the help of its research ships escorted by warships.
In August, the gas exploration vessel Oruç Reis was in the waters between Cyprus and Crete, Greece, accompanied by naval vessels, and Greece responded by sending its own fleet to monitor the situation.
France responded by bringing its own warships to readiness. This week, France and Germany are also together condemned the actions of Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean.
You can read more about tensions in the area behind this link.
United States allowed Turkey to bulge in recent years, initially liberated, but in very recent months the tone has changed.
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Greece last month and held action in Turkey “very worrying”. This week, Pompeo condemned according to the news agency Reuters Turkey’s involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Pompeon needs to be balanced, as Turkey has been an important ally of the United States and participated in military operations with it, for example in Afghanistan.
However, Turkey also has spontaneous military activity from Somalia to Qatar. It is also unclear to what extent as a “former democracy”, for example, a researcher of democracy V-dem Institute in the annual report and Freedom House Turkey, already considered in the Institute’s calculations, no longer wants to listen to the Trump administration.
All this is a huge contrast to Turkey’s line at the turn of the millennium, when EU membership seemed possible.
Erdoğan’s AKP came to power in 2002, benefiting from economic growth and adhering until about 2015. ”zero problem foreign policy”, Whose chief architect was Erdoğan’s long-time chief foreign policy adviser Ahmet Davutoğlu. This served as Turkey’s Foreign Minister from 2009 to 2014 and as Prime Minister from 2014 to 2016, when Erdoğan had moved from Prime Minister to President.
In 2015, however, Erdoğan’s party, the AKP, lost the majority in the parliamentary elections. It forced the president to seek support from nationalist and strongly anti-Kurdish circles from the extremes of the political field. Shortly thereafter, the more diplomatic Davutoğlu was allowed to leave.
The clumsy coup attempt in 2016 ended in Erdoğan’s victory in the fight and allowed him to capture tens of thousands of opponents and move Turkey into a more presidential-led and undemocratic state.
The bond with extremist nationalists was strengthened. The bulge in foreign policy has intensified to this day.
Investigator Sinan Ülgen is the director of the independent Turkish incubator Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies. He is currently a visiting researcher at the Carnegie Europe think tank in Brussels.
Ülgen evaluates this week In an interview with the Los Angeles Timesthat Turkey’s line is the same as that of the US presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and lastly Donald Trumpin the election phrase used in different decades “make America great again”With the difference that now Turkey wants‘ big again ’.
In my own in this month’s article In Foreign Policy magazine and on Carnegie Europe’s website, he estimates that Erdoğan is seeking to continue its aggressive foreign policy also to divert attention from the country’s growing economic difficulties.
Erdogan however, is increasingly left alone both internationally and in Turkish domestic politics. Even the emphasis on Islam may not help in a country where the number of religious conservatives is declining.
Turkey’s GDP has fallen since its peak in 2013, and the pandemic is further drying up the economy. Turkey’s military capabilities are also not enough to realize Erdoğan’s dream of Turkey as a great power like the Ottoman Empire.
On top of all that, Erdoğan’s AKP party received a recent one in an opinion poll no longer 31 percent support.
One year, Erdoğan’s long reign finally ends. For the successor, a return to “zero-problem foreign policy” can be quite an attractive option.