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Turkey’s Well-Earned Bitterness…but

October 5, 2020

Turkey – a global crossroad

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Be that as it may, Turkey has emerged as “a player” seeking a more pronounced place in the Mediterranean sun. Needless to say, finding a way either through force, diplomacy or some combination thereof, to partake of the region’s far from exhausted energy wealth is a high priority.  Although for the most part I am critical of Turkey’s current role in the region – in Syria, Iraq, Libya and now Azerbaijan-Armenia- the question still emerges: why shouldn’t Turkey, with its population of 85 million and its rich history in the region, enjoy more regional influence?

It is rather a question of how they go about it. 

There are certain realities, lessons from History that it appears not to have appreciated, primary among them are two: 1. The Ottoman Empire is dead and will not be resurrected; using that imagry might play well domestically but throughout the region, especially in the Arab World, it is a reminder of a long rejected colonial heritage. 2. The geo-political realities of the region (the roles of Iran, Israel, Russia, China, Greece and even NATO) severely limit its possible use of force. It needs another modus vivendi more heavily based on trade, diplomacy. 

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Turkey wants its share of the eastern Mediterranean’s wealth from natural gas and oil, from which it has been excluded for the past hundred years sincce the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Tayyip Erdogan’s narrow ethnic nationalism and regional ambitions are linked to regaining its position of influence lost when the Ottoman Empire turned to dust.

Ankara’s historic bitterness is deep and well founded – but misdirected.

Turkey has been – since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire – the target of imperialist intrigue starting with the Treaty of Sevres – a failed attempt to partition the country – to its subservient role in NATO and its mistreatment by the European Union. This explains in part – and not in small part – its current aggressive politics – its scramble to become a regional more decisive regional power.

Broader geo-political shifts are also at play.

With the collapse of the USSR thirty years ago the glue that kept certain regional competitors – Turkey, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia – connected in an anti-communist uneasy alliance has broken down. U. S. influence and prestige – and with it American ability to dictate policy has lost some of its edge as well. Into this growing power vacuum, regional players see an opportunity to – within certain limits – maximize their regional influence.

Turkey’s initial attempts at geographic expansionism have run into a buzz saw of its own making, its biggest blunder – and failed gamble – its support, encouragement of foreign takfiri mercenaries in Syria and its failed attempt to participate, along with other countries and under U.S. direction, in the abortive effort to partition Syria. Its goal of taking a chunk out of northern Iraq – in the cynical name of self-defense, will, likewise prove unsuccessful.

Following a similar trajectory, its effort to gain a foothold in Libya where the oil and natural gas wealth is considerable, has stalled. Not sure that Tayyip Erdogan understands – but he seems to – that in a Turkish military confrontation with Egypt (supported by the Saudi’s, U.A.E. and probably Israel) that Ankara at best, will get a terrible bruising and at worse suffer a decisive defeat.

Likewise Turkey’s undeniable role of fanning the flames of Azeri expansionism against the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh has already run into opposition from Russia, Iran, China and the United States. In that emerging conflict, Azerbaijan is reportedly using F-16s, but as it has none, it is becoming clearer that they are Turkish jet fighters piloted by the Turkish air force.

The allegation is getting louder that Turkey has been shipping from 1000-4000 Islamic mercenaries from Syria to Nagorno-Karabakh. First made by the Armenians it has now been publicly repeated by the Russian foreign office and has now surfaced in the French press as well. Turkish and Azeri denials appear less and less convincing.

If the Syrian example holds for Libya and Azerbaijan-Armenia, Turkey will try to mix the limited use of its military with diplomacy. As the balance of power in the Syrian conflict shifted to the Assad government, Turkey has turned repeatedly to Russia (it seems Ankara in fact comes begging to Moscow) for a way out of the morass in which it finds itself in Idlib Province.

Limited military advances followed by long and complex diplomatic wrangling at the end of which Turkey has gained a foothold – not as much as it would like, but in the end, with more than it had originally seems to be to goal in all three cases. Still it is a risky gamble – even if the gamble enjoys broad support within Turkey. In Syria, it is getting a bloody nose and despite its stalling efforts, sooner or later it will have to withdraw from Idlib Province, taking the ISIS-al Nusra like rabble it has transported, trained and armed with it.

Be that as it may, Turkey has emerged as “a player” seeking a more pronounced place in the Mediterranean sun. Needless to say, finding a way either through force, diplomacy or some combination thereof, to partake of the region’s far from exhausted energy wealth is a high priority.  Although for the most part I am critical of Turkey’s current role in the region – in Syria, Iraq, Libya and now Azerbaijan-Armenia- the question still emerges: why shouldn’t Turkey, with its population of 85 million and its rich history in the region, enjoy more regional influence?

It is just a question of how they go about it.

There are certain realities, lessons from History that it appears not to have appreciated, primary among them are two: 1. The Ottoman Empire is dead and will not be resurrected; using that imagry might play well domestically but throughout the region, especially in the Arab World, it is a reminder of a long rejected colonial heritage. 2. The geo-political realities of the region (the roles of Iran, Israel, Russia, China, Greece and even NATO) severely limit its possible use of force. It needs another modus vivendi more heavily based on trade, diplomacy. 

The scramble for control of eastern Mediterranean natural gas is a classic example of how an international organization well funded and with teeth could be the forum for resolving these regional tensions over energy in a rational and what might be considered a fair manner. And these tensions in this area are yet another example of the helplessness and ineffectiveness of the United Nations to even begin to address such a crisis. And also an indication of waning U.S. power to be a broker for peace, conflict resolution in the region.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. William Conklin permalink
    October 5, 2020 9:38 am

    This sounds like a game of three dimensional chess, it’s never going to get boring until we run out of oil and religion

    • Phil. Jones permalink
      October 5, 2020 1:33 pm

      Enjoyed Mr. Conklin’s comment.

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