2016 EMF Conference Part 10: The Latest Developments in Turkey – Brigadier General (Retd.) Christos Minagias 5-7 December, 2016
EMF Conference Part 10: The Latest Developments in Turkey
Brigadier General (Retd.) Christos Minagias
EMF Conference 5-7 December 2016
Since the Justice and Development Party was brought into power in 2002, Turkey’s foreign policy has experienced significant changes. On the one hand it strengthened the sense of unity and harmony within the country and helped develop its soft power. However, in the recent years rapid changes have occurred in Turkey which have put into question policies implemented by the Erdogan regime. Analysing the latest developments in Turkey, the rise and fall, as well as the vision of its foreign policy, Christos Minagias attempts to answer such questions as: Is Turkey drifting away from the West? Why is it collapsing so fast? What are the prospects for the future?
Translation of the presentation
I am Chris Minagias, a retired Brigadier General, writer and geostrategic analyst.
The most important problem of Turkey focuses on who holds power in the country. In the past, the military establishment regulated and controlled all developments leaving little leeway to democratically elected governments. Today, although the militarism was largely defeated by the new political reality, the all-dominant notion of power is still present in the country thus creating the impression that the dictatorship of the Turkish-Islamic generals was replaced by the dictatorship of the Turkish-Islamic politicians. Also, judging from the past behavior of the President of the Republic of Turkey Tayyip Erdoğan, we find that they were based on the principle of “win, by exploiting problems, conflicts and encouraging tensions.”
In my presentation today, I will analyze the latest developments in Turkey, which are divided into three themes:
- The rise and fall of Turkish foreign policy;
- The geopolitical visions of Turkish foreign policy;
- Findings and conclusions.
The rise and fall of Turkish foreign policy
After the 2002 elections, Turkey’s foreign policy has experienced significant changes and increased dynamism. On the one hand strengthened the sense of unity and harmony within the country and on the other developed rapidly “soft power”.
However, in recent years, Turkey is experiencing a completely different situation. It has been rapidly losing all its achievements as well as its “soft power” and reputation.
For this reason, we began an examination of the policy implemented by the Erdoğan regime, which focuses on four main questions: How was it upgraded so quickly? Is Turkey away from the West? Why is it collapsing so fast? What should be done?
Regarding the answer to the first question, the foreign policy adopted by Ahmet Davutoğlu was implemented with great success until 2011 and focused on the following: the balance between independence and security; a new way of expression and a new exercise of diplomacy; zero problems with neighbors; a multidimensional foreign policy; rhythmic diplomacy; and finally, preventive strategies. As a result, Turkey was to become a model country in regards to regional peace and stability, promoting itself as a regional power and as a global player simultaneously.
In regard to the question if Turkey is drifting away from the West, the answer is yes. And the first serious signs began to appear three years ago, in 2013. We mention this because then Tayyip Erdoğan as prime minister stressed that non-inclusion of his country in the European union will not be the end of the world, given that Europe has greater need of Turkey than Turkey has of Europe. Its message to Russia and China being that if Turkey was accepted as a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Ankara would lose all interest in joining the European Union. It should be borne in mind that Turkey’s accession process to the European Union was a powerful incentive to upgrade the political, social and economic situation of the country according to Western standards, unlike most states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization where democratic institutions have less meaning.
Since then, we find that Erdoğan follows the same tactics that he threatened to implement in 2013.
Consequently, the utilitarian policies of Erdoğan are not bothered by the malfunctioning democratic institutions of the country, but he does not hesitate to threaten to withdraw from the European Union and NATO that helped him to consolidate in the Turkish society.
In what has to do with the third question, the first signs began to appear in May 2009, when Ahmet Davutoglu said Ankara will convert the “relative zero problems with neighbors” to “relationship of greatest benefit from them” even pointing out the historical debt of the country and the obligations it has entrusted to each territory where Turks live and has interface with territories of the past. Of course, it not only was not taken seriously into account by the neighboring countries of Turkey and the Western power centers, but was completely ignored. Then in 2011 with the start of the Arab Spring and the civil war in Syria, the strategy of the Turks with its demonstrated adventurism and religious (Sunni) fundamentalist approach was fully revealed. Meanwhile, this approach both annoyed the countries of the Middle East turning the strategy of “zero problems with neighbors” to strategy of “multiple problems with neighbors,” on the other hand it created a sense of mistrust in Turkey’s relations with the United States and the West in general. Iran also took the Sunni foreign policy of Turkey as a threat, so Tehran began to implement policies that created biggest obstacles to increasing Turkish influence in the region. Subsequently, after the murder of diplomats of the US embassy in Libya, the Arab Spring turned into Arabic Autumn and then into Arabic Winter. These have resulted in the gradual isolation of Turkey concerning the actions it had taken in Syria and as expected these policies have ended in failure. Equally surprising is the fact that, while Turkey declares its support for the territorial integrity and unity of Iraq and Syria, but does the exact opposite, since its foreign policy aims to partition these countries and particularly in their nihilism, turning the strategy of “multiple problems with neighbors” to the strategy of “zero neighbors.”
In addition to the above, continuously upgradeable role of Kurds in Syria and Iraq began to lay the foundations creation Kurdish state entities on the southern border of Turkey while creating serious internal threat to Turkish territory. Moreover, because the Kurds disrupted Turkey’s relations with global and regional powers, while the new rhetoric used in Turkish foreign policy, on the one hand significantly reduced the friendly countries Turkey, while Turkey’s new foreign policy rhetoric alienated Turkey’s old friends and created new enemies.
At the same time, the increase of Russian military presence in Syria strengthened the Assad regime and significantly reduced its Turkish operations within Syrian territory. Moreover, the security environment and international relations became difficult and Turkey’s foreign policy began to crumble rapidly. Along with these developments, the situation in the country began to deteriorate with the main characteristics of fear, terror, psychological violence, political polarization, democratic deficit, degradation of the rule of law, violation of individual liberties and an ever worsening state of the Turkish economy.
Finally, Turkey is trying to take on a regional and partly international role, and have a say in the design of the new international scene, Turkey is becoming part of the already impaired national security environment faced by third countries. At the same time, the polarization and hostility within the country significantly affects its external relations.
Geopolitical visions of Turkish foreign policy.
Ankara announced a new strategy (the National Oath – Misak-ı Millî) to deal with the external problems and security challenges that threaten the country. These principles of the new strategy include preventive and deterrent actions which have to do with the transfer of Turkish military operations across borders and in particular in the territories of other states. Specifically, we refer to the concept of “bane”, whereby every country that does not limits the threats beyond its borders and does not create defensive strongholds abroad will face division in the future.
As part of this strategy, Turkey implemented or launched an invasive policy across its borders on four fronts.
The first focuses on the West (except Greece) and its main axis multiculturalism, Islamophobia and Tourkophobia. Of course this front includes the adventurist policy of Ankara regarding refugees and immigrants.
The second front refers to the countries of the Middle East (Iraq-Syria) and Cyprus.
The third front has to do with Greece and is based on two main axes. In multiculturalism (Thrace and refugees and immigrants), as well as the strategy to deny Greek sovereign rights in the maritime zones of the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean.
And finally, the fourth front concerns the change the in the Turkish constitution to establish a presidential republic. Also, it is easily understood that, through the first three fronts mentioned above, Erdoğan seeks to activate the nationalist reflexes of the Turkish society and through the vote of the nationalist MHP party MPs to lead the country in a referendum in the spring of 2017 in order to implement his vision to become president of the Turkish Republic that will have the characteristics of an Ottoman Republic.
Therefore, it is clear that the rhetoric regarding Turkish presidential republic constitutes a strategic choice of Erdoğan, which is timeless and clearly shows once again that the way the Turks think focuses on three factors: religion (Islam), nationalism, and history. Given therefore that these factors have a common component of the geography, the new vision of Turkish foreign policy, which began to show Erdoğan and his circles of supporters focus on five “Ks”: Kore (Korea), Keşmir ( Kahmir), Kudüs (Jerusalem), Kürtler (Kurds) and Kıbrıs (Cyprus). Besides, according to the Turkish columnist Taskin Yasar Koc, who first mentioned the five “Ks” on the 16th September 2016, “The story is not overturned and geography is not modified.”
Kore (Korea): South Korea has played an important role in the development of the Turkish defense industry and is regarded as the “key partner”, both because of the know-how promotion in Turkey, and partly because of its contribution to the construction (co-production) of weapons in Turkey.
Keşmir (Kashmir): While Kashmir is far from Turkey, the interest of Ankara is very intense and increasing over time. Kashmir is a mountainous area, located in the northwestern part of the Himalayas between Pakistan, India and China and approximately 80% of the population are Muslims. The northern and western part of this is under the control of Pakistan, the central portion thereof is under the control of India and the eastern part of it is under the control of China. In conflict that exists between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, Turkey joins the part of Pakistan both at a transnational level and through the support given to it by the Islamic Cooperation Organization.
In fact, the Turkish publication whereby Tayyip Erdoğan reportedly said before his visit to Pakistan on the 16th November 2016 that “We will be able to buy nuclear weapons from Pakistan” shows the real reasons that Turkey strongly supports Pakistan and why Kashmir is the second “K” of the Turkish geopolitical vision. Also, more importantly, Turkey resolutely oriented to acquire long-range rocket systems as part of its plan to acquire nuclear weapons. Note that Pakistan has 100-120 nuclear warheads.
Kudüs (Jerusalem): For the Turks the “problem of Jerusalem” according to the statements existed, exists and will exist. A typical example of the Turkish understanding of this issue are the following statements of the head of the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate Mehmet Gkiormez during his visit to Qatar on the 15th November 2016:
“Israel is a country that for many years created great miseries because they hold the lands of our brothers the Palestinians and because they violate the Al Aqsa mosque. This is not acceptable. Israel also presents an ugly picture of Islam so it can create Islamophobia and hostility.”
The Al-Aqsa mosque is Islam’s third most holy place, located in the old city of Jerusalem.
Analyzing these statements shows that:
- a) The initiatives of Ankara before the coup of July 15, 2016 in order to restore the Turkish-Israeli relations were integrated under a new Turkish strategy “more friends and fewer enemies.” Of course, for the normalization of these relations requires goodwill, determination and long term (two-three years). Moreover, during this time there should be no economic cooperation, political dialogue, as well as cooperation in strategic and military fields. Also, it is required to put an end to expressions that trigger hostility. This means that Mehmet Gkiormez
will not be allowed to make statements against another state, namely without the prior approval of Tayyip Erdoğan. It is obvious, however, that Turkey’s attempt to repair relatiosn with Israel is superficial and will potentially fail.
- b) The Islamophobia report of Gkiormez is part of a broader strategy of Ankara, which in combination with multiculturalism is looking forward to an interventionist policy across borders, mainly to the west. In addition to the above, in the view of eminent Turkish writers, Islamophobia and Islamofascism are twin brothers, one feeding the other. Indeed, these columnists accuse indirectly Erdoğan of Islamofascism, since the policies he implemented are fueling Islamophobia in the West. For this reason, Gkiormez’ reference of Islamphobia should not go unnoticed, nor ignored.
With the same thought process, strategic studies centers adjacent to the Erdoğan regime have gone a step further by seeking to transform Islamophobia to Turkophobia, which ultimately relates to Turkofascism.
Kürtler (Kurds): Turkey is faced with a complex security environment, which has to deal with the historical controversy over the management of water resources in the region, the Islamic State, political Shiite, the problem of the PKK and by extension the Kurdish problem, as well as the problem with the Kurdish movement in Syria and the Syrian refugees.
On the other hand, the Kurdish population lives in an area where intersecting, economic and cultural axes connect the Middle East and Islam in general with the West. Indeed, the fact that the Middle East is changing radically and rapidly, gives an opportunity for Kurds to push either for independence in the countries they reside, or to create a confederation format.
However, while the Kurdish factor is dynamically claiming a regional and regulatory role in the area all Turkish governments a brinkmanship approach not perceiving the essence of the Kurdish problem, which over time has become more and more important.
Equally important is that Ankara’s efforts of Turkification against the Kurds had no effect. This view is confirmed by the fact that, despite the political religious and ideological attacks, as well as military measures used by all Turkish governments, the Kurdish people have not only retained their national identity, but brought severe blows to the Turkish-Islamic designs. Still, “Turkey’s Kurds” and “Turkey’s Kurdistan” are two terminologies common to the Kurdish problem. Even if the problem of the Turkish Kurds is solved, Ankara will still face the problem of Turkish Kurditan.
Also, the Erdoğan regime in order to maintain the strength of the internal politics of the country and safeguard its strategic interests, uses authoritarian stereotypes of the past thus widening instability and chaos in the country. Furthermore, it should be noted that the new “war doctrine” that was launched in the Kurdish provinces of southeastern Turkey after July 2015, was not only decided by Erdoğan and the ruling AKP party. Specifically, it is a doctrine that was decided by the Turkish National Security Council and implemented, with the consent of the ruling AKP and opposition parties such as the CHP Republican party and the nationalist MHP party. Also, this doctrine has not only to do with the personal ambitions of Erdoğan to change the country’s constitution into a presidential republic, but is seen as a totalitarian war against all strategic power centers of Turkey (Islamic-nationalist-military) against the Kurds initially and then against other minorities as well as against progressive and democratic forces of the country.
At the same time, it would be wrong not to note that the Kurds a diverse group in Turkey and distinguished both for the different ideological and political beliefs as to their economic and cultural heterogeneity. However, the constant persecution and violations of their human rights on the one hand, as well as the political and socio-cultural requirements on the other, drove the Kurds to rally under the protective umbrella of the Kurdish identity in order to minimize the risk their assimilation.
Therefore, if anything characterizes the issue of the Kurds and the Kurdish problem in general, it is the timelessness and the complexity of its conflict situations.
Kıbrıs (Cyprus): The Turkish policy on Cyprus is based on the framework of a strategy that is consistent with the new strategic data. This strategy essentially rests on two main axes: the first axis relates to the human factor and regards the security of the Turkish Cypriots as a result of Turkey’s historical responsibility. And the second axis addresses the strategic importance of the island due to its geographical position.
All this is due to the pursuit of Ankara: first, to change the territorial status quo as provided by international treaties that underpin the legal status of the seas and airspace of the island; and secondly, the Greek side to renounce its sovereign rights in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as with respect to the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone.
Findings and conclusions
To realize its aspirations, Turkey first set its political, military, economic-energy, cultural and social objectives, and second, at every opportunity employed psychological operations, and where necessary other elements of national power, specifically political, military, economic, demographic, geographic, scientific, technical, psychosocial and cultural power.
The wars in Iraq and Syria mark the end of a historical period that has seen the fall of regimes that were created more than ninety five years before. Moreover, Turkey is the last link in this period and according to analysts’ estimates Turkish wars are expected in the coming years to eventually become domestic conflicts.
Estimates and official declarations of global power centers regarding drawing new borders in the Middle East and the establishment of three or four new states in the territory covered by Iraq and Syria, triggered nationalist reflexes among the Turkish leadership. Therefore, frequent references by Tayyip Erdoğan to the Lausanne Treaty and the National Oath has to do with the pursuit of the Turkish president to open a dialogue in Turkey not relying on historical documents but on ideological argumetns. And of course this dialogue should answer two main questions: Kemalism or Caliphate, and invasive policy across borders or a policy that will respect international borders?
Meanwhile, in case of dismemberment of Syria and Iraq it is estimated that Turkey will bring a challenge every border demarcation agreement with these countries and will therefore seek, either with the consent of the Great Powers or its favorite tactics of creating faits accomplis, extend directly or indirectly its borders to the south. Indirectly, through control of state entities that will be created in the event of the partition of Iraq and Syria, being entrusting the role of “big brother” and having as modus operandi the creation and control of the puppet regime in Cyprus. And immediately, through the creation of “safe areas” (Güvenli Volgeler) or “areas without problems” (Sorunsuz Volgeler) by the Turkish armed forces beyond Turkish borders, either by claiming as the legal basis of Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations regarding the right of self-defense, or relying on the humanitarian dimension of a potential wave of refugees from northern Iraq to Turkey. Indeed, the Operation Euphrates Shield and specifically its military, political and economic objectives should be given special attention because they reveal in the most obvious way the Turkish thinking on the subject.
The question is what will happen to the Kurds of Syria, and especially the PYD Kurdish movement which controls about 700 of the 911 kilometers of the Turkish-Syrian border and has political control over 1.5 to 2 million residents located in those areas . In order to assess the role of the Kurds for the future of Syria, the following four factors must be considered:
- It is possible to bring stability to Syria in the future?
- What will be the form of the New Syria?
- What will be the role of the PYD in the competitive environment of global and regional powers in the reconstruction of Syria?
- What are the political goals of the PYD, its ideological base and morale as well as how will it will develop in the future?
Finally, the strategic objective of the Turks against the Greeks is the abandonment by the latter of rights in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean. To achieve its objectives, Ankara focuses its strategy on:
- obtaining a favorable to Turkey solution of the Kurdish problem (not reached);
- the resolution of internal problems and the consolidation of security within Turkey (not reached);
- the avoidance of an economic crisis in Turkey (not reached);
- improving the level of understanding by the international community of the particularities of Turkey;
- not solving the Cyprus problem before finding a solution to the issue of the delimitation of maritime zones;
- persisting with the “casus belli” doctrine for the Aegean against Greece for it be used as an argument for a possible Turkish offensive action;
- ensuring either the agreement or compromise of the international community, which will give the impression of legality of the Turkish claims in the region;
- and finally, preserving the balance of power between Greece and Turkey and creating deep insecurities on the Greek side.