2016 EMF Conference Part 12: The Strategic Culture of Turkey – Marcus Templar 5-7 December 2016
EMF Conference Part 12: The Strategic Culture of Turkey
Marcus Templar – U.S. Army Cryptologic Linguist, and All-Source Intelligence Analyst of the Defense Intelligence Agency (Retd.)
EMF Conference 5-7 December 2016
Turkey’s internal and foreign policies are a result of national personality shaped by Turkey’s strategic culture. This culture is characterised by uncertainty and insecurity. The former is reflected in Turkey’s fixation with unity in homogeneity, culture and sameness, while the latter in a conspiratorial mindset, distrust, and militarization. Markus Templar explores the reasons behind Turkey’s strategic culture, and helps explain certain continuity and pattern in Turkey’s behaviour, which occurs regardless of time and its political system.
Christodoulos Pelaghias (C.P.): Good evening and welcome to the East Mediterranean Forum. Our speaker today is Marcus Alexander Templar. He is a writer in Turkish matters and an analyst of Turkish policy. Mr. Templar, welcome.
Marcus Templar (M.T.): Thank you very much. I’m honored actually to be here, I enjoy the subject, but also I like your group.
C.P.: Mr. Templar, you were very kind to join us in this discussion on Turkey, and particularly on the strategic culture of Turkey. What is strategic culture?
M.T.: Strategic culture is a widely shared normative belief, attitudes, policy, preferences as they pertain to a country’s foreign relations. It is, I would say, the psychological personality of a country. And simply offers information that one needs to know in order to understand, in this case, why Turkey as a whole behaves in certain ways and to explain its social personality. That’s what it is. And we call it strategic because it comes from the top-down. They are the one who determine the education of the people and the policies as they see them, based on what the pressures they get from the outside, the foreign policy of other countries, and so on.
C.P.: What does one look at in order to determine the strategic culture? I think your studies indicate that it’s part of, at least for secular Turkey, it’s part of the nation-building that occurred after the Kemalist take over, but it goes back to the Ottoman period. Please, tell us a little bit about that, would you?
M.T.: It goes back to the Ottoman period where the Western allies, or powers at that time, started interfering with internal affairs of the country. Actually, they were determining in a way the foreign policy of the Ottoman Empire, or the great Ottoman state, as it used to be called. And we go to Küçük Kaynarca – the victory of the Russians over the Turks, and that’s how it started, really, in 1774. And we come to our time, and we have the treaty of San Stefano, for example, which was signed outside of Constantinople. Today I believe it is the airport, Kemal Atatürk Airport in that area. So there we see how the Turks actually negotiate on top of it. The deadline was six o’clock pm, and actually they signed at six o’clock pm, because the Russians had told them, either you do that, or we are getting to your capital. So we go back and then we have the defeat of the… Almost a dismemberment of Turkey after the First World War. All that have contributed to the culture, I would say, xenophobia. And one can say, well they are justified, others say, no they are not justified. But the culture goes there.
C.P.: So what lessons can one draw from Turkish behavior over time from the Ottoman, to the Kemalist period, to neo-Islamist? Now we’re in the Ottoman period, I guess.
M.T.: The Turkish culture is a culture of uncertainty, insecurity. They see enemies everywhere around them. One could call it paranoia, I’m not sure. But all this brings them into homogeneity. The Turks are fixated with unity, uniformity of culture, of sameness, I would say, and we see that in the ethnic side of Turkey, but also the religious side of Turkey, as we see later. And Kemalism, what Kemalism is, because people do misunderstand the whole issue of Kemalism. Then the other thing is… By the way, Turkey is built upon the very qualities and values that define a sustained mutuality, cooperation, stability and interconnectedness. In Turkey, everybody has to be the same. If you’re not the same, you’re an outcast. And you see that everywhere. I know cases that Greeks have changed the names – even that – just to find a job. And to me that’s obvious. Why should I change my name? I’m a minority, so what? But for them that’s a danger, you’re not one of us. The other thing is insecurity and because the concept of national security… Normal national security is not just military or gendarmerie, internally. It is connected also to economy. Because if we don’t have a good economy, you really don’t have security, internal security. They reduce that to the physical dimensions only. And that’s why they are militarized. That’s why they care more about the military they have that they care about anything else. And that could be the downfall of Turkey.
C.P.: But it was the same with the Ottoman period, wasn’t it? I mean, it was an army with a state, not a state with an army, always, wasn’t it?
M.T.: Well, yes. We saw that, but this changed with the revolt of the Janissaries and from that point on Turkey changed. I believe it was it in 1864, I’m not sure, approximately, when Hamid was the sultan, he tried to modernize Turkey and he started bringing in understanding… The way he understood, the way he could implement everything he saw in the Western world at the time. And that westernization started bringing Turkey down, bringing Turkey in its imperial form down in 1918, and the Sultan was over. And when Kemal took over, brought back the Turkish understanding of things, although on the other hand started to westernize the country in his way, however, within nationalistic fervor.
C.P.: But there was also the nation-building of that time, with Gökalp and the poetry, and all of that was based in some ways on fiction as well, not just reality.
M.T.: Gökalp was a man who was a Kurd by the way, that’s what is alleged. What he did, he took the Shahnameh, an epic poem of the Persians… Have in mind that in the Ottoman Turkey Persians had great respect among everyone, especially elite of the Turks, because they took Islam from the Persians. And in the beginning, Turkey was a Shia country and changed to Sunni later on when the sultan saw most of the Muslim subjects of his were Sunni. So it was a political thing for him, and he changed from Shia to Sunni. But they still maintained the admiration for the Persians. So what Gökalp did, he took the Shahnameh which was a Persian, clear Persian epic poem, and he applied that to the Turks. And he made the Turks to be descendants of the Turanian race, if I could say it like that. He published this poem, actually, in 1911 in Thessaloniki. And from there everybody thinks that Turks are Turanians. Actually, they are not. Turania is not even in Turkey. It is a central area north of Iran, but not in the Central Asia, as the Turks believe it is. And they took elements from the Mongols also, because the (inaudible) as Gökalp and others have in the myths about the Turks today, the grey wolf, all these things, happened at the east side of Mongolia, which is close to Sakhalin – the island, the peninsula of Russia. So it makes no sense. Anyway, Gökalp actually created a new Turkey.
C.P.: To interrupt you for a second, are the Alevis in Turkey remnants of the Shia past of Turkey?
M.T.: That’s correct. That’s correct. And the Alevis, like the swirling dervish clan, if I could call it like, that of a… I believe it is in the (inaudible). They are the ones that have brought the philosophical part of Aristotelian philosophy into Islam. So Alevis and the dervishes actually have some Greek into their understanding of the world. And they are very spiritual, they don’t abide by the rules of Islam. They are much more… They see religion as a spiritual part and not as a secular part of life. So whatever they take from the Quran, they take the spirit of it, not a letter. And they differ a lot into how you implement the Quran. The Quran differs from Christianity that in Christianity you have the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament in every time there is a conflict. In the Quran you don’t have that, because from the beginning the way the Suras were given, the chapters were given, do not exist anymore. (inaudible) that’s called first, second and third was overturned by the Abbasids, if I’m not mistaken, or the Umayyads, or the two. And they changed that. They started the Quran with the shortest, which is the Fatihah, to the longest (inaudible) in Quran four-five pages. I have Quran, by the way, I have read it. So that’s how it goes, there’s no chronological basis.
C.P.: Well, I interrupted you. You were saying how the myths of Turkish nationhood affected the strategic culture. I think that’s a very interesting issue.
M.T.: What Gökalp did, he united the Turks under Islam. What Kemal did, united the Turks under the unity of the Turks based on Islam, but on the secular basis. So both men, Gökalp and Kemal, had in mind the union of the country. The basis is different, however. And in the speech of Kemal Atatürk to the national assembly was clear that to him the Turks and the Kurds were the same thing. There is no ethnicity, individual ethnicity. All of you are the same, you are Turks because you live in Turkey. And there are some ministers at that time who said, actually, that you’re either a Turk, or a slave.
C.P.: But it’s interesting, and you mention it in your article, that a lot of the thinking then was that the important thing was education. It wasn’t race or ethnicity, it was education. So if you were educated as a Turk, you became a Turk.
M.T.: That started with Kemal, again, when he said – I have it in Turkish here [reads in Turkish]. That means, “How happy is one to say that I’m a Turk.”
C.P.: By the way, that’s what’s written on the mountain on Cyprus that faces the Greek side.
M.T.: Another one says, “A Turk is equal to the world.” I don’t know if you have seen it. It says… Supposedly, it’s a tribute to Kemal. “Peace at home, peace in the world”. That’s connected to this “A Turk equals to the world.” Everything else doesn’t count.
C.P.: But there’s a suggestion, though, that nation-building in Turkey is still incomplete. I mean, if you compare Turkey to Iran, for example, which they both have many minorities, a lot of them submerged minorities, ethnic, religious and so on. The threat, the perceived threat from these minorities seem to be different as far as the state is concerned. In Turkey this threat is magnified. Therefore, in today’s Turkey you have this brutality towards the Kurds and other minorities, whereas in Iran on the same Kurdish issue, and I don’t know if this is just a diplomatic ploy, but the Iranians don’t seem that concerned with the Kurdish issue.
M.T.: Turkey was divided in 1919 to many parts. You had the area of Constantinople being an international, you had a Greek…
C.P.: The Treaty of Sèvres.
M.T.: …so they are afraid of that. And then they had the Treaty of Sèvres, and so on, in which Armenia had expanded so far and down, the Kurdistan was almost close to Ankara, all these things. That’s how they created it and this will be the downfall of Turkey. I don’t know what you have read from, what paper you have read of mine, but I have written one in 2008, and I explained there that the moment Turkey becomes democratic, it is going to disappear, it is going to implode. I’m talking about democratic, really, like a Western country – Greece, Germany, doesn’t matter. The reason is they cannot suppress the minorities anymore as a democratic country. Just imagine being democratic Turkey, and the Kurds will take over the national assembly.
C.P.: But isn’t this the essence of the issue? Because Turkey has an oriental culture. Oriental culture in some ways is incompatible with Western values. It’s the old Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations,” with lack of another term, where certain things are divided and there’s a division and the thinking… it’s difficult to bridge that gap. Now, Turkey seems to be the best example of that situation. At least, even Turkey is split between the western part of Turkey and Anatolia, let’s say, the more traditionalist, the more conservative and so on. But yet the state is still powerful. And it exhibits, and it acts very strongly on the international arena. Is the reality not what we see? Is there something hollow there?
M.T.: It doesn’t seem to be. It seems to me, especially now with Erdoğan, they want the cake and eat it too. Erdoğan, if we take the way it is right now, what he wants to do is he wants to expand Turkey into Europe. And he started actually blackmailing Western Europe. They want to take from Western Europe what they want to take, and reject anything they don’t like. At the same time, in order to do that you have to have people, your people in Western Europe, and any time you want something you agitate them. So to Erdoğan, all these Muslims in Western Europe are means for future instability, as a tool of doing whatever he wants to do.
M.M.: Why is Erdoğan’s Turkey still pursuing membership in the EU, having in mind Turkey’s anti-democratic, anti-European, anti-Western, authoritarian, Islamist character? Why is it… Or is it? Is it still pursuing it?
M.T.: I would say megalomania, and also in my view is the fault of the Western European countries. You see, the whole mentality is having Turkey on our side, who helps us against Russia, because of the Straits. They do not realize that the Straits are losing value, because we have different weapons today. The ships are larger and heavier. The Straits in the meantime get shallower and they render… I don’t know how I could put it. They don’t have the value they used to have a hundred years ago. But the mentality is that Turkey is important to us. To me, if they want to look for an important power over there, it will be Cyprus and Greece, especially with Crete, because they can control the Suez Canal. The other one – the Straits – are losing value, and you see Russia slowly, slowly take away from there the big ships and they transfer them to Baltiysk, which is the old German (inaudible). So it is the Europeans who have made a mistake on that. What they do, they see people from Constantinople or the littoral side of Turkey and they think that’s Turkey. It is not. That’s like a facade in a way. And don’t forget many people who are Turkish citizens, in Germany especially, are actually Kurds. Most of the people in Constantinople are Kurds. A professor did that analysis taking the telephone books of Constantinople and he saw that most of them are Kurds. So the Kurds are the ones who promote Turkey without realizing it. The Turks themselves don’t do that.
C.P.: There’s also an interesting twist to this European relationship, because Erdoğan claims the right, in some ways, to speak on behalf of the Muslims in Europe.
C.P.: And this is supported by the fact that there’s a number of Turkish religious organizations that are becoming and have become increasingly active in a lot of the European countries with Muslim populations. Now, in your estimation, is this consistent with Turkish strategic culture, or is this a different approach to Europe?
M.T.: I would say it is part of both. Strategic culture is the one that emanates from this. But also megalomania of Erdoğan – it’s something more personal, I would say. But Turks like to be the power of the world. If they could be the power, they would be the power. That’s why they’re expanding everywhere they can. Sometimes through cunning, sometimes through extortion, bullying – that’s part of the strategic culture. But the religious organizations in Western Europe – just like we have here, we have Gülen here – are being used for exactly the blackmail, as I said before. In this way, they can blackmail the Western countries with instability. Now, if (inaudible) in the United States was part of the whole scheme, Erdoğan will not have any problem. But because it is not part of the scheme for his own reasons, that’s why Erdoğan has a problem.
C.P.: What scheme are you talking about? The overthrow of Erdoğan?
M.T.: Yeah. And instability is the basis not for Turkey to take over Europe, but to regulate European foreign policy towards Islamic countries or towards whatever Turkey doesn’t like, doesn’t matter what. It’s like (inaudible) would be the power behind the power. The movers and shakers.
M.M.: We know that the ruling party, the Justice and Development Party – the AKP party – is rooted in the Islamist movement called Millî Görüş, and that the Millî Görüş movement used to have a pretty strong relations, or still has pretty strong relations with the Muslim Brotherhood. So how strong is the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology on the party, and on Erdoğan in particular?
M.T.: The whole Erdoğan system, I mean the people in the government today, not the deep state we have from Kemal, but from Erdoğan side, started with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. And they have connection with Hamas, and many of the Palestinians. Not all the Palestinians are pro-Hamas, not really. But I do not take Hamas as part of Palestine or the Palestinian Authority. To me Hamas is independent. Because we must have in mind that the area of Gaza was under Egyptian rule, not under Jordanian rule. So the mentality is different. Actually, I still wonder how, what kind of dialect the Hamas, the Gaza people speak today? The Egyptian dialect, or the Palestinian dialect? And believe me, there are great differences. So all these, the Turks follow the Hamas mentality, the Muslim Brotherhood mentality. They are part of them.
C.P.: Looking at Syria and Iraq…
C.P.: Turkey seems to have irredentist and revisionist intentions not only against Greece, but to the east and to its south. Again, is this a reawakening of Turkish… We call it “neo-Ottoman,” but I’m not sure it’s correct term. Is it coming back in touch with the mainstream of, in your terms, Turkish strategic culture? Is Turkish strategic culture pushing the state now more visibly than it was before?
M.T.: In a sense, yes they do. Again, to them is not important if the borders change or not, as far as they’re concerned. It is important what kind of effective control they can have on other countries. They want to be the movers and shakers of the area. Now, come to Syria. I have written a letter to my representative here in the United States (inaudible), and I told her that time, and that was in 2013, around the time ISIS came about. In 2003, I was talking to a very high ranking officer of the United States Army. And I told him at the time – we were talking about Iraq, because we were ready to invade Iraq – and I told him at that time, I dread the day that Syria is going to be destabilized. Do not destabilize Syria. There are many ways of getting rid of Assad, because Assad is not exactly a regime I love, personally. I don’t. Because I have worked on that. But Syria is a microcosm of ethnic and religious groups and to me even Lebanon is part of Syria. And my ancestor grandparents come from Hatay area which was part of Syria. (inaudible) passed it into Turkey. So, I know Syria. Syria should not be destabilized. You want to get rid of Assad, there are many other ways to do it. Do not destabilize Syria, especially when we know Turkey… I would say, we knew that time Turkey was itching to get into Syria, and was threatening Assad. And all this because Syria has a lot of Alawites. Now, Alevis and Alawites are not the same. But they’re very close to each other, because they come from the same root: Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Mohammed. So those Alawis are Shia. And the same thing happens in Lebanon with Hezbollah – they are Shia. And the Shia are more, I would say, more spiritual than the Sunnis. The fundamentalist Muslims are the Sunnis, not the Shias. Never mind what’s going on in Iran, that’s another story. But Syria should never be destabilized. And that’s why Russia came in. Because Russia wants to have the control of the Middle East. And they lost it. The moment Egypt went to the Western side, Russia lost. Not only lost the control, but also lost the client to sell weapons. And the only client they have now is Syria in the area. And they would never lose the client. Also, it gives them a base in Latakia and Tartus.
C.P.: It’s interesting that you mentioned Russia, because I think Turkey and Russia, from the time of the Ottomans, they always had not a love-hate relationship, mostly a hate relationship, but with slight, you know, shines of love too. Because there was some admiration, let’s say, certainly on the part of the Turks towards the Russians. Admiration in terms of their might and their ability, and their military capabilities. We see a little bit of that, I think, with Erdoğan and Putin now. But at the end, again, the strategic culture of Turkey and the strategic culture of Russia, in your estimation, do they dove tail, or are they at loggerheads?
M.T.: I would say, to a point, to a point they are similar. To a point. Russians are very proud people. I have read a paper – I don’t have it available – about the stratigic culture of Russia. And I was really surprised of the things I have read. It was written by a group of Russians, academics all of them. But my understanding would be, they come in conflict with each other, because they are the same or similar, to a point. And I believe that the Turks and the Russians (inaudible) in Syria, mostly because Russia on one had wants to eliminate the strength, the power of Turkey, and they support the Kurds for that. And the Kurds are supported by the Americans too. But also they don’t want to lose the client and the base they have in Latakia. It’s also a matter of prestige.
C.P.: But the Kurds, again, are very, very… It’s an interesting issue, because as far as the Turks are concerned, the Kurds are the biggest threat to Turkish territorial integrity and sovereignty, and so on. Now, to what extent the US and the West is supporting the Kurds, again, that the jury is out? Because there seems to be a little bit of double-talk there, or double action, let’s say.
M.T.: That’s Turkey’s action.
C.P.: The Russians, again, although when they started getting involved in the Syrian issue it was a little bit… There their objective seemed a little bit more clear-cut. Now they’re sort of muddling the waters as well. What are they supporting? They’re supporting certain Turkish claims or certain Turkish objectives, are they not? What’s your sort of take? Here you must have a clearer take than we do.
M.T.: Turkey started feeling the danger of dismemberment, of losing territory to the Kurds, after the Kurds declared the area through the constitution of Iraq as an autonomous territory. Autonomy is the first step to independence, the way I see it. Especially that Kurds are not Arabs. The Kurds are Indo-Europeans, like the Iranians – the Persians. So the moment the Turks saw that the Kurds are now autonomous, they know, they understand that this is going to spread into Turkey, because now the Kurds have a state. And because of the territories, in Diyarbakir – that area down there – I would say, not a 100%, but very close to it, Kurdish – there is a homogeneity in that area by the Kurds. And the Turks see that, and they are afraid of that. At the same time, you have Kurds who live in Syria, who until 2010, I believe, they were not recognized they ever existed there. And Kurds from Syria could not get a passport, not even a birth certificate, because the Arabs of Syria, the governments in the fifties said that these people came from Turkey illegally during the war – passed illegally to Syria – and they are not Syrians, although they were born within Syria. So if I had to redraw the map, I would take all the Kurdish territories into the new state of Kurdistan, plus the area of Syria that is inhabited by the Yazidis, by the Kurds, all these people, I would say east of Euphrates. And I believe that’s where the fighting is going on over there. The Kurds are west of Euphrates and the east of Euphrates. That’s where the conflict is. But I believe now is different because the Turks feel that the Kurds actually are empowering the area, they fight – even the women fight – and they have the support of the United States, and Russia too. The only thing Russians don’t want is for Syria to lose territories because it’s a matter of prestige for the Russians, not for the Turks. So that’s what’s going on in my opinion. It’s a conflict over there because of what happened in 2004, with the new constitution of Iraq, and so on.
C.P.: But in the maritime area also. I think we mentioned before that over the last twenty years Turkey has built this very large, very strong navy in the Eastern Mediterranean. In some ways more than defensive because it has offensive capabilities. Therefore, again, Turkey hasn’t had a large navy – that large – since the 1600s when it got defeated at Lepanto. What is this? It’s, again, it’s moving towards its destiny, its national destiny in the region?
M.T.: It has to do a lot with Erdoğan. Don’t forget he was prime minister for so long before he became president. And also with the Islamist taking over in a way the government of Turkey, in a slow pace, they want to show that Kemal was good, but we are better. So in a few years, about four years from now – 2020 – they want to have the 100 anniversary of Kemalist Republic of Turkey, with Kemal number one, the one who made Turkey the way it is. So now they want surpass that mentality and push for Islam: we are the ones who did it, we are better than the secularists. At the same time, they want to go back to the Ottoman glory, as they see it. The difference is that today the world is different.
C.P.: You mean, if there was not this move towards Islamism in Turkey, you wouldn’t have this expansionist dreams, this increasing their regional power? Is that what I’m hearing you say?
M.T.: More or less, yes. More or less, yes.
C.P.: So if Turkey goes back to secularism, it will stay within its borders?
M.T.: Now that I can’t tell you because once you see something good, you keep it. It depends how they see it. Never mind what they say. You know, you could be a good politician, and personally I don’t trust any politician, but that’s my view. This is the issue here. They want to go back to the Ottoman Empire in order to show off their flag, you know. We are here and we are the ones who do everything that we want. And you are still a slave because you are not a Turk. I was talking to an Arab, I have some Arab friends. At the time I was studying Turkish in California. And there’s a nice restaurant owned by three brothers, all from the village of (inaudible) in Jordan. And I have a friend from (inaudible), he studied dentistry in Thessaloniki. And that’s how we met, I started talking to them. And one of them said, “I hate the Turks.” And I said to him, “Why?” These brothers are Christians. But the mentality was the same, “I hate the Turks.” Why? “Because when they were our rulers, they did not allow us to study in Arabic”. So anywhere and everywhere the Turks went, they were forcing people to study Turkish and to become somebodies within a Turkish milieu. And they want to go back to that. Again, we go to the strategic culture. You see what you did to us one hundred years ago, you wanted to destroy us and all this. I’ll show you now, because now we are united, we are one. And the moment you start understanding this mentality… It’s like a revenge in a way.
M.M.: I would like to go back to the question of fundamentalism, because you mentioned that religious fundamentalism is much more often to be found within the Sunni Islam, and not the Shia Islam. Is this the reason why Turkey supports ISIS? Or if it doesn’t support it overtly, because it has never admitted that it does, it is not fighting it fiercely enough. Is this the reason… Is there’s some sort of an ideological similarity between the…
M.T.: It seems that the Turks take ISIS as their tool, where they thought they can do is use them to do whatever they’re doing, and then, because we are strong now, we could go and subdue them. So they are using ISIS for anything they want, (inaudible) on their minds, anyway, to do whatever they want. Because in reality, I mean, I don’t want to go far into the Islamic understanding of mine, because I have read the Quran. There are many things they don’t even say from the Quran, they take whatever, they pick and choose what they like. But that’s another story. They use the ISIS fundamentalism, if I could call it like that, more as a tool, thinking that let them do whatever they want now, destroy everything Western, show to the world what Islam is all about, and we do it in the name of Allah. But when it comes to… And they supported them. They did support them. The MIT of Turkey were actually shipping equipment to them. And it is recorded by journalists that have left Turkey since because they wouldn’t have been alive. Yes, they want to use them as a tool, and they use them, thinking that after the whole thing finishes and they do what they want to, they have their caliphate, then we can take over. Because they depend on us now anyway. We don’t give them the equipment, we don’t allow the recruits to go to Syria through Turkey, we have them. Let them do whatever they do and then we control them.
C.P.: But that means that they don’t want to destroy them.
C.P.: Because they’re useful.
M.T.: Because the ISIS wants to have the caliphate and Erdoğan wants to be a caliph. So you do our dirty work.
C.P.: But irrespective of the caliphate, ISIS would be useful for Turkey anyways.
M.T.: That’s correct. Because they destroy the Kurds – the enemies – they destroy the Christians down there, they get rid of Assad, and it’s what’s on their minds, and we can manipulate them. So it’s like a… Something attributed to Lenin, and I don’t know if that’s true or not because I haven’t found anywhere, but at least a Russian wrote that Lenin has said, these are the ‘useful idiots’ for the Turks.
M.M.: So in other words, what you’re saying is that once the caliphate is established and Erdoğan becomes a caliph, what he counts on is that ISIS is going to pledge allegiance to him? Is this what you are trying to say?
M.T.: No, they will force them to. They will force them to pledge allegiance. Because they have the power and with all the ships and the navy what they do is exactly to establish themselves as the power. Not only in Eastern Mediterranean, but also in the whole Mediterranean, and everywhere they used to be, like Yemen.
C.P.: What are we to expect from a post-Erdoğan Turkish regime?
M.T.: A lot of this would depend on a number of factors. Russia, the United States, the EU. For as long as the EU is not doing, is not a unified military power and a unified political power, Turks will do anything they like. Germany has a lot to do with it. The Germans used to be the friends of the Turks, (inaudible) but from what I have read, the Germans, actually, are the ones behind the genocide of the Greeks, and the Armenians, and so on. And then they implemented that on the Jews during 1934 or ’35 (inaudible). They have to be unified. And for as long as Germany does not support Cyprus, Greece, all these countries of European Union that are close to Turkey, and they do anything possible on their side to exert, I would say, effective control over these countries, directly or indirectly – like in Greece with the money issue -Turkey sees that as an opportunity to expand. So the European Union who had to start putting the foot down, and anytime Erdoğan tries to blackmail them, or direct blackmails them about sending millions of refugees, whatever, they could stop him in the different manner. I remember I was talking to a politician from Greece and he said to me, “It’s not that we do not see the refugees coming in, it’s not that we cannot stop them coming in. But we have signed so many treaties with the European Union that doesn’t allow us to stop them.” So again, we go to the European Union and how they understand the whole issue. My parents on both sides were refugees to Greece. But they went to a country that was Orthodox Christian as they were. Or even if they were not Orthodox, they were Christians. Here you have refugees who come from another country, and when they come to your country, they demand that you adopt their culture, instead of them adopting yours. (inaudible) the same religion and again they demand to have not rights, but privileges. You cannot do that.
C.P.: But coming back to how Europe can affect a post-Erdoğan Turkish regime, or the shape of it. Because I think you were developing a line of thought there, which I think is interesting.
M.T.: Well, in the first place they have to be united. They’re not. It seems to me the northern countries, like Sweden and Finland, and all these, do not understand the difference.
C.P.: But do you mean that they should challenge Erdoğan? They should call his bluff? What is the suggested policy?
M.T.: The European Union does not, in my view, does not defend the borders of the European Union. On one hand they say they’re political union – actually they are not. (inaudible) the standards down of political union – they are not political union. They’re just a union of customs, commercial union, I would say. So far they have not shown any unity as a unified Europe, as a country. Because they don’t even have constitution. Personally, I don’t think European Union is going to stay union for a long time. That’s another story. They have conflicts among themselves that go back to centuries, and it’s not like the United States, from Mexico… (inaudible). They could defend the borders of Europe…
C.P.: But there’s an additional factor: post-Brexit Britain. The suggestion is that it will come closer to Turkey, because now they’re both on the periphery of Europe, they have more common interests, and that this would at least in the short run encourage Erdoğan and encourage Erdoğan’s policies and enable him to hand on in a post-Erdoğan regime, to hand on some of his philosophical, and practical, and other heritage.
M.T.: I would say yes and no. I don’t think so, but I cannot tell you… That would depend also on the foreign policy of the United States. Because Britain is one of the “four eyes”, as we call them. The “four eyes” meaning United States, UK, Australia and Canada. And British foreign policy and American foreign policy go hand to hand in many cases, especially in Europe. But don’t forget also we have Germany there, and the US and Germany are very close.
C.P.: Sure, but one thing would be British attitude towards Russia, because the Europeans are a little bit timid towards taking a really hard position towards Russia. Whereas now with Britain outside the European Union, it can go back to its traditional anti-Russian kind of policy. In the Eastern Mediterranean I’m talking about, because that is surely the challenge. Can the West accept a permanent presence of Russia in the Eastern Mediterranean? That question has been plaguing everybody for centuries. And there is where, I don’t know if you agree, one of the sources of Erdoğan’s power.
M.T.: At the end I think the West will have to accept the presence of Russia in Syria. You cannot have… I don’t believe they want to have a conflict with Russians over Syria. And if the Russians are still in Syria, they could be players in the area. As for Turkey, I doubt… There is a difference between what Turkish elite wants and what Turkey can do. Yes, they can spend all the money they want to have a strong navy, but there’s the issue there how good the navy is going to be? They would have to have many friends in the Mediterranean in order to have the ships in. To my knowledge, the only one they have now is Albania in the Adriatic. And if Albania now is part of NATO, yes, okay, they have something in common in the way. However, when Albania gets into the European Union, things change. We saw what happens with Bulgaria. Turkey and Bulgaria kind of were in friendly terms. And today the Turks don’t do anything with Bulgaria because they know behind Bulgaria is not just NATO, also Russia. It’s like a… I don’t have a crystal ball here. But I don’t believe Turkey will go and the UK will go that far together. Because there’s a conflict of interest. Any time Turkey gets stronger, the UK loses. In Cyprus, for example, they have two bases – Akrotiri and Dhekelia – and I don’t believe they are willing to risk that. So we’ll see. I don’t know how it is going to go.
C.P.: Just not to tire you much longer, but a final sort of question. Do you see a powerful, dominant Turkey being a paragon of peace and stability in the region, or something else?
M.T.: Well, it depends how you take it. It could be part of stability, as I believe Davutoğlu had said that we want to have peace in the region, and all this. Under whose terms? If Turkey is the controlling power in the area and imposes itself on others, is it going to be a part of stability? Is it going to be a stable area? However, the fact would be that under Turkish effective control of the area all the countries would be like slaves in a way. And no country today will accept that. No country would accept anything like that. On the other hand, if you see it from the view of the countries that would be around Turkey, like Greece, Cyprus, Egypt or even Malta, Turkey would be part of instability. And to me they are part of instability, because of the way I see they act with Greece, for example, or Cyprus. They go to the Aegean Sea, they say, oh, that’s our sea now, we split it, or half – stuff like that. The problem in international law, I’m sure you know that, is if you allow somebody to do something once, you allow them for the rest of their period. So people in those areas have to understand, you cannot say, well, it’s only once, it doesn’t matter, that’s nothing. No. It is something. Also, in politics the fundamental truth is a perception. You don’t want to give a perception to anyone that you are going to accept this reality that Turks want to impose on you. That’s how I see it. To me Turkey is instability.
M.M.: Just a very last question from my side. Looking at the past and the present, is there any chance that Turkey will ever develop into a Western-style, stable, liberal democracy?
M.T.: Liberal? What do you mean by liberal now, because we have a difference in liberalism. European liberal means at the right side – right-wing – and American liberals are left-wing. The American or the European liberal?
M.M.: …where the rights of the minorities are respected, where there is equality of genders…
M.T.: You are talking about a regular democracy. As I said at the beginning, I believe that the moment Turkey becomes democratic, Turkey is over. It is going to implode from within. It’s going to collapse, because all these minorities, now you will see them coming out. And you have religious minorities that today nobody sees. I have heard people saying about crypto-Christians coming out. The Alawis will be free to do whatever they want. Now (inaudible) secluded a little bit. The Kurds, the Armenians, Greeks, whatever you have… (inaudible) It also depends what you consider a Greek. Do you consider a Greek a Greek Orthodox, for example, or even the minorities, the Greek-speaking minority in the Pontus area who are actually Muslims? So all these people are going to come out. And at the end you have Turkey. So personally, my wish is to see a democratic Turkey, a real democratic Turkey. But the moment that happens, I don’t see Turkey surviving.
C.P.: Thank you very much for your time, and your insights, and sharing them with us. And we hope to continue this discussion.
M.T.: I hope some people will listen to them.