Updated: May 26
When one talks about Recep Tayyip Erdogan one can find the direct personification of an individual that stands detrimentally opposite to whatever Mustafa Kemal Atatürk the founder of modern-day Turkey stood for and believed in. Ataturk was responsible for dissolving the ancient Ottoman Empire after the latter’s defeat in the First World War, he successfully resisted an allied invasion of his country and converted the conservative Islamic ideology upon which the country was built into a modern, liberal and Secular State. However, ever since his entry into politics Erdogan has never shied away from popularising his version of moderate Islamic conservatism for the Turkish State.
Historically Turkey has always been an indispensable member of NATO and has always sided with the West especially the US in their conflict with the erstwhile USSR during the Cold War so far as serving as a launchpad for American Jupiter missiles having a range of 2400 km which were more than capable of reaching the USSR. However, this relationship has somewhat deteriorated in the recent past especially due to Turkeys placement of its troops in Iraq which is a flagrant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty as decried by the Iraqi government which was overshadowed by Erdogan’s statement that his country would launch operations to protect its national security without anyone’s permission. NATO has run into further exasperation relating to Turkey’s incursions into northern Syria in the October of 2019 after the American withdrawal from these territories to combat the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), its Kurdish allies the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) who happen to have played a major role in uprooting the Islamic State (ISIS) from Syria and their erstwhile capital of Raqqa, the conundrum for Turkey happens to be the issue of Kurdish separatism which Erdogan feared may soon become a reality after their victory over ISIS. South-Eastern Turkey and Northern Syria have always had a major Kurdish population and resentment of the Kurds in Turkey are widespread as they have always faced cultural and political discrimination from the Turks that have culminated into an armed uprising against the Turkish State since 1978 which is still ongoing. To counter the Kurds in Syria and their dream of a separate Kurdistan Erdogan has backed the anti-Kurdish factions and Islamist forces including the Syrian National Army in their fight for dominance over the regions claimed by the Kurds. NATO has always provided Turkey with monetary assistance so as to improve their border security but Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 surface to air missiles despite American sanctions has undermined the monetary interests put into Turkey over the years to counter the rivals of NATO most dangerous amongst them being the Putin led Russian Federation. NATO and America in an effort to discipline Turkey for this act have decided to exclude them from Lockheed Martin’s prestigious F-35 fighter jet program. Erdogan has for the time being feigned ignorance to such an action and has gone forward with an interest to further purchase the Russian Su-35 fighter jet clearly showing his disinterest in strengthening ties with NATO thus nullifying years of co-operation between Turkey and the West in countering Russian interests in the Middle-East.
Turkey’s relation with Egypt has soured too with the support of the former for the radical Islamic organisation i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood which has been outlawed by the present Egyptian government. Erdogan’s gamble in supporting the erstwhile radical Muhammad Morsi government failed when the Egyptian army led by Abdel Fattah El-Sisi accused Morsi of supporting Islamisation of Egyptian society and promptly took over. Such a takeover by the Egyptian army was looked upon with positivity from Russia, Saudi Arabia and especially the UAE. The UAE and Egypt have further warned Turkey of dire consequences if it intervenes in Libya which was already under a UN arms embargo. Despite the threats, Turkey intervened and such an action will surely endanger Arab interests in Libya where Egyptian troops are also fighting and conflict between Turkish and Egyptian troops will broaden the conflict in Libya which hasn’t ameliorated since Gaddafi’s overthrow.
Erdogan in an effort to stand as a strong leader in the Muslim world has openly shown disdain for Israel and its historical occupation of Palestine citing that Israeli authority including its existence as a nation in the Middle-East is illegitimate, he has also shown his anti-India rhetoric by supporting the Pakistani policy on Kashmir and has commented that “Our Kashmiri brothers and sisters have suffered from inconveniences for decades and these sufferings have become graver due to unilateral steps taken in recent times.” By this comment, it can be easily made out that Erdogan was subtly referring to the Indian government’s decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir which had incensed the Imran Khan-led government of Pakistan. The conservatism of Erdogan’s policies has also seeped into Turkeys domestic affairs where a ban on the drinking of alcohol, the wearing of headscarves by women has been encouraged but what has scared human rights activists has been the enormous powers granted to Erdogan after the failed coup by a faction of the Turkish military in 2016. The Turkish military has always seen itself as the protector of the Kemalist ideology which happens to be the principles propounded by the founder of Turkey Atatürk that promotes secularism and democratic ideas, these ideas were upon which the Republic of Turkey was to run but since the advent of Erdogan, the military had feared total Islamic radicalisation of Turkish society and polity and tried a coup against Erdogan so as to save the founding principles of Turkey as “alleged” by them which they claimed Erdogan was eroding. However, the coup failed to gather support and was defeated. Erdogan immediately purged most military officials suspected of having a hand in the coup and numerous arrests occurred all over Turkey. Erdogan was immediately furnished with emergency powers by which he dissolved and absorbed the office of the Prime Minister thus holding greater power in Turkish politics. Recently an archaic and conservative bill was introduced in the Turkish bill that would allow men accused of having sex with girls who are under 18 to avoid punishment if they marry their victims. This controversial bill dubbed the “Marry your rapist bill” has caused widespread discontentment and fury among Turkish women rights activists and has called for worldwide condemnation as the bill indirectly supports child marriage and statutory rape. Such conservatism was prevalent in the former Ottoman Empire that Ataturk chose to forget and bury in history and which has no place in modern Turkish society.
But one would think that Turkey distancing itself from NATO would mean their attempt to establish closer ties with Russia especially after they inked a $2.5 billion deal for the Russian S-400 missile system but due to Erdogan’s desperation to garner support from the conservative Muslim population of Turkey he decided to reconvert the historical Orthodox church of Hagia Sophia back into a mosque which will most certainly make Russian President Vladimir Putin livid. In Russia Putin is seen as the defender of Orthodox Christianity and this is something, he prides himself in and to have a would-be ally desecrate Orthodox Christianity’s most sacred shrine will not sit well with the majority of Russians. Historically Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II converted the original church into a mosque after his conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Ataturk, however, changed Hagia Sophia into a museum in 1934 so as to show the new secular values of the Turkish republic, which many Islamists and conservative nationalists deeply resented this decision; to them, the desacralization of Hagia Sophia was an affront to Turkey’s Muslim identity a sentiment echoed by Erdogan. Other than the Hagia Sophia issue Tukey remains as an obstacle to Russia’s interests in Libya and Russian irritation with Turkey over their plans to harm Bashar-Al-Assad’s (who happens to be a staunch Russian ally) standing in Syria which does not bode well for Turkish-Russo relations.
It seems Erdogan’s gamble to re-establish the Ottoman Empire might not pay off as he seems to alienate almost every country in the neighbourhood due to his policies. Erdogan has criticized the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne while also invoking the “spiritual borders” of the Ottoman Empire and describing a broad swath of the eastern Mediterranean as Turkey’s “blue homeland. Turkish military deployments in countries such as Libya and Syria have helped bring a number of regional states—including Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—into a deepening semi-alliance against Ankara which will further dash Erdogan’s dream of a new Turkish empire with him at the head.
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