International Policy Digest

Photo illustration by John Lyman
World News /05 Sep 2020
09.05.20

Turkey has Become a Slave to its Own History

The European Union not only has to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat from Russia and China but also a new threat from Turkey.

Turkey, with its “Blue Homeland” naval strategy, has laid claim to a vast swathe of the Eastern Mediterranean, the Aegean, and the Black Sea. Unfortunately, this claim also includes territorial waters belonging to Greece and Cyprus. The issue could be settled by an appeal to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, but as Turkey has not signed or ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, this possibility is excluded. Instead, Turkey prefers to enforce its claims, which has led the region to the brink of war.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s policy of peace at home and peace abroad, has under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, been replaced by untrammeled belligerence, which reflects the Turkish president’s desperate attempt to hold on to power through an appeal to ultra-nationalists in his coalition partner’s party, the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party).

Six years ago, a co-founder of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), Abdüllatif Sener, who is now an opposition deputy, stated in an interview that Erdogan would even be prepared to drag Turkey into a civil war to maintain his grip on power. He has already done so when he reignited the war with the Kurds after an electoral defeat in 2015, but now, faced with the collapse of the Turkish economy, Erdogan has had to resort to other extreme measures to rally support.

Recent events have illustrated how far he is prepared to go. The reinstatement of the Hagia Sophia as a mosque was timed to take place on July 24, the anniversary of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923, which determined the borders of present-day Turkey. Erdogan has already stated that he intends to replace this treaty by the borders agreed to in the National Pact, passed by the last Ottoman parliament in 1920, which included Cyprus, the Aegean Islands, Western Thrace, Aleppo, Mosul, and Kirkuk.

On August 26, Turkey celebrated the anniversary of the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, where the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantine army and established their control of Anatolia. On this occasion, the president’s Directorate of Communications released a four-minute video, “The Red Apple,” which made Turkey’s intentions clear.

The Red Apple is an age-old symbol of conquest, going back to the Turkic tribes. For example, in the 15th century, the Red Apple was Constantinople, the last bastion of the Byzantine Empire, which fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Rome and Vienna also became Red Apples but an attempt to seize Vienna failed twice.

When Turkey invaded the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwestern Syria in 2018, Erdogan told an audience at his Ankara palace, “We are heading towards the Red Apple.” When asked about Erdogan’s intended destination, a Turkish soldier in a tank crew said he was going for the Red Apple.

As far as this video is concerned, there is no doubt about the destination. There are shots of Turkic warriors, who pray together with an imam in the Hagia Sophia. There are shots of Turkish soldiers in the War of Independence and shots of a flotilla of Turkish warships and fighter jets. President Erdogan also intones the first verses of the Surah al-Fath (on victory) from the Quran. The video ends with a shot of the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, which Erdogan has promised to liberate from Israel.

Erdogan’s director of communications, Fahrettin Altun, has tweeted the following about the Red Apple: “For us, the Red Apple means a great and strong Turkey. It is the sacred march of our nation that made history from Manzikert to July 15 [the attempted coup in 2016]. The Red Apple is a great plane tree that provides shade for the downtrodden to refresh. The Red Apple is what the entire humanity has longed for from Gibraltar to Hejaz and from the Balkans to Asia.”

At the same time, a former AKP deputy, Metin Külünk, has published a map of “Greater Turkey,” which illustrates the extent of Turkey’s revisionist ambitions to include areas of Greece, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Syria, Iraq, Georgia, and Armenia.

Greece’s premier, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has announced plans to extend Greece’s territorial waters facing Italy in the Ionian Sea from 6 to 12 nautical miles. Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay has declared such plans to be a ‘casus belli’ and has indicated Turkey’s intentions to “tear up the map” and occupy Greek islands close to Turkey.

According to the German daily, Die Welt, President Erdogan has tried to persuade his generals to sink a Greek ship or down a Greek fighter jet to provoke a war. In which case Mossad’s head, Yossi Cohen, is quite correct in his estimate that the real threat to regional stability is not Iran but Turkey.