Old and In the Way: Turkey, straddling the divide between East and West. What are they up to?

I’ve been following developments in Turkey lately, as they relate to Israel and while I rarely blog about world affairs, I feel inspired. Bare with me.

The Turks.. They straddle the Bosporus, situated between Europe and Asia,  they straddle the Near East and the West in more ways than one; the Islamic world and Christian European West. For 50 years Turkey has leaned west, they’re a member of NATO for goodness sake. During the cold war Turkey was critical to our strategy of boxing in the USSR and given their location, they were perfect.

NATO access to Turkish ports enabled them to keep Soviet navy effectively bottled up in the Black Sea and out of the Mediterranean, at least with out a NATO escort. The Soviets only reliable warm water port after all is in Sevastopol, today it’s a part of the Ukraine, but it’s so strategically important to the Russians that they still maintain control of the base and it’s surrounding resources.

Times change-

Today the Turks are controlled by the AK Party, an Islamic Party, the Prime Minister Erdogan. Lots of news recently about the Prime Minister and his downgrading of what had a been a good relationship between Turkey and Israel. Today in Cairo he announced that Turkey is prepared for war with Israel.

Turkey is looking for Israel to apologize for the deaths of 7 Turkish activists who attempted to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza two years ago, Israel has refused citing that their seizure of the boat was a security concern.And for lack their off he’s suggesting that a NATO Country would attack and go to war with a NATO ally. Crazy?

Regardless, this is not really about the boat and not really about the blockade. This is about Turkey turning away from the west.

Think about it, a NATO country provoking war with another NATO ally.

Could you imagine?

Well actually I could, because the Turks have done this before. In the mid 70’s the Turks invaded Cyprus divided the island between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots creating a Turkish Cyprus statelet that today  is only recognized by, yup, Turkey. This invasion very nearly ignited a war between Greece and Turkey, enemies for the last 3,000 years or so, at least since Troy as far as I can tell.

The Turkish Prime Minister is using a classic scapegoat, Jews and Israel, to rally the Turks to his anti-western agenda.

Some background

  • The Turks have been attempting the join the EU since the day the organization was founded. Historically they have been denied. The Europeans claim it’s because the Turks have a history of armed coups, which makes them “unstable”.. in fact Greece was ruled by Junta for a decade or so in the 70’s.
  • The Turks aren’t “mature” enough economically for EU membership. 20 years ago that was true, today the Turkish economy is one of the powerhouses in that part of world.
  • Really, it’s good old European racism. Admitting Turkey to the EU would create open borders with the EU’s leading source of low wage workers, of both the legal and illegal kind. Europeans, no matter of they say it out loud or not are loathe to see a flood of Muslim, low skilled, brown people into their cities. Just as the Swiss, who, although not a part of the EU either, do import Turkish workers for menial jobs and see that they’re not on the streets after dark. Keep the out of sight.
  • The Europeans have also expressed concerns about Turkish human rights violations. This is the country that killed 1.5 million Armenians during WWI and still deny it. They also are fighting a filthy ethnic cleansing sort of war against the Kurds in southern Turkey and northern Iraq. This conflict looks very much like the Israeli conflict with the Palestinians, attacking terror bases, targeting leaders, marital law.

So after several decades of Euro-Snubs our friends the Turks are finding themselves less and less in need of Europe, and in some ways I’m not surprised. They’ve upgraded their military to the point where they’re now the regional power (in no small way with Israeli equipment mind you). and they’re asserting themselves on the world stage. Thomas Friedman writes that by 2050 the world will have some new powers to contend with, China is not one, Turkey is. BTW, so is Mexico, that should be interesting.

Rebuked for years by the west the Turks are now looking to the Arab world, especially in light of the revolutions shaking the very foundations of their neighbors, and they’re looking to come out as a leader in that part of the world. It’s not like they don’t have experience with Arabs, for 500 of the last 600 years the Arab world, from Egypt, across the Arabian peninsula to the Iranian border, not to mention Greece and the Balkans, were all under the control of the former Ottoman Empire. Those were golden years for the Turks, I’d not be surprised if this new nationalism isn’t an attempt to return some stature in that part of the world.

And what’s the fastest way to getting the respect and admiration of the Arab street? Yup bashing Israel and going after Jews. Last year we saw riots in Istanbul where the crowd chanted “death to the Jews”, when an Israeli basketball team arrived in Ankara to play in a European league match.. the crowd chant in the stands.. “Kill the Jews” followed by a riot.

So where does this go?

Just to show you how fast this has occurred, in 2005 the Turkish Prime Minister visited Israel on a state visit accompanied by a delegation of businessmen looking to expand ties. In 2006 Shimon Peres then PM of Israel, addressed the Turkish Parliament. Now we’re here. The more the PM attacks Israel and Jews, the higher his polls go.. it’s a sick world.

Turkey is still nominally a secular nation. There was a time when the Turkish military, a secular institution in Turkey would step in when it thought the government was deviating from the secularist vision of Ataturk would stage a coup. You’re in deep shit when you’re hoping for a coup to save your country. Unfortunately the PM may have preempted this last year when 80 plus leaders of the Turkish military, including several Generals were arrested on one fateful day for plotting and charged with treason.

This lead many to believe that Turkey has started down the path towards Iranian style theocracy.

But.. straddling the east and west as they do, today there was an announcement that Turks have agreed to join NATO’s missile defense shield. An interesting development, more interesting the location of the facility, the South East corner of the country. Not Russian missiles they’re worried about, Turks or European, and not Israeli.. this is aimed at their neighbors the Iranians.

The Turkish Military, I hope, still recognizes the importance of their membership in NATO and this will, in the end restrain the Turks from going down the path they appear to be on.

Time will tell of course, but I’m not optimistic here.

there you go, I’m done now. Thanks for listening.

This post was written by Gary Sankary and originally published on Old and In the Way. Follow him on Twitter:@sank

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by John Kimon on 09/15/2011 - 01:36 pm.

    You’re wrong to suggest that Greeks and Turks have been at it for 3000 years, since the Trojan War. The Turks have absolutely no relation to the Trojans. The Turks are relative newcomers to the area. The Turks are a nomadic people, who originate from the Mongolian steppes and they didn’t settle in what is now Turkey until the 11th century, some 2000 years after you suggest. As for the rest of the article, I agree with you: Turkey’s strange and aggressive behaviour leaves no room for optimism and the West should be on its guard to protect its interests.

Leave a Reply