When we talk about Turkey, we may come across friendly and familiar images of the series that have recently conquered the homes of Europe and the United States, the interesting millenary cultural legacy of Anatolia, or the image of the fierce and bloodthirsty Turks that has reached us through the collective imagination, all these symbols are real but, at the same time, nuanced.
Today, as we gradually leave the first quarter of the 21st century, we realize that Turkey has changed from being a secular, nationalist state, locked in its own internal contradictions as a state divided ideologically between Islamists (who were always there) and secularists (who have not yet faded away), we find a Turkey marked by its historical uniqueness: between Europe and Asia without being European or Arab.
On the other hand, wedged in post-colonial republican regions for decades under the rule of the Baathists in Iraq and Syria and between Soviet communism in the east of its border and communisms of various hues in the West. It will be, however, the Evren-era synthesis of Islam and Turkish nationalism that will shape the collective destiny of a country that was beginning to know and accept itself.
All this to put an end to the violent seventies and to move in the eighties towards the end of Communism and, finally, an encounter with its own destiny, which is why, in the face of Turkish governments ranging from Suleiman Demirel to the current Erdogan government, one thing has become clear: Turkey must take its place in the world on the basis of its own identity structure.
First of all the term that came up was that of Turanism. After the end of the USSR, the Central Asian regions were ideologically orphaned. The Cold War, which had been a worldwide hunt between the ideological sides confronted during the period from 1945 (right after the Second World War) until 1991, was summed up in the struggle between the capitalist and liberal system led by the United States and the Marxist-Leninist scientific socialism led by the Soviet Union.
The collapse of the latter power caused its disintegration and dozens of countries became involved in border and ethnic conflicts. The War of Ideas on a global scale gave rise to the war for collective identity that re-emerged in the areas where Communism had prevailed. This war reached from the Balkans to the Caucasus, Eastern Europe, and so on.
The Turks, however, had already demonstrated their Turanist zeal by invading Cyprus in 1974 to defend the Turkish Cypriots during the ethnic conflict that ravaged the island after independence from the United Kingdom.
Although Russia energized post-Soviet structures through the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) and the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization), Turkey launched a diplomatic, financial and economic offensive creating geopolitical structures based on cultural and linguistic issues. Turkish penetration in these regions was of vital importance and the line to be followed was to take over the dialectal and cultural space linking the Turkic peoples.
Organizations such as the TÜRKSOY in 1993, the Turk Konseyi in 2009, the TURKPA in 2008, the Turk Academy in 2012, and the Turkic Culture and Heritage Foundation in 2012 were born. All these organizations have been strengthening Turkey’s diplomatic ties and economic projects with these Turkic countries which from Ankara they see as their natural eastern expansion space, in fact, the Grey Wolves organization has expanded into these regions (being illegalized in Azerbaijan in 1995 and in Kazakhstan in 2005).
This penetration and the whole model of supranational organizations have been limiting Russia’s power in the Central Asian region making it clear that the post-Soviet structures are exhausted and that, at least now, it is the identity structures and the consciousness of being a great nation ethnically, culturally and linguistically that is consolidating a bloc in its own right under Turkish leadership.
In fact, this development is clearly seen in Azerbaijan and in the full support that Ilham Aliyev has received from Erdogan in his war against the Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh.
Another element that we should not disregard is the Ottomanist conception, which would be the second pillar of state doctrine. In this case, the central axis of the ideological dynamization that allows the subsequent Turkish diplomatic reinforcement movements is due to the historical links with certain Islamic peoples that were dominated by the Turks in the Balkan regions.
In these regions, the Turkish memory can be terrible (in the case of Croats, Serbs, Bulgarians, or Greeks) or excellent (in the case of Albanians and Bosnian Muslims). After the Balkan War and, again, the socialist vacuum while Croatia and Slovenia looked to the European Union and joined Europe, the Serbs and Montenegrins became more and more entrenched in their identity as did the Bosniaks and Albanians.
Here Turkey took advantage of the circumstance to rely on elements of both nationalism and traditional regional Islam (strongly influenced by the Ottoman Hanafi vision as well as by Ottoman-style Sufism), which allowed Ankara to strengthen its position in the region through investment in infrastructure and important diplomatic work in social aid. In fact, Turkey’s priority in Europe was to strengthen itself in these regions and to watch out for the existence of religious groups that could compete with the religious doctrine that Ankara wanted to promote in order to strengthen itself socially… hence the fight against Wahhabists and Salafists but also against the Hizmet of Fetullah Gülen (especially in Kosovo).
Penetration of cell phone companies, energy and electricity infrastructure as well as bilateral trade increased. In 2018 Mevlut Çavusoglu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey declared in Tirana, capital of Albania, that Turkish investments in Albania had amounted to 2.5 billion, all due to the boost of public and private investments in infrastructure improvement but also due to Turkish penetration in the service sector: restaurants, stores, boutiques, etc….
In the same year 2018, the Turkish company IFS wanted to install a wind power plant in Bosnia that would occupy a land of 80 hectares, cost 70 million euros, and generate 104GWh per year. The Turkish ambassador to Bosnia, Haldun Koc, told Anadolu Agency that: “the volume of bilateral trade between Sarajevo and Ankara reached $700 million with a target of $1 billion and that the development of these activities had not ceased during the pandemic”. In fact, Turkey has supported the construction of a Sarajevo-Belgrade highway (to rival the Chinese project linking Belgrade with Budapest) and has opened a consulate in the Banja Luka region in the Serbian part of Bosnia.
Many of these strenuous efforts were realized through collaboration between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Bakir Izetbegovic (President of Bosnia from 2010 to 2018), son of Bosnian nationalist leader Alija Izetbegovic, a personal friend of Erdogan’s in the 1990s.
Faced with this Ottomanist doctrine in the Balkans, we meet the Islamist strategy in the Arab world. The Republic of Turkey is heir to the last Sunni Islamic caliphate (which had been held by the Ottoman dynasty until 1924). In this sense, Turkey has been able to energize a Sunni system based on the Hanafi school with Ottoman civilizational tints, which is much easier to adapt to modern times at the social level than the Wahhabist or Salafist Islam born of the tribal societies of the Arabian Peninsula.
In this sense, Turkey, whose governing party is the AKP, a Turkified version of the Muslim Brotherhood, has not ceased to intervene in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq, supporting Islamist groups but, at the same time, openly competing with the interventions of other countries bringing Salafist and Wahhabist ideas to the same region.
In the Syrian War, the Turks fought three wars simultaneously: against President Bashar al-Assad, against the Kurds, and against Islamist militias outside Turkey’s sphere of influence…those militias were either in the sphere of influence of Iran (with whom agreements were reached) or in the sphere of influence of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Erdogan also fought against these militias to impose his model.
In fact, Turkey accused the Saudis of heresy and condemned and persecuted Wahhabism. However, the great Turkish penetration in the Arabian peninsula occurred with the diplomatic incident between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which form an ideological tandem where Salafism-Wahhabism is the model of regional influence against Qatar, a country that is placed in the doctrine of the Muslim Brotherhood (where the great theoretician of the Muslim Brotherhood Yusuf Al Qaradawi (95 years old) has been living in exile since 1962).
During the diplomatic crisis two countries strengthened ties with Qatar: Iran and Turkey, in fact, Turkey deployed troops in the country to protect the Doha government from an eventual invasion, coup d’état, or attempt to establish revolts. The following year (in 2018) saw the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul which gave Turkey yet another excuse to harass the Saudis.
This Islamist militia strategy has also been seen in Libya when Turkey moved into the region to prop up the General National Congress (Islamist) government it supports along with Qatar. The deployment of DAESH veterans and Turkmen Islamist brigades in the region would be documented by intelligence reports and the press. Despite the end of the Libyan Civil War and the call for elections, Turkish penetration in Africa has become increasingly evident, especially in the Sahel regions where groups such as DAESH in the Greater Sahara or AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) are present, the same penetration that has occurred towards the east of the continent, especially in Somalia.
However, the great Turkish conflict in the Libyan region was due to the fall of Mohamed Mursi, whose relations with Turkey were quite good. The coming to power of Al Sisi caused the Turkish secret services to initiate inquiries to harass the Egyptians, who had to move to gain support for Morocco, especially because of the relations between the Moroccan Justice and Charity Party (linked to the Muslim Brotherhood) and the Egyptian Brotherhood party with Turkey but also the head of the Egyptian secret services asked for more Sudanese troops to be sent to Libya and in Algeria sought alliances with the new Algerian president Abdelmajid Tebboune to reduce Turkish influence and prevent the GNA from becoming the ruling force in Libya as well as to prevent Turkish influence in the Sahel, an influence that is becoming more and more palpable.
However, this is not all. In parallel to all this doctrine, we find the theory of Mavi Vatan, the Blue Homeland. This is a source of tensions with Greece since the blue homeland seeks the domination and conversion of all territorial waters, continental shelf, and exclusive economic zone into Turkish waters. In fact, this concept, coined by Admiral Cem Gürdeniz, is the first link in the defense of the homeland but at the same time a source of tensions especially in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean.
This concept came to the media spotlight following the passing of Turkey’s law no. 7195 in which the country became Libya’s maritime neighbor by declaring the waters of the Sea of Crete linking the two countries as Turkish. Greece quickly declared that Turkey was annexing Greek waters and violating its sovereignty, endangering Greek island territorial integrity and the conflict was escalating, especially after the discovery of hydrocarbon pockets in the Cyprus area (Aphrodite pocket).
Besides this move did a lot of damage to the pipeline agreements to exploit the Aphrodite and Leviathan pockets between Israel, Cyprus, and Greece. The appearance of Turkey put at serious risk both the exploitation of the reserves and the transport of the same by having extended the waters, which bordered with Libya establishing a plug.
The importance of these resources led Israel to meet with Lebanon to draw a definitive border line for exploitation, a situation that Turkey is threatening with its Oruç Reis prospector. As a curious fact, Israel has banned the presence of Turkish Islamic organizations in favor of Saudi organizations, more friendly with the Israelis.
What Turkey intends with the Mavi Vatan is the creation and dynamization of strategic waters at the military level but also commercial and resource exploitation to strengthen itself as a regional power and key state in one of the most important strategic regions of the world…that in the Mediterranean, in the Black Sea it seeks to become the second large regional fleet in open rivalry with Russia, with whom it is confronted in conflicts in the Caucasus or in the Crimea, which Turkey refuses to recognize as Russian.
In short, a model of state doctrine aimed at reinforcing Turkey’s geopolitical role and achieving the longed-for independence that only the great superpowers enjoy. Turkey is not a nuclear power but with the dynamization of its historical tools which, as we have seen here, cover three continents and two seas, not to mention the “Turkification” of European Muslims and the instrumentalization of the Turks in Europe with increasing power through associationism and social pressure.
And what is the fifth major Turkish geopolitical power? … the soft power emanating from those familiar and loving series that serve as propaganda and to show a sweetened image of Turkey, its society, and its customs to achieve social sympathies and, although it may not seem so, there is very little innocence in these propaganda strategies since by now we have reached those rehashed soap operas reminiscent of the South American soap operas of the nineties but I know, because I have followed some of them, that there are more and more historical series quite well scripted and staged that rescue the best of the history of Turkey, examples such as Muhteshem Yuzyil (which deals with the life of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, Kösem or Murat IV), Ertugrül, etc….
Historical series that serve to socially arm Turkish society in terms of identity and nationalism to increase the morale of this society and, at the same time, as a transmitter of Turkish ideology, customs, and traditions to the rest of the world to win the sympathies of other societies, pure marketing, and propaganda.
In short, we are dealing with Turkey, a country that has found its place in the world.