Ankara has placed itself deliberately on an all-or-nothing path which envisages only Turkish strategic dominance, lightly disguised by attempts to diplomatically hold the international community at bay as it prepares its ground. NATO, the EU, and “rapprochements” with neighbors are all pawns to consolidate the power of Turkish Pres. Reçep Tayyip Erdogan.
The desperate, hastily-assembled, and ultimately doomed attempt at a military putsch against the Turkish Government of Pres. Reçep Tayyip Erdogan on the night of July 15-16, 2016, has many enduring ramifications. In itself, the coup attempt was a small, unsurprising event, but it acted as a trigger for many already-planned actions by the President.
The subsequent (albeit pre-planned) arrests and purges of some 200,000 (not the 60,000 claimed) opponents of the Government, and the imposition on July 21, 2016, of a three-month State of Emergency, suspending the European Convention on Human Rights, ensured that the putsch became a convenient scapegoat to enable a consolidation of power by Pres. Erdogan.
By July 19, 2016, the extent to which the President used the event to blame all his country’s ills — and the putsch itself — on others included the arrest of two men, alleged to be US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) pilots, who the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs alleged were responsible for shooting down the Russian Su-24 strike aircraft over Syria on November 24, 2015; for planning to assassinate the President; and for involvement in the putsch. The Ministry also said that the US Barack Obama Administration was planning to kill Pres. Erdogan in a coup and replace him with the CIA’s “designated figurehead”, cleric Fethullah Gülen, currently living in Pennsylvania, in the US. The statements seemed designed to help Pres. Erdogan win back favor from Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin.
But the putsch itself was almost a parallel to the “Night of the Long Knives”, the the Röhm Putsch in Germany between June 30 to July 2, 1934, when Adolf Hitler was able to consolidate power under the pretext of an impending coup by Ernst Röhm’s Sturmabteilung (SA) paramilitary Brownshirts organization.1
In some respects, the attempted Turkish putsch made some of the trends toward regional transformation difficult to reverse.
Not all of strategic ramifications of the almost choreographed or theatrical putsch — a Greek tragedy of foreseeable outcome, once the details became known — were obvious to most observers, just as the long-term structural background which ultimately led to the attempt were not obvious to most.
This was not merely about short- term concerns held by many in Turkey about the current Government, even though short-term triggers may have caused the putsch. [It was indeed a putsch attempt rather than a coup d’etat, which would have implied a pronunciamiento by the Armed Forces entire.]
The incident reflected deeply-rooted underlying systemic fragilities, many of which remained unaddressed following the collapse of the Sultanate, the rise of the Young Turks, World War I, and the creation of modern Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. It is important to understand that the pace of the transformation of the rump of the Ottoman Empire (which is now Turkey) has occurred with so many streaming, momentous, and interrelated pressures — World War I, the Armenian genocide of 1915-17, the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-22, the abolition of the Sultanate in 1922 and the Caliphate in 1924, the rise of the Soviet Union, World War II, the Cold War and the rise and fall of CENTO, the stealth creation of the European Union and so on — all which have served to distract or screen even Turkish politicians from understanding just how their society came to its present pass.
So it is important to understand what led to the coup attempt, before even discussing that event in specific terms. Indeed, an analysis of the coup attempt may itself even be tactical and distracting and unimportant, to some degree. It was used and seen as an excuse for a greater game to seize and transform Turkey and the region.
And short-term or immediate reactions are themselves distractions from understanding the longer-term flow of the history of the region, a history which must intrinsically involve Europe (and Turkey’s attempts to gnaw at it), Russia, Iran, Syria (and indeed much of the old Ottoman Empire), and the United States.
All of this is viewed along with the underlying psychological impact on Turkey and its region of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922).
The first thing is to understand that “Turkey” is:
• (a) not the Ottoman Empire (regardless of the dreams of its current President) and is geographic- ally now only the remnant hub of that Empire; and
• (b) is less than a century old as a nation- state, and was created without any attempt to reconsider the new geo-societal realities of the entity.
As a geopolitical entity, Turkey is far younger than, say, Germany or Italy. It is far more fragile than many modern states because, although it has a veneer of unity imposed from the top — from the Turkic minority, as was the case in the predecessor Ottoman Empire — it has a patchwork under-class population. This “under-class” is diverse and resentful of the reality that it can never penetrate the real halls of power, and that the traditions, languages, and religious beliefs of this group are either oppressed or disregarded. Little wonder that the Kurdish opposition movements in Turkey are also joined by, for example, the Pontic Greeks, the Eastern and Western Circassians, the Alevi, the ‘Alawites, Armenians, Orthodox and Eastern Christians, Jews, etc.
In the current context, however, Defense & Foreign Affairs was the first international analytical organization to suggest that Turkey was on the path to disintegration as a nation- state. After discussing the fragility of the Turkish State for some time, this writer, on March 11, 2013, noted: “It is conceivable that the Turkish state will not exist in a decade from now, within the same space; the same borders. Turkey faces the risk of implosion and break-up if it fails to manage its domestic and regional affairs with great care. And there is strong evidence that the Government of [then] Prime Minister Reçep Tayyip Erdogan has failed in many of its strategic initiatives, creating — rather than calming — challengers in the region and domestically.”2
This was specifically reinforced by numerous other reports and speeches by this journal and this analyst.3
Twentieth Century thinking froze the concept of “Turkey” into a sort of permanence and a perception of historical continuity which is not justified by events and a realistic evaluation of the society and its context. What we think of today as Turkey is not the same entity, nor the same geostrategic power it was historically. Certainly, Pres. Erdogan wishes to portray himself, and Turkey, as the legal successors to the Ottomans, but they are not; they merely occupy a small portion of the Ottoman geography and, most importantly, the Ottoman capital, Istanbul, which is not the capital of modern Turkey.4
The tenuous nature of the claim, which was reinforced by the United States and the North Atlantic Alliance when control of the Bosphorus Strait was geopolitically critical to the West during the Cold War, encourages modern Turkey — and particularly the current leadership — to so forcefully declare its rights that the delicacy of Turkey’s position is obscured.
The latest event has begun to highlight Turkey’s structural weaknesses, politically, economically, and socially. The unity of Turkey was, with the collapse of the Sultanate and Caliphate, heavily invested in the military, and Mr Erdogan is the first leader of Turkey (ie: since 1922) to have shredded the unity of the Armed Forces (Türk Silahl? Kuvvetleri: TSK). The emasculation of the TSK, aided by the European Union (EU) — which said that no state could enter the Union in which the armed forces were not fully under civilian control — enabled Mr Erdogan to take power with his Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice and Development Party: AKP). After that, he began attempting to make over the Armed Forces in his image by replacing, retiring, or arresting the Kemalists. In this he has failed, and the TSK is now — for the time being and in its present form — dysfunctional in many respects.
By July 18, 2016, the great purge of the secularists and Gülenists took on another dimension: the beginning of the real war against the memory of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Statues of “the Father of the Turks” were being pulled down by Erdoganists.
Throughout all of this, the key factor which runs through everything is the decline of the Turkish economy, which has been occurring — often disguised — for several years. This has been exacerbated by the putsch attempt and the post-putsch activities, such as the unprecedented waves of arrests and purges. This led to an immediate decline of 7.1 percent in the Borsa ?stanbul’s BIST 100 index when trading resumed on July 18, 2016. (The Borsa was attacked during the putsch, and subsequently 51 of its employees were dismissed in the Government-initiated purges.) Related: Oil Rally Hopes Crushed As Inventories Hit All-Time High
Meanwhile, Turkish capital is in flight; the Turkish lira continues to slide; real inward foreign direct investment (FDI) is in decline; tourism is in decline; a civil war is underway; conflicts with Russia, Israel, and Syria — albeit papered over for the moment — threaten the supplies of energy to Turkey for its own use and re-export. And, after the putsch attempt, domestic education threatens the ability of the Turkish State to meet economic output growth needs.
In the face of all this, Pres. Erdogan clearly has made the decision to push toward great power status. It is reminiscent of that old cartoon in The New Yorker, in which two businessmen are preparing to toss a coin, with one saying: “Heads we go global; tails we liquidate.” It is now an all-or-nothing gamble for Mr Erdogan.
Whither the Turkish Armed Forces?
It should be expected that Pres. Erdogan will rapidly transform the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), using as its new core the officers who were loyal during the coup. But he will also hedge that with the build-up of an alternate power base, which would be an extension or derivative of his resources within the National Intelligence Organization (Milli ?stihbarat Te?kilat?: M?T) and the jihadi movement.
The transition from the “old” Armed Forces to the “new” has been discreetly underway for a decade, but will now go forward in the knowledge that putschist elements have been eliminated or cowed. The new forces will include elements of the Gendarmerie, and a widening of Gendarmerie missions in fighting domestic wars, such as the current war against the Kurds. Ultimately, what could emerge is something like the Iranian model, which retained the Imperial-era Armed Forces but in parallel built up the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC: Pasdaran).
In the meantime, with the TSK sufficiently hobbled that it could not be expected to fight a coherent conventional military operation in, say, Syria or Iraq, or against Greece, Ankara would continue to rely on the use of proxy forces — essentially jihadi units — and M?T paramiliary units to project influence. These have been the preferred and trusted tools of Mr Erdogan since taking office, and have been used in a wide range of conflict and other “power projection” situations in, for example, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and, recently, Ukraine/Crimea.5
The Erdogan Government had gone to great lengths to “buy off” the Armed Forces, buying it new military technology and building a defense industrial base befitting an economy at least twice the size of Turkey’s. This added to Turkey’s prestige and negotiating power, particularly in NATO, where it was critical for the Government to be perceived as a “strong NATO ally” and a bulwark against Russia. Ankara had, since the end of the Cold War, before the present Government, consistently highlighted this rôle and to consistently portray post-Soviet Russia as though it was the Cold War adversary.
Reinforcing the perception that Russia was a threat to the West substantially reinforced the perceived value of Turkey as a military ally of the West. Within all this, and despite President Erdogan’s efforts to purge and buy off the TSK, the Armed Forces remain both untrusted by the Government, and so weakened by purges that they are not effective.
Now, however, Turkey’s value to the West, as well as to Europe, is being re-evaluated, particularly by its former close allies. The putsch showed the vulnerability of US and other NATO forces in Turkish bases, and particularly highlighted the possible insecurity of US nuclear weapons at Incirlik Air Base.
The economic situation means that major commitments to new weapons systems will have to be scaled back, unless cuts are made elsewhere in the economy. The Government’s commitment to building the viability of a national defense industrial base will, to some degree, compensate for the decline in foreign purchases, but, absent constraint of Turkey by NATO and the EU under a potentially unfettered Turkey [see below], the Government could well bring into the open its discreet nuclear weapons development program — ostensibly to compensate for the removal of US nuclear weapons — as well as its chemical and biological weapons programs, long kept discreet.
Short- to medium-term, however, Turkey’s formal military structure is vulnerable, and will be preoccupied (to the extent that it can fight) with the civil war against the Kurds.
Even if Turkey maintains its relationship with NATO and the US, its ability to afford its major defense capital programs, such as the planned 100 Lockheed Martin-BAE F-35A Lightning II fighters, is thrown into question (and there are many other US-Turkish defense programs involving substantial technology transfer). Some US analysts have posited that the cooling of US-Turkey relations could open the path for increased Russian penetration of the Turkish defense market, but this is unlikely because of Russia’s reluctance to arm the nation so historically opposed to its access southward. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), however, could be expected to build in the US-Turkey gap, but it, too, is wary of Turkey’s commitment to supporting Islamist jihadist operations extending into the PRC.
There are many US and European defense programs which could be thrown into jeopardy by any change in direction by the Turkish economy and ability to fund the TSK.6
The Turkish plan to build its own fighter — the TF-X program — was already facing delays due to economic as well as bureaucratic issues; now it may gradually fade into the future; indeed, the planned association with BAE on the project (and the potential for the Rolls-Royce to supply the EJ200 engine) may also be thrown into doubt by the United Kingdom’s post-Brexit caution about Turkey. The downgrading of the Turkish economy, and a shift of the TSK toward counter-Kurdish activity, means that the Turkish defense industry will be forced to move much of its thrust toward the export market.
The reformed TSK and the anticipated parallel “revolutionary guard- type” force can be expected to depend far more on domestically-produced systems and consumables, but with a move toward lower-technology solutions. And, indeed, the threat challenge for Turkey is now far more in the lower-tech spectrum.
What Happens to NATO?
Turkey today holds NATO hostage. It is no longer a “trusted NATO member”; it contributes only problems to the Alliance, and plays a key rôle in ensuring that Russia is perceived as an adversary of the Alliance.
Despite this, there is a pervasive concern within most NATO states that it is safer to have Turkey within the Alliance than to have it uncontrollable outside it, dominating, as it does, the Bosphorus Straits link to the Black Sea, and holding some ability to act as a guard against southward Russian activities. It is now an open secret that Turkey is already unable to be controlled, and that it exerts an influence on NATO operations, rather than the other way around. Turkey had already attempted to undertake some deals with Russia, in any event, before attempting to confront Russia.
But perhaps the reality is that the geo-strategic framework has changed since US, UK, and some Western European policies were created vis-à-vis Russia during and after the Crimean War (1853-56). What if the perception was changed, given that history has changed, that Russia was no longer the enemy of the West, and could now be integrated economically with Western Europe? This was envisaged by US President Ronald Reagan and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as their goals for victory in the Cold War and the dismemberment of the USSR: to “free the Russian people to become part of the West”.
Subsequent US presidents, however, failed to embrace that approach and insisted that the framework developed during the Crimean War period should persist. Turkey benefited from that substantially.
But even assuming NATO wanted to safeguard against Russian southward activities, via the Black Sea and Bosphorus, then the prospect exists that a rump Turkish state could, if a Kurdish state was created in the east of what is now Turkey, hold the keys to that maritime passage.
But there is more to it than that. After all, the rationale for NATO is in its “anti-Soviet bloc” thinking, which remains after the collapse and demise of the USSR. And if Turkey was no longer a member of NATO, then much of what is left of the raison d’etre of the Alliance — that Russia was an equivalent threat to Europe and the West that the USSR was — would be called into question. Certainly, Poland and the Baltic states retain their concerns over historical Russian (and Soviet) competition for their lands, but no more than, within NATO, most European states have historical concerns over Germany’s attempts to dominate them.
Briefly stated, NATO keeps Europe and North America at least nominally together. If Turkey was asked to leave NATO, or if it chose to leave the Alliance, then there is fear of a downward spiral in the cohesiveness of the rump Alliance. It would need to re-evaluate its own purpose. But, then, it has needed to do this since the end of the Cold War. Because of its success as an alliance, however, there has been a reluctance to re-think it, and questioning Turkey’s membership in it would start that process.
Thus, it should not be expected that Turkey’s NATO membership will be challenged unless events make that unavoidable. It is probable, though, that President Erdogan’s behavior will lead to a popular outcry against Turkey in the coming year, even before the structural integrity of Turkey is called into question. Meanwhile, there will be a pretense of “business-as-usual” within NATO, and a reluctance by the US, for example, to withdraw its nuclear weapons from Incirlik, for fear of giving the impression that all was not well.
Concerns about leaving Turkey “outside the NATO tent” also raise other issues on which the Alliance arguably had an influence. Of particular concern is that Turkey (even regardless of NATO) might now feel free to pursue its claims to the areas of the Ægean Sea now legally under the sovereignty of Greece. This has always been a point of contention for Turkey, and Turkish combat aircraft breached Greek airspace 2,244 times in 2014 alone. This pattern continued into 2015 and 2016.
Is Turkey ready for renewed conflict with fellow NATO member Greece over this issue? Not yet, even though Greece is severely weakened in the defense realm. But, thankfully for Greece, so, too, is Turkey. The only caveat to that is that President Erdogan should be expected to undertake a bold plan of external military operations to revive Turkish unity in the face of internal dissent, and moves to consolidate control over northern Cyprus, or to unilaterally attempt to control parts of the Ægean, regardless of international criticism.
Would even that action be sufficient for NATO to suspend Turkey?
Turkey’s Bid to Enter the EU
President Erdogan’s supporters, in the immediate aftermath of the putsch, began to stridently call for the death penalty for the putchists. Turkey, however, had outlawed the death penalty as one of the conditions of entry into the European Union.
The President, however, pandering to his supporters was in no mood to deny their calls for blood. He said, on July 18, 2016, that it was possible that the death penalty could be reinstated for treason. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others in her Government, however, rejected that notion. The spokesman for the Federal German Government, Steffen Seibert, speaking on behalf of the Chancellor, noted: “We reject the death penalty categorically. A country which has the death penalty cannot join the European Union.”
The reality is that the Turkish EU bid is now dead, even in the minds of its most ardent proponents. The United Kingdom’s decision to withdraw from the EU also removed one of the few supporters of the bid, and that was itself a remnant of Britain’s Crimean policies, put in place a sesqui-century earlier. Even the UK was tiring of Turkey.
More significantly, the mass arrests and purges put in place by President Erdogan after the putsch (but planned before it) were an act which the President knew full well would be seen as antithetical to EU membership. Quite clearly, he had already moved on to more important things, such as consolidating power at home and moving toward his vision of a new, neo-Ottoman Islamic world power.
What is important is not that the fiction of possible Turkish membership in the EU was now exposed (“the King has no clothes”), but that this recognition would also trigger other actions. For example, the EU could no longer have any leverage over Ankara to control the flow of refugees from the Middle East through to EU countries. Turkey, however, does benefit significantly from open access to EU markets through its customs agreement, and from remittances from millions of Turkish nationals in the EU. And it still controls some energy flow from Central Asia to the EU. That may change.
But the lack of the lure of EU membership also brings with it an end to any potential EU leverage over Turkey to end its military occupation of the northern 37 percent of Cyprus. The international community has been unable to achieve any leverage on Ankara since the Turkish invasion in 1974. Whatever happens now, the fiction of leverage over Turkey on the Cyprus issue is now ended.
There is a clear linkage between the Turkish disenchantment with the EU and the June 23, 2016, United Kingdom referendum which decided that the UK should exit the EU. The belief is emerging that the EU’s future is already limited, with the possible perception in Ankara that it has played out its game with Brussels. The primary appeal of the EU for Erdogan was not that Turkey could be part of the Union, but that the promise of it — more in line with Atatürk’s logic — meant that the Turkish Armed Forces would have to subordinate themselves to civilian oversight.
Once the Turkish General Staff was brought under the politicians and then neutered, much of the EU’s use was over as far as Erdogan was concerned. After that, the Turkish leader felt that a policy of threats and extortion would work on the EU, and to an extent it did, winning Turkey concessions to some degree.
But now the game is over, and without Turkey conceding any ground in Cyprus. This writer had suggested to Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos in about 2004 that the only way for Cyprus to regain its lost territory would be to use indirect strategies to help break up Turkey. Even then, the fragility of Turkey was evident, but President Papadopolous could not conceive of confronting Turkey, even indirectly or covertly. A decade later, the civil war in Turkey was underway, spearheaded by the Kurds.
Is Turkey’s EU bid now officially dead? Almost certainly. But still no- one can be found to sign the death certificate. The real question is now whether the EU leadership will begin to take serious unilateral steps to seal its borders with Turkey against illegal immigration, or whether it will continue to rely on attempts to bribe Turkey to control the outflow of migrants coming through, or controlled by, Turkey. Related: Pokémon Go Fuels Norway’s “Oil Fund”
A key reality is that the migratory flow from Syria may be easing in any event, and especially as Turkey cannot afford to continue its proxy war there. The next question is whether Turkey’s own civil war will create a new wave of migrants.
Meanwhile, M?T has increased in power in the Turkish structure and is, more than ever, the President’s primary weapon. He should be expected to use MÝT more aggressively to support pro-Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) actions through Sudan and Libya, and in support of illegal people-smuggling operations which have been pushing illegal migration (from Africa) into Europe.
What Direction Will the Kurdish Revolt Now Take?
The Kurdish revolt appears to have passed the point of no return. The Kurds of Turkey — if not the Kurds of Syria and Iraq — will now face the implacable hostility of the Erdogan Government. The Government, too, knows that it is fighting for its life.
Had the putsch succeeded, then there was a chance that either the Turkish military would have regrouped as a credible fighting force capable of crippling the revolt, or that a Turkish military government could have offered a compromise agreement with the Kurds to blunt the ambition for a sovereign state. That path is now closed.
President Erdogan had, even before the putsch, begun sounding out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad about a cessation of hostilities. This was largely about halting the reality that the Syrian war had turned against Turkey’s proxies. The result was that the Syrian Kurds — working with the Turkish Kurds — had carried the war back into Turkey.7 Indeed, the Turkish President had, during July 2016, also attempted a rapprochement with Russia, not only Syria’s key supporter (after Iran) but also Turkey’s major sparring partner.
Turkey’s attempted rapprochement with Russia, however, was disingenuous, and Moscow knows it. Moscow knows, too, that Turkey’s bid to extract itself from Syria was partially due to the fact that the war Ankara began there had now turned against Turkey, and provided a logistical base for the Kurdish revolt. As well, Turkey also wanted the resources to carry the proxy war back against Russia, through Ukraine.8
And within that framework, President Erdogan had also lost patience with the man he believes owes him his position, the self-proclaimed Caliph of the Islamic Caliphate, asad-Dawlah al-Islamiyah fi al-‘Iraq wash-Sham (DI’ISH): Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The fact that DI’ISH and other jihadist groups have ceased to deliver control over Syria and Iraq has been the significant factor in the reality that the Kurdish war has been carried back into Turkey. As a result, Turkey and the M?T have withdrawn some assets from DI’ISH (which has, anyway, also ceased to deliver the same level of illicit oil to Turkey) in order to re-deploy them against Russia via targets in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
There seems little doubt that President Erdogan’s primary objective is to pull support away from the Kurdish revolt, and pressure or punish Russia into easing its indirect war on Turkey. The war which Turkey began. Similarly, the US-brokered Turkish revival of diplomatic relations with Israel was intended to cut Israeli support for the Kurds, as well as to give Turkey an option to acquire Israeli natural gas to replace supplies controlled by Russia.
The Russian Government has thus far given no indication of its intentions, but the Kurdish leadership of the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party: Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan) has a wide range of other supporters. Their war is not dependent on Moscow. It seems unlikely that Israel would at this stage abandon its support for the Kurds. In any event, there is little faith in Jerusalem in the US-forced rapprochement with Turkey.
The extent of the post-putsch purges in Turkey, and the three-month State of Emergency declared by the President on July 21, 2016, also act to create more divisions within Turkish society. [See “Turkey’s Putsch”, below.] Certainly, as with most situations, society begins to accept and live with gradually increasing suppression, but there is also the reality that disenfranchised Turks will offer support to the PKK. It is now up to the PKK — which already has support from some non-Kurdish groups — to make the case that it represents a wider, multi-ethnic and multi-confessional society opposed to the domination by the Turkic bloc.
This could bring in the remaining Armenian population to its cause, and discreet support for the PKK from Armenia itself.
Azerbaijan, Iran, and Armenia
What has passed unnoticed by most observers is that Turkey’s stalwart ally, Azerbaijan, is cooling towards the Erdogan policy of creating a Sunni Muslim region.
Although Turkic-speaking, Azerbaijan’s Muslims are predominantly Shi’a, and its leadership is pro-Israel.
Would Azerbaijan, which has its own Kurdish minority, go so far as to overtly oppose Turkey? Certainly not yet. Indeed, the principal value of Turkey for Azerbaijan has been that it has supported Baku on the issue of the Armenian-occupied Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in Azerbaijan, and offered a trade route (via Georgia) for the export of Azerbaijani oil and gas through to Turkey and the Turkish Ægean port of Ceyhan. But Turkish-Azerbaijani relations are still not dead. Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev on July 3, 2016, signed an agreement to allow the Turkish Armed Forces to manage buildings and structures in Gizil Sherg military town in Azerbaijan, and one terminal at Haji Zeynalabdin Tagiyev airfield.
Does the future offer the prospect that some kind of settlement could be achieved between Azerbaijan and Armenia? Armenia’s leadership currently believes that, as Turkey becomes more isolated, the opportunity increases that Nagorno-Karabakh could, in fact, gain sovereign status, but this seems unlikely even to win Russian or Iranian support. A more nuanced solution, however, may be negotiable, although an Azerbaijani- recognized independent Kurdish state, occupying the East of present- day Turkey from the Ægean to the Black Sea and Georgian border, would allow Caspian energy exports to reach the Europe without transiting Turkey or Armenia.
The rationale, then, for Baku to compromise on Nagorno-Karabakh may not be there, except that it could help build a new era of Azerbaijan-Iran relations. That, in itself, might imply greater change in Iran’s leadership approach than change in Baku. Both are Shi’a-dominated, Caspian Sea states with historical links.
Iran now faces the reality that it must make up its mind whether, or how, to support the Kurdish sovereignty movement without losing its own Kurdish region and population. There are, however, precedents: Azerbaijan is now separate and sovereign, and yet some 60 percent of the Azeri people live in Iran, not Azerbaijan; Armenia is sovereign and separate, and yet there is a large Armenian-speaking population in Iran.
A sovereign Kurdish state, assuming it controls much of Eastern Turkey, could have a 499km (310 mile) land border with Iran. This would make Armenia conscious of the possible loss, or decline, of Iranian traffic.
Whither the Caliphate?
Has Turkey abandoned the Caliphate — DI’ISH — or are there merely some personality and goal differences at this time?
Clearly, both are issues. But the bottom line question is whether Turkey can afford to, or will, cease its covert support for DI’ISH. And even if it was to do so, would DI’ISH be able to sustain any momentum (and survive) from other sources? No terrorist group (and DI’ISH has temporarily morphed into a territory-holding “conventional” power) has ever survived in a meaningful fashion without external state support. DI’ISH, absent the same levels of coherent logistical and other support it was previously getting from Turkey, is therefore under threat.9
DI’ISH could cease to be a territory-holding entity within a year, if present trends were to prevail. But there is the strong prospect that President Erdogan could find DI’ISH imperative in his fight against the Kurds, causing him to reignite support for the Caliphate. The attempted Turkish-Syrian rapprochement presently offers the only hope for the Turkish leader to close off the support base for the Kurdish war inside Turkey, but the reality is that the Kurdish support base extends well beyond Syria.
And certainly DI’ISH has been a useful — if less than easily controllable — proxy asset in operations elsewhere, particularly Libya and Nigeria. One challenge facing President Erdogan going forward is whether he will be so preoccupied with saving the unity of Turkey that he might be forced to abandon, at least temporarily, foreign adventures in Africa, for example.
But if DI’ISH continues to lose ground at its present rate in Syria and Iraq, then its leadership will be forced to find safe-haven elsewhere. This would probably be either in Turkey (discreetly), where fellow Turkish allies such as HAMAS have offices, or in Sudan (with less safe options also available in Somalia and Libya). Safe haven in Turkey would be risky for President Erdogan, because it would finally and openly confirm the relationship between DI’ISH and Turkey, but, by that stage, the Turkish Government may be beyond caring what the world thinks.
Certainly, as DI’ISH loses territory in Iraq and Syria, the incentive to re- assert its credibility and power would be demonstrated by increased sponsorship of classical terrorist acts against soft Western targets. This has already been evidenced during 2016. It would also be expected to increase its use of electronic media operations (via the Internet and social media) to initiate low-cost, low-risk, indirect acts by pseudo-lone wolf activists. Indeed, the successful use of persuasive media proselytization of terrorist actors by DI’ISH (and to a lesser extent al-Qaida) means that the definition of “lone wolf” terrorism actions needs to be revised.
At present, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, although each espousing Wahhabist Sunnism as does DI’ISH, find themselves uncomfortable bedfellows with DI’ISH. There is a turning point to be reached, when Saudi Arabia and Qatar will move against DI’ISH (but that, at present would be a slap to Turkey). Or they might find it convenient to see DI’ISH in continued existence. Moving decisively against DI’ISH could also incur a whiplash of hostility from the Caliphate against both those Wahhabi-dominated states. There is no risk-free solution now, regarding DI’ISH, for Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or Qatar.
The Timeline for Turkey
What are the critical challenges Turkey now faces? Economic stabilization is strategic priority, but momentum toward decline cannot be stopped.
Internal instability will compound that trend, so tactical priority one for President Erdogan is the elimination of domestic opponents. He has opted for the most expensive solution to this: top-down enforcement. Thus he has made it a never-ending challenge, because the very act of enforcement creates new opponents. Building consensus, which is more difficult and time-consuming, would have served him better, but that opportunity has passed. The President believes that his 90-day State of Emergency Decree would give him sufficient time to do the essential house-cleaning, so that he could then, before world opinion against him becomes too entrenched, resume his diplomatic offensive.
Tactical and strategic priority two, conducted simultaneously with the initial priorities, must be to escalate the suppression of the civil war led by the Kurds. This must also be done in concert with the reorganization of the Armed Forces, Gendarmerie, and the courts, a process which moved into a new stage of intensity with the purges following he putsch.
The question must be asked as to how long Turkey has to defeat the Kurds, not necessarily to eliminate them as a long-term threat (which may be impossible), but to consolidate absolute control of the State. President Erdogan will need to show significant success by the end of 2016, or the economy and control of the State will decline to the point where Turkey will begin to suffer significant losses in prestige and influence regionally.
The present stage will be accompanied by a substantial increase (if that is possible) in Presidential bombast and apparent robust confidence. Threats and demands will increase continually and exponentially. The question also must be asked as to whether European (and North American) leaders, let alone Israel and Egypt, have sufficient understanding of Turkey’s growing real weakness to resist the bombast. Simultaneously, they must also weigh the consequences of the collapse of Turkey’s viability as a unitary state, and determine future courses of action.
It would serve Russia to toy with Turkey in the short-term, to upset Turkish plans with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to use proxy forces against Russian interests in Ukraine and Crimea. President Putin could not afford to miss that opportunity. That may also stay Moscow’s hand temporarily in supporting the Kurds.
Turkey’s transformation could also transform global balances. It certainly offers many options.
1. This analyst made the comparison, on July 18, 2016, between the events and aftermath of the Turkish coup attempt of July 15-16, 2016, with the 1934 Röhm Putsch and its pre-planned consequences in discussions on the national US radio program, the John Batchelor Show.
2. See, Copley, Gregory R.: “Complex Soup: ‘The-Eastern-Mediterranean,-Central-Asian,-East Asian,-Euro-Atlantic-and-Others’ Unified Dilemma” in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, March 11, 2013. and also in Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 2-2013.
3. See, particularly, the chapter entitled “The Regional Impact of Fragility in Turkey and Saudi Arabia” in Rise of the RedMed: How the Mediterranean-Red Sea Nexus is Resuming its Strategic Centrality (Alexandria, Virginia, 2016: International Strategic Studies Association), and also the report “Turkey Plunges Toward … What?” in Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 5-6/2015.
4. Istanbul, although symbolically the heart of the President’s vision, is not his political heartland; that remains in the Anatolian “middle Turkey” to the East, where Turkification began under the pre-Ottoman Seljuk Empire in the 11th Century CE, where the first attempts were made, without total success, to eradicate the pre-Hellenic Anatolian languages, and the Kurdish, Assyrian, Armenian, Arabic, Laz, and Georgian languages which persist there today.
5. See, Bodansky, Yossef: “Turkey’s Trident: Erdogan’s Moves to Dominate the Black Sea”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, 7/2016.
6. Aviation Week & Space Technology, on July 21, 2016, noted: “Turkish company Ayesas is now the sole-source supplier for two major F-35 components: the missile remote interface unit and the panoramic cockpit display. Meanwhile, Roketsan and Tubitake-SAGE are developing an advanced precision-guided Stand-off Missile (SOM-J), which will be carried internally on the F-35. At the same time, Turkish Aerospace Industries is currently a key partner for Northrop Grumman on the jets’ center fuselages, composite skins, weapon bay doors and fiber placement composite air inlet ducts. Additionally, Turkish industry is positioned to play a large role in supporting airframe and engine sustainment. The country was selected to stand up the first European regional F135 engine depot for production and overhaul, at the 1st Air Supply and Maintenance Military Center at Eskisehir. But JSF partners now have to assess whether they really want to rely on an unstable Turkey for critical regional maintenance.”
7. See “Turkey’s Kurdish Truce Ends; War Resumes on Assad”, in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, October 7, 2014.
8. See Bodansky: “Turkey’s Trident”, op cit.
9. See Bodansky: “Turkey’s Trident”, op cit.
By Gregory R. Copley via Defense and Foreign Affairs
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