Monday, March 7, 2016

Turkey: Between a rock and a hard place, by Ioannis Michaletos

First and foremost, Turkey is the only Muslim country established with the structure and the principles of a western state by Kemal Ataturk after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. 

That was a unique condition that assisted greatly the country to be accepted in the "Western" political-military structures of NATO in the early1950's. 

In the mid 90s Imam Fethullah Gulen, a moderate Islamic scholar and his religion movement of Hizmet, started to obtain an important number of followers among the Turkish administration, police, judicial body and Army. 

At early 2000 an Islamic party (AKP) was formed in Turkey and in 2003 R.T. Erdogan, the former Mayor of Istanbul, was elected as the first Islamist Prime Minister of Turkey, promising to fight the corruption and to offer a better life to the poor Turkish people and those excluded from “elite politics” who mainly lived in central and Eastern parts of the country. Imam Gulen and his movement was said to be the inspiration of R.T. Erdogan at first, but later they become opponents. It was clear that Erdogan was embracing the radical Islam instead of the moderate type of Islam preached by Imam Gulen. 

The political power of Erdogan mostly derives from the religious, conservative and backward part of the Turkish society.Erdogan’s true plan was not only to transform Turkey into an Islamic state, but to restore as well the glorious past of the Ottoman Empire by making Turkey a regional power and to be the champion of the Islamic faith. Erdogan with the alliance and support of Islamic Brotherhood, Qatar and Saudi Arabia was convinced that he could reshape Middle East and control it, despite the plans and the interests of United States and Russia.
The common enemy to all three (since Islamic Brotherhood was overthrown in Egypt) and obstacle to their plans was Shia Iran. 
Iran had nuclear ambitions and was ready to overpower the Sunni monarchies of the Persian Gulf, but further more it was supporting Assad in Syria through a proxy army, the Hezbollah from Lebanon. The threat was serious and imminent for Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey so they decided to act. 

They thought it was safer to create their own proxy army to fight Iran and Assad, because a direct invasion in a sovereign country was involving many military and political risks, so they backed ISIS and other groups such as Al Nusra.  
The plan seemed to work in the beginning, economy was good, ISIS campaign in Syria and Iraq was victorious and at this point United States did not have a clear policy on the matter. Turkey did not wish to unveil its real intentions and openly confront United States in Middle East, so Ankara chose to dramatically invigorate her secret service MIT in order to conduct her clandestine operations in Syria.

The man for the job was the director in MIT Dr. Hakan Fidan, a suitable person for the dirty work. Dr. Fidan is considered to be an extremely dangerous person with no scruples what so ever. Of course Erdogan did not neglect to take advantage and get personal profits through his son Bilal, from the contraband with ISIS and this is not an issue of speculation but an actual judicial procedure culminating currently in Italy with various international investigations on a global scale going on.   

Corruption seems to be endogenous in Middle East, even among religious people. He moved to the Presidency and appointed as new P.M. Mr. Ahmed Davutoglu. 

In the domestic arena Erdogan needed to secure his authority by transforming Turkey into a “Autocratic Presidential Republic” from a Parliamentary Republic. 
In order to become an Autocratic President he needs to change the constitution and for that he needed to have a large majority in the Parliament, nevertheless,the outcome of the ballots was not in his favor, since he did not have that many seats to change the constitution. 

The alternative was to run for a referendum. Unfortunately for Mr. Erdogan 2015 was the year that all his plans have turn into a disaster.
Oil prices collapsed, which means ISIS financing was more difficult now, whilst the Saudis opened up a new front in Yemen which is costing their state coffers around 6 billion on a monthly basis. Since 2014 ISIS demonstrated to the world that it was no more than a bunch of ruthless and bloodthirsty criminals pretending to serve the will of Allah. As a result the International Community decided to take action against ISIS and destroy it.

This change of attitude gave to Russia and Iran the excuse for a military intervention in the Syrian conflict. Iran with its Revolutionary Guard and Russia with air strikes and military aid to Assad, as well, as Shia militaria recruited from various MENA countries.

Turkey was on the point to loose everything, the major problem was the Russian air strikes and military supplies to Assad, that could destroy ISIS and all Turkish plans in Syria. 

It was that crucial moment that Ankara decided to force things by shooting down a Russian jet. Erdogan thought that as a NATO member they were safe to shoot down a Russian jet with the pretext of an Air space violation, hoping to create a high tension with Russia and to benefit a strong support from NATO countries and more specifically from United States in order to neutralize Russian support to Assad.

To his great disappointment he enjoyed only a tepid verbal support and no more, he was left alone. Turkish allies in the western world where expressing in this way their resentment for Erdogan’s grandeur project and nodded emphatically they would take no more. 
This message was not received only by Turkey; it was also received by Moscow, Riyadh and Qatar.
From the beginning of Erdogan’s administration in 2003 he was proved unreliable to USA and NATO, but after 2012 he became a real problem to everyone, arrogant, unstable, unpredictable a real loose cannon. 

In return to the jet incident Russia cancelled all economic operations and projects with Turkey. In the meantime the appreciation of the USD vs the Euro caused further strain to the Turkish economy which mainly imports in Dollars and exports in Euros and has a traditional high trade deficit. As a result the country has started asphyxiating economically.On the south borders of Turkey with Syria, millions of Syrian refugees have find shelter from the war, along with a few million illegal immigrants which were driven to Turkey via its visa liberalization policy it has followed over the  past decade, a project that runs in parallel with the so-called “Islamic Schengen zone”.

Since nothing else was working for Erdogan, he thought that he could take advantage of these people and use them as a tool to put pressure on Europe and NATO as well, by encouraging and organizing the passage of refugees and immigrants to Europe, with an estimated 1.2 million making it in 2015 and further similar numbers expected for 2016.
It is clear that Turkish authorities and traffickers are cooperating, it is impossible that last year over a million people have cross the country from the south borders of Turkey to the east coasts on Aegean sea and local authorities have nothing to notice

His goal is to blackmail Europe for Financial Support, no Visa status for Turkish citizens, progress on EU accession, to obtain a European support on the ongoing negotiations for Syria and to help Jihadist terrorists to infiltrate European Union.
He also wishes to continue his plan of Islamizing the Balkans as much is possible through immigration. 

Based on the European countries reactions on the immigration issue he probably estimated that not all immigrants will be accepted in Western European countries and a number of them will be host by the non Muslim Balkan countries. Of course future investments in these countries will increase the influence of Turkey on them. 

Erdogan is a source of instability and a permanent threat for peace in this part of the word, he is definitely part of the problem and not part of the solution but nobody seem to know how to deal with him. 

Nonetheless both recent and ancient history has taught that whenever a peripheral power becomes too strong and its actions put in peril the wider interests of the “grand powers” then it gets involved into a situation which can best described, as “between a rock and hard place”.

In those circumstances domestic upheaval by the part of the elite that recognizes the follies committed is not out of the questions, as well as, widespread public outrage.