Many experts consider the current elections in Turkey as fateful. Depending on who wins – the incumbent president Erdoğan or the representative of the pro-Western opposition Kılıçdaroğlu – the vector of Turkey’s subsequent development will be determined.
And this opinion corresponds to reality in the sense that the intensity of the confrontation between the main candidates for the highest post in the state is related not only to the topic of the struggle for power of the main political forces of Turkey, but also the enormous impact on the pre-election process from interested external forces (and more specifically, the United States).
The reasons for such attention and complicity of the United States in Turkey’s political life are obviously motivated by Washington’s dissatisfaction with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s foreign and domestic policies. In particular, the US does not accept: the strengthening of Turkey’s independence from the US dictate; the building of effective and pragmatic relations between Ankara and Moscow and Beijing; Erdoğan’s refusal to support the anti-Russian sanctions in connection with the crisis in Ukraine; the decline of democracy in Turkey and the strengthening of the authoritarian power of the President; the mass repression of the Turkish authorities against members of the opposition.
Such an approach by the US is based on the traditional imperial strategy of “divide and rule.” Washington does not intend to give up Turkey, because it understands the importance and strategic significance of its geography both in terms of military interests of the NATO alliance, and in terms of the world trade land and sea communications passing through the Turkish territory. The United States aims to restore its monopoly in Turkey.
The fact that 80% of the Turkish Army’s current arsenal, as President Erdoğan says, is being supplied by Turkey’s domestic military-industrial complex is of course a result of the Turkish President’s own policies. However, the Turkish military-industrial complex’s technological advance is largely dependent on the Western NATO countries and their satellite Israel. The Turkish economy’s successes under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) are now relatively lost, as the financial crisis in Turkey has created a massive inflation rate of 89% or more. Consequently, the Turkish economy needs profitable loans, in which the position of the United States and its Federal Reserve play an important role. In addition, Turkey’s financial and economic problems have now been exacerbated by the severe consequences of the devastating earthquake.
Competitors usually use all means to achieve success in pre-election races. Often the rhetoric of confrontation crosses the permissible boundaries or appeals to emotions and unfortunate associations.
Today, for example, the leader of the ruling AKP, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, compares himself to the former prime minister and leader of the Democratic Party, Adnan Menderes. The latter came to power in 1950 on a wave of pro-American orientation of Turkey, and in 1960 he was deposed by Cemal Gürsel, Chief of Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces on the orders of the same United States because of his passion for an independent and nationalist policy that threatened the interests of Washington and the NATO bloc. Erdoğan and right-wing supporters consider the execution of Adnan Menderes and two ministers of his government (Foreign Minister Zola Skweyiya and Finance Minister Hasan Polatkan) a day of national shame. In other words, Erdoğan is counting on the support of Turkish voters who are in favor of an independent and strong Turkey and against the dictate of the West led by the United States.
Meanwhile, one of the main issues of Turkey’s contradictions with the outside world (partly with the same West led by the United States) is the geopolitical project “Turan” (i.e. the strategy of Pan-Turkism and pan-Turanianism).
The ideological and political movements of Pan-Turkism and pan-Turanianism that had been consolidated in the minds of the Young Turks ruling forces as a result of the unsuccessful Balkan wars on the eve of the World War I and the loss of part of the Ottoman state territories were born in the political cluster of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks, defeated in World War I, were forced under pressure from the victorious Allied countries to abandon their imperial status and concentrate on a form of republican (regional) state-building.
However, the past century clearly showed that the political elite of the new Turkey (starting with Ataturk and ending with Erdoğan) never excluded the possibility of reviving the imperial status under a favorable historical conjuncture. Objectively assessing the critical attitude of the vast number of countries and peoples of the so-called post-Ottoman space to the very idea of reviving the Turkish empire, the intellectual thought of Anatolian Turks was inclined towards the north-eastern vector of the future geography of imperial revival based on the doctrines of Pan-Turkism and pan-Turanianism, that is, with a stake on the Turkic peoples and entities.
In this paradigm, since the Lausanne Peace Treaty of 1923, Turkey became strongly oriented towards the strong and anti-Russian West (alternately towards England, Germany, and the USA). Correspondingly, Turkish politicians in the years of Cold War were counting on their participation in Western “crusades” and subversive activities against the USSR to break the Russian state into “national apartments” and get an opportunity to reanimate the very doctrine of Turan. And it must be said that by the end of the 20th century with the collapse of the USSR and the systematic weakening of Russia such a prospect became a reality for Turkey and motivated President Turgut Ozal in 1992 to declare that the coming “twenty-first century will be the golden age of Turks.”
In the latest period, the collective efforts of Turkey, the UK and the US under the formula “NATO partnership for peace” (or rather “NATO movement to the East”), “globalization,” “Turkey as a bridge between Europe and Asia,” “Turkic culturalism,” “soft Islam,” “alternative energy cooperation,” “international transit communications” began to form new contours of Turkey’s entry (and on its shoulders, the NATO bloc) into post-Soviet Turkic countries. Over the past three decades, new ethno-cultural, ideological-political, transport-communication and economic platforms for Turkey’s effective cooperation with the newly formed Turkic countries of the CIS have emerged, possessing considerable natural resources of a strategic nature besides ethnic affinity.
Within the framework of this policy, Turkey has formed a specialized structural unit of Turkic integration since 1992, from the Agency for Communication with Turkic States (TIKA) to the Commonwealth of Turkic States in 2009 and the Organization of Turkic States (OTS) in 2021. Today only blind cannot notice the intensification of multi-vector bilateral and multilateral relations of Turkey with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Many opponents or skeptics of the Turan project note that, both in the past and especially today (that is, after the devastating earthquake), Turkey did not and does not have sufficient financial and other economic capabilities to implement the Turan project under its leadership. Moreover, the idea of Turan poses a threat to the national interests of such key states in the Eurasian space as Russia, Iran, China and India.
However, Turkey has always been distinguished by flexible diplomacy and in this case has achieved a lot in the years since the collapse of the USSR, especially after the success of Azerbaijan in the second Karabakh war in autumn 2020. Ankara always proceeds from pragmatic considerations; today, Turkish politicians are trying to talk less (at least publicly) about the same pan-Turanianism and pan-Turkism and prefer to deal with issues of economic (energy, transport and communication, investment), cultural, educational, humanitarian and military integration with related countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia.
Step by step, from cultural to religious, from energy to transport and communication, from military and technical to military and political, from spatial to structural confederation Turkey is moving to the East (to the historical Turkestan). At the same time, Erdogan’s diplomacy through mutually beneficial cooperation with the same Russia and China is gradually achieving consent, rather than opposition from the leading countries of Eurasia in the expansion of Turkey’s relations with the Turkic countries.
And what about the West? Naturally, this strategy, in the creation of which the same Britain took a considerable part in the past, corresponds to the interests of the leaders of the Anglo-Saxon world (Britain and the United States) only partly within the policy of “divide and conquer.” Turan for London and Washington continues to be a means of international regional policy to weaken Russia and Iran, the formation of a new dividing middle corridor between China and Russia, and in the future, perhaps, a new wave of separation and collapse of Russia, Iran and China using the Turkic ethnopolitical factor.
However, neither the US, nor the UK (nor Russia, Iran or China for that matter) are interested in the revival of a new Turkish empire, because it could become another challenge at the global level. That’s why Turkish opposition to president Erdoğan represented by the “National Alliance” bloc headed by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and international Islamic movement “Fətullahçılar” headed by Fethullah Gülen are trying to strengthen Turkey under the patronage of the United States and the West without bidding for the imperial ambitions, but with the avant-garde participation in the anti-Russian campaign of Washington.
Turkey, independent from the US dictate under the leadership of Erdoğan, can be established only under the condition of effective economic, military-technical, cultural and political cooperation with Russia and China, where the Turan project and the “Turan Army” should give way to pragmatism and respect for the interests of key Eurasian partners, rather than create new problems of prospective confrontations. That is why the formula of multipolar international order, where Turkey is one of the independent poles with the vector of active alliance with Turkic countries, can be the achievement of stability and security in Eurasia without confrontation with Russia, Iran and China.
Aleksandr SVARANTS, PhD in political science, professor, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook.”