Modern Turkey is what is left of the dismembered Ottoman Empire. Since it is composed of a variety of tribes, religions, languages, and ethnicities, it is susceptible to even further disintegration.
Modern Turkey was founded following the abolishment of the last Ottoman Caliphate by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (the ‘Father of Turks’) in 1924. Atatürk served as President of Turkey from 1923 to 1938 and modernized the country in terms of justice and education; he changed the Turkish alphabet from a modified and difficult to learn Arabic script that few were literate in to a near-universally understood Latin form; and he attempted to introduce a European way of life.
In reality, however, Turkey remained a west Asian, Islamic country that was never able to achieve the European identity that Atatürk dreamed of.
In the last 30 years, Turkey had several opportunities to set a course towards a realistic and stable relationship with the European Union. Western Europeans saw in Turkey a large growing market where they could sell their products and a metropolis of several million Turks who migrated to Europe as cheap labor. Europeans wanted Turkey close, but not in Europe.
If Turkey were ever to become an actual EU member, with its 85 million people it would far and away be the largest country in the bloc, with the largest number of members in the European Parliament, which would mean that the Turks would have the highest number of key positions in the Commission and a dominant position in the European Council.
Having wandered between military rulers and authoritarian governments, Turkey has never wanted to build a closer relationship with the EU except in matters that would benefit it economically, but without any concessions towards a Europeanisation of the country. The military was always obstructing the integration process because closer ties to Europe would imply more democracy in the country and, as a result, a curtailing of the military’s powers.
Turkey’s business elite opposes any closer ties with the European Union because it would imply substantial reforms when it comes to the primitive labor relations that give competitive advantages to Turkish exporters.
Turkey is at crossroads
The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled the country since 2003. During that time, Erdogan has openly positioned Turkey to be the leader of the Islamic world and has fully abandoned the hard and more difficult course of Westernising Turkish society.
The majority of Turkish people, however, remain faithful and committed to the principles of Atatürk.
Citing Turkey’s dying secularism, human rights violations, rampant corruption, and the abolishment of democratic rule, a group of military officers and soldiers attempted a coup against Erdogan on July 15, 2016, that killed more than 300 people and injured over 2,000. Once the uprising was crushed, Erdogan ordered the arrest of more than 77,000 people and the purge of more than 140,000 people from their jobs, including 3,000 judges and more than 20,000 teachers.
The Turkish government claimed that the coup organizers were linked to the Hizmet Movement, an organisation led by exiled Islamic scholar and former Erdogan ally, Fethullah Gülen. He is a Turkish Islamic preacher who has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999, had been Erdogan’s political ally for nearly 20 years and had helped him with the plan to create a US-style executive presidency. The two fell out in 2012 and have been bitter enemies ever since.
The Hizmet Movement, which classifies itself as a transnational and socially-conscious Islamic movement, is legal in the United States and in much of the rest of world, but is classified as a terrorist organisation in Turkey. This is a cardinal point of attrition between the Americans and Turks because Washington refuses to extradite, Gülen despite repeated attempts by Turkish officials to have Gülen returned to Turkey to stand trial for a number of charges against the state.
The exaggerated purge of the Erdogan regime’s opponents on the pretext that they were needed to punish the coup plotters gave the government some “breathing space” for a few years that vanished due to the effects of the socio-economic crisis that developed in Turkey as a result of maladministration, corruption, a progressive suppression of basic democratic freedoms, and the distancing from Europe.
Today, Turkey is under growing pressures, both domestically and from the various military fronts that Erdogan opened in numerous neighbouring countries, all of which are turning sour. The recent attempt to confront Greece by threatening to declare war over matters of drilling in certain areas in the Aegean Sea have mobilized the French (who are very concerned about Turkey’s actions in Libya) and the Europeans.
The United States is also seriously concerned and the Pentagon is now making plans to relocate the Americans’ airbase Incirlik in eastern Turkey, which houses 150 nuclear warheads pointed at Iran, to the Souda Bay base in Crete, Greece. It should be said that only recently, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, publicly expressed his concern over the Turkish behavior.
Under the circumstances, Turkey will insist on continuing its belligerent attitude towards Greece, but this will remain rhetorical. Turkey realises that it will be extremely dangerous to proceed with open warfare against an EU/NATO member state as it will immediately trigger the secession of the Kurdish territories in south-east Turkey.
The Diyarbakir region would likely unite with the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq and Syria; leading to the establishment of an independent Kurdish state that would have access to the sea, huge oil resources, and an undisputed pro-American and pro-Israel orientation. The new state, together with the State of Israel, would be a stabilising factor in the Middle East and, according to intelligence sources, a new Kurdish government is standing by in the area, close to an American facility.
The establishment of an independent Kurdish state, which may well replace Turkey in the NATO alliance (or in a new Western Alliance if NATO is abolished), may signify a further major reduction of Turkey’s territory.
Although it seems like a far-fetched idea, certain quarters are eying the possibility of internationalizing Eastern Thrace, the small geographically European region of Turkey, including the area of Kadikoy (on Istanbul’s Asia side) in order to place the Bosporus Strait (the only access to the Black Sea), under the direct control of the navigating powers.