Tuesday 1 November 2016

Restructuring Lost Paradise

World War I cost the Allied forces 5.5 million deaths.  While the Central Powers one of which was the Ottoman Empire lost around 4.5 million war dead.  By 1917 a year before the end of the war The Russian Empire, thanks to the Lenin’s October Revolution, Communist takeover, the Emerging Soviet Union was counting its dead and its disintegration almost complete bar last minute nationalist insurgencies.  By 1918 Keiser Bill’s Germany had lost its colonies mainly to Britain and Japan.  Austria-Hungarian Empire severely dismembered both shrunk to micro-size in comparison to pre- 1914.  Finally the Turkish Empire partly for participating on the Central Powers side and partly for the Dardanelles debacle, a Campaign that severely damaged Allied pride. Post-1918, the Empire was pulled to pieces with much of its territories divided under mandatory systems between Britain and France.  That is when the infamous Sykes-Picot duo went to town as self-proclaimed cartographers with immense discursive powers for shaping the entire region.  Described at the time a “dictation of terms at the point of the Bayonet…”.  Similarly, the regional disparity of power means today we see, Iraq once again finds itself under the Turkish hammer while, this time, resting on the Iranian anvil.

Europe meanwhile was in turmoil drawing and redrawing dozens of boundaries in efforts to accommodate ethnic demands.  Nationalism was at fever pitch where the Wilsonian (Wilsonianism), ideas for self-determination and democratisation vying for centre stage.  The War may have ended but in the words of the French Foreign Minister Stéphen Pichon the war’s end meant only that “the era of difficulties begins.” 

For this post, we are concerned with, peace-making with the Ottoman Empire.  It began with Treaty of Sèvres, signed in 1920 between Ottoman Turkey and the Allied powers represented by Britain, France, the United States, Italy and Japan. They alone wrote treaties and expected the states of the defeated powers to sign them. At this time discursive powers efforts at peacemaking a discrepancy developed in determining the situation on the ground.  However, since Turkey’s new nationalist government hand had weakened while their ultimate wish was to join the International Community in restructuring and rebuilding their economies, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed VI signed on 10 August 1920 giving way to its existing borders as stipulated in the agreement.

"In Anatolia, an emerging Turkish successor state under the direction of Mustafa Kemal (1881-1938) revealed the discrepancy between discursive and material power dramatically. The outcome in Anatolia required a second and quite a different treaty, the Treaty of Lausanne signed on 24 July 1923. This treaty sharply demarcated the power of the European empires. The new republic in Turkey proved interested not in rejecting the overall discursive structure of international relations, but joining it on terms agreeable to itself.” This treaty followed the Greece's defeat in the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922 resulted in a population exchange between Turkey and Greece in 1923, 1.2 million Greek Orthodox left Anatolia and 500,000 Muslims/Turks from Greece and the Balkans came to Turkey. By 1927, the Greek Orthodox population in Turkey was only 13,648.

Turkey's nationalism has probably never been stronger since the heady days of Kamal Attaturk.  Today, of course, it has an added ingredient, a dose of religion making it distinctively different to the secular state that came away from the remains of the Empire and dismemberment of its borders.   Erdoğan-style of Nationalism is rolling back history and reconstructing the Ottoman Empire – Lost Paradise.  Despite the Treaty of Lausanne, a Treaty that marked the birth of a new State, created by the struggle of its citizens rather than the gift of the Imperialists, has happily (without Mosul) lasted for over a century.   Unlike its counterpart, that devolved into another world war barely thirty years after. Between the two wars, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, and Hungary tried to redraw their borders but met with catastrophe. Whereas, Kamal Ataturk, revolutionary founder of Turkey, resisted from doing the same wise enough to avoid apocalyptic end. However, as with the Treaty signed at Montreux on July 20th, 1936, when Turkey was suspecting a draining of British power was successful in gaining further sovereignty over its former territory.  

Now may be a new dawn means new chance and a new hope that can also mean new problems.   Hence the power game now, ideal opportunity for Erdoğan to resolve yesterday’s problems, seeing Iraq almost on its knees with its firepower diminished.    

Realising a divided sectarian army, Iraq has so far proved useless against so-called Islamic states. The latter made up of volunteer groups hardly ever experienced professional combat and untrained in warfare. Moreover, the Iraqi army would be unable to provide a bulwark against a professional; NATO supervised well-armed and highly trained Turkish armed forces.  Like the imperialist of old, refurbishing Mao Zedong, old proverb “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun: Concessions or War not much of choice.

It is worth questioning whether Turkey is conducting its foreign policies on an ad hoc basis because rather than its policies, actions and attitudes towards Iraq is piecemeal when it should be holistic, so the main actors need to know its real intentions.  What is the sum of all parts? Obviously, where Iraq is concerned, Turkey does not consider itself as an outside agent since it regularly infringes on Iraq's porous borders finding intermittent causes to justify these actions, illegal border crossings.    Compared to Israel's past misdemeanours crossing into Lebanon at will, Turkey's border violations are by far more dangerous and rather more ominous.  Iraq, like Lebanon, then and now, has no power at its disposal to deal with a hegemonic power, a Sunni thorn by its side.  Attempt to monopolise the business of regional politics Turkey eliminates any intrinsic reason for Shia Iran to participate in this delicate demarcation in identifying Iraq's borders. 

There are of course other than a political reason to suggest for Turkeys aggressive policies led by President Erdoğan.  Such systems are found in the internal framework more in evidence after the introduction of The Emergency Law System.  Erdoğan further solidifying hold on Turkish civil society and the Army for growing support is essential to his personal status.  Certainly, after the July botched coup attempt, he has to bring in the secularist army into the fold of his Islamist government but also has to rebuild the Army's reputation after seeing some of its generals subjected to the humiliation the following August, back to a respected institution under his influence.  He knows he could be walking a tightrope to keep the balance between the Army well known to hold on to Kemalist secular Turkish State.  With the civil, nationalist currents sweeping the country the military, powered by Ankara, the Army will be obliged to keep the momentum against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).  There is also Oil wealth to be had, and a critical and more valuable additional commodity is Land.  Aside for Turkey's burgeoning and highly successful industrial base Turkey's dependence on Tourism has so far proved fickle.  Food production is an asset forming commodity that is not volatile or dependent on international political mood but its greater demand internationally; it becomes a corollary to Turkey's political importance.       

It remains questionable whether Erdoğan’s long reach can be successful beyond his present borders. The recent incursions into Syria and Iraq anything to go by the boundaries are becoming blurred.  Additionally, with too many participants and superpowers hell bent to play their parts, flexing their firepower at will, the area is becoming too crowded where he fervently considers himself the dominant player.  Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s revisionist policies, attempts at sovereignty over the area to an irredentist claim on Mosul and part of Syria is nothing short of redrawing the boundaries. Not so much for getting rid of Assad or Shia government in Iraq, since by present a reckoning he is agreeable to both their patrons Iran or to cure an aggrieved fixation against the PKK but to change the terms of the Lausanne Peace Treaty. In that regard, not to chain ourselves to the present set of political confusion, when a pixelated perspective will do, but to see both foreign and domestic policy often fused to his benefit. In Turkey’s case, it is evident the geopolitical belligerency takes place for the benefit to build Ankara’s uncompromising self-image in support of an increasingly authoritarian regime.  Among the turmoil that surrounds it, strained Alliance between Turkey and NATO, growing rapprochement between Turkey and Russia, and its unique geographical endowment its stands poised to recover its lost Paradise.   


Unknown said...

Will Erdoğan’s plans conclude in he being seen as the sick man of Europe. How far is Turkeys membership application of the EU advanced since his handling of the coup attempt.

I have visited Turkey and it was a learning curve similar to Mr Said's assertion on European evaluation of Eastern culture. The EU is only stringing Turkey along and fears the inevitable inclusion of the other Turkish satellite countries ending in 'istan' which would follow a successful application.

The disintegration of the Ottoman empire and its associated problems of Iraq and Syria are to be expected. There are too many ingredients to be sure of what the end result may be, and is more unpredictable than an Irish Stew. Smart money is it will be far less palatable.

OUFI said...

Erdoğan, judged by the surgical, and successful internal and foreign policies he has proved to be a very shrewd individual. He is bright enough to have secured an excellent EU-Turkey agreement extracting from the 28 members billions of Euros, placed Turkey as key to EU immigration problems, obtained approval for an easier visa requirement for Turkish nationals travelling to Europe and backed by good trade deals. Friends with Israel and Russia after some protracted discussions but both eventually went his way. Above all but maybe dangerous chess game his rapprochement with Putin while putting NATO on the backburner. Amazing stuff in my opinion. His internal struggle with a secularist Army whether stage managed or not made him more of a hero and his use of the social media that he so despises he turned to his advantage deserves an Oscar.

Turkey, the sick man of Europe, is no longer since the Eastern question today turned on its head. The question has come to the west to roost, and the amount of money, 2Billion dollars spreading Turkish Islamic culture, the Diyanet,annually is enough to sustain it for a long time to come.

Yes, despite Edward Said monumental 'Orientalism' western outlook especially its leaders still have a pixelated view of the Orientals. The indoctrination so gathered from history books and ancient fantasies remain a template hard to blur. Michael, originally from Iraq, I have been in the UK 60 for years, and over those years I had to deal with endless misconceptions none of the attempts worked. It beggars belief how such paradoxes live on and prove hard to change.

Turkey will do even better to turn East where a new and expanding market avails itself beside gaining benefit sharing orientalist culture. Such attitude reminds me of the start of the Cold War where George Kennan's Containment policies as a bulwark against Soviet Union spread of Communism is still alive and well for use against Russia today.

Unknown said...

Thank you Fred for this enlightening perspective on Erdogan's politics and strategies. A clever mover and I wonder how much he has in common with the philosophies of Kemal Attaturk? If the EU continues to procrastinate on Turkey's membership, even though Europe relies on Turkey to act as a bulwark against being over run with refugees, it is probable Turkey will look to whoever or where ever it must to get whats best for its country.

Does the US harbour wishes to see the economic break up of the EU? The upheaval of all of North African countries threatens to destabilize Europe. It was the US helped establish the Common Market to stabilize Europe, to help with its own expansionist policies and to stop the spread of Communism in Europe. Where does the French loyalties lie at present?

OUFI said...

Hi Michael,

I believe the secular regime of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk though he was anti-Christian was marked by Turko-nationalism steered Democracy towards Western ideologies down to Romanising the Turkish language. In Turkey today we have what I would call Erdogan-Nationalism masked by Islam just as Saddam of Iraq before him placing 'Allah-Akbar' on the Iraqi flag to garner support for his egotistical causes.

If Trump sticks to his words, a big 'if' judging from recent turnarounds, of diluting the importance of NATO, Erdogan's assumed superiority status or Turkish geographical uniqueness ceases in importance. I believe the current American threats to withdraw funds from NATO will bring him down to earth and the ivory tower he is building down with him.

As for French loyalty, I would have thought it lies with the French. They do what is right for the French first and others as an afterthought. The scars from the Algerian experience still alive and well in Marseilles, so they see that as incentives but their 'Rights of Man' and Nationalism are proving oxymoron increasingly. How they deal with such extremities, is anybody's guess. With Erdogan huffing and puffing at the door of Europe Blackmailing the West with hordes of immigrants, short of giving him yet more billions of Euros is not keeping quiet. For now the leadership and defence of Europe is by appeasement.