Erdogan’s Ottoman Ambitions Are for Real


By Edmond Y. Azadian


President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has extended his particular brand of “olive branch” to Syria. Since the days of Noah, the olive branch has been synonymous with peace, or a peace initiative.

But that branch, in Mr. Erdogan’s hands, has brought mayhem to the people in the region.

In the first place, Turkey’s incursion into Syria is a violation of international law. It has not been sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council or any other international authority. And furthermore, the excuse used for invading the territory of a sovereign nation is a fake one. As the Turkish war machine mows down hundreds of civilians, homes and antiquities in Afrin, the excuse is that Ankara is out to destroy Kurdish “terrorist” structures to secure its border with Syria.

The Kurds waged historic battles in the region to destroy the entrenched Islamic State, with the arms and political support of the US. For a long time, the US and Turkey exchanged diatribes and they were heading toward a confrontation because the two sides were supporting opposing parties in the battlefield.

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The Kurds rightfully expected that after so many sacrifices, they had earned the blessing of the US to secure their autonomous enclave in Afrin and Manbij. The US first assured its “trusted” ally, Turkey, that it would disarm the Kurds so that the same arms used by the Kurds to fight IS would not be used against Turkey’s armed forces in the battlefield, nor would they be smuggled into Turkey.

That kind of a deal was successfully achieved by the French after World War I, when they disarmed the Armenian Legionnaires following the Battle of Arara in 1918 and subsequently the Armenian resettlement in Cilicia became a toothless presence and easy prey for the Kemalist forces. But in this age and in the morass in Syria, disarmament is a daunting task.

That is why the US left the Kurds to the tender mercies of the Turks, who are waging a war of ethnic cleansing and land grab.

Before invading Afrin, Turkey must have cleared its intentions with the US and Russia, both of which have powerful forces in the area yet act as neutral bystanders with full view of the carnage perpetuated by Turkey.

For all intents and purposes, Turkey will be there for the long haul. Because, if left unattended, the Kurds will eventually carve their autonomous enclave on Turkey’s border, one way or another. They are goal-driven and determined people.

Turkey has its uninvited forces also in Iraq. Baghdad has toned down its protests about the Turkish presence on its territory because there was a confluence of interests in preventing Iraqi Kurdistan from declaring its independence.

When Erdogan began complaining about the Sykes-Picot Treaty of 1916, which determined the zones of influence for France and Britain following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, he laid claim to oil-rich Kirkuk, which was “unjustly” assigned to Iraq. The pundits took him as a modern-day Don Quixote, but Erdogan was dead serious because his Ottoman ambitions are real.

Similarly, when the Muslim Brotherhood took over the government in Egypt and elected Muhammed Morsi as president, Erdogan acted as if Turkey’s colonial relations with Egypt were back. Today’s strained relations with the administration of President Abdel Fattah Sisi are born out of Erdogan’s frustration that the honeymoon came to an abrupt halt.

Turkey today has military bases in Qatar and Djibouti on the Red Sea and is acting as a colonial superpower in the region.

The US and Europe destroyed the former Yugoslavia for their own political purposes and gifted the illegitimate birth of Kosovo to Turkey, whose influence has been growing in the Balkans, as the NATO forces keep the rump state of Serbia at bay.

Bulgaria had long had historic relations with Armenia. General Antranig had fought with Bulgarians for their independence from Ottoman rule and was awarded the title of general there. Also, their national poet, Beyo Yavrov, lamented the Armenian Genocide. But today, the Bulgarian parliament cannot pass a Genocide resolution because the Turkish faction in their parliament is manipulated by Erdogan.

Evil people are never dumb; they are endowed with a hefty dose of intelligence to cause massive death and destruction for humankind. Erdogan felt his way between two opposing powers — the US and Russia — and he moved forward. He has grown out of the fanatical masses of Turkey but he also knows how to play his cards on the world stage. He knows how to galvanize Turkey’s popular masses as he smoothly navigates international waters.

Turkey has set anchor in Northern Cyprus since 1974 and the Erdogan government is there for perpetuity while diplomats spin their wheels trying to find a resolution. And the international community, rather than blaming the occupying power, reproaches the Greek side for its so-called “intransigence.”

There is a French saying, “L’appetit vient en mangeant” which means appetite comes with eating. This phrase perfectly describes Erdogan’s situation. After occupying 38 percent of Cyprus, after snatching pieces of territory from Iraq and Syria, today he has set his sights on Greek islands bordering Turkey.

The issue came up during Erdogan’s visit last December to Athens. The bankrupt Greek government had found no other dignitary to invite but a bully. After a hiatus of 65 years, Erdogan was the first Turkish president to visit Greece, on December 7-8. During his visit, he insulted his hosts to no end. He blamed the Greek government for trampling on Turkish minorities religious rights and requested Turkish military officers who had sought asylum in Greece after last year’s military coup. And to top it all, he called for the revision of the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 to which the Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos responded, “The Treaty of Lausanne defines the territory and sovereignty of Greece and the European Union and this treaty for us is non-negotiable.”

Political leaders even in Turkey are stunned to see Erdogan seeking the revision of that treaty, which thus far was considered sacrosanct, because it had saved Turkey from dismemberment.

The Lausanne Treaty replaces the Treaty of Sevres of August 10, 1920, when the Allies turned on the defeated Ottoman Empire. It took away almost all territories occupied by Ottoman Turkey, leaving a truncated territory around Constantinople for the Turks. The Straits of Dardanelles were demilitarized and placed under an international commission. It established an independent Armenia and an autonomous Kurdistan and gave protection to the Assyrian minority. Historic Greek city of Smyrna was returned to Greece and Venizelos government was commissioned to hold a plebiscite to find the will of its citizens in five-years’ time.

Mustafa Kemal, like Hitler but even before Hitler, used the humiliation of the country in the war and whipped up people into a war of liberation. In the meantime, stripping the Sultan’s government of all powers, leaving his Milli movement as a negotiating party with the Europeans. He sent Ismet Inonu to Lausanne to renegotiate the Sevres Treaty. Europeans were easy to give in and both Armenians and Kurds (who started negotiating overlapping territorial claims) lost their bids for sovereignty. Some vague promises of religious rights were given to the surviving Armenian community. Ataturk was also able to take over Kars and Ardahan from the Russians, who were no longer allied with the West.

Erdogan wishes to renegotiate the treaty on his own terms, meaning snatch the Greek islands on the Turkish littoral. Of course, he has no intention of reverting back to the Sevres Treaty. The Turkish president’s revisionism was also reflected in the domestic policy. He blamed Kemal Kiliçdaroglu’s Republican People’s Party for ceding those islands to Greece.

Turkey and Greece are NATO partners, a partnership which has not helped resolve the Cyprus problem. They have had many military confrontations and always powers that be at the NATO headquarters view Greece as the poor relation.

Erdogan is watching world politics and, seeing how the trend is tilting toward impunity, he is calculating his next steps. Since Turkey’s intransigence has thus far paid off in Cyprus, Iraq and Syria, therefore there are good chances of occupying those islands with or without negotiating the terms of the Lausanne Treaty. Therefore, the tolerant political world has to watch Erdogan’s next step and blame Greece for not turning the islands over to Turkey.

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