Erdogan on the World Political Stage, or An Arsonist Posing as a Fireman

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The 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly this past week became a forum to address some global issues plaguing the population of the planet. The main topics, of course, were the Covid pandemic and global warming.

The assembly witnessed the generosity of the US in providing 500 million doses of the Covid vaccine to the developing world and the commitment of the major nations to tend urgently to the dangers of ecological disasters. Even a reticent China pledged to defund coal-operated industries.

The session also provided an opportunity for President Joseph Biden to present a new US direction, shifting from “relentless wars” to “relentless diplomacy.” That statement needs to be seen and analyzed within the context of Foggy Bottom’s containment policy of Russia and challenge to China’s global dominance through soft power.

What interests the Armenians most are the conduct and rhetoric of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Mr. Erdogan’s demeanor and body language exuded one single message to the world community: Turkey has become a world player and has to be treated as such.

Before delving into the regional conflicts, where the Turkish president wore the mantle of peacemaker, Mr. Erdogan addressed two major issues: the inefficacy of the UN Security Council and Islamophobia raging in the West.

In recent years, the UN Security Council has become one of the major foci of Mr. Erdogan. He particularly resents the fact that five major permanent members (the US, the UK, France, Russia and China) retain veto power over vital global issues. He maintains that five members are too few to resolve all problems facing the UN and he believes that the time has come for countries like Turkey to join the elite, very much like his contention that Turkey’s international clout warrants it to join the nuclear club.

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When Mr. Erdogan criticized the West for harboring Islamophobia, he did not realize that the issue could have a boomerang effect. Indeed, the policies and actions of leaders in the Muslim world such as Mr. Erdogan, who weaponize religion and use it as a political tool to meet their ambitions of building a world sultanate, contribute to the generation of Islamophobia. The irony is that Mr. Erdogan’s Turkey uses state-of-the-art weaponry to revive the dark days of Ottoman misrule over former subject nations, many of them inhabited primarily by Muslims, and to harken back to a glorious history of power.

Mr. Erdogan’s AK Party, when it came to power in 2003, reversed Ataturk’s policy of the division of state and religion. The founder of the modern Republic of Turkey had tried to emulate the Western democracies, confining the mullahs to the mosques and emancipating women by eliminating the veil.

Mr. Erdogan, by contrast, banked his political fortunes on the ignorance of fanatical masses and over the years has gradually brought back the marriage of religion and politics.

He was not satisfied by his actions at home and decided to export that policy overseas by funding madrassas in third-world countries to train a new generation of fanatical Islamic youth. He spread his message of hate in Europe as well, encouraging the Muslim citizens there to bask in their separateness and listen to extremist mullahs rather than try to assimilate. As if that were not enough, he asked Muslim families in Europe to bear five children each so as to increase their numbers rapidly, ready for political action when necessary. He also threatened to blow up Russia from within, politicizing and weaponizing Russia’s 25 million Muslim citizens.

Erdogan has refined the scourge of terrorism to build armies of mercenaries to destabilize many countries like Iraq, Syria, Libya and the region of the Caucasus. Therefore, when Mr. Erdogan resorts to using Islam as a political weapon, he should not be surprised that nations targeted by that threat resort to their defenses and one such defense, unfortunately, is the ugly face of Islamophobia.

The Muslim faith, like any other religion, deserves respect, but not its misinterpretation which enslaves women and practices beheadings, amputations and terrorism in other countries.

Christianity, in its turn, had its problems with extremism, weaponizing religion and franchising it in colonial outposts to conquer territories and torture people’s minds in the straightjacket of the Spanish Inquisition as well as the Crusades.

But with the advent of rule of law and democratic form of governance, the Christian world for the most part adopted the separation of church and state.

Erdogan’s party and government are very far from that. The moment Islam is divorced from his policies, his entire value system will collapse and this will dash his imperial dreams.

After exposing major issues troubling him for a long time, Mr. Erdogan began dispensing his cure for almost all the hotspots in the world; for the Cyprus issue, he admonished his Greek interlocutors and advised them to negotiate and work within the realm of international law, never mind that his occupation army has illegally divided that sovereign country into two entities. Once again, he exhorted the use of international law to settle controversies in the eastern Mediterranean while bullying his neighbors by exploring hydrocarbons in their littoral waters. He promised to eliminate terrorist groups in Syria, while the world has come to find out that Erdogan and his government have developed a lucrative business by training and sending into expeditions different Islamic groups. In fact, ISIS was funded and created by Turkey, until the US intervened and destroyed its infrastructure.

Mr. Erdogan called on the international community to restore Syria’s territorial integrity while keeping parts of Syrian territory under his rule. On the Jammu and Kashmir issue, he sided with Pakistan, a hub for terrorism, and a refuge for Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban criminals. Pakistan also is a partner in crime with Turkey and Azerbaijan in their aggression against Armenia. After listening to Erdogan’s remarks, India’s Minister of Exterior Subrahmanyam Jaishankar advised Erdogan “to learn to respect the sovereignty of independent nations.” In the case of Crimea, Erdogan refused to acknowledge the results of the elections in that peninsula. That was a two-pronged policy, with one prong intended to ingratiate himself to President Biden, who holds the same position, and the other to thumb his nose at President Putin, with whom he intends to meet soon in Sochi. Therefore, he plans to negotiate with the latter from the position of power. To further enhance that position, he has recently moved fresh forces into Syria.

Since the US has successfully muzzled the Arab world, Mr. Erdogan has emerged as the sole defender of the Palestinian cause. Although, here again, he soft-peddled history, not to ruffle feathers in Israel, as he did in the past, today, he is eager to mend fences to reach out to the US administration through Israel.

In the past, Mr. Erdogan used to accuse the Chinese government of committing genocide in the Xinjiang province against the Turkic Muslim Uyghurs. This time around, he treaded softly by advising China to solve the issue within the principles of its territorial integrity.

Karabakh was also on Mr. Erdogan’s agenda. Reversing the roles in that conflict, he blamed Armenia for having occupied Azerbaijan’s territory. No one was able to detect any “positive signals” toward Armenia, as mentioned recently by Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

After watching Mr. Erdogan performance at that world forum, turning the issues on their heads, one could only conclude the arsonist was posing as fireman.

Mr. Erdogan arrived in New York with great expectations. The composition of his delegation made clear all his intentions. His delegation included the head of the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Ersin Tatar, because he called on the world community to recognize that entity as a sovereign state. To give credence to his call, he has decided to allocate a section to it in the new 55-story “Turkish Home” or Turkevi Center building erected next to the UN headquarters. He also presided with great fanfare over the opening of that “House.”

Anticipation was great in Turkish political circles because Mr. Erdogan had hinted about a possible meeting with President Biden. That meeting could have counterbalanced Mr. Erdogan’s row with NATO allies, in insisting to retain S-400 missiles from Russia. Also that would justify Turkey’s slaughter of Syrian Kurds allied with the US. But President Biden had no time to meet with him. That summit, along with another meeting with the heads of corporate America would have boosted investments in Turkish economy. Like President Biden, the heads of major US companies shied away from meeting with Erdogan.

We should be reminded that Mr. Biden had called Erdogan an “autocrat” before his election and had called on America to help his opposition topple him.

Mr. Erdogan complained that he had worked well with all US presidents during his 19-year rule but, he added, “I can’t say that we started well with Mr. Biden.”

The coolness towards Mr. Erdogan and his actions around the world was manifest also in other signals; for example, the call by France and the US to resume negotiations on the Karabakh conflict, which Turkey and Azerbaijan assume has been resolved through the application of force.

Also, in the congratulatory message sent by President Biden to Prime Minister Pashinyan, on the 30th anniversary of Armenia’s independence, Mr. Biden did not need to take the extra step of reassuring Armenia that Washington will work towards the release of Armenian POWs from Azerbaijani prisons.

The only meeting which was held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly was between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Çavusoglu. That meeting lasted for one hour and dealt with the crises in Afghanistan, Syria and Karabakh.

In an article published in Al Monitor, Cengiz Çandar writes: “For Erdogan, his priority is to boost his dwindling image in Turkey. His survival until the elections in 2023, centenary of the foundation of Turkey, is the most pressing issue in his personal and political agenda. Thus, every step he takes and every statement he makes aims to advance that political agenda. His visit to New York was no exception in this regard. Yet, he did not achieve much despite the expectations of his team before the visit.”

It is very apparent that Mr. Erdogan’s policy of independent actions has backfired; his bid to join the European Union has failed and today the US is giving him the cold shoulder. His alienation from Europe and NATO may provide some comfort to the Kremlin but Mr. Erdogan cannot stretch his leash too far from Washington. As he returns home, he has too much to consider.

Mr. Çandor concludes his article with the following statement: “In terms of Erdogan’s image within Turkey, his New York performance seemingly failed to create much impact, neither positively nor negatively. However, what international observers should not miss is that the visit, once more, confirmed the over-broadening wedges between Turkey and the Western world.”

The reason Mr. Erdogan was able to get away with murder thus far was because he could manipulate opposing powers against each other. That flexibility seems to have hit a snag.

His pompous ceremony at the dedication of the “Turkish House” with a prayer by a mullah invited from Turkey and his tumultuous motorcades around Manhattan have amounted to very little, if anything, of concrete significance.

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