Turkey is currently pursuing the following aims: 1) becoming a Eurasian regional power; 2) later uniting all Turkmen ethnic groups from Anatolia to Xinjiang; 3) finally becoming a leading country in the Sunni Muslim world.
With specific reference to the first aim, the relationship between Turkey and the United States is at the lowest ebb since the last ten years.
The Turkish leader blames the United States for the Turkish Lira crisis of August 2018 – and not without reason – while he does not clearly take into account the US strategy in Syria, where Turkey has reached a stable agreement with the Russian Federation and – in December 2018 – also with Iran.
In Syria Turkey wants above all to avoid the stabilisation of a large Kurdish internal area.
Initially Turkey thought that in Syria, as elsewhere, the Arab “spring” would favour the Muslim Brotherhood organizations, which would enable the Anatolian country to increase its role and expand its influence throughout the Arab world.
This could explain Erdogan’s initial harshness against Syria.
Nevertheless the situation in Syria developed in a different way and Erdogan readily adapted to be on the winners’ side.
The Turkish leader has recently hit the Kurds in Afrin, Syria, because he wants to win the next local elections scheduled for March 31 next.
Anti-Kurdish nationalism is still a winning factor at electoral level.
Moreover, the AKP government of the President (of the Turkish Party and of the State) is increasingly dependent on the coalition National Movement Party (MHP) (also known as the Nationalist Action Party) which is both heir to Atatűrk’s ideology and a very strong opponent of any negotiation with the Kurds.
The assassination of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, that took place in Turkey, was an issue handled by Erdogan to harm the Saudi power throughout the Middle East and hit the alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Once again, however, he was not successful.
Saudi Arabia preserved its Arab and Middle East sphere of influence and the United States remained its staunch ally.
The Saudi Kingdom has also recently refused to grant to Turkey the possibility of building a base on its territory, while it is instead building its own military centre in Djibouti.
Another important strategic factor is the evident support provided by Turkey to the Muslim Brotherhood.
In fact, Turkey is funding many mosques in Africa and Latin America and it is thus reviving the myth of the Ottoman Empire, as the last bulwark of Sunni Islam and of the Turkish nation.
Turkey still hosts many Muslim Brotherhood’s operative leaders who fled Egypt after Morsi’s fall and Al Sisi’s coup.
Erdogan’s support for Hamas is well known, and Hamas is Ikhwan’s Palestinian armed wing, which recycles large funds, preferably in Turkish banks.
Moreover, Turkey supports many Muslim Brotherhood’s organizations also in the United States.
Obviously, Erdogan’s clear support for the Muslim Brotherhood puts him in trouble with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, but it also creates a strong strategic relationship with Qatar, as we have already seen in the Libyan crisis.
The very recent agreement with Iran is based on the fact that Turkey and Iran have the same interests in Syria, i.e. to support Syria without this country harming their interests.
Many years ago the confrontation focused on a Turkish-Israeli link as against a bilateral relationship between Syria and Iran.
Erdogan, however, no longer wants close relations with the Jewish State, and the Iranian and Turkish vision on the Palestinian issue is the same.
The Turkish project for a joint Islamic seat at the United Nations is still in place, but it would demonstrate a now reached, but impossible, Turkish hegemony over the whole Islamic world.
In Syria, however, the Turkish government is pursuing what the United States has already accomplished, unconsciously, with its leaving Syria, i.e. the weakening of the Syrian Democratic Forces, militarily led by the Kurds, that still control slightly less than a third of the Syrian territory.
Furthermore, the United States has recently sold the Patriot anti-missile networks to Turkey.
The Turks’ war against the Syrian Kurds will be a long-lasting war, also protected by the naive West.
This will create a further opportunity for hegemonic mediation by Russia, which has great credibility for both the Turks and the Syrians and Kurds.
However, how many Turkish-origin populations are in Asia and Africa whom Erdogan wants to use in his neo-Ottoman project?
There is a large majority of Turks in Azerbaijan, who account for 62.1% of the population.
There is also a significant number of Turks in Uzbekistan, but there are still no reliable statistics in this regard.
There are approximately 150,000 Turks in Kazakhstan, but the so-called “ethnic” Turks are even more.
In Turkmenistan, almost all inhabitants are original Turks, i.e. 4,248,000 people.
In Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz people themselves are an ethnic group of Turkish origin, who account for 70.9% of the whole population.
The strategy implemented by Erdogan to build the Asian “Greater Turkey” is based above all on soft power.
This obviously means large trade and economic exchanges in the “Turkmen” regions of Central Asia, especially in the construction, textile and service sectors.
In particular, however, the Turkish soft power is strengthened with the distribution of popular TV series, as well as with university exchanges and Islamic proselytism, in clear competition with Saudi Arabia.
There is also a military side in this soft strategic influence: Turkey trains several officers from the Central Asian Republics, in the framework of NATO’s Partnership for Peace.
At economic level, Turkey provides funds, technologies and its Mediterranean ports to the Turkish ethnic groups in the Central Asian region, while it receives oil and gas in exchange.
There is also the TÜRKSOY, a sort of UNESCO for Turkish-speaking countries, and a Turkish Council, i.e. a multinational Parliament for the Turkish-speaking countries.
Mention should also be made of the Turkish Academy and of the Turkish Business Council.
Obviously Turkey’s penetration is disliked by Russia, but so far there have been no specific tensions between the two countries.
Among the Central Asian countries, Turkey has the most significant relationship with Kazakhstan, with which it has also established a Strategic Partnership.
Furthermore, Turkey actively supported the accession of this Asian country to the WTO, as well as to the OSCE.
A corridor between Turkey and the Caucasus was also built.
Economic relations, however, are mainly held through close relations with the AKP, the Turkish majority Party that is at the core of the State.
Nevertheless aid to Central Asia must consider and come to terms with the large sums that Turkey spends on aid to Africa.
With specific reference to the expansion of Turkish Islam in Asia (and Africa), two factors must be taken into account: the Muslim religious renaissance after the fall of the USSR and the large spreading of the mystical tradition typical of the naqshibendyya or naqsbandyyain Central Asia.
It is an Islamic mystical order that claims to be based on the tradition of Caliph Abu Bakr, namely the first Companion of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.
It is a religious line of descent that is also linked to Abu Talib bin Talib, cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, the first Shia Imam, through Jafar al-Sadiq.
However, historically, the initial and also the current teachings of the Brotherhood derive from Yussufal-Hamadani.
The line of the Brotherhood is above all mystical, such as to spread the Qur’anic teaching and the Sunnah “sayings” in the mind, behaviours and feelings, up to reaching a complete Imitatio Prophetii.
For example, as soon as the Soviet State materialism was over, the new Central Asian regimes reopened the memorial of Bahauddin Naqshband (the founder of the sect) in Bukhara, Uzbekistan.
In Kazakhstan, the new regime publicly follows the dictates of Ahmed Yassavi, the founder of Yasawiyya, an Islamic poet and mystic who was the first to have great religious influence on the whole Turkish-speaking world.
All these initiatives, in addition to other similar ones, were carried out with Turkish funds.
It should also be recalled that there is a large presence of Turkish-speaking populations who still live in the Russian Federation, such as the Tofalar in Southern Siberia, apart from the four Central Asian Turkish-speaking republics and the only one that speaks Persian (Farsi), namely Tajikistan.
In Russia, there are also Turkish-speaking areas on Central Asia’s borders, with the Tatars in Crimea and on the border between the Chinese Xinjiang and Central Russia.
Clearly the core of Turkey’s geopolitics in the region is the union of all Turkish-speaking areas.
It should also be recalled, however, that at the beginning of the first millennium BC, the Turkish populations spread in Central Asia starting from the Altai Mountains in Western Mongolia.
They were subsequently absorbed by the previous nomadic populations.
In the eleventh century AD, however, the Turks reappeared on the borders of Asia Minor, in Anatolia, at the time controlled by the Greeks.
Many Turks of the time were mercenaries serving Arabs and Persians, but in 1037 the Seljuk Empire was established, i.e. a State of Turkish ethnicity, born in North-Eastern Iran, which quickly conquered Iran itself, as well as Iraq and much of the East, in the footsteps of Alexander the Great.
It is worth recalling that, at the time, the Turks were a minority that ruled a large majority of other Turks, Iranians and Arabs.
Later, with the dissolution of the Central Asian Byzantine and Armenian Empires, the Turks – the only well-armed and homogeneous group -rose to power also there and led to a Turkification of the masses, starting from their ruling elites.
Hence this is what is currently happening in Central Asia, with Erdogan’s new cultural, ethnic and political expansion of Turkey.
It is the return of current Turkey to its historical and political-military origins.
Chinese purchases of Iranian oil raise tantalizing questions
A fully loaded Chinese oil tanker ploughing its way eastwards from two Iranian oil terminals raises questions of how far Beijing is willing to go in defying US sanctions amid a mounting US military build-up in the Gulf and a US-China trade war.
The sailing from Iran of the Pacific Bravo takes on added significance with US strategy likely to remain focused on economic rather than military strangulation of the Iranian leadership, despite the deployment to the Gulf of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as B-52 bombers and a Patriot surface-to-air missile system.
As President Donald J. Trump, backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appears to be signalling that he is not seeking military confrontation, his administration is reportedly considering a third round of sanctions that would focus on Iran’s petrochemical industry. The administration earlier this month sanctioned the country’s metals and minerals trade.
The sailing raises the question whether China is reversing its policy that led in the last quarter of 2018 to it dramatically reducing its trade with Iran, possibly in response to a recent breakdown in US-Chinese trade talks.
“The question is whether non-oil trade remains depressed even if some oil sales resume, which I think it will. That’s the better indicator of where Chinese risk appetite has changed. Unfortunately Iran‘s reprieve will be limited—but better than zero perhaps,” tweeted Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, head of Bourse & Bazaar, a self-described media and business diplomacy company and the founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.
A Chinese analyst interviewed by Al Jazeera argued that “China is not in a position to have Iran’s back… For China, its best to stay out” of the fray.
The stakes for China go beyond the troubled trade talks. In Canada, a senior executive of controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is fighting extradition to the United States on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.
Reports that Western companies, including Kraft Heinz, Adidas and Gap, wittingly or unwittingly, were employing Turkic Muslims detained in re-education camps in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, as part of opaque supply chains, could increase attention on a brutal crackdown that China is struggling to keep out of the limelight.
The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the crackdown but has stopped short of sanctioning officials involved in the repressive measures.
Bourse & Bazaar’s disclosure of the sailing of the Pacific Bravo coincided with analysis showing that Iran was not among China’s top three investment targets in the Middle East even if Chinese investment in the region was on the rise.
The Pacific Bravo was steaming with its cargo officially toward Indonesia as Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was touring his country’s major oil clients, including China, in a bid to persuade them to ignore US sanctions.
A second tanker, the Marshal Z, was reported to have unloaded 130,000 tonnes of Iranian fuel oil into storage tanks near the Chinese city of Zhoushan.
The Marshall Z was one of four ships that, according to Reuters, allegedly helped Iran circumvent sanctions by using ship-to-ship transfers in January and forged documents that masked the cargoes as originating from Iraq.
The unloading put an end to a four-month odyssey at sea sparked by buyers’ reticence to touch a cargo that would put them in the US crosshairs.
“Somebody in China decided that the steep discount this cargo most likely availed … was a bargain too good to miss,” Matt Stanley, an oil broker at StarFuels in Dubai, told Reuters.
The Pacific Bravo, the first vessel to load Iranian oil since the Trump administration recently refused to extend sanction exemptions to eight countries, including China, was recently acquired by China’s Bank of Kunlun.
The acquisition and sailing suggested that Bank of Kunlun was reversing its decision last December to restrict its business with Iran to humanitarian trade, effectively excluding all other transactions.
The bank was the vehicle China used in the past for business with Iran because it had no exposure to the United States and as a result was not vulnerable to US sanctions that were in place prior to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.
China’s willingness to ignore, at least to some extent, US sanctions could also constitute an effort to persuade Iran to remain fully committed to the nuclear accord which it has so far upheld despite last year’s US withdrawal.
Iran recently warned Europe that it would reduce its compliance if Europe, which has struggled to create a credible vehicle that would allow non-US companies to circumvent the sanctions, failed to throw the Islamic republic an economic lifeline.
In a letter that was also sent to Russia and China, Iran said it was no longer committed to restrictions on the storage of enriched uranium and heavy water stocks, and could stop observing limits on uranium enrichment at a later stage.
Russian president Vladimir Putin warned in response to the Iranian threat that “as soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the US was the initiator of this collapse. Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction.”
The Iran Question
Will there be war with Iran? Will there not be war with Iran? The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there. The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered. Imagine the mess if it was blown up.
There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive. The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber. If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense. It is what Iran has done. Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided.
As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force: some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target. Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses. In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system. It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400. Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s. The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally. The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.
Iran has friends in Europe also. Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal. She is mustering the major European powers. Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome. President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture. In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job. In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.
So there we have it. Nobody wants war with Iran. Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.
Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war. Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission. It won’t. The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton. He wants war. A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off.
In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans. The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Iran’s game just started
By announcing that Iran will begin keeping its excess uranium and heavy water, the Islamic Republic now sends a firm and clear message to the west, exactly one year after U.S. president, Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from its nuclear deal with Iran.
At this point, it seems that Iran has made a wise decision. Over the last year, the European troika has not only done anything to revive the nuclear deal or bring any kind of benefit to the Iranian nation, but they have actually backed up U.S. by developing new plans to undermine Iran’s “missile work”, and diminish its “power in the region” as well as its “nuclear technology”.
As stated in clauses 26 and 36 of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
(JCPOA), if the other side fails to meet its obligations, Iran is entitled to
partially or completely end its commitments as well. So, Iran’s recent decision
could be analyzed both on legal and strategic terms.
However, it seems that the strategic aspects of Iran’s decision are even more important than its legal aspects. This decision is strategically important because it stops Washington and European troika to carry out their anti-Iran scheme, a dangerous scheme that they actually started devising when Trump took the office in 2017.
At the time, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president played a major part in carrying out the west scheme. A scheme based on enforcing Iran to keep its “nuclear promises” and stay committed to a “distorted nuclear deal” while “U.S. had abandoned the deal”, and at the same time, trying to “diminish Iran’s power in the region” and “reduce its missile activities”.
All other actions of Europeans toward Iran were also simply targeted at carrying out this major plan, including how they constantly changed their strategies toward Tehran, and how Germany, U.K. and France intentionally delayed in launching the alternative trade mechanism (Instex) with Iran.
Now, Iran’s decision to keep its Uranium and heavy water is definitely in compliance with JCPOA, and more importantly, it will seriously undermine the “American-European” joint plan against Iran. This also explains why French government was so distressed by Iran’s new nuclear strategy and had such a quick reaction, considering that Emmanuel Macron, the French president and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Foreign Minister both have had important roles in carrying out the American-European anti-Iran scheme.
At any rate, what is clear now is that the game has just started! And the Iranian political system and specially the foreign ministry have a great mission to run this game wisely.
In following days, the European troika might want to force Iran into changing its decision by threats such as reviving the European Union sanctions against Iran or even taking Iran’s case to the United Nations Security Council (so that Trump administration can meddle in Iran’s affairs). But, it is time for Iran political system to be adamant in its decision.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry should clearly ask the Europeans to choose one of these options, either Iran will “further reduce its commitments to the nuclear deal” or the Europeans should do something practical to “protect the rights of Iranian nation”.
It is also necessary that the Iranian political system reveals the American-European joint anti-Iran scheme to the people so that the true nature of Europeans is showed to Iranians. In that case, Europe and specially the European troika will completely lose their reputation.
First published in our partner Tehran Times
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