Analysts, journalists and bloggers love to compare the Russian and Turkish leaders. And to be fair, there are a number of obvious parallels between the two. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, like Vladimir Putin, is not exactly enamoured with Western liberal principles and has become disillusioned with his country’s experience of cooperation with Europe. Both preach “traditional values,” rely on the so-called “Deep People” and call for a “religious revival.” Both staunchly defend their positions on the international stage and have no qualms about challenging their many external critics and, where necessary, going against the dominant global attitudes and trends.
The fact that the two have almost identical ideologies, carry themselves in a similar fashion and quite obviously share the same view of the modern world and where it is heading should in itself contribute to a rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara. What is more, Russia and Turkey objectively have many common or converging interests. The two countries complement each other quite successfully in a variety of areas — from energy to tourism, from transport and logistics to military-technical advancements, etc.
That said, bilateral relations remain fragile and inconsistent. Russia and Turkey are at the same time companions and competitors. In some cases, they are even direct opponents. Putin and Erdogan do not exactly trust each other, although, in general, they do not tend to trust any of their foreign partners. Periodic frictions, disputes and misunderstandings between Moscow and Ankara are actively exploited by third countries, many of which have no interest in the on-off interaction between Russia and Turkey turning into a strategic partnership.
The fragility of this interaction was laid bare for all to see five years ago following the downing of the Russian Su-24 on the Turkey–Syria border. For a moment, it looked like Russia and Turkey were about to go to war, and it was roughly six months before the sides were more or less on the same page again. A similar situation arose on the ground in Syria early this year, when Ankara accused Moscow of being directly involved in the deaths of dozens of Turkish soldiers in the Idlib Governorate.
In both cases, the sides found the political will to stop before the line in the sand had been crossed, preventing the situation from spiralling out of control and bringing all manner of unwanted consequences. Unfortunately, Turkey–Russia relations could easily veer off course at any time. The logic and dynamics of Turkey’s current foreign policy continue to place Erdogan in the middle of a minefield, where any step could prove fatal for his relations with Vladimir Putin. And the mines on this particular field vary greatly — in terms of their design, their charge and the way they have been camouflaged — but any of them could lead to an unintended escalation and permanently damage relations between Ankara and Moscow. Let us look at some of the foreign policy steps the Turkish leadership could take that would most likely open up a giant rift in Ankara’s relations with Moscow.
Intervention in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It should come as no surprise that Ankara has firmly and unequivocally supported Baku throughout the three decades of the Armenia–Azerbaijan confrontation. But it is one thing to offer political and diplomatic support to an ally in a frozen conflict, and it is another thing entirely to provide large-scale military assistance at the height of armed hostilities. This kind of assistance shifts the balance of power of the warring parties dramatically, gives Azerbaijan false hope that the Nagorno-Karabakh can be resolved quickly through military means and, as a result, makes the signing of any peace agreement that much more difficult.
Escalation in Libya. Turkey has been one of the main foreign actors in the Libyan Civil War from the very beginning. It was Turkish intervention that prevented Marshal Khalifa Haftar from capturing Tripoli. But if Ankara continues to internationalize the Libyan conflict by building up its own military presence in the country, helping Fayez al-Sarraj’s forces achieve a decisive victory over his many opponents in the eastern and southern regions, then it will face increasingly serious problems. And not only with Russia, but also with a number of other countries that are involved in the Libyan crisis in one way or another, from Egypt to France.
Pandering to terrorists in Idlib. Turkey’s obligations under the Sochi agreements on Idlib were to ensure the withdrawal of terrorist groups and heavy arms from the buffer zone. Two years later, and Ankara has failed to keep its end of the deal. Any hopes that Turkey would be able to somehow “rehabilitate” or at least “restrain” the Islamic fundamentalists in Idlib soon dissipated. If the terrorists, buffered by the Turkish presence in Idlib, use this territory as a base for launching active operations against Bashar Assad’s forces and the Russian military infrastructure in Syria, then it is only a matter of time until a new crisis between Russia and Turkey breaks out.
Operations against the Kurds in Northern Syria. Unsurprisingly, Russia and Turkey have different attitudes towards the Syrian Kurds and the role they would like to see them play in the country’s future. Thus far, Ankara and Moscow have managed to avoid problems on this issue by “agreeing to disagree.” However, if Turkey launches a new large-scale operation against the Kurds in Northern Syria, this will inevitably lead to the Kurds forming an alliance with the Syrian government, which Moscow would no doubt support (and perhaps even encourage). This could result in a direct clash between Damascus and Ankara in Northern Syria, with all the negative consequences this would entail for Russia–Turkey relations.
An aggravation of the confrontation with Greece. Relations between Russia and Greece are somewhat troubled at the moment. Despite this, it is extremely unlikely that Moscow would take Ankara’s side in Turkey’s current territorial dispute with Greece. All the more so because, in the present situation regarding the delimitation of economic zones in the Mediterranean, Turkey is pitted not only against Greece but also against virtually all of Russia’s partners and friends in the Eastern Mediterranean. The “Greek issue,” compounded by Turkey’s activity in Libya (which makes Moscow uneasy), could trigger a new crisis in Russia–Turkey relations.
Expansion of military-technical cooperation with Ukraine. Russia and Turkey have always had fundamentally different views on Ukraine and Crimea, especially since the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014. One way or another, Moscow has had to come to terms with the fact that Ankara does not recognize Crimea as a part of Russia and will not give up its claims to the role of “protector” of the Crimean Tatars. However, the ongoing expansion of military and political cooperation between Ankara and Kiev — particularly the supply of cutting-edge Turkish drones that Kiev can use in the East of the country — could be a thorn in the side of Moscow. Turkey’s attempts to lobby Ukrainian interests within NATO will be an equally sore point.
The aggressive promotion of Pan-Turkism in Russia. Fears about the possibility of Turkism “penetrating” into the predominantly Muslim and Turkic-speaking regions of the North Caucasus and the Volga Region have never completely disappeared among the Russian leadership. However, these fears have been compounded by the noticeable increase in the role of Islam in Erdogan’s domestic policies (one illustration of this is the recent change of status of the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque in Istanbul). Many in Russia believe that Turkey is moving further and further away from Kemal Atatürk’s principles of a secular state, meaning that Ankara’s promotion of Pan-Turkism will be increasingly intertwined with the promotion of political Islam. This will pose a direct challenge to Russia’s national security and even its territorial unity
The above points do not mean that Recep Erdogan is the only one treading a minefield. Vladimir Putin is himself standing in the middle of a foreign policy minefield with regard to Turkey. There is little doubt that any Turkish politician or international relations expert worth their salt could respond to Moscow’s list of grievances against Ankara with an even longer list of Turkish grievances against Russia. And these are claims that cannot simply be swept under the carpet. Russia, it must be said, has not always approached Turkey’s basic interests on the international stage with due understanding, delicacy and tact.
It is true that there are influential anti-Russian forces within the Turkish elites who are intent on turning public opinion against Moscow. But at the same time, there is no shortage of groups in Russia that do not want to see a rapprochement with Ankara and thus try to fan the flames of the traditional anti-Turkish sentiments and prejudices, which have never gone away. Overly simplified and negative perceptions of the other side as the embodiment of social anarchy, failed economic modernization and political regression dominate in liberal circles in Russia and Turkey.
There is something for diplomats, military leaders, independent analysts and civil activists alike to think about here. Whatever the case may be, the stakes in the Russia–Turkey game are extremely high — not only for Russia and Turkey, but also for a number of nearby regions where Moscow and Ankara promote their often-opposing interests, particularly Central Asia and Northern Africa.
From our partner RIAC
China-US and the Iran nuclear deal
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi on Friday, January 14, 2022 in the city of Wuxi, in China’s Jiangsu province. Both of them discussed a gamut of issues pertaining to the Iran-China relationship, as well as the security situation in the Middle East.
A summary of the meeting published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry underscored the point, that Foreign Ministers of Iran and China agreed on the need for strengthening bilateral cooperation in a number of areas under the umbrella of the 25 year Agreement known as ‘Comprehensive Cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China’. This agreement had been signed between both countries in March 2021 during the Presidency of Hassan Rouhani, but the Iranian Foreign Minister announced the launch of the agreement on January 14, 2022.
During the meeting between Wang Yi and Hossein Amir Abdollahian there was a realization of the fact, that cooperation between both countries needed to be enhanced not only in areas like energy and infrastructure (the focus of the 25 year comprehensive cooperation was on infrastructure and energy), but also in other spheres like education, people to people contacts, medicine and agriculture. Iran also praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and said that it firmly supported the One China policy.
The timing of this visit is interesting, Iran is in talks with other signatories (including China) to the JCPOA/Iran nuclear deal 2015 for the revival of the 2015 agreement. While Iran has asked for removal of economic sanctions which were imposed by the US after it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, the US has said that time is running out, and it is important for Iran to return to full compliance to the 2015 agreement. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an interview said:
‘Iran is getting closer and closer to the point where they could produce on very, very short order enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon’
The US Secretary of State also indicated, that if the negotiations were not successful, then US would explore other options along with other allies.
During the course of the meeting on January 14, 2022 Wang Yi is supposed to have told his Chinese counterpart, that while China supported negotiations for the revival of the Iran nuclear deal 2015, the onus for revival was on the US since it had withdrawn in 2018.
The visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister to China was also significant, because Foreign Ministers of four Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — and Secretary General of GCC, Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf were in China from January 10-14, 2022 with the aim of expanding bilateral ties – especially with regard to energy cooperation and trade. According to many analysts, the visit of GCC officials to China was driven not just by economic factors, but also the growing proximity between Iran and Beijing.
In conclusion, China is important for Iran from an economic perspective. Iran has repeatedly stated, that if US does not remove the economic sanctions it had imposed in 2018, it will focus on strengthening economic links with China (significantly, China has been purchasing oil from Iran over the past three years in spite of the sanctions imposed by the US. The Ebrahim Raisi administration has repeatedly referred to an ‘Asia centric’ policy which prioritises ties with China.
Beijing is seeking to enhance its clout in the Middle East as US ties with certain members of the GCC, especially UAE and Saudi Arabia have witnessed a clear downward spiral in recent months (US has been uncomfortable with the use of China’s 5G technology by UAE and the growing security linkages between Beijing and Saudi Arabia). One of the major economic reasons for the GCC gravitating towards China is Washington’s thrust on reducing its dependence upon GCC for fulfilling its oil needs. Beijing can utilize its good ties with Iran and GCC and play a role in improving links between both.
The geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is likely to become more complex, and while there is not an iota of doubt, that the US influence in the Middle East is likely to remain intact, China is fast catching up.
Egypt vis-à-vis the UAE: Who is Driving Whom?
“Being a big fish in a small pond is better than being a little fish in a large pond” is a maxim that aptly summarizes Egyptian regional foreign policy over the past few decades. However, the blow dealt to the Egyptian State in the course of the 2011 uprising continues to distort its domestic and regional politics and it has also prompted the United Arab Emirates to become heavily engaged in Middle East politics, resulting in the waning of Egypt’s dominant role in the region!
The United Arab Emirates is truly an aspirational, entrepreneurial nation! In fact, the word “entrepreneurship” could have been invented to define the flourishing city of Dubai. The UAE has often declared that as a small nation, it needs to establish alliances to pursue its regional political agenda while Egypt is universally recognized for its regional leadership, has one of the best regional military forces, and has always charmed the Arab world with its soft power. Nonetheless, collaboration between the two nations would not necessarily give rise to an entrepreneurial supremacy force!
Egypt and the UAE share a common enemy: political Islamists. Yet each nation has its own distinct dynamic and the size of the political Islamist element in each of the two countries is different. The UAE is a politically stable nation and an economic pioneer with a small population – a combination of factors that naturally immunize the nation against the spread of political Islamists across the region. In contrast, Egypt’s economic difficulties, overpopulation, intensifying political repression, along with its high illiteracy rate, constitute an accumulation of elements that serves to intensify the magnitude of the secreted, deep-rooted, Egyptian political Islamists.
The alliance formed between the two nations following the inauguration of Egypt’s President Al Sisi was based on UAE money and Egyptian power. It supported and helped expand the domestic political power of a number of unsubstantiated Arab politicians, such as Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied and the Chairman of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan. The common denominator among these politicians is that they are all fundamentally opposed to political Islamists.
Although distancing political Islamists from ruling their nations may constitute a temporary success, it certainly is not enough to strengthen the power of the alliance’s affiliates. The absence of true democracy, intensified repression by Arab rulers and the natural evolution of Arab citizens towards freedom will, for better or for worse, lead to the re-emergence of political Islamists. Meanwhile, Emirati wealth will always attract Arab hustlers ready to offer illusory political promises to cash in the money.
The UAE has generously injected substantial amounts of money into the Egyptian economy and consequently the Egyptian State has exclusively privileged Emirati enterprises with numerous business opportunities, yet the UAE has not helped Egypt with the most critical regional threat it is confronting: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi’s exaggerated fascination with UAE modernization has prompted him to duplicate many Emirati projects – building the tallest tower in Africa is one example.
The UAE’s regional foreign policy that hinges upon exploiting its wealth to confront the political Islamist threat is neither comprehensible nor viable. The Emirates, in essence, doesn’t have the capacity to be a regional political player, even given the overriding of Egypt’s waning power. Meanwhile, Al Sisi has been working to depoliticize Egypt completely, perceiving Egypt as an encumbrance rather than a resource-rich nation – a policy that has resulted in narrowing Egypt’s economic and political aspirations, limiting them to the constant seeking of financial aid from wealthy neighbors.
The regional mediating role that Egypt used to play prior to the Arab uprising has been taken over by European nations such France, Germany and Italy, in addition of course to the essential and ongoing role of the United States. Profound bureaucracy and rampant corruption will always keep Egypt from becoming a second UAE! Irrespective of which nation is in the driver’s seat, this partnership has proven to be unsuccessful. Egypt is definitely better off withdrawing from the alliance, even at the expense of forgoing Emirati financial support.
Kurdish Education in Turkey: A Joint Responsibility
Turkish elites often see Kurds as posing a mortal threat to their homeland’s territorial integrity. Kurdish elites often harbor pan-Kurdish dreams of their own.
Modern Turkish nationalism based its identity on statist secularism practiced by Muslims who are Turks. The secularist paradigm of a “Turkish Nation” struggled hard with accommodating Christians (Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians) and Kurdish-speaking Muslims. Kurdish coreligionists were expected to become Turks, i.e., to abandon their cultural heritage for the “greater good” of a homogenous Turkish nation.
This cultural-identity conundrum led to a century-long violent conflict, but also to genuine efforts by many Kurds and Turks to reach a common vision that would accommodate both Turkey’s territorial integrity and Kurdish cultural rights.
The rise to power of Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002 appeared to imply a watershed, bringing about a measure of cultural liberalization toward the Kurds. More Islam seemed at first to signal less nationalistic chauvinism.
IMPACT-se, a think tank focusing on peace and tolerance in school education, pointed out in “Two Languages One Country,” a 2019 report that showed liberal elements being introduced in the Turkish curriculum by the AKP government. These “included the introduction of a Kurdish language elective program, the teaching of evolution, expressions of cultural openness, and displays of tolerance toward minorities.”
And while no open debate was permitted, IMPACT-se noted “a slight improvement over past textbooks in recognizing the Kurds, although they are still generally ignored.” Yet, the name “Kurd” is no longer obliterated from the curriculum. Kurdish-language textbooks were authored as part of a wider Turkish-Kurdish rapprochement.
In June 2012, the Turkish government announced for the first time, that a Kurdish elective language course entitled: “Living Languages and Dialects” (Yaşayan Diller ve Lehçeler), would be offered as an elective language for Grades 5–7 for two hours per week.
IMPACT-se studied these textbooks (published in 2014 and 2015 in Kurmanji and Zazaki) in its report and found that the elective Kurdish-language program strengthens Kurdish culture and identity, while assuming a pan-Kurdish worldview devoid of hate against Turks. Included are Kurdish-historic places in Turkey, Iran and Iraq (but not Syria). The textbooks cover issues such as the Kurdish diaspora in Europe, the Kurdish national holiday of Newroz, with the underlying revolutionary message of uprising against tyranny. Children’s names are exclusively Kurdish. Turks and Turkey are not represented in the elective Kurdish books (but are obviously present across the rest of the curriculum).
The latter is a surprising and counter-intuitive finding. Textbooks published by Turkey’s Ministry of Education focus solely on the Kurdish side, with pan-Kurdish messaging, and no Turkish context. There could be several explanations for this, but the fact remains that Turkish-Kurdish relations are still not present in Turkey’s Kurdish language program.
The overall conclusion of IMPACT-se has been that this program is pioneering and generally excellent. There are some problems, however. One problem is that the elective program is minimalistic and does not meet Kurdish cultural needs. However, the program ignores the Turkish-Kurdish dilemma, hence projecting an inverted mirror image of the Turkish curriculum at large, which ignores the Kurdish question. There is no peace education in either curriculum. Therefore, IMPACT-se recommended enhancing the Kurdish-language program, while adding a healthy dose of pertinent peace education to the curriculum’s Turkish and Kurdish textbooks.
Sadly, the last few years have also seen broader moves by the Turkish government to quash Kurdish cultural and educational freedoms. The armed conflict between separatist groups and the Turkish military resumed in 2015, followed by the 2016 detention of high-ranking officials of the peaceful pro-minority People’s Democratic Party (HDP). By 2020, 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors on the HDP ticket in previous years had been forced out or arrested by security forces.
Simultaneously, elective programs such as Kurdish have been neglected and largely replaced by religious “elective” courses, which are often mandatory. Specifically, elective Kurdish courses are being clamped down or de facto erased in certain schools (despite being originally offered in 28 cities and with an expected enrollment as high as 160,000).
And then there is the question of full education in Kurdish. Article 42 of the Turkish Constitution bans the “teaching of any language other than Turkish as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institution of education.” And yet, Turkish authorities looked the other way between 2013 and 2016, as five fully Kurdish elementary private schools were opened in the southeastern provinces of Diyarbakır, Şırnak and Hakkari. The last of these schools, Ferzad Kemanger in Diyarbakır, was closed on October 9, 2016. Apparently these schools conveyed pan-Kurdish messaging (Ferzad Kemanger was an Iranian-Kurdish elementary school teacher. He was wrongly accused of being a terrorist and executed by Tehran in 2010).
There can be no Kurdish heritage without Kurdish languages, making the current situation untenable. Kurdish education should become a priority again.
But this is not enough. A common Turkish-Kurdish vision should be developed. Educationally, a serious effort should be directed toward educating both Turks and Kurds about the other’s identity, culture, shared history, commonalties, conflicts and interactions.
Two ethnicities sharing one homeland in a volatile region pose a great challenge for both. A careful educational plan can lay the groundwork for peace and prosperity. Kurdish education in Turkey should be considered a joint responsibility leading to a common vision.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect an official position of IMPACT-se.
Naftali Bennett Highlights Tech and Trade, Bridge-Building and Climate Change
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel used his address to the Davos Agenda 2022 to highlight the role of digital...
The Meeting Point between Pandemic and Environmental
Humans in the Anthropocene Humans are born from history, on the other hand, history is born from human life. Currently,...
Lithuanians Pave Way for EU’s Legal Migration Initiatives with Sub-Saharan Africa
The European Union is facing a shortage of specialists. The reality of demographic characteristics and the labour market dictate that...
Nearly half of City GDP at Risk of Disruption from Nature Loss
Cities contribute 80% to global GDP – but they also account for 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Integrating nature-positive...
Sino-American confrontation and the Re-binarized world
Americans performed three very different policies on the People’s Republic: From a total negation (and the Mao-time mutual annihilation assurances),...
Labour market recovery still ‘slow and uncertain’
As the COVID-19 pandemic grinds on and global labour markets continue to struggle, the latest International Labour Organization (ILO) report,...
India’s open invitation to a nuclear Armageddon
Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said that “India was not averse to the possible demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier...
New Social Compact3 days ago
Age No Bar: A Paradigm Shift in the Girl Child’s Marriageable Age in India
Defense4 days ago
Why shouldn’t Israel Undermine Iran’s Conventional Deterrence
Middle East4 days ago
Egypt vis-à-vis the UAE: Who is Driving Whom?
Crypto Insights4 days ago
The Bitcoin ETFs: An Instrument to be Reckoned With
Southeast Asia4 days ago
Cambodian Prime Minister’s Visit to Myanmar: Weakening Role of the ASEAN?
Eastern Europe3 days ago
Rebuilding of Karabakh: Results of 2021
Middle East3 days ago
China-US and the Iran nuclear deal
Russia4 days ago
Do as You’re Told, Russia Tells the Neighborhood