“We have appealed and are appealing to our Turkish partners so that they refrain from conducting military operations in Syria. <…>. We frankly told our Turkish friends that this could lead to a further escalation of the situation, including armed confrontation. This can stimulate separatist sentiments in the so-called autonomous administration of northeast Syria,” Putin’s special envoy for the Syrian settlement, Alexander Lavrentyev, said on June 16. If a "special operation" in Syria begins, it will be the second since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The attention of most international forces is focused on the Russian-Ukrainian war. This gave Erdogan the opportunity to activate aggression against the Kurds, which in general has been structuring Turkish policy for several years now – a “special operation” has been going on in Iraq since April. But it's not just external causes.
The attention of international forces is focused on the war in Ukraine - this gave Erdogan the opportunity to activate aggression against the Kurds.
In 2023, the Republic of Turkey will turn 100 years old, and in the same year, although the exact date has not yet been set, presidential elections will be held. Erdogan can be re-elected for a third five-year term, his candidacy is put forward by the People's Alliance, an alliance of the ruling Justice and Development Party with the Nationalist Movement Party.
The opposition has not yet decided on a candidate or candidate, but in February at the first meeting of the heads of six opposition parties they announced that the candidacy would be joint. In addition, the main political task is known - a return to a parliamentary republic from the model of hyper-concentration of power in the hands of the president. A similar process is now underway in Kazakhstan, although it remains to be seen how President Tokayev will actually implement the adopted constitutional amendments, which activists already criticize as insufficient. Among other principles out of the total declared ten, it is worth noting the orientation towards the “libertarian order”.
The initiative to unite the opposition belongs to Kemal Kılıçdaroglu, the leader of the Republican People's Party (RPP), which was founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first leader of the Turkish Republic. The government is persecuting prominent RPP participants. The most important case is the May verdict of Canan Kaftancioglu, who heads the Istanbul wing of the party, and in 2019 she led to the victory in the mayoral elections of the CHP member Ekrem Imamoglu - for the first time in 25 years, the city is ruled by an opposition representative.
Kaftancioğlu, after a three-year-long appeal process, was sentenced to four years in prison for a decade-old tweet about Turkish responsibility for the Armenian genocide, and for supporting the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been declared a terrorist organization in Turkey. The term is suspended, Kaftancioglu is at large, but does not have the right to engage in political activities. Istanbul protested - according to the RPP, about 600,000 people came to the rally at the end of May.
Not foreign agents, but terrorists
Do not support the PKK, extradite political refugees associated with it - the conditions that Turkey presented to Finland and Sweden, blocking their applications for NATO membership since mid-May. There was another condition, less noticeable. Turkey demanded the extradition of activists and politicians associated with Fethullah Gülen. Like the Kurds, he has been declared a terrorist in Turkey. However, on June 28, against the background of the Russian attack on Kremenchug, Turkey stopped objecting to the membership of Finland and Sweden.
Accusations of terrorism are the main tool of state repression in Turkey, the state uses it to justify both external “special operations” and internal repression. In 2016, an attempted military coup took place in the country. Erdogan blamed it on Gülen, the leader of a key non-partisan political force in Turkey, which since 2016 can only be referred to internally as FETÖ - Fethullahçı Terör Örgütü (Fethullanist Terrorist Organization).
Terrorist accusations are the main instrument of state repression in Turkey.
There is another fixed name FETÖ, which indicates the principle of its operation - "Parallel State". Fethullah Gulen, who lived in exile in the United States for more than 30 of his 80 years, and before that received a religious education and worked as an imam, was Erdogan's comrade. Together they steered a course towards a moderate Islamization of Turkey, a departure from a secular state while maintaining dialogue with Europe and interreligious dialogue. But if Erdogan was a party member, then Gülen headed the Hizmet social movement, the most visible manifestation of which was the so-called Gülen schools. Schools were considered among the most prestigious not only in Turkey, but also in other regions with a Turkic-speaking population - from Tatarstan to Moldova. In his sermons, Gülen emphasized the importance of education, and called integration into existing state structures, influence on them from within, the main principle of political action.
After the conflict between Erdogan and Gülen in the early 2010s, the reasons for which are not known for certain, it was schools that were the main blow of the Turkish government. In some regions, they were simply closed at the request of the Turkish authorities, but in others, for example, from Moldova, teachers were even deported , after which they were taken into custody.
Both the Gülen movement and the current Turkish government are largely based on the idea of pan-Turkism - about the commonality between the Turkic peoples, the need for their unification. Both historically and now, pan-Turkism is both an imperialist logic and an instrument of anti-imperialist resistance. A vivid modern example of the latter is Turkey's support for the Crimean Tatar national liberation movements. For example, Mustafa Dzhemilev, who for many years headed the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars, talks about negotiations with Erdogan in connection with the war in Ukraine - in the same interview, where he explains why it is necessary and how it is possible to blow up the Crimean bridge, a key artery of the Russian military infrastructure. Commonality with Turkey is also a resource for many other anti-imperialist movements in the territories now controlled by Russia.
Two wars, one nation: Kurds
Erdogan's current policy is sometimes also called "neo-Ottomanism". This is also a point of some similarity between Turkey and Russia - both countries either inherit empires at the same time, or still are, and at least have imperial expansion ambitions. Turkey as an independent state was formed at the end of the wars between the Russian and Ottoman empires, which lasted for centuries and in which the European imperialist forces were drawn.
Imperialist inertia also manifests itself in the activities of the opposition. There are forces in Turkey that criticize the alliance of the six opposition parties precisely on this basis. As Erdogan launches one military operation after another against the Kurdish forces, MP from the People's Democratic Party (56 seats in parliament, but at the same time, a lawsuit has been pending for the closure of the party for two years on charges of links with the Kurdistan Workers' Party) Hyuda Kaya says :
"There can be a party union without the Kurds, but it cannot be a union of the nation."
Kurdistan is a key point of tension in Turkish politics. Not only the recognition of the PKK as terrorists, but also the lifting of the current arms embargo in connection with military operations against Kurdish groups, Erdogan demanded from Sweden and Finland, blocking their entry into NATO (which, in turn, is probably due to increased fears that the Russian military aggression will spread beyond the territory of Ukraine). But relations with the Kurds are not at all a foreign policy problem, as it might seem: the Kurdish population makes up 18% of all residents of Turkey. According to International Crisis Group estimates, clashes between state forces and the PKK killed about 5,000 people in what is now Turkish territory, and not only in the border regions.
Two wars, one nation: Cypriots
There is one more border, the tension on which is growing rapidly. “We once again warn Greece to be prudent, to refrain from ‘ideas’, rhetoric and actions that will lead it to results that it will regret, as it did a century ago,” Erdogan tweeted on June 9 after behind the call of Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to Greece to "demilitarize" the islands in the Aegean Sea.
If Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952, then it has been trying to join the European Union for several decades. The application was filed in 1987, and in 2005 its consideration began. The process is actually not moving due to the territorial conflict on the island of Cyprus. Turkey is the only state in the world that recognizes the independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (and in fact controls it).
Turkey is the only state in the world that recognizes the independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Cyprus has existed as an independent state only since 1960, before that, from 1878, it was a British colony, and even earlier, about three hundred years, it was part of the Ottoman Empire. It is populated mainly by Turks and Greeks, and the current conflict relations between Greece and Turkey are a legacy of the Ottoman Empire, when Greece itself, the future states of the Balkan Peninsula, and, in fact, the future Turkish Republic fought for national independence. Turkey's invasion of Cyprus occurred when the reigning monarch in Greece was deposed by a junta of "black colonels", which not only introduced a state of emergency and severe censorship, but also declared the goal of annexing Cyprus to Greece ("returning" it). The Turkish occupation of the country unfolded under the pretext of protecting the Turkish Cypriot minority.
Now, on the issue of Northern Cyprus, the largest opposition forces are not at odds with Erdogan. Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People's Party, says the territory should be recognized as an independent state. At the same time, non-profit organizations are actively working with the problem of Greek-Turkish relations, as well as with other ethnic conflicts in the history of Turkey. Thus, the largest Anadolu Kültür Foundation, whose founder was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2022, finances sites in Nicosia in Cyprus and Athens in Greece, is engaged in an online archive about the history of the city of Diyarbakir, the unofficial capital of Kurdistan, supports research on the collection of oral history Turkish-Armenian relations, in particular the genocide. Sources of funding for the fund - including Western European grant programs.
At the same time, Turkish historians emphasize that the liberal European approach to demonstrating cultural diversity is also politically problematic: “In Turkey, where Greek, Armenian, Jewish, Roma communities are “honored” in [pan-European] projects through exhibitions, music, food, they are actually exhibited for display, tearing out of history, depoliticizing and objectifying. Celebrating diversity is itself a type of attitude driven by liberal humanism that claims unity in diversity as a way of peaceful coexistence – but under what conditions the parties coexist remains an open question,” writes Asli Ysyz in a book on the consequences of the Greek-Turkish exchange. called "Humanism in Ruins" by the population. And further: "Historicization is thus not something abstract, but a concrete requirement to track facts such as the confiscation of property, the policy of violence and massacres, cases of forced disappearances, and the consequences of segregative biopolitics."
2023 marks the centenary not only of the founding of the Republic of Turkey, but also of “the most radical experiment of the League of Nations in social engineering.” In 1923, the so-called "Greek-Turkish population exchange" took place, the largest officially fixed program of forced resettlement in history (in addition to Turkey and Greece, Bulgaria also participated). More than two million people have been affected by the program. “The formalization of forced resettlement came from the premise that segregation of different [ethnic and religious] groups allows peace to be restored,” writes Ysyz in Humanism in Ruins. The researcher expresses the essence of these events in the term “population management” – in her opinion, it was the protocol of 1923 that became the first precedent and a fulcrum for further similar practices.
Involuntary resettlement is only one of the population management techniques. In fact, “denazification”, or “de-Ukrainization” , is also one of its variants. Citizenship policy, migration policy, too. How do the Turkish opposition forces approach these issues?
Unlike the opposition alliance, which has so far only announced the development of a regulation on migration policy, the Workers' Party of Turkey (TWP) has already presented its six principles. The key idea is formulated in the first one: “Wars are the main cause of waves of migration. We are against wars that start as imperialist interventions and deprive people of their homes.” In addition, the RPT states the need to cancel the agreements between the European Union and Turkey, which arose as a result of the migration crisis of 2015. Now, according to the agreement, Turkey is obliged to control and stop the so-called illegal migrants who are transported from North Africa to Greece. Thus, Turkey actually functions as a center for the control and detention of migrants - as long as the EU does not give each of them the go-ahead for legal entry.
Turkey functions as a center for the control and detention of migrants - as long as the EU does not give each of them the go-ahead for legal entry.
The Workers' Party of Turkey emerged as recently as 2017 as a result of a conflict within the obscure Communist Party of Turkey. The very appearance of an extreme left, and not a centrist-republican, party is already a noticeable turning point in the political situation, as it would be in Russia, where the bearers of left political views are either not institutionalized in the form of parties, or single-handedly built into nominally existing structures. The last time the Workers' Party of Turkey - not the same as that registered now, but of the same name - passed to the parliament already in 1965. The closest ally of the current RPT is the People's Democratic Party, the one that is under threat of closure, and, unlike the RPT, is more clearly oriented towards the Kurdish population than towards finding grounds for pan-Turkish solidarity.
But what is pan-Turkish solidarity? When the Turkish government unexpectedly launched in 2018 - despite the fact that the country generally prohibits indicating ethnicity in documents, all citizens are automatically recorded as "Turks" - an online genealogy database, about six million people used the service in the first week, the site fell, unable to withstand the flow. Information about relatives in the Balkans, in Russia, in the South Caucasus may become the basis for changing citizenship or obtaining dual citizenship in those countries with which agreements on such an opportunity have been signed. In general, the situation in Turkey and in the Turkish diasporas in different countries vividly demonstrates how much any modern statehood stems from the history of wars, that is, migrations, forced resettlements. And accordingly, how “population management”, the principles of which are rarely as clearly spelled out in opposition programs as the desire for freedom of speech or assembly, is the cornerstone for assessing the adequacy of political programs and calculating their possible consequences.
In 2018, Turkey launched an online genealogy database - about six million people used the service in the first week.
It is important to say not only about the parallels between Russia and Turkey or their historical background. In the current international situation, the role of Turkey as a "mediator" is obvious. It was Turkey that arranged Russia as a platform for negotiations with Ukraine while they were still going on. Even despite the supply of weapons to Ukraine and the support of national anti-imperial movements - for example, the Crimean Tatar. And later, Turkey's dialogue with all parties to the conflict did not stop.
In the current international situation, the role of Turkey as a "mediator" is obvious.
Despite the upcoming elections, the opposition alliance still seems to have internal conflicts over the leader, and forces outside the alliance are unlikely to nominate a candidate who can win - in their case it is more a race for parliamentary seats. One way or another, changes in Turkey will mean fundamental changes for the whole world, and, probably, even they will set new models that will affect both Russia and NATO. If Erdogan remains, then it will be necessary to monitor how Turkey's current position as a mediator is strengthening and where it leads.