The Middle East by Erdogan, Turkey at the center of the crisis
Turkey– Today Turkey is the center of gravity, if not the reason, for the leading international crises. First of all, the wars in Syria and Iraq played and still played a crucial role. The controversial relationship with the self-styled Islamic State (Daesh), first indirectly supported by Ankara in an anti-Assad and anti-Kurdish function and then opposed, with probable connection with the kamikaze attacks on Turkish soil. Relations with other rebel factions fighting the Syrian regime and the relocation of fighters, including extremists who scare Europe.
The tough clash between Turkey, a member of NATO and an ally – in many cases reluctant – of the US, with Russia – intervened in support of the Syrian regime opposed by Ankara; following the shooting down in November 2015 of the Russian jet on the border with Turkey in an atmosphere of a new cold war between the US and Russia. It partly returned with the recent ‘rapprochement’ between Ankara and Moscow. The heavy legacy of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkic populations in the former Soviet republics in the Caucasus and Central Asia, up to the western Chinese regions. A wedge between the Russian and Chinese giants. All this is the Erdogan’s Middle East.
The Sultan of Ankara also has to deal with the never subsided conflict with the Kurdish PKK at home and with the Kurdish factions in Syria and Iraq. Indeed, it re-exploded after Erdogan’s electoral defeat but without a clear victory of the opposition and subsequent new elections with this time the success of the Turkish president. Erdogan first chose an alliance with Saudi Arabia and Egypt mainly in an anti-Syrian function, which then involved Turkey in the great confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with their respective allies, fuelling the differences between Shiites and Sunnis in the Middle East.
After six years of conflict after the Mavi Marmara crisis, the delicate relations with Israel are another element of tension. It is the failure of Ankara to recognize the Armenian genocide of the early twentieth century. That has repercussions in the Caucasus, in relations with the Armenian neighbour, and with the Vatican and European countries.
Despite all these factors of instability, no Western government intends to come to a confrontation with Erdogan. Why? Erdogan’s Turkey plays a crucial role in welcoming the millions of people fleeing the war in Syria and directing the flow of refugees to European countries. With the fall of Kabul into the Taliban, all of this today could have devastating effects on European policies and the ongoing negotiations between Brussels and Ankara. That adds up to Turkey’s failure to join the European Union, opposed by important EU members and by Erdogan’s supporters.
Finally, we must consider the role and ambition of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish president in power since 2003, first as prime minister and then as president since 2014, overcame the Turkish military and secularists opposition almost unscathed relatively, and then the popular demonstrations triggered by the corruption scandals in his government, winning every election and so much to be referred to as ‘the new caliph,’ up to the new military coup.