Which way will Turkey go?

The Treaty of Lausanne is due to expire in 2023. This has triggered a debate on how Turkey sees the opportunity and how it would choose to act. Will it seek to resurrect the Ottoman Empire or something resembling it in Europe? Will the geopolitical maps be redrawn? Will Turkey project hard power leading to regional dominance?

President Recep Tayyib Erdogan’s statement on the eve of the centennial anniversary of Turkish Republic is significant. He announced that Turkey will shape the future of the entire region when it reaches its goals for 2023. Turkey, he said, was on the threshold of new victories and successes.

Erdogan also said Turkey had been coerced into signing the Treaty of Sevres in 1920, and the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. He has said Turkey was forced to cede the Aegean Sea islands to Greece. Under the Treaty of Sevres Turkey had to concede vast tracts of land under its domain. It had to renounce sovereignty over Cyprus, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Iraq and the Levant, except for certain cities in Syria, such as Urfa, Adana and Gaziantep and Kells and Marsh. Turkey also had to relinquish its political and financial rights, in November 1914, over Egypt and Sudan.

At a commemoration ceremony held in 2016, Erdogan had stated that he rejected “an understanding of history that takes 1919 as the start of the 1,000-year history of our nation and civilization… Whoever leaves out our last 200 years, even 600 years together with their victories and defeats, and jumps directly from ancient Turkish history to the Republic, is an enemy of our nation and state.”

Turks have not forgotten that the Treaty of Lausanne forced it to give up large territories that belonged to it. Prior to the Treaty of Lausanne, the Treaty of Sevres was concluded in 1920. It gave most of the non-Turkish nationalities in the Ottoman Empire their independence. The Turks rejected this treaty and fought a fierce war against the World War I victors until they achieved a great victory over them, especially over Greece in 1922-1923.

Subsequently, the Lausanne II conference was held and resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, an international peace agreement, on July 24, 1923. The parties to the Treaty included the victorious powers after World War I (Britain, France and Italy). It was on the basis of this treaty that the Ottoman Empire was divided and the Turkish Republic founded under the presidency of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Here are some of the prominent clauses of the Treaty of Lausanne:

* The demarcation of the borders of Turkish national state led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, with Ankara as its capital.

* Laws for the use of Turkish waters in times of war and peace; conditions of residence and trade and the judiciary in Turkey.

* The status of the Ottoman Empire and the fate of the territories which were subordinate to it before its defeat in World War I.

* The Treaty of Sevres was abolished and Turkish Republic’s borders with Greece and Bulgaria demarcated; Turkish state maintained the annexation of Istanbul and Western Thrace; provisions were made for the debt of Ottoman state.

* Turkey renounced sovereignty over Cyprus, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Iraq and the Levant, except for certain cities in Syria, such as Urfa, Adana and Gaziantep and Kells and Mrash, and relinquished its political and financial rights related to Egypt and Sudan as of November 1914.

Erdogan’s ambition would upset the apple cart for the West and its allies in the region. Until recently, the US and its regional allies-Israel, the majority of the Gulf states, and Turkey – were aligned against Iran. This alignment is no longer sustainable

The international community has started paying more attention to Turkey’s efforts, notably with regard to the expiry of the Treaty of Lausanne. In accordance with international law, any Treaty expires after 100 years. Erdogan is aiming to link the expiry of the treaty in 2023 to assert Turkey’s control over Mosul in northern Iraq and Raqqa and Afrin in Syria.

Turkey could also start drilling for oil and digging a new channel connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.

The expiry of the Treaty coupled with Turkey’s recent military adventurism suggests that the geographic contours of the region might witness changes. Over the past century, particularly during the last decade, Turkey has risen to become a somewhat hegemonic power in the region, Iran being its only rival in influence and Israel its only rival in military might. Its proactive stance in the Syrian conflict – through its famed Operation Euphrates Shield and its current Operation Olive Branch – has made the country a regional power to be reckoned with militarily and diplomatically.

According to Mohamed Abdel-Kader Khalil, an Egyptian expert on Turkish affairs, “Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East is linked to the use of Turkish military capabilities in the region. This has been reflected in Turkish military concentrations on the borders with Iraq and Syria and in its involvement in the Red Sea through an agreement on the Sudanese island of Sawken as well as the Turkish military intervention in the northern Syrian city of Afrin.”

“These military interventions have come against the backdrop of a previous Turkish intervention in northern Iraq, with the intention of employing combat exercises in several regional countries and signing military agreements with Arab and African countries. The idea is to expand Turkish relations abroad to promote military exports, maximize economic returns and increase regional influence based on hard power… Erdogan’s aggressive nationalism is now spilling over Turkey’s borders and aiming to grab land in Greece and Iraq.”

“At first glance, the maps of Turkey now appearing on Turkish TV resemble similar irredentist maps put out by proponents of a greater Greece, a greater Macedonia, a greater Bulgaria, a greater Armenia, a greater Azerbaijan, and a greater Syria. That is to say, they aren’t maps of the old Ottoman Empire, which was substantially larger, or the entire Muslim or Turkic world. They are maps of Turkey, just bigger,” he added.

“Turkey’s hard power has been emphasized in its foreign policy in the context of regional operations and linked to Turkish official statements in 2017. There is a desire to regain control of areas that were once part of the former Ottoman Empire.”

Khalil adds that “Turkey has long been associated with the idea that many areas in the Middle East or Central Asia suffer from conflicts because of their isolation from the Turkish state. The latter has reserved the right to intervene in the region not out of strategic interests alone, but also based on historical considerations.”

Erdogan’s ambition to increase Turkey’s influence in the region and to lead the Muslim world would upset the apple cart for the west and its allies in the region. Until recently, the US and its regional allies-Israel, the majority of the Arab Gulf states, and Turkey -were aligned against Iran. This alignment is no longer sustainable. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey have soured over the issue of the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi which was orchestrated by Saudi Arabia and United states.

Furthermore, Turkey’s and Saudi Arabia’s perspectives and interests regarding Syrian civil war also diverged. The conflict drew Turkey closer to Russia and its allies China and Iran. The United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, however, remained on the opposite side. The Russia-China-Iran nexus seems to be a better fit for Turkey than the NATO.

Given the emerging geopolitical realties, Pakistan should formulate a strategy to grab the opportunities Turkey might offer in the days to come. It should have a holistic plan in place for both the pre-2023 era and the post-2023 phase. It should also study the Turkish markets.

The writer is a Quetta-based lawyer


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