LIKE RUSSIA, TURKEY EYES NEW EMPIRE
In the timeless words of Milan Kundera, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” The Republic of Turkey was founded on the genocide of the Ottoman Empire’s Christian minorities. To this day, Turkey does not recognize the genocide it perpetrated against the indigenous Greek, Assyrian and Armenian populations of Asia Minor. Turkey’s genocide denial undermines reconciliation with the descendants of its victims and sets the tone for its relationships with them. Like Russia, Turkey also seeks to restore its empire.
The Mavi Vatan – “Blue Homeland” – ideology is one of Turkey’s blatant attempts to restore its empire. The “Blue Homeland” doctrine disputes Greece’s sovereignty over the North Aegean Islands, the Dodecanese Islands and the island of Crete by claiming an exclusive economic zone that extends halfway to mainland Greece. With no basis in fact or in law, Turkey’s claims impinge on Greece’s sovereignty in violation of the United Nations Charter, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Treaty of Lausanne and the Treaty of Paris.
Turkey’s “Blue Homeland” is similar to Russia’s Russkiy Mir – “Russian World” – doctrine. The concept of Russkiy Mir was developed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is based on the idea that “Russia” is not a typical nation-state but a civilization that extends beyond the borders of the Russian Federation to include the former Soviet republics. At their core, the “Blue Homeland” and the “Russian World” are both revisionist ideologies predicated on restoring their lost empires under the pretext of “demilitarizing” their former colonies.
Despite consistent competition from countries like North Korea and Turkey, Russia maintains the title of worst neighbor. Russia sabotaged Moldova’s independence by starting a war in Transnistria in 1992. Russia invaded Chechnya in 1994 and 1999 to prevent Chechen independence. Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and has since occupied 20% of the country to undermine Georgian alignment with the European Union and NATO. Russia launched a proxy war against Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014 for similar reasons. To finish its imperial war of conquest, Russia invaded Ukraine and “annexed” the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in 2022.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan echoes Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric when he refers to Greek islands in the Aegean Sea as “occupied” by the Hellenic Armed Forces and repeatedly calls for their “demilitarization.” When Erdogan is not invoking memory of the genocide by telling Greeks to “Remember Izmir,” he is threatening to bomb Athens or to invade Greece by “coming suddenly at night.” Unfortunately, Erdogan is not alone in raising the temperature with Greece. Like Russia’s propagandists, Turkey’s pundits are also preparing the Turkish public for war with Greece. While Greece is a small country with a population of 11 million, Turkey is a regional power with more than 85 million inhabitants and the second largest army in NATO. To be clear: Greece does not pose a threat to Turkey.
Runner-up to Russia for the title of worst neighbor, Turkey has threatened to attack, invaded, or occupied almost every state it shares a border with. Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 and has since occupied the northern third of the country. Turkey has been fighting a protracted war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq for almost 40 years. Turkey has occupied parts of northern Syria since its first invasion in 2016, and recently launched Operation Claw-Sword against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who defeated ISIS. Turkey exploits the Libyan Civil War to sign illegal maritime agreements and drilling deals with an illegitimate government that does not have the legal mandate to bind Libya for the long term. Turkey also armed and trained the Azerbaijani Army in preparation for its assaults on Armenia and Artsakh in 2020 and 2022.
The Republic of Turkey will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2023. An election year, Erdogan will do everything in his power to remain in power. This includes silencing journalists, jailing political opponents, and raising the temperature with Turkey’s neighbours. One thing is certain: like Russia, Turkey has threatened to attack, invaded, or occupied almost every state it shares a border with. For that reason, the West must take Turkey’s aggressive behaviour seriously. Reverting to a world where revisionist aggression goes unpunished is not an option.
Originally published by Kathimerini on December 18, 2022.