The Modern-day Turkey, part of the Ottoman Empire prior to the First World War, was called the sick man of Europe. After ending the first world war, Europeans predicted Turkey as a geopolitically insignificant and very week state as Ottoman Empire had fallen out.
Interestingly, the so called sick man of Europe has become one of the rising powers in Europe and fastest growing global economies during few last decades. Besides this, Turkey seems to be the most influential Muslim country in the world presently.
Recently some issues again take Turkey in the frontline of international politics and power dynamics of the world super powers. Dispute between Greece and Turkey over energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean sea near Kastellorizo island dramatically fuels the tension between Turkey and Europe. Lately announcement of Turkey of re-opening of Hagia Sophia into mosque is another major catalyst of the recent tension. Announcement of the gas field in the “Tuna-1” zone in Black sea is getting another extra attention of the Europe about Turkey. Though Turkey is a member of NATO, European Union along with France and Greece are making official reactions against Turkey that are not that type of warm rather harsh and threatening. Many argue that, armaments and policies for Middle East taken by Turkey also have the negative consequences on the relation between Turkey and West.
So, it seems Turkey is going to face many geo-political obstacles in next every steps taken by Erdogan government and have to take strategic policies for the survival as a emerging regional and world super power.
What Happened with The Ottoman Empire?
Before exploring the recent incidents, we have to go back into the Ottoman Empire to explain the recent phenomenons of Turkey.
Turkey has a long history and it is a follow-up state of a big empire that has conquered large part of the middle east, north Africa and southeast Europe named Ottoman Empire.
During First World War, there are two large empire in the world; Ottoman Empire and British Empire. But after defeating in World War I, Ottoman Empire resulted faced a harsh peace treaty. According to the Treaty of Sèvres (1920), Turkey had to strip of all its European territory except for a small area around Constantinople which is now known ass Istanbul. Turkey also was bound to demilitarize the straits between the Black and Mediterranean seas and open them to ships of all nations.
Later, The Treaty of Lausanne was signed 6 Jul 1923 settling a conflict between the Ottoman Empire, and France, Britain, Italy, Japan, Greece and Romania effectively ending that portion of World War I. It replaced the earlier Treaty of Sevres, which the Turkish National Movement rejected. Turkey signed the Treaty of Lausanne 23 Aug 1923. The terms of the Treaty partitioned the Ottoman Empire and provided for the Independence of Turkey, and established its borders, as well as borders for Greece and Bulgaria.
The British Allie took every possible steps to break down the Ottoman Empire and more specially the only one Muslim Empire then after the First World War. British allie defamed the empire in every possible ways by different treaties and imposed many official and non-official restrictions on it. In the last, by the Treaty of Lausanne, the long Ottoman Empire effectively ended up with new states and then Turkey emerged as a new state.
The president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan; a very popular and charismatic leader of Turkey is making a major move to end the regional status quo that the Treaty of Lausanne largely established when Ottoman Empire was collapsed.
Along with many moves, Turkey’s high ambitious vision, called “Vision 2023” aims to put the country in the world’s top ten economies within the next five years by making dramatic improvements to its trade, energy, health care and transport sectors after the century of the Treaty of Lausanne on 2023.
Hagia Sophia Debate
Recently the Hagia Sophia issue has sparked tensions between Turkey and Europe; specically with Greece when Turkey takes a decision to re-open the Hagia Sophia into a mosque on 10 July 2020.
The Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine church built in the sixth century was converted into a mosque in 1453. It became a symbol of the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul by Mehmed II, also known as the conqueror. Later Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, closed Hagia Sophia for worship in 1931. Lately in 2020 it is again re-open for the prayer.
“This is Hagia Sophia breaking away from its chains of captivity. It was the greatest dream of our youth,” Erdogan said before the reopening.
On the other hand Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called Turkey a “troublemaker”, and “affront to civilisation of the 21st century” regarding the issue as Hagia Sophia was previously a museum and most Greeks view it as central to their Orthodox Christian religion.
Discovery of Tuna-1 Gas Field in Black Sea
Recently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey had made the biggest natural gas discovery in its history in the Black Sea estimated by 320 billion cubic metres named Tuna-1. President Erdogan said that production for commercial use could begin in 2023 as a part of Vision 2023. According to famous political journal Foreign Policy, Turkey’s Plans to become a regional energy giant just got a boost after the discovery of Tuna-1.
Turkish President said that they would not stop until they became a net exporter of energy.
After the announcement, the dynamics of regional and international politics simply seem to be changed and regional giants are not that type of happy with the discovery of Turkey’s gas field.
Dispute over Mediterranean
The first initiative of the tension in Mediterranean was made by Greek Cypriots by making international agreements to explore energy resources around the island, ignoring the legitimate rights of the Turkish side in the island’s north where Western companies, with the support of their governments took Greek side.
Later Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) have been warning the parties to offer the benefit of natural resources to all people, and demanded a fair and lasting solution.
Recently the military move of Turkey and Greece make the situation worsen that The New York Times refers the dispute as “A New Game of Thrones in the Mediterranean.”
Middle East Politics
The emergence of Turkey as an important diplomatic actor in the Middle East by adopting a more active approach toward the Palestinians’ grievances, improved relations with the Arab world more broadly and close ties with Iran and Syria has a great significance in world politics.
Turkey along with other regional powers is trying to pursue influence over Middle East Area. Foreign Affairs Journal said it as rediscovers of Turkey the Middle East.
Many argues that, Turkey has a particular significance of the year 2023. It is not only because of the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Turkish Republic but also because of an impressive and ambitious set of targets to achieve by this deadline by Erdogan government.
Erdogan government make up the 2023 vision plan for Turkey into specific categories focusing on the economy, energy, foreign policy, healthcare, transport and tourism to reach world’s top ten economies and super power within the next five years.
What is the stands of Regional and Super Powers?
Turkey is a member of NATO and trying to pursue the membership of EU also but yet can’t.
Many argues that the main reason is religion and racism that play a huge role in Turkey’s future in the EU. Islamophobia isn’t such a rare occurence anymore in West and it plays a important role in policy making process everywhere in Europe. Turkey is Muslim majority country and opinions about Islam are far from positive in Europe. However, there are other things like many European country agrue Turkey isn’t fit for EU regarding economy and military.
Turkey and Iran seem as regional rivals but have had the longest standing border that hasn’t seen a war for centuries and now have a stable relationship.
Turkey is still a member of NATO which does not mean too much. There are nations close to the Turks with common strategical interests and economic relations. The USA and EU block don’t provide that much contributions to Turkey recent years. Rather Russia is making a very close tie with Turkey which becomes the a matter concern of West recently.
Will Turkey Survive?
It is very much difficult to predict the future of Turkey considering recent phenomenons. There are lots of political equations, political power dynamics, international politics associated with the question of the survival or prosperity of Turkey as a regional and world super power.
If EU or West announce any kind of conomic sanction or trdae embargo on Turkey, it may face economic downturn. But if Turkey can make a very close trade relation with Russia and China, it may overcome incase any sanction or embargo imposed on Turkey.
Furthermore, if Turkey have to deal any military power from Europe or West, there is no alternative but make deeper relation with Russia, China and Iran.
Besides this, domestic politics of Turkey is an important catalyst to determine the future of Turkey. If President Erdogan and AK Party sustain and can take strategic policies, possibly Turkey is going to emerge as a super power, at least a regional giant, otherwise situation can be changed.
Many criticise Turkey and Erdogan government; mainly from West and extreme secular block; but Turkey is now considered as one of the most powerful and influential Muslim states in the world. As ‘Realpolitik’ can change over time by different power dimensions; obviously it is applicable for Turkey also.
The consequences of the recent moves of Turkey regarding regional and international politics will be understood with the changes of time and that consequences will answer whether Turkey sustains as a regional and international super power or not.
The writer is studying in Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka