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Between Two Worlds: An Inside Look at Turkey


Perhaps no nation in the world today is as consistently at the top of the news as Turkey. This nation occupies a unique geographical position as it has territory on both sides of the Bosphorus making it both a European and an Asian country. This positioning has always made Turkey a world power due to the value of its trading posts. Turkey is ranked in the top 20 in both GDP and population, making it a powerful nation. Although being partially European, Turkey has always been (with the exception of Alexander the Great) culturally different from the rest of Europe and more closely linked to the Middle East. Turkey use to be called the Ottoman Empire. At its peak the Ottoman Empire reached from Vienna to Algeria to Egypt and to the borders of Iran. This huge territorial expansion left the Ottomans despised by the West and quickly faced a united Europe. This coupled with a declining political structure left the Ottomans vulnerable to outside invasion, this became known as “the eastern question.” A slow but steady decline left the Ottomans in a much weaker position by the start of World War One. During this war is when the unnecessarily controversial Armenian Genocide occurred, which resulted in the extermination of 1.5 million ethnic Armenians. With a staggering defeat in the war the Ottoman Empire seized to exist and its lands outside of Anatolia were ceded to Western Imperialism. In more recent times Turkey has battled many strife’s with the European Union (EU), migrant crises, Kurds, IS, Germany, Russia and an increasingly dictatorial President.

The EU and Amnesty International has raised many concerns with Turkey’s civil liberties. Under President Erdoğan (pronounced er-doe-juan) human rights have deteriorated significantly. Freedom of press has become severely limited making it impossible to critique Erdoğan or give an accurate report on the Kurdish separatists in the south east. As many as 105 journalists have been imprisoned for their political stances on the President. Fines and an ambiguous assassination have also been tools to prevent freedom of speech. Freedom of Assembly has also been effectively removed with any protesters being prosecuted and many protests being shutdown before they could occur, such as the annual Pride march. In all of these violations the government has withheld crucial information to prosecute any government officials.

Turkey is also in the midst of a Civil War in the south east with the Kurdish peoples. The Kurds are the largest ethnic group without a nation in the world as well as the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East. The Kurds have a majority population in southern Turkey as well as in Syria, Iraq and to a lesser extent Iran. The YPG, PYD and PKK are the most influential groups fighting for Kurdish independence. The autonomous region of Pershmerga in northern Iraq has also been fighting for the independence of other Kurds. These groups function primarily in one nation each as trans-national cooperation is very difficult. There is much debate on which if any of these groups are actually terrorist organisations, with the PKK being the most controversial due to their bombings within Turkey. The Turkish government often blames suicide bombings in Turkey on the PKK or ISIS, however many Kurds see this as retaliation to the harsh and unjust treatment of their people. The PKK is referring to torture; restricting the rights to teach their language and withholding key resources like food to the people living in southern Turkey. The US has supported the Kurds efforts in fighting IS.

Turkey is a traditional enemy of Russia due to historical ties. Istanbul, previously known as Constantinople, is the historical home of Orthodox Christianity under the Byzantine Empire. This is significant to Russia due to the large population of Orthodox Christians in Russia. Also aided in the conflict between the nations is the geopolitical importance of the Bosphorus. As mentioned above it is a key trade node but also is a warm water port. Russia has been seeking a warm water port throughout its existence and many point to this as the motivation for the annexation of Crimea. Warm water ports do not become inaccessible in winter and thus offer huge value in trade and military action. Twelve separate wars between Russia and Turkey have been fought with the most Recent being the First World War. In November 2015 Turkey shot down a Russian jet heading to Syria. Multiple Russian jets had violated Turkish airspace before this event. This has renewed tensions between the nations.

The Armenian Genocide has not been recognised by the majority of nations with only 29 recognising it. Only Tukey and Azerbaijan deny the historical factuality of the event. The nations which recognise the genocide reside primarily in Europe (including Russia), North America and South America as well as Australia, Iran and Syria. Recently making headlines has been Germany’s recognition and the consequent condemnation by Erdoğan.

Turkey is not a member of the EU but it is making strides and negotiations will continue in July. The EU cites the various civil liberty violations as well as Erdoğan’s power which is exceeding that granted by the European Parliament in order to come to a more favorable deal with Turkey. Turkish nationals controversially are expected to have access to the Schengen Zone in June, a deal which many Europeans fear will increase terrorism and the stream of refugees entering Europe. The ongoing migrant crises has seen Turkey rise as the most influential in negotiations due again to the geographical importance of the Bosphorus. Turkey is currently home to just under 2 million registered refuges with many more refugees unregistered. Amnesty International has accused Turkey of forcing refuges to return to Syria, a claim which has been refuted by Turkey. A “One for One” deal has been agreed between the EU, Greece and Turkey in which for every one refugee sent from Greece to Turkey one will be allowed entry into the EU. As part of this deal the EU has pledged 3.3 billion US dollars in aid for Turkey’s refugee camps. Some newspapers have accused Turkey of sending mentally and physically handicapped refugees into Europe.

The relationship between Turkey and ISIS is at best ambivalent and at worst criminal. Many first hand accounts have detailed significant support for ISIS from Turkey. If this is true, which it appears to be, the motivation for Turkey must be to damage the Kurds and to destabilize the Middle East. Destabilization will allow Turkey to increase its influence against Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Turkish support for ISIS has occurred in multiple forms since its inception. Turkey has been claimed of training and supply military equipment for ISIS by their leadership. Turkey has also been accused of purchasing ISIS oil. Multiple sources have also claimed that Turkey is aiding ISIS recruits in joining the organization by escorting them through Turkey. Many ISIS fighters and commanders have also received treatment in Turkish hospitals before returning to the fight. Turkey has also been accused of allowing ISIS recruiters and newspapers to operate within Turkey. ISIS has been unofficially been allowed permission to cross into Turkey in order to attack the Kurds

Within Turkey Erdoğan has been consolidating his power. He has recently dismissed Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu who’s relationship the former Prime Minister he described as “brotherly”, stating “You will never hear me say negative things about our president,” and “My loyalty to him will last until the end.” To further his ends Erdoğan has also been working to rewrite the constitution in order to grant more power to the presidential position.

Turkey is at the heart of European politics and it is crucial to follow the developments of the nation in the coming decades in order to understand the 21st century.

By: Tyler kattler

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