Originally published: https://mapleinstitute.org/the-influence-of-erdogans-neo-ottomanist-ambitions-on-the-current-hdp-situation-in-turkey/
Maple Institute | Michael Gunter | 27 April 2022
Recep Tayyip Erdogan — Turkey’s current president (elected 2014) and former prime minister (2003-2014) — infamously once declared that “democracy is like a train; you get off once you have reached your [real] destination.” In other words, one can use democratic means to achieve non-democratic goals. Analyzing Erdogan’s imaginary train journey, one must conclude that the Turkish leader never intended to reach democracy. Indeed, now that he largely has achieved his actual authoritarian goal, he has jumped off the train. However, his journey did not always seem to be destined for such a terminus. Indeed, in his first decade in power, Erdogan won three parliamentary elections by ever-larger of the popular vote because he had helped to build Turkey into a burgeoning economic powerhouse and a moderate Islamic democracy.
In the past decade, however, despite winning Turkey’s first popular election for president in August 2014, presiding over another great parliamentary victory in November 2015, and then winning re-election as president as well as retaining control of parliament in June 2018, Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism has helped precipitate an accelerating crisis both domestically and externally for Turkey. His actions have also negatively affected the Kurds. Although his partial setback in the local elections held in March and June 2019 did seem to affect his hold on power, his seemingly successful creation of a Turkish safety zone in Northern Syrian Kurdistan (Western Kurdistan, Rojava) in October 2019 revived his flailing domestic fortunes. Worsening economic woes, however, have called into question Erdogan’s political future as the next Turkish general elections for president and parliament are scheduled to be held on June 18, 2023, possibly sooner. The pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) plays a small but strategically crucial role in Erdogan’s re-election plans. The purpose of this article is to analyze the influence of Erdogan’s Neo-Ottomanist ambitions on the current situation in Turkey with particular concern with the HDP.
In an era when most scholars decry what they see as a continuing Western (now read largely American) neo-colonialism or neo-imperialism, it also behooves us to examine Turkey’s neo-Ottomanism and, in effect, neo-imperialism under the rule and ambitions of its current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Thus, in part, this article will analyze how the indigenous Ottoman Empire—which territorially was virtually synonymous with today’s Middle East—nostalgically continues to shape the views of many of the peoples in the Middle East both in positive and negative ways. This perspective is all the more relevant since today’s modern Turkey, under the leadership of Erdogan, is consciously seeking to construct/resurrect some type of Neo-Ottomanist state. What debates and conflicts have come to the fore concerning this Ottoman heritage and its proposed partial renewal under the guise of Neo-Ottomanism in the post-colonial period? What challenges do they pose to the creation of western systems of government in the new, post-WWI states? Finally, what role do the Kurds and the Pro-Kurdish HDP play in all this?
In his hauntingly evocative analysis of contemporary Turkish nostalgia for empire with its associated politics of neo-Ottomanism, M. Hakan Yavuz refers to Turkey’s “past [Ottoman] path traveled that now is being rediscovered for the future,” a concept known as neo-Ottomanism. Yavuz usefully adds that a working definition of neo-Ottomanism “means rooting present notions of Turkish national identity within their Ottoman Islamic heritage” (p. xi). Moreover, “it also entails deeper and renewed cultural and economic engagement with territories and societies once ruled by the Ottoman state and an attendant desire to renew leadership of the Muslim world to fend off ongoing destructive Western and Russian invasions and imperialism in the region” (p. xi). In addition, “especially after the EU rejected Turkey’s application for full membership, a process that would have finalized Turkey’s Westernization project that had started with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the Republic’s other founding fathers, the Ottoman past, not the future of Europeanization, became the basis of Turkish national identity” (p. xiv). Thus, “the future of Turkey ultimately will be concerned with reconstructing its Ottoman past, or neo-Ottomanism. . . . The intention is . . . seeking to be ‘somebody’ again, as powerfully communicated in the films, literature, art, and music being produced in the country” (p. 66).
Yavuz’s unifying concept of nostalgia for neo-Ottomanism is poignant and appropriate as it suggests “a lost sense of glory and grandeur as the hegemon of a continental civilization” (p. xii). Indeed, “neo-Ottomanism is about nostalgia, the longing for home, the need to regain one’s own imagined past to ameliorate the traumas of the present while charting a course for a more hopeful future” (p. 245). “The shadow of the Ottoman past . . . ameliorate[s] present difficulties with memories of a glorious heritage both real and imagined” (p. xi) and “stir[s] slumbering sentiments in the souls of ordinary Turks” (p. x). Nostalgia “makes the Turkish masses feel that they are the heirs of a unique and historically important civilization” (p. x), while “promoting Turkish exceptionalism” (p. x). Yavuz also explains how “the concepts of nostalgia and melancholy are closely related in the Turkish language because in a Turkish context, the past implies loss” (p. 2). Ironically, perhaps, the author also declares, “secularists are nostalgic for the era of Mustafa Kemal (1923-1950), while the conservatives are nostalgic for the Ottoman era and Ottoman tradition. Thus, there are two competing nostalgias that explain social cleavages in modern Turkey” (p. 40).
Along the way, Yavuz seeks to answer a host of interrelated questions. Among many others, what are the main modes of Ottomanism, the social and political origins of nostalgia for it, and the literary and Sufi order sites of its memory? What have been Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s and Turgut Ozal’s (one of Erdogan’s important immediate predecessors) understanding of neo-Ottomanism as well that of the (Sufi) Naksibendis and the former (Islamist) Welfare Party of Necmettin Erbakan (another important immediate Erdogan predecessor)? What have been the Balkan and Arab responses to neo-Ottomanism? What attributes of the Ottoman legacy have been incorporated into Turkey’s present self-definition of itself? How does neo-Ottomanism account for Turkey’s changing consciousness of itself and its seemingly bewildering foreign policy in the Middle East and the Caucasus? Will neo-Ottomanism only be a short-term shift, or will it permanently transform Turkish society and policies?
Elsewhere, notes Yavuz, “regarding the politics of Turkey, leaders and personalities are more important factors than ideologies and goal-oriented movements” (p. 241). Turgut Ozal (1927-1993), and Recep Tayyip Erdogan (1954- ) are “among . . . Turkey’s most consequential leaders of recent times” (p. 241). “As a result of Ozal’s views on political and economic liberalization, the Republican’ fears’ about the role of Islam along with the ‘ghost’ of the Ottoman Empire were lessened and new socioeconomic opportunity spaces for the construction of the Muslim self and community were opened” (p. 109). Yavuz argues, “Ozal’s neo-Ottomanism . . . [brought] a broader tolerance for political and cultural diversity, especially toward the Kurds, as it was practiced in the Ottoman era” (p. 124). In addition, “the forced expulsion of the Turks from Bulgaria and the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo and the accompanying killings of Muslims in the early 1990s” (p. 126), brought back suppressed memories of tragic ethnic cleansing Balkan and Caucasian Muslims had suffered from in the dying days of Ottomanism.
On the other hand, Erdogan’s heritage differs significantly from Ozal’s. “Simultaneously loved, respected, feared, and loathed, Erdogan is now without question the most consequential leader of Turkey since Ataturk” (p. 145). However, despite his many noteworthy accomplishments, the current Turkish president draws harsh rebuke for he “has shamelessly used the state to enrich himself along with the people around him. He represents the extreme example of kleptocracy and nepotism” (p. 150). Erdogan “has never believed in the primacy of Western values and has treated them instrumentally for his own strategic purposes” (p. 161). In addition, “he has hardly developed any close relations with European leaders and, [with the lone and ultimately unsuccessful exception of Ahmet Davutoglu] has never had any prominent scholar as an adviser” (p. 161). On the other hand, he maintains “good relations” (p. 161) with such authoritarian leaders as Vladimir Putin of Russia and Viktor Orban of Hungary, among others. Despite some bumpy incidents over Turkey’s purchasing of US offensive weapons systems and Russian air defense systems, as well as US support for the Syrian Kurds, one should also add former US President Donald J. Trump to Erdogan’s list of friends. Furthermore, Erdogan “does not have the same caliber of education as his Western peers, so it complicates attempts to build constructive high-level relationships” (p. 161). Thus, “the presence of leaders who sincerely espouse democracy and human rights reinforces any insecurities he may have about his intellectual background on comprehending matters of democracy and the rule of law” (p. 161).
As for his many and varied foreign policy initiatives, Erdogan “has severely damaged Turkey’s image and geopolitical standing in Europe as well as with its neighbors” (p. 150). For example, “he, in a precedent-breaking move that no previous Turkish president has done, has begun to mention the territories lost in the  Treaty of Lausanne, which resulted in the creation of the Republic of Turkey with its present borders” (p. 153). Erdogan specifically has mentioned Aleppo in Syria, Mosul in Iraq, and the Greek Aegean islands as places “given away by Ataturk without reason or right or fight” (p. 153). “Erdogan’s short-sighted, arrogant policies have ruined Turkey’s long-term geopolitical interests and have pulled the country into the relentlessly bloody quagmire of the Middle East” (p. 232). In conclusion, “Erdogan did exactly what the Kemalists feared—he opened the gates for Islamist politics . . . He is using Islam to . . . end Turkey’s pro-Western, secular transformation, [and] instrumentalizing Ottoman history for contemporary political debates” (pp. 177-178). Unfortunately, “Erdogan’s dream of bringing Ottoman ideas, tastes, and practices back in order to restore Great Turkey exudes Abdulhamid II’s ideas of control, conformity, and the lack of freedom” (p. 178).
In a partial explanation of Erdogan, Yavuz explains that the Turkish president, who already had “a very conservative Ottoman orientation in his thinking . . . became anti-Western because of the short-sighted and racist policies of Europe, especially those of [Nicholas] Sarkozy and [Angela] Merkel, who rejected Turkey’s membership in the EU on the basis of religio-cultural differences” (p. 194). This “prompted him [Erdogan] to re-define and restore Turkey’s relations with Muslim countries with the purpose of becoming a regional leader in the Middle East, Balkans, and the Caucasus” (p. 194).
More problematic, as of this writing in April 2022, is how Turkey’s (Erdogan’s?) potentially dangerous pursuit of neo-Ottomanism has Turkish troops and allied militias fighting in at least three separate countries, Syria, Libya, and Iraq. Furthermore, Turkey’s proactive policies in the eastern Mediterranean challenging Greece’s maritime borders and exploring for gas in contested areas is leading Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE to coalesce into an unofficial, anti-Turkish bloc. Arabs, Greeks, and others do not reciprocate the nostalgia Turks feel for the Ottoman world and its offspring, neo-Ottomanism. Indeed, such neo-Ottomanist initiatives consciously seek to negate Kemal Ataturk’s injunction to forsake foreign adventures in favor of peace at home and peace abroad. Thus, neo-Ottomanism, as operationalized through Erdogan’s foreign interventions that require great-power status, may prove a dangerous policy for a middle-sized power like Turkey.
However, it should be noted that Turkey’s role as a member of the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had already begun to alter with the end of the Cold War in 1990. This paradigmatic shift allowed Turkey to begin thinking of its place in foreign affairs in strikingly new ways. No longer did it see itself as mainly the eastern flank of the Western, anti-communist NATO alliance. Indeed, with the end of the Soviet threat, the very rationale or raison foederis (reason of the alliance) began to disappear. Increasingly, Turkey started viewing itself as part of the Middle East and even the much larger, Eurasian geopolitical space. No doubt, Turkey’s earlier Ottoman roots, Russia’s relative decline, and now China’s imaginative Belt and Road Initiative aided this geostrategic reorientation. Thus, Erdogan’s new vision for Turkish foreign policy did not suddenly appear out of nowhere.
Finally, the rise of the Kurdish issue with the founding of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in November 1978, U.S.-led wars against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1991 and 2003, and since March 2011, the Syrian civil war and its multifaceted problems that exacerbated U.S./NATO relations played major roles in Erdogan’s policies. As operationalized through its illegal military arm, the PKK and its (barely) legal political coalition, the HDP, the Kurdish issue represents an increasingly existential threat to Erdogan’s political future.
Erdogan’s Transnational Organizations
To help implement his overall Ottomanist ambitions, Erdogan’s Turkey has been employing several transnational Turkish organizations. Among these are the Diyanet or Directorate of Religious Affairs, which not only traditionally provides financial support to official Muslim institutions, but which also “has since morphed into a transnational state apparatus that utilizes and exploits religion for political purposes”; the TIKA (Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency) technical aid organization and its projects; the YTB (Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities) creating strong relations with the Turkish diaspora and kinship groups, and the Yunis Emre Institute “organizing seminars, teaching programs and conferences on Turkish culture, language, and art,” in some 40 different countries around the world.
Turkey has had a long history of fraught relations with its Middle Eastern Arab neighbors, who were seen as having stabbed the Ottoman Empire in the back when they allied with the British Empire during World War I. The Davutoglu years of zero problems with neighbors during the first few years of the 21st century proved short-lived, and Turkish foreign policy soon returned to its previous path of multiple problems or, in Davutoglu’s words, “order building” that often suggested perilous military solutions. Thus, in addition to its instruments of soft power, Turkey has developed its hard power not only via conventional military means but also through “a large pool of well-trained, easily deployed, and effortlessly disposable proxy forces as a tool of power projection, with a convenient degree of plausible deniability.”
Ironically, Erdogan’s employment of such militias or private armies dates back to the earlier Kemalist state’s anti-Islamist deep state that for so long opposed his rise. However, once Erdogan succeeded to power, he inherited this background apparatus upon which he proceeded to construct an even more ambitious structure for both domestic and foreign operations without official constitutional oversight. Syria was the first place these militias or private armies appeared. Subsequently, they also have been used successfully in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.
The International Defense Consulting Company (SADAT) established in 2012 as the only privately-owned defense consulting firm in Turkey, partially on the model of Blackwater in the United States, has been instrumental in the rise of these militias. SADAT was founded by General Adnan Tanriverdi and 22 of his associates after they were all cashiered from the Turkish Armed Forces for their Islamic political orientations. In his writings, Tanriverdi indicates that he was deeply influenced by the Serbian-Bosnian conflict in the 1990s from which he developed the idea of creating a pan-Islamic military alliance against the enemies of Islam.
Tanriverdi and Erdogan have known each other since 1994 when they both worked in Istanbul and formed a strong rapport. Immediately after the failed coup against Erdogan in July 2016, the Turkish president chose Tanriverdi as his top military advisor. From this position, Tanriverdi oversaw a comprehensive revamping of the army by terminating its secularist educational tradition. He closed the military academies, which had been bases of Turkish secularism, and replaced them with a National Defense University, which recruited students from the religious Imam Hatip schools. Although Tanriverdi had to resign as Erdogan’s top military advisor in January 2020 because of a controversial Islamist speech he gave, he and his organization SADAT remain important drivers in Erdogan’s expansionist ambitions.
SADAT’s logo indicates that its area of operation is the entire Islamic world, including such European states as Bosnia and Albania. The company’s website advocates the pan-Islamic unity of the Ummah ideal and envisions ways by which Muslim states can become self-sufficient military powers. Specifically, it describes its role in providing defense consultancy, military training, and equipment. This includes conventional training (land, naval, air, and internal security) as well as unconventional training (ambush, raid, roadblock, sabotage, terrorizing, assassination, rescue, kidnapping, and techniques against street protests).
Soon after it broke out in December 2010, the initially peaceful Arab Spring metastasized into civil wars in Libya, Yemen, and most of all Syria where at times Turkey seemed more attuned with Russia than its supposed NATO ally, the United States. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Turkish-supported government in Egypt was quickly overthrown by a military coup on July 3, 2013, that dimmed the vision of democratic Islam and its supposed Turkish model. Islamic jihadism and extreme, even genocidal violence in the form of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) added to the toxic brew. The much-ballyhooed Arab Spring soon proved to be a rerun of Europe’s failed liberal revolutions in 1848. In pursuit of his goals, Erdogan himself seemingly turned from a democratic reformer to a populist autocrat. This has been particularly so regarding the Kurdish issue and its current political manifestation, the HDP.
In 2016, the Pelican Files detailed 27 different sources of disagreement between the newly constitutionally anointed executive president Erdogan and Davutoglu, his now weakened and beleaguered prime minister. Chief among these disagreements were Erdogan’s assumption of new presidential powers and his turn to a military-only solution for the Kurdish issue, among numerous other points of contention. Behind these, of course, were Davutoglu’s failed zero-problems policies. Erdogan forced Davutoglu to resign effective on May 22, 2016. Thus, this analysis of Erdogan’s Neo-Ottomanist ambitions and Kurdish initiatives must now turn to these renewed problems.
In regards to Syria, for example, the Turkish seizure of the former Syrian province of Alexandretta (now called Hatay) in 1939 had poisoned mutual relations for years. In retaliation, Syrian support for the PKK since at least 1979, as well as continuing crises over Turkey’s control of Syria’s upstream water sources before they reached Syria, also continued to complicate the two’s relations. The relationship began to change when the Adana agreement between Turkey and Syria in October 1998 obligated Syria to drop its highly visible but supposedly covert support for the PKK after Turkey had finally threatened war. Syria expelled Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader, from his longtime Syrian sanctuary, which eventually led to his sensational capture by Turkish commandos in Kenya in February 1999. Erdogan began to court Syria’s leader Bashar al-Assad to the point of the two leaders’ families even vacationing together. Cooperation between Turkey and Syria developed in security, political, economic, water, and energy policies, among others.
Nevertheless, Turkey quickly turned on Syria when its horrific civil war began in March 2011 because Erdogan saw a good opportunity to associate his neo-Ottomanist ambitions with a potential Sunni rebel victory against Assad’s Alawite-ruled (an extreme form of Shiism) Syria. As the Turkish leader saw it, to continue supporting the Syrian dictator would negatively affect Turkish prestige on the Sunni Arab street Erdogan was seeking to dominate to further his Neo-Ottomanist ambitions.
A convoluted policy toward ISIS, where at times Turkey actually seemed to be working with it, was another ironic policy Turkey used to try to implement its anti-Assad policy. This quickly led to Turkish opposition against Russia and Iran, arguably the two main reasons Assad managed to remain in power. Yet, at the same time, Turkey paradoxically sought to achieve its new anti-Assad, Middle East goals by working closely with Russia and Iran.
In addition, once Turkey faced Rojava, the Syrian Kurds’ semi-autonomous region that rose as Assad was largely forced to withdraw from northeastern Syria to defend his Syrian heartland in the west, Turkey ran up against its supposed NATO ally, the United States, which had forged a de facto alliance with the Syrian Kurds to battle ISIS. Suddenly, Turkish troops with their jihadist allies were actually battling Kurdish militants first along its central border with Syria in August 2016 and then more to the west in Kurdish-dominated Afrin province in January-March 2018. The two NATO allies barely avoided clashes around Manbij in 2018 when Turkey attempted to prevent the Syrian Kurds from uniting their territorial gains along the southern Turkish border and, in the eyes of Turkey, threaten its territorial integrity.
Erdogan largely furthered these initiatives by recruiting, training, establishing, and financing at least two large, Turkish-controlled militias of Syrian jihadists: The National Liberation Front (NLF) of some 70,000 fighters and the Syrian National Army (SNA) of some 22-35,000 fighters. The two were supposedly merged under the SNA on October 4, 2019, with a combined force of approximately 100,000 fighters. Three successful, extensive operations against the Syrian-Kurdish controlled and U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) resulted in a minimal loss in Turkish lives: 1. Operation Euphrates Shield prevented the Syrian-Kurdish-led SDF from advancing west of the Euphrates River in 2016, 2. Operation Olive Branch in early 2018 conquered the formerly Kurdish-populated northwestern canton of Afrin (Kurd Dagh), and 3. Operation Peace Spring quickly captured additional Syrian-Kurdish territory further to the east in October 2019. Thus, Syria became the first and main example of Erdogan’s new strategy of a proxy militia war that employed local mercenary forces largely recruited by SADAT, its quasi-governmental agency.
In addition, although Turkey designated Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) a terrorist organization in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province on August 31, 2018, Ankara still maintains complex and ambiguous relations with it through the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT), SADAT, and the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), yet another quasi-governmental agency promoting Turkish interests and involved in more than 100 different countries.
This strategy of using private militias was then turned on a divided Libya in 2019 to support Faiz Sarraj’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) against General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). Some 5,000 SNA Turkish-backed militia fighters helped push back the Russian-supported LNA from the Tripoli area and then pressed east to take a number of coastal towns. The Russian mercenaries supporting the LNA were linked to the Wagner Group, a private Kremlin-linked military company. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights based in the United Kingdom estimated that there were 17,000 Turkish militia fighters in Libya and that 471 had been killed. Turkish Bayraktar TB2 armed drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) proved vital in this campaign.
Erdogan also apparently used Syrian militia fighters to support Azerbaijan against Armenia in the new war fought over Nagorno-Karabakh from September-November 2020. In this case, some ethnic Turkmen fighters, who presumably had more affinity for the Turkic Azerbaijani cause, were used. Paid monthly salaries of $1500-2000, they were transported in a roundabout way from Syria to Gaziantep in Turkey, onto Istanbul, and then flown into Baku. Another report indicated that around 1,500 SNA fighters had been deployed to the region and more than 50 had been killed as of early October 2020. Turkish officials denied their involvement while in their next breath portraying it as their state’s “zealous promotion of its security and energy interest.”
Indeed, some argue that Erdogan may now seek to leverage the Azerbaijani victory to create a military alliance of Turkic Central Asian states. His inner circle of advisors already includes “Eurasianists,” who are agreeable to cooperation with Russia and China, but hostile towards Europe and NATO. While attending a military parade in Baku, Erdogan recited a nationalist poem calling for reuniting two Iranian ethnic Azeri provinces with Azerbaijan. However, Iran certainly would look askance at such encroachments. Even more, Erdogan’s ambitions in the Caucasus and Central Asia present an overt challenge to Russia, the traditional hegemon in these regions. Finally, other critics of Erdogan declared the intervention in Azerbaijan was “an attempt to distract from his government’s domestic vulnerabilities, including a plummeting economy, and shore up domestic support among his nationalist allies.”
The Role of HDP
On April 18, 2022, the Central Executive Committee of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) denounced the new Turkish invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan under the pretext of fighting the PKK. “These attacks will not solve any problems of Turkey as they have done so far; on the contrary, it will deepen Turkey’s economic, political and social problems as it has been experienced for 40 years.” The complete HDP statement follows:
The AKP-MHP [Erdogan] government once again embraced the policies of war to save its own future at the cost of dragging Turkey into disaster. The “Kilit-Claw” military attack carried out against the territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government [in Iraq] is not only illegal but also against international law. It is a dangerous attempt to occupy the territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
These attacks will not solve any of Turkey’s problems, as they have done so far; on the contrary, they will deepen Turkey’s economic, political, and social problems, as it has been experienced for 40 years. This attack is also aimed at normalizing the deep depression, hunger, poverty, and lack of future into which Turkey has been dragged by the government with nationalist enmity. The people of Turkey have paid the cost of such attacks with the lives of their children by becoming more impoverished, compromising democracy, and condemning them to lack of [a] future. Despite these facts being known and clearly expressed in both international and national political wisdom and reports, insisting on war policies is the biggest crime committed against the people of Turkey.
In addition, serious war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed so far in these attacks. The deaths, the evacuation and burning of villages, and the ecological destruction that took place aggravate the crimes of this government. Powers, who hide the facts and the human and economic costs of war and conflict by manipulating the public, have always used this situation for the continuity of their administrations. This war is not Turkey’s war; it is the war to prolong the life of the Palace; it is the AKP-MHP’s war for survival and prosperity. Although the war is mainly waged against the Kurdish people, the whole of Turkey suffers from this war.
The deception of the AKP [Erdogan] government, which was turned into an “apostle of peace” in the Ukraine and Russia war, was once again revealed with the attack it launched yesterday. The AKP is a party that fuels war both inside and outside, profiting from war and getting its nourishment from humanitarian crises, and it has shown this once again. The attack launched yesterday is also the disclosure of the fake peace diplomacy of the government.
The main critical point here is the attitude of those who really want peace rather than the hypocritical approach to peace. Those who oppose the war in Ukraine should not remain silent about the military operations launched against the bordering Kurdistan Regional Government. Those who remain silent in this war also share the responsibility for the growth of fascism, poverty, and the one-man regime in this country. Our call to the democratic public and the opposition in Turkey is to remain silent in the face of such attacks and not to become a tool in the games of prolonging the life of the government. The Kurdistan Regional Government should also stop being a part of such attacks, which would essentially mean denial of itself, and should not sacrifice the Kurdish people’s demands for freedom to the invasion attempts.
As HDP, we invite all institutions and organizations and their political and social forces to increase the struggle against war in the face of war policies. Those who want peace must be as brave as those who dare to attempt war and say stop to this calamity, with the loudest voice!
In addition, the HDP spokesperson Ebru Günay bashed the Turkish opposition Republican Peoples Party (CHP) leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, for supporting the Turkish invasion, saying, “Look at the opposition leader’s reaction. Is this your solution to the Kurdish problem?” Simultaneously, Turkish authorities arrested nearly 80 Kurds and HDP members, mostly in Diyarbakir (Amed) and others in Adana and Van, for “terrorism” related accusations. The authorities also froze the assets of 90 people, mainly HDP politicians, as part of the ongoing Kobani investigations involving violent protests dating back to the Turkish government’s seeming support for the ISIS attack just across the Turkish border in Syria in 2014.
This article has analyzed recent Turkish neo-imperialist foreign policy towards the Middle East since Ahmet Davutoglu—a professor of international politics who served the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Recep Tayyip Erdogan initially as his chief advisor, then foreign minister, and finally prime minister—first broached his strategic-depth policies in the early 2000s. Given the magnitude of the subject, this author was only able to suggest the broad outlines of Erdogan’s ambitious politics. Nevertheless, it is clear that by using soft-power nostalgia for the historical achievements of the Ottoman Empire, mixed soft- and hard-power sources of government and semi-governmental agencies like the Diyanet, and purely hard-power conventional military units, militias, or private armies like SADAT in Syria, Libya, and Nagorno-Karabakh, Erdogan has invented a new, more assertive role for Turkish foreign policy that largely negates more modest, earlier Kemalist foreign policies. Erdogan’s aggressive proactive policies have been mirrored by his position against the Kurds in Turkey as well as Syria and Iraq. Given the current international attention on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, these actions against the Kurds have gone largely unnoticed.
However, Turkey is a resource-poor state that needs foreign direct investment to achieve Erdogan’s ambitious neo-Ottomanist goals. Despite its present military capabilities, Turkey still lacks the hard power to match these aspirations. Thus, Erdogan also cannot turn his back too much on the Western countries, because in the end, they are his main trading partners. Furthermore, the opposition of Russia, Iran, and the United States (a motley de facto alliance if ever there were one), as well as former Ottoman possessions in the Middle East and the Balkans, is likely to prevent Erdogan from achieving his ambitions. Moreover, along the way, there is much possibility for misadventure and danger that may lead Turkey into unwanted political, military, and economic difficulties. Erdogan’s increasingly populist authoritarianism will also prove problematic as the Turkish leader grapples with the huge and continuing intractable problems of his own country and the Middle East. Finally, US president Joseph Biden’s statement on April 24, 2021, which he repeated on the same day in 2022, that the Armenian massacres in 1915 constituted genocide, strikes at the very nostalgic legitimacy of the neo-Ottomanism Erdogan seeks to invoke. Thus, the Turkish president has probably bitten off more than he can chew. Instead of zero problems buffered by a strategic depth, Turkey is likely to find itself increasingly mired in a deepening quagmire teeming with a multitude of problems, the continuing Kurdish issue, and embattled HDP constituting one important element.