Turkey’s Land-Grab Wish List

by Burak Bekdil
October 20, 2016

Each time in recent history that Turkey’s pro-Sunni neo-Ottomans opted for assertive foreign policy in this turbulent part of the world, there were more casualties and no happy ending for any state- or non-state actor, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey. As multiple asymmetrical wars in the triangle of Turkey, Syria and Iraq turn more violent and complex, with the U.S.-led international campaign fighting jihadists — while Iran and Russia try to win proxy wars — Turkey keeps raising the stakes with the risky nonsensical wish to revive its imperial past. Erdogan looks determined to fight any war in the hope that all will end with Turkish-Sunni dominance in the region. He is wrong.

In his recent speeches Erdogan often revisited a long-forgotten Arabic phrase that is so dear to every Turk’s heart and mind: Misak-i Milli (“National Contract”).

On February 12, 1920, the last Ottoman parliament proclaimed a set of decisions which Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, adopted as “the main principle of our independence.” Misak-i Milli, among other principles, set modern Turkey’s borders; it was a guideline to determine where the borders of the Turkish Republic would start and end. It would be used as the basis for the new Turkish Republic’s claims in the Treaty of Lausanne.

According to Misak-i Milli, “the future of the territories inhabited by an Arab majority at the time of the signing of the Armistice of Mudros shall be determined by a referendum.” On the other hand, the territories which were not occupied at that time and inhabited by a Turkish majority are the homeland of the Turkish nation. The status of Kars, Ardahan (Turkish provinces since then) and Batumi (a province in the Republic of Georgia) may be determined by a referendum. The status of Western Thrace (in Greece) will be determined by the votes of its inhabitants. Misak-i Milli also claimed that the former Ottoman province of Mosul should be a Turkish province. Instead, Mosul was first left to British control, then became an Iraqi province. Mosul is now Iraq’s second largest city, but tenuously under the control of the Islamic State (ISIS).

At a cabinet meeting this month, Erdogan reportedly told his ministers:

“Turkey can no longer stay the same at this point. The status quo will change somehow. We will either leap with moves forward or we will be bound to shrink. I am determined to make forward moves.”

In another speech, Erdogan said:

“Turkey is not just Turkey. Apart from its 79 million citizens, it is also responsible to the hundreds of millions of our brothers in the geographical area to which we are connected by historical and cultural ties … Certain historians believe that the borders set by the National Contract include Cyprus, Aleppo, Mosul, Erbil, Kirkuk, Batumi, Thessaloniki, Kardzhali, Varna and the [Greek] islands of the Aegean.”

What did all that mean, especially at a time when the Turkish president was reminding everyone of Misak-i Milli every other day — and when the allies were planning to launch an offensive to drive ISIS out of Mosul? It means Sunni Turkey fears future Shiite (and Kurdish) expansionism along its southern borders with Syria and Iraq; to counter that, Erdogan hopes to build a pro-Ottoman, Sunni region against Iranian dominance.

Turkey’s borders with its southern neighbor Syria, southeastern neighbor Iraq and eastern neighbor Iran total around 2,000 kilometers. Erdogan knows very well that he cannot convert nearly 80 million Shiite Iranians to Sunni Islam. But he fears that Iran can build a Shiite-controlled hostile belt across Turkey’s Syrian and Iraqi borders (totalling nearly 1,400 kilometers). He also fears that Iran can logistically support Turkey’s Kurdish enemies and spark further violence and chaos in Turkey. There have already been more than 1,000 casualties in the Kurds’ separatist violence inside Turkish territory since the rebel group Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) ended a two-year-long ceasefire in July 2015.

Read more here: https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/9155/turkey-land-grab

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