What drives Erdogan?

Erdog­an’s primary aim is to forge solid voter base for referendum that will abolish parliamentary system of Turkey by introducing fully empowered presidential rule.

2016/10/30 Issue: 79 Page: 14

The Arab Weekly
Yavuz Baydar

As the very ground of democratic orders seem shattered by the advances of populist neo-authoritarianism worldwide, irreden­tism is rising from the dead, dragging revanchism with it.

In war-stricken Syria and Iraq, this is exposed in the loudly pre­sented speeches by Turkish Presi­dent Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who, apparently with what he sees as the unsettled scores after the collapse of the Ottoman empire, repeatedly questions current maps of Turkey.

In concrete terms, his words were focused on the fate of Mosul, the current epicentre of the war against the Islamic State (ISIS) and its derivative jihadist branches, which Erdogan made clear Turkey had the right to claim as part of the post- Ottoman territory.

He referred repeatedly to the Na­tional Pact (Misak-i Milli), signed by parliament in Istanbul in 1920 after the defeat of the Ottoman Army, claiming parts of it and pledging a fight to add them to the territory. But the Lausanne treaty ended up with some portions, such as north of Aleppo through the Iraqi city of Kirkuk and Western Thrace of Greece, left out of the map of Republi­can Turkey.

“When we had started the National Liberation War [in 1919], our aim was to lay claim to the frontiers of the National Pact (which included the Mosul province). We cannot act in 2016 with the mindset of 1923. To insist on (the border lines of 1923) is the greatest injustice to be done to the country and to the nation. In today’s world, where all else is changing, we cannot see to preserving our status of 1923 as a success,” Erdogan said at a recent public appearance.

Almost the country’s entire media — up to 95% now controlled by the ruling Justice and Devel­opment Party (AKP) — followed enthusiastically in suit. As the rift over Turkish military presence and further interventions develop between Damascus and Baghdad versus Ankara over the fate of Mo­sul and Aleppo, and a concerned Greece issued a call for respect of the Lausanne treaty, TV channels have been dominated by the de­bates over “the losses Turkey was inflicted” after World War I.

New maps, or, rather, the old ones, were shown on the screens, with a Greater Turkey includ­ing Mosul in the south-east and going beyond Thessaloniki in the north-west.

“Let us place our own map on the table,” wrote Ibrahim Karagul, the editor of pro-Erdogan daily, Yeni Şafak in an earlier column. “The Mosul issue is one of Turkey’s most essential causes. Mosul can­not go under the control of a coun­try foreign to the region… Mosul cannot be sacrificed for the US and UK’s oil games. Mosul cannot be left subject to Iran’s Shia identity-adjusted disposal. Mosul cannot be left to the mercy of Baghdad, which is acting completely along the Iran and Shiism axis.”

In later column, Karagul raised the stakes, writing: “In a nutshell, it is this: The northern belt (of Aleppo through Mosul) will not be under the control of Syria and Iraq. There is a game set, by letting in the [Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)/Democratic Union Party (PYD)] and Daesh, to inactivate Turkey… Then, whoever is behind this game-setting, Turkey must seize control over this belt and taking this region under its influ­ence.”

Daesh is an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

These sort of exercises look ut­terly familiar to those who know history. It evokes memories of German resentment of the Ver­sailles treaty after World War I and the rise of Nazism as a partial con­sequence of that. As indicated by Erdogan’s rhetoric, it also raised concerns of revanchism — twin brother of irredentism — often leading to hostilities and war.

The question is to what end Erdogan intends to use this steady escalation of rhetoric. Reactions differ.

One point is clear. Acting with the knowledge that the issues re­garding Mosul and Kirkuk as well as anti-Kurdish sentiments oper­ate as a largely uniting element within the Turkish psyche, Erdog­an’s primary aim is to forge a solid voter base for the referendum that will abolish the parliamentary system of Turkey by introducing a fully empowered presidential rule. The high decibels of the chorus in support of his outbursts come as a confirmation that he for his own purposes is on the right track.

“Erdogan’s use of the National Pact also demonstrates how successfully Turkey’s Islamists have reappropriated, rather than rejected, elements of the country’s secular nationalist historical nar­rative,” wrote Nicholas Danforth, a senior analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, in Foreign Policy.

“Turkey won’t be annexing part of Iraq anytime soon but this com­bination of irredentist cartography and rhetoric nonetheless offers some insight into Turkey’s current foreign and domestic policies and Ankara’s self-image… But if the past is any indication, the military interventions and confrontational rhetoric this nationalism inspires may worsen Turkey’s security and regional standing,” Danforth said.

With the Kurdish advances his outmost concern, Erdogan may have in mind keeping the gates of revanchism open, to block, by military force, a Kurdish belt along Turkey’s long southern borders. Two failing states, Iraq and Syria, and the regional vacuum left by the United States distracted by its own elections may be tempting.

The real danger is once you at home unleash the forces of aggres­sive nationalism, this time spiced by Sunni sectarianism, you never know where you will be ending up.

Yavuz Baydar is a journalist based in Istanbul. A founding member of the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) and a news analyst, he won the European Press Prize in 2014. He has been reporting on Turkey and journalism issues since 1980.

As Printed
Editors' Picks

The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

Deputy Editor-in-Chief: Dalal Saoud

Senior Editor: John Hendel

Chief Copy Editors: Jonathan Hemming and Richard Pretorius

Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

Opinion Section Editor: Claude Salhani

East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

Levant Section Editor: Jamal J. Halaby

Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

Senior Correspondents:

Mahmud el-Shafey (London)

Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)


Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

Dunia El-Zobeidi (London)

Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

Rasha Elass - Thomas Seibert (Washington)

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

Tel 020 3667 7249

Mohamed Al Mufti

Marketing & Advertising Manager

Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

Direct: +44 20 8742 9262


Al Arab Publishing House

Kensington Centre

66 Hammersmith Road

London W14 8UD, UK

Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

Follow Us
© The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved