Central Eurasia: The Graveyard of Empires

Central Eurasia: The Graveyard of Empires
Central Eurasia: The Graveyard of Empires

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]O[/dropcap]ne American General interviewed by CNN on January 3, 2016, said that the execution of a Shia cleric and 47 others allegedly guilty of breaching Saudi laws is the kind of incident that reminds him of World War I.  The 1914-8 World War was said to have been sparked by the murder of Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph’s heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand who was killed on June 28, 1914 by a Serb.  Whether the general’s opinion is correct or not does not matter; what is significant is the presumed link between an unexpected incident and a World War.

Recently, a German General Anzeiger announced that the Russia-Turkey rivalry may trigger a war of the century.1     On December 24, 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian warplane, Su-24, which it claimed invaded Turkey airspace.  Russia had two SU-24 planes that were in Turkey’s airspace; one veered south after the warnings, but the other did not when it was shot down.  Turkey said that 10 warnings were given in the space of five minutes.  Russia denied being within Turkey’s boundaries and added that the loss of a pilot and a plane was a “stab in the back.”   This was the first time in 50 years that a NATO member shot down a Russian plane when war was not declared and hours later the western-backed Free Syrian Army shot down a Russian helicopter.   The two Russian planes were just 17 seconds in Turkish airspace.  These two incidents in the Syrian War were enough to start a major war. So, the key question is, are we heading towards World War III?

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]here were major differences between the two countries that fueled the animosity.  Both countries were interested in the Syrian war, but Russia backed unabashedly the ruler Assad, while Turkey clandestinely supported the “moderate” rebels whose target was evicting Assad from office.  Turkey and the “moderate” groups were working against American thinking by backing the Islamic State (IS/ISIS).  While the US favoured the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, Turkey and the “moderate” rebels were against the Kurds who were consolidating their territorial gains in northern Iraq.  As the “moderate” rebels are tending to join and strengthen IS, Turkey wants a Muslim Brotherhood leader, not Assad, to lead Syria.  The Dardanelles are in Turkey and if Russian passage through these straits is blocked, Russia would be tempted to take over a narrow strip of land enclosing these straits.  Turkey was hoping to invoke Article 5 of the NATO Agreement by calling on the support of NATO troops.  But since Turkey took the initiative, Germany and the US urged Turkey not to escalate the fight.  The fact remains that neither Germany, USA, or Russia want to be seen as starting a nuclear war.3

Turkey is torn between its original policy of having “zero problems with its neighbours” and leading its Muslims neighbours to re-create the Ottoman Empire. Unfortunately, both Turkish domestic and foreign policies seem to be going astray.

In 2015, Erdogan had to have two elections in order to consolidate his party, AKP, and his position.  Instead of following Ataturk’s policies, Erdogan has built an 1100-bedroomed palace on Ataturk’s 50 acres of land.  He formed a “grand coalition” with the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) rather than the democratic Republican People’s party, which his Foreign Minister Ahmet Dawutoglu suggested.  With a super-presidency (başkanlik) he aspires to create a new constitution and become an absolute ruler.4

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]A[/dropcap]ccording to reporter Yürttagül “corruption dovetails with tyranny,”5 in Turkey.     Erdogan often blocks the political process.  Thirty journalists are in prison.  In a Çannakale 18 Marat University case, 27 individuals and one professor, Sedat Laçinder, a former rector was detained for criticising Erdogan’s repressive policies.  The professor alone was placed in a cell.6     Russia fears that Turkish radicalism could spread even more to other Muslim countries.7

Turkey wanted to set up a safe zone just south of its border for refugees to take advantage of $2 billion offered by Germany’s Merkel to stop the flow of migrants into Europe.  Turkey wanted US help to clear IS which controlled this area.  The area, 100 x 30 kilometers, lies in the Jarablus-Marea area between two Kurdish areas, Afriu in the west and Kobani in the east.  But Russia wants this contiguous area for the Kurds.  Consequently, the war worsens.8

It is often incorrectly claimed that the Kurds in Turkey want to secede.  The majority of the Kurds in the south-east do not want autonomy: 79% of these Kurds and 69% of the Democratic Society Party do not want autonomy; the majority of those who want autonomy are White Turks living in the West.9

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]I[/dropcap]n foreign affairs, Turkey has shown limited success.  Lepeska10    has documented Turkey’s rise from aid recipient to mega-donor, which shows that Turkey wants to lead the Islamic world.  US aid to Turkey amounted to $25.2 million in 2012, and in 2015, Turkey was offered $6 billion in grants and $20 billion in loan guarantees. On the other hand, Turkish aid in 2002 was barely $73 million but in 2013, it rose to $3.3 billion.  Turkey is credited for changing the face of Mogadishu, Somalia.  Turkey has also been giving medical and educational aid to citizens of the Caucasian Muslim republics during their fight for independence from Russia.

But Turkish writers have warned of Erdogan’s isolationists policies.  The repression of thought is anti-Copenhagen criteria which would make joining the EU almost impossible.11    Turkey offers unofficial two-way passage to “terrorists,” so much so that correspondents warn of the danger of the terrorist inflation problem.  Corruption cases launched by the AKP have increased.12      In fact, an experienced journalist Bancroft-Hinchey noted that Turkey and IS have a similar world-view, which prevented the Kurds from entering Syria.13    Turkey warned the Kurds not to cross west of the Euphrates, but the Kurds already have.

Turkey is also losing out to Israel, notes Akoy.14     “From being a leader of the Islamic world, (it acts) at the behest of Israel.”  Although Erdogan declared that Netanyahu exceeded Hitler in barbarity, Turkey has agreed to expel a senior member of Hamas Saleh al Aneri from the country, and close Hamas’s office in Istanbul as part of the normalization process.  Arslan, however, has a different nuance to the Israel-Turkey relations. He feels that normalization will not go beyond rhetoric.  Though Erdogan wants military cooperation with Israel, he wants Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza as an important condition for normalization.15    Israel is, nonetheless, working towards a Greater Israel by refusing to be a bi-national state,16   and intensifying its apartheid policies.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]S[/dropcap]hould the Turks push their luck too far by closing the Dardanelles to the Russians, the Turks could lose the straits and some territory that surrounds it, just as the Ukrainians lost Crimea and the two republics that make up Eastern Ukraine.  Turkey may be a Muslim Superpower, but not a global Superpower that can compete militarily with Russia.  NATO will only come to Turkey’s aid if it serves Western interests.

Bilici feels that Erdogan’s self-confidence was misplaced and he missed opportunities to correct course.  Turkey’s leader failed to show the world that it does not think like an Arab country, that it was different in that it could show that Islam and democracy could co-exist, that, like the West, it could be tolerant towards its minorities, and that it would not be a slave of traditional structures.17

Meanwhile, the West seems to be preparing for a war that might target Iran and protect Israel.  The British are training the Kenya Army in Laikipia and Marsabit, ostensibly against Al Shabab which is radiating from Somalia.18    The British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK) does not seem to be a temporary affair.  At the same time, China is building airports and other military infrastructure in Eritrea and Djibouti.19     Iran was allegedly supplying arms to the Houthis of Yemen through Djibouti.  Add to this rivalry, the very recent rift between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Sunnis versus the Shias, over the execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr on January 2, 2016.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he geo-political firm Stratfor predicted that World War III would most likely start in 2016. Judging by Strafor’s links, preparations are going on to start a world war in 2016.  A Bulgarian publicist Pamen Paskov told editor-in-chief of Pravda Inna Novikova that Putin received three ultimatums aimed at removing him from power: Assad had to abdicate as the US has a coalition of an army of 100,000; the Minsk Accord had to be applied; and, Russia would be surrounded by IS extremists, backed by Turkey.20    Paskov’s interpretation of Kerry’s tough warning given on his first visit since the Crimean crisis erupted, and the 70th anniversary of the allied defeat of Germany seemed to make sense.  Kerry told Putin to avoid bloodshed in Ukraine and Syria; pay respect to territorial integrity; de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine; and, take note of the resolve of the international community.

The Russians did not take Stratfor’s prediction seriously as its members had a vested interest in wars and they were a mouthpiece of Israel.  Besides, Ukraine owes Russia $3 billion and is trying to evade payment.  Prime Minister and millionaire banker Arseny Yatsenyuk argued wrongly that the loan was made when his predecessor Viktor Yanukovych was in power and bribed to accept Russian hegemony.  Yatsenyuk added that other debtors accepted a 20% discount which reduced a $19 billion loan to $15 billion. Russia, too, had to accept these terms.  Russia’s view was that its loan was already on concessionary terms, with gas being offered at huge discounts.  Russia is also willing to accept payment at the rate of $1 billion a year.  After a ten-day grace period, Russia threatened to take Ukraine to court. The IMF, the guarantor of inter-governmental loans, sided with Russia, saying that the loan was not private, but inter-governmental.21   Russia also warned Israel not to send arms to Ukraine as it would be counter-producative.22   In addition, Kerry’s warnings are weak as the West backs Israel in its occupation of Palestine and does nothing about its breaches of international law.

Ukraine’s default is linked to the assertion that Russia has not yet implemented the Minsk Accord.  As of December 11, 2015, a ceasefire has not been implemented, especially in and near Donetsk airport.  Since the Ukrainian war started 9,000 people have died.  Mines and unexploded ordinance account for civilian casualties.  There has been only a partial withdrawal of heavy weapons and not all arms have been handed in or registered by both sides.  Blanket amnesty has not been provided: Ukraine does not want it; Russia wants amnesty before elections.  So far 317 Ukrainian prisoners and 287 Russians have been freed in an exchange; famous prisoners, like filmmaker Sentsor and his co-defendant, and pilot Nadia Savchenko have not been released from prison.  However the Trilateral Contact Group is still at work.23

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]W[/dropcap]ith Russia preoccupied with Ukraine and Turkey, Russian correspondent Lyuba Lulko24 is wondering whether the Russia-India relationship is reliable.  Prime Minister Modi wants to increase his Russian trade from the current $10 billion to $30 billion by 2025, but at the same time he wants to give priority to trade with the West.  India bought Sukhoi aircraft and Brahmos cruise missiles and has a T-50 Project. India wants to buy an S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system for $6 billion and manufacture Russian helicopters in India.  But India recalls how France refused to deliver to Russia 2 Mistral vessels as a result of which India cancelled an order for 126 Rafael fighters.  Modi also remembers the time when he was refused a visa to the US over the Gujarat riots in 2002.

Russia is again embracing Cyprus for various reasons.  Russia and Cyprus share the Orthodox religion and therefore have a shared culture.  Nicosia can serve as a reserve base to Tartus. Russia is developing the gas fields off Cyprus, and is interested in investing in the off-shore gas fields in Egypt and Gaza.  For Russia, Cyprus had been an off-shore tax haven.25 Defensively, Russia is interested in the Eastern Mediterranean in order to keep the Dardanelles open.  Crimea also sees more development than it did under Ukraine, notes Polish MP Janusz Korwin-Mikke.26

From these events, one must conclude that central Eurasia has been the graveyard of empires from time immemorial.  Genghis Khan marched through the Asian steppes and left several Mongols stranded in this area.  The Armenians had their empire hug the Mediterranean.  Turkey’s influence goes beyond their Turkic influence and the Ottoman Empire.  Iran dreams of the Persian Empire which was under a Shah but quite secular. The Kurds and Israelis are trying to build their respective Empires.  To top it off, Russia felt that the borders of the USSR were more secure than they are now.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]W[/dropcap]ith these cross-currents of cultural greatness emerged alliances which defied logic.  Turkey regard the Kurds as a menace, while the Americans think that they are great fighters who were able to bridge their differences and create an entity that resembles a modern, flourishing state. The West fed IS with weapons in Anbar province and Syria, while Israel nursed the growth of Hamas and now these groups are the West’s bitterest enemies. Russia was Turkey’s friendly trader and now they are enemies.  Israel, which is dependent on US aid and protection, is demanding that the US back them in their goal to make Iran look like Syria today.  The loyalty of poor countries can be purchased by small amounts of aid.  Countries no longer are guided by principles but by interests of the day.  Geo-strategists have coined a new word, Eurabia.


Bibliography

  1. “Russia and Turkey may trigger a war of the century,” pravda.ru, 24.12.2015.

  2. Jake Burman, “It was a PLANNED provocation by Turkey to shoot down our jet, says Russian Minister,” express.co.uk, November 25, 2015.

  3. Scenarios of real war between Russia and Turkey,” pravda.ru, 8.12.2015.

  4. Ashli Aydintasbas, “Turkey votes in turbulent times,” todayszaman.com, October 30, 2015.

  5. Ali Yurttagul, “Turkey’s Erdogan’s problem,” todayszaman.com October 28, 2015.

  6. Mehmet Güler, “Academic, 27 detainees in Çannakale-based operation referred to court,” todayszaman.com, December 28, 2015.

  7. Abdullah Bozkurt, “Main challenge in Turkey-Russia axis,” todayszaman.com, November 27, 2015.

  8. Asli Aydintasbas, “Proxy war worsens between Russia and Turkey,” ecfr.eu, November 25, 2015.

  9. Bejan Matur, “Autonomy of White Turks,” todayszaman.com, January 30, 2010.

  10. David Lepeska, “Turkey’s rise from aid recipient to mega-donor,” aljazeerah.com, April 25, 2014.

  11. Sahin Alpay, “Turkey’s dangerous isolation,” todayszaman.com, October 11, 2015.

  12. Sevgi Akarçesme, “Turkey’s ‘terrorist’ inflation problem,” todayszaman.com, December 27, 2015.

  13. Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey, “Turkey’s link to Islamic State,” pravda.ru, 29.11.2015.

  14. Murat Akoy, “From leader of the Islamic world to acting at the behest of Israel,” todayszaman.com, December 22, 2015.

  15. Deniz Arslan, “Turkish-Israel normalization may not go beyond rhetoric,” todayszaman.com, December 26, 2015.

  16. Robert Olson, “The creation of ‘Greater Israel’,” todayszaman.com, December 24, 2015.

  17. Abdul Hamit Bilici, “Ankara’s view on Syria; befitting a world leader,” todayszaman.com, May 15, 2015.

  18. “British Army signs training deal with Kenya,” bbc.com, December 10, 2015.

  19. “Chinese Defense Minister calls for enhancing military relations with Eritrea,” people.cn, May 26, 2006.

  20. Inna Novikova, “America delivers three ultimatums to Russia,” pravda.ru, 24.12.2015.

  21. Kenneth Rapoza, “IMF says Russia is right about Ukraine $3 billion loan,” forbes.com, December 16, 2015; also see AP, “Ukraine will not pay $3 billion loan owed to Russia by deadline, says prime minister,” theguardian.com.

  22. “Putin warns Israel against selling arms to Ukraine,” jpost.com, August 18, 2015.

  23. “Minsk Monitor,” ecfr.eu, December 11, 2015.

  24. Lyuba Lulko, “Can Russia and India be great friends after Turkish experience?” pravda.ru, 28.12.2015.

  25. Holly Ellyatt, “Why Russia and Cyprus are getting cozy again,” cnbc.com, February 26, 2015.

  26. “Crimea recovering after decades in Ukraine’s oblivion,” pravda.ru, 29.12.2015.

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