The custom of intensifying expert analysis before general elections is an unavoidable political procedure. Expert opinions can both diverge and converge at the same time, leading to non-standard conclusions in one case and vice versa in the other. However, readers and observers are only interested in these analyses when they are backed up by compelling evidence.
Because of the peculiarities of current world affairs and local politics in this country, a considerable number of analysts are interested in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey. Due to the growth in our relations, the sizeable and ambitious projects of partnership in the fields of energy and transit communications, the level of political ties on crucial issues of regional and global policy, and lastly, the growth of trade turnover to the level of $69 billion, serving as the foundation for enduring relationships that benefit both parties, Russia is currently paying close attention to the Turkish presidential election.
Given the strained relations between the United States and Russia in connection with the Ukrainian crisis, the collective Western sanctions against Russia, and the tension between the requirements of a multipolar and unipolar world order, it is obvious that the role of Turkey, given its geographic location and policies, is of interest.
It is no secret that the Russian political establishment mostly backs the current Turkish President Recep Erdoğan’s approach to foreign policy, which aims to increase Turkey’s independence and relationship with Russia. Over two decades of his rule, Erdoğan has impressively raised Turkey’s international profile, managed to implement a number of major energy and communications projects, turned his country into an important energy hub of oil and gas for Europe, established fruitful bilateral and multilateral relations with Turkic countries of the former Soviet Union, achieved a breakthrough in the national defense industry, increased the share of domestic production (up to 80%) in the army’s arsenal, and developed fruitful relations with major players (including Russia, China, and Iran), not looking at the United States and NATO.
The political past of Recep Erdoğan reveals how a rigorous Sunni Islamic ideology has guided him throughout his career. He is affiliated with the Iskander Pasha Jamaat and has theological and organizational ties to the renowned Naqshbandi order. Mehmed Zahit Kotku, Fethullah Gülen, and Necmettin Erbakan were well-known Turkish preachers and politicians who served as Erdoğan’s spiritual and political mentors. The opinions and relationships between students and professors can occasionally vary over time and, as is frequently the case in politics, can even become contentious.
Similar events occurred between Erdoğan and Gülen. However, these were more related to political than religious disagreements on how best to carry out their stated objectives. To restore its imperial ambitions based on the ideologies of neo-Ottomanism and neo-Pan-Turanism, President Erdoğan believes that Turkey’s claim to a constant independence from US and NATO diktats is justifiable. Gülen, on the other hand, is of the opinion that Turkey cannot achieve its objective without American support.
Some experts have expressed the opinion that Erdoğan’s “political project” has become a derivative of the Middle East policy of the Muslim Brotherhood, a well-known Sunni Islamist organization. The Muslim Brotherhood’s failure to capture power in Egypt and other Middle Eastern nations has led to a true yearning for Islam to be revived within the context of Turkey’s manufactured secularism, which is supported by Britain and the United States.
Recep Erdoğan must be given credit for sticking by his ideological principles when he assumed power in the early 2000s, first as Prime Minister and later as President. He consistently followed a policy of changing the Ataturk tradition of strict secularism in favor of Islamization of Turkish society and reducing the proportion of secular Westernization supporters in key structures and government agencies in Turkey in favor of loyal Islamists (including in the special services, army, and Foreign Ministry). As a result of internal and external opposition to Erdoğan’s policies, there was even an attempt at a coup d’état in July 2016 that was orchestrated by the American CIA.
As a result, the conflict between the United States and Erdoğan is not merely (or not so much) personal, but also has systemic implications. Only under its own authority does America allow any ideological deviation from the trend of Western democracy: if liberalism, only Western liberalism will do; if conservatism, only Western conservatism will do; and if socialism, it should be only Western socialism. So if Islamism, it is only moderate Islamism controlled by the West (USA).
In the second half of the 20th century, socialism (communism) in the USSR and Shiism in Iran were the only two state political ideologies that existed outside of the US control. In the first instance, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent rejection of socialist (communist) ideology by its successors marked the end of the Cold War. In the case of China, the US was able to provide China with an economic breakthrough of 1.5 billion, where communist ideology along with the national traditions of Confucianism became a tool to manage a population of more than one billion. This was accomplished by encouraging Sino-Soviet controversy after Stalin’s death and the debunking of Stalin’s personality-cult, as well as through technological and investment intervention in the PRC economy. China, unlike the USSR, did not initiate a worldwide or an international working class revolution; in other words, it refused to export ideology to engulf new lands and states.
The United States regards Turkey under Erdoğan as a challenge to its strategy because Ankara has begun to establish a symbiotic symbiosis of ideological notions and doctrines such as Sunni Islamism without division to “soft” and “extreme”, neo-Ottomanism, neo pan-Turkism, and neo pan-Turanism. At the same time, modern Turkey sees neo-Ottomanism and neo pan-Turanism not as an export of ideology but as a rationale for the resuscitation of the new Turkey’s imperial position, with a territorial projection to the East within the confines of the mythical Turkic Turan.
In an interview with Azerbaijani journalist Elmar Huseynov’s special project “The Boiling Point,” Maxim Shevchenko believes that Ottomanism has historically been a very progressive imperial project of Islam. According to him, the peoples and states of the post-Ottoman world support Erdoğan’s neo-Ottomanism. Well, as things really are, Shevchenko should express his views to the peoples and states of the post-Ottoman space, specifically the Arabs, Armenians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Georgians, Kurds, Serbs, and so on.
That is why, on April 25 of this year, Turkish mass media reported an abrupt decline in Recep Erdoğan’s health, causing fear and concern not just in Turkey, at least among the President’s followers, but also abroad, including Russia. Unfortunately, no one has ever stayed in this world for any length of time longer than that allocated by fate or God. All men are mortal, and the spirit eventually disappears into “shady alleys.” We won’t recapitulate the current reports about Erdoğan’s health in their entirety. After a brief cold, we hope his condition has significantly improved.
We may conclude that Erdoğan, 69, receives the best medical care based on observations of his appearance and a study of information about his health that has been reported in the media throughout the years. The challenging path in politics, the struggle for power, a limited but nonetheless imprisoning period) more than 20 years of rule, and stress – all have an impact on one’s health. Erdoğan underwent surgery on his intestines a few years ago, as is well known. Some say he has cancer. The Turkish president’s gait also leaves questions for medics to ponder. Because of his strict diet, there were times throughout Lent when he would pass out. Evidently, there are issues with his heart as well, and Mr. Erdoğan appears to be exhausted, which is understandable given his hectic schedule, emotional distress — at least coming from the earthquake tragedy’s aftermath — and challenging elections.
The Turkish president’s health is not for us to evaluate; all we can do is send him our best wishes for good health and optimism. The press, however, is already speculating that Erdoğan could have been poisoned with the assistance of the same American intelligence agencies, citing numerous instances of similar CIA operations against Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro as evidence that the Americans nearly sentenced the Turkish president. Given the harsh anti-American statements made by members of President Erdoğan’s inner circle, including Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, retired Admiral Cem Gündeniz, and others, this version is also valid.
Erdoğan, on the other hand, has not yet cancelled the election due to his physical condition, aiming for victory on May 14, or May 28 if a second round is held. Surprisingly, while Erdoğan is still alive, several academics began to analyze the potential ramifications for Turkey and external forces if the present president died or was defeated (such as Shevchenko’s talk with Huseynov).
Mikhail Shevchenko has predicted Turkey’s near-collapse at the initiative of the US and even Britain, a civil war between Anatolian Turks and Kurds, a regional war between Turkey and Azerbaijan on one hand and Iran and Armenia on the other, and the failure of China’s mega-project “One Belt, One Road” through Turkey. The solid collaboration and rising cooperation between Turkey and Russia will only continue under this disposition of forecasts, as they say, in any weather. Due to the contradicting character of subjective opinion, it is difficult to find a consensus on such a vision for Turkey.
First of all, why would the US and Britain undermine the integrity of the same Turkey if a change of government in favor of their candidate, say Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, would result in a shift in Turkish diplomacy toward enhancing ties with the same US, Britain, EU, and NATO nations while weakening ties with the same Russia, Iran, and China?
Secondly, if the same Iran had already passed the threshold of acquiring nuclear weapons, why would the United States permit a major regional conflict involving Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Armenia? How would China and Russia react in such a situation, and would Article 5 of the NATO treaty prevent them from interference against the USA?
Thirdly, how could Erdoğan or his successor launch or halt the One Belt, One Road Initiative, the so-called middle corridor from China through Central Asia, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey to Europe, if Brussels had to accept the same route for goods in coordination with Washington and London? Today, China would be better off keeping the same American technology in-house rather than sending it to India.
Fourth, given that one of the demands of the United States is to depose an unwelcome president and replace him with a managed politician who leads a unified Western coalition against the Russian Federation, how will a divided and belligerent Turkey maintain stable ties with Russia alone in such a depressing scenario?
I believe such ill-considered or “above-the-line” evaluations are, at least, not ethical, that it was immoral, and, at most, have nothing to do with reality. Russian diplomacy, as practiced shows, is effective under the current administration. This does not imply that one should disregard or treat the opposition with contempt regardless of their national standing, but rather that one should show respect for the will of the people and another country’s sovereignty.
Relationships between Russia and Turkey have a distinct historical trajectory that started with the Ottoman era and ended with the contemporary republic. We have had both friendly and antagonistic interactions during this turbulent period of history, but our nations have consistently found ways to coexist in peace and cooperation. I suppose we won’t be able to evade history’s inevitable course either this time. Regardless of the outcome of the Turkish elections, Russia will be able to develop a mutually beneficial partnership and defend its interests regardless of the name of the new Turkish leader.
Aleksandr SVARANTS, PhD in political science, professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”