Apparently, financial crises do not occur overnight, because they are preceded by whole series of events and unsuccessful decisions related to financial market conditions, contradictions of internal financial policy and external dictate of world currencies, mistakes made by one’s own government, and any number of other factors.
In this regard, financial experts are able to write entire books (treatises) with explanations of the causes leading to any given financial crisis. However, politicians often ignore the scientific arguments of their own or other experts, because they proceed from the principle “the end justifies the means,” allowing administrative interference in economic affairs, and / or by taking populist measures in order to achieve temporary results. In the end, however, they unknowingly bring closer the time of unsuccessful changes, when, as they say, “finances sing romances,” the market degenerates, inflation breaks new and sobering records, prices rise in an unaccustomed fashion, and society invariably suffers under the burden of new challenges of unemployment and impoverishment.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may be Turkey’s brilliant geopolitician in the first quarter of the 21st century, but alas, he is not the most successful economist. The current financial and economic crisis in Turkey, while largely aggravated by the events of the devastating earthquake of early 2023, nevertheless has its source in actions that have been seen before in connection with attempts at wishful thinking. Today, the Turkish lira is plummeting to record lows and is paying 27.5 lira to 1 USD. Accordingly, the interest rates of the Central Bank of Turkey, which have already reached 30%, keep rising.
It is clear that a financial crisis does not occur overnight, and stabilization of the financial market also does not come overnight. It takes time, concentration of efforts of the government and business, a whole process of coordinated, tough, unpopular and long-term measures. This, in fact, is what the financial bloc of the Turkish government, represented by the main duo of Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek and Central Bank Governor Hafize Gaye Erkan, is doing.
However, financial failures and the protracted crisis have had virtually no impact on President Erdoğan’s ambitious foreign policy (including participation and complicity in local and regional conflicts – in Syria, Libya, and Karabakh). Of course, the Turkish authorities pursue such a policy in neighboring regions in the hope of a victory parade of honorable ascetics on the principle of the famous literary hero Alexander Dumas’ Musketeer, Porthos (“I fight because I fight”). Erdoğan in this regard is very pragmatic, calculating and aggressive.
Turkey expects to enter the new century of its republican history with a revanchist strategy of neo-Ottomanism and neopanturanism. The Turks are well aware that virtually no state in the modern world that was formerly part of the Ottoman Empire is going to support the revival of a new Turkish empire and fall under its influence. However, this does not mean that there are no countries that are significantly weaker than Turkey, and their vulnerability can be exploited very effectively by Ankara to achieve its ambitions in the new geopolitical direction of Turkish activity.
Turkey cannot and is not going to restore the entire geography of the former Ottoman Empire. It is important for Turkey to continue the imperial traditions of the Ottoman state and to define a new priority direction of ascension into the club of leading powers. And these directions are the East and North-East within the framework of the strategy of neopanturanism.
In Syria, Turkish President Erdoğan took advantage of the internationalization of the internal Syrian conflict and external interventions to bring his troops into the northern regions of the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR). The Turkish side cites the threat of Kurdish separatism as the default reason. In reality, Erdoğan is planning and pursuing a policy of changing the ethnography of the Syrian border area, replacing Kurds with Turkmens, which will provide a new bridgehead for pan-Turkism in the Middle East and participation in the control of oil transit. Syria cannot regulate relations with Turkey on its own, but it is helped by the negotiation process with the participation of Russia and Iran.
Turkey’s next strategic direction is the South Caucasus. Erdoğan sees Armenia’s obvious weakness, its geographical vulnerability, small population, lack of large volumes of strategic raw materials, its “homelessness” in the sense of lack of powerful military allies and ineffective internal governance. These characteristics are enough to build an aggressive policy towards small and weak Armenia in the sense of forceful solution of, say, the Karabakh issue in favor of Turkic Azerbaijan. However, Turkey’s goal in the protracted Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is not so much the historical Armenian province itself (which became part of the Azerbaijani SSR in 1921 not without Turkey’s participation), as it is to control the Zangezur corridor.
A forceful option of tearing away the Zangezur corridor in the south of the still-existing Armenian state will help Turkey secure the shortest way of spatial communication with the commonwealth of newly created Turkic republics in the post-Soviet south from Baku to Tashkent. While Erdoğan outwardly links the Zangezur corridor with China’s “One Belt, One Road” mega-project, allegedly harboring high hopes for Beijing’s connection with London through the “Turkic Belt.” In reality, Turkey aims to reach Turan (Western and Eastern Turkestan).
This strategy is no longer a figment of Turkish theorists’ fantasies or an archival exhibit from the Young Turks’ reign, but a practical diplomacy of Turkey in the new century, labeled by Erdoğan’s predecessor, President Turgut Özal, as “the golden age of the Turks.” At the same time, Ankara is very calculating in its eco-economic expectations, as Turks are well aware of the dependence of success in geopolitics on pragmatism in geoeconomics. The Turkic countries of the post-Soviet lands have considerable reserves of strategic raw materials (oil, gas, uranium, non-ferrous and rare metals, cotton, etc.) and high populations. This is a competitive energy region that needs stable access to the world markets. Turkey will be the switchboard that will be able to bring other countries of the Organization of Turkic States – OTS (including Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) to the European and Middle East markets, in addition to Azerbaijan. In the aggregate, this movement to the Turkic East will allow Turkey to create a new economic market and minimize the geopolitical presence of Russia, Iran and China.
Recep Erdoğan and his colleagues from neighboring countries understand perfectly well that the favorable economic and geographical position of the state only bears fruit if that position is used effectively. In this regard, Turkey is trying to tighten all important international transit trade communications through its territory. The Zangezur corridor implies transit of goods from Russia and China. In turn, realizing the prospects for India’s economic growth, President Erdoğan is seeking a partnership with New Delhi to identify a strategic transit route from India through the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel and on to Turkey and Europe.
Will Iran resist the opening of the Zangezur corridor in Armenia under the control of the Turkish-Azerbaijani (read Turanian) tandem? This question will be answered by the events taking place after the meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders in Granada scheduled for October 5 this year. The official position of Tehran (from the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian) on the inadmissibility of changes in Armenia’s geography and sovereignty is known. The Persians threaten to go to war (under the guise of fighting Zionism) to nullify Ankara’s and Baku’s plans for the Zangezur corridor.
However, words only gain power when they are translated into real actions. So far, the transfer of troops and equipment along the banks of the Arax is still observed. Iran, of course, is not concerned about the fate of Armenia, but is more concerned about its own security, threats of strengthening the Turanian vector in the north of its borders, the obvious growth of Azerbaijani ethno-separatism inside the country with its center in Tabriz. Finally, the Persians realize that their rejection of Armenia in favor of strengthening Turkey will lead to the loss of the Zangezur corridor for Indian-Iranian transit, and Armenia itself will become a bridge between Turkey and the rest of the Turkic world.
The US policy in this region takes no particular interest in changing the geography of the South Caucasus, or even more precisely, in the fall of Armenia under the blows of Turkey and Azerbaijan. The fact is that, like all empires, American foreign policy is based on the principle of “divide and conquer.” Accordingly, Washington does not benefit from further strengthening of China in terms of transit of goods through the “Turkic Belt” to the financially prosperous European market. The United States is not particularly interested in an increase in the volume of transit of Russian goods through the Zangezur corridor either. Finally, the United States does not intend to strengthen Turkey and turn it into a new competitor in the strategically important regions of the South Caucasus and Central Asia.
Meanwhile, after his short visit to the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan on September 26, Recep Erdoğan said that if Armenia refuses to open the Zangezur corridor, this transport route will pass through Iran. For months after his inauguration, Erdoğan conducted active diplomacy with Iranian partners on this issue. As is well-known, during the past summer the language of “Turkish pressure” was used against Iran through Pakistan (refusal to build a gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistan to India with the motivation of Islamabad’s fear of American sanctions) and Afghanistan (provocations on the border under the motive of the water issue). It should be understood that Turkey promises Iran considerable financial dividends for agreeing to the Zangezur or Tabriz corridor. But will Iran, which is incomparably more powerful than Armenia, agree (and will the corridor’s existence turn out to depend on Tehran’s sentiments?)
At the same time, the Turkish leader considers the opening of the Zangezur corridor through weak Armenia to be a strategic issue for Ankara and Baku, while promising Armenians a parallel opening of the Lachin corridor to Karabakh, though the topic of Lachin was discussed in a well-known trilateral (Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia) online statement issued on November 9, 2020. Meanwhile, after the well-known tragedy of September 19 this year, rivers of internally displaced Armenian persons from Nagorno-Karabakh flowed into Armenia. In this case, who will be given the Lachin corridor if there are no Armenians left in Karabakh itself?
All this suggests that the stakes of regional and global competition in this given geography are only increasing. Turkey, with its flexible diplomacy, will be able to squeeze the maximum benefit (either militarily or diplomatically) out of the current situation around the Zangezur corridor.
And what about Russia? In this author’s opinion, Russia is still observing the events, but will intervene as necessary. Unfortunately, the loss of Armenian Karabakh allows Turkey and the NATO bloc to accelerate Russia’s withdrawal from Armenia itself, which will lead to the loss (or serious reduction) of Russia’s influence in the South Caucasus and Central Asia. NATO is on Turkey’s shoulders and may enter the post-Soviet south. Moscow cannot and must not allow this.
Aleksandr SVARANTS, PhD in political science, professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.