Turkey: how far will Erdogan go?

President Erdogan during a prayer in the recently turned mosque Saint Sophia in Istanbul on July 24, 2020.

Editorial of the “World”. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long been a master in the art of provocation. Encouraged by the softness of the reactions of the West and galvanized by his nationalist ambitions against a background of nostalgia for Ottoman greatness, the Turkish president methodically advances his pawns by multiplying his outbursts, each time pushing back the limits of the ‘acceptable to the European Union (EU) and its NATO allies.

In his maneuvers, he does not hesitate to have recourse to the full range of intimidation, from the most symbolic acts to deliberate attacks. It is a question of testing adversaries and partners, who are struggling to take the measure of its extremeism, while seeking to increase its popularity in a country which is sinking into the economic crisis.

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The staging organized on Friday July 24 around the first major Islamic prayer in the famous Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, transformed into a mosque a few days ago, owes nothing to chance. This date corresponds to 97e anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, which marked out the borders of present-day Turkey, which Mr. Erdogan dreams of redrawing.

From “Bukhara to Andalusia”

This act is a challenge to the Western world. Turkish President talks about“A new conquest”. This theme is now repeated over and over in the Turkish pro-government media. It applies to Hagia Sophia as well as to expansionist aims across the world, in the Mediterranean, in Libya, in Syria, in northern Iraq, where the Turkish army recently launched a major offensive against the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

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On July 11, Mr. Erdogan posted a video on Twitter in which he claims that the resurrection of Hagia Sophia as a mosque has value for everyone in the Muslim world, from “Bukhara in Andalusia”, paving the way for “Release” of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

In the meantime, the symbol only aggravates relations with the EU, and particularly with Greece. In addition to the question of Cyprus, the sharing of gas manna and the route of the continental shelf have been added. On July 22, a Turkish vessel did not hesitate to conduct offshore explorations, with the support of military vessels, in Greece’s maritime zone, raising tension in the eastern Mediterranean.

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At this stage, nothing seems to be able to stop the Turkish expansionist aims. It is high time that Turkey’s partners understood how much it has changed. The country no longer has anything to do with the one who knocked on the door of the EU some fifteen years ago. More religious and more aggressive on the international scene, Turkey is moving inexorably away from its European ties.

France modestly tries to make room for Turkish expansionism, but remains isolated within a NATO which hesitates to moderate the ambitions of Ankara. In doing so, Mr. Erdogan is only adapting to the lack of strategy of his traditional partners. The American disengagement and the diplomatic inexistence of Europe have created a vacuum into which the Turkish president does not hesitate to rush into.

Under the beard of the West, its army has established itself permanently in Libya by the force of its drones and the dispatch of several thousand Syrian fighters. With the backing of Russian and American presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, a Turkish protectorate has been established in northern Syria, where the Turkish currency, the pound, is now valid. How far will Mr. Erdogan go?

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