Anna Koukkides-Procopiou WHAT DOES TURKEY WANT?


Anna Koukkides-Procopiou is a Foreign Policy Analyst/Research Associate at the CEIA, UNIC. She is also fascinated by business and the role of individuals as multipliers in the process of economic growth. She teaches, lectures and writes extensively. An activist by conviction, she believes that unless you speak out, your silence speaks for you.

Once known as the Sick Man of Europe, allowing both Western and Eastern vultures to circle for centuries over its corpse, Turkey is no longer a sick patient. In fact, Turkey is seeking, on the one hand, regional hegemony and on the other, the revision of the land-locked condition imposed on the modern Turkish state by the Treaty of Sevres in 1920. Under present conditions, which make Turkey’s position almost as geographically important as that of Iran, and despite mild reprimanding by Western statesmen and acrimonious attacks by analysts (calling for reconsideration of its NATO membership and its EU application procedure, a revision of its stance over the Kurdish question etc.), over its refusal to fully assist in the attacks launched against the Islamic state near its borders, Erdogan remains undeterred in his undertakings.   

A twofold policy has so far been pursued thus:

(i)    by investing in the image of the ‘virtuous power’ (as proposed by former President Ghul)- the honest broker which will intervene from time to time to settle regional differences, just as the Sultan may have done on behalf of his vassals (see policy towards Palestinians, parallel drawn between Gaza and the isolated non-recognised regime the Turkish army has created in the northern part of Cyprus, suggestion to Assad to assist with democratization prior to civil war etc.). The exact same notion of ‘zero problems’ with similarly-minded neighbours, albeit in different wording, can, of course, be detected in the neo-Ottoman, Islamic-centered aspirations proclaimed by Erdogan’s ‘new state of affairs’ dogma and the so-called Davutoglou Doctrine of  ‘geo-cultural integrity’: the creation of a post-nation Middle Eastern community, under Turkish hegemony, with the gradual withering away of political, economic and psychological boundaries in the region, artificial remnants of the long-gone Cold War period. The Kurdish question and the hegemonic claims of other Muslim big players in the region, nonetheless, pose a serious obstacle to such ambitions, remaining a thorn in Turkey’s side.

(ii)    by investing in the building-up of a fleet, which may only prove useful if access to important maritime routes via the Aegean and henceforth, the Eastern Mediterranean are secured  to allow for  additional dynamic ‘strategic depth’ potential (see recent violations of Cyprus EEZ, disputes of Greek jurisdiction/delineation of waters, declaring the Republic of Cyprus defunct etc.)  If successful, this would result into the breaking away from the land-locked static position into which Turkey has perceived itself to be, the securing of essential energy resources in the Aegean and in Cyprus and the establishing of Turkey as an energy hub, an alternative to Russian energy dependence. The degeneration of the Greek economy and the subsequent   castration of Greek air and naval capabilities in the Eastern Mediterranean has allowed for a power vacuum, which Turkey has proved all the more willing to fill. Greece is currently neither willing nor able to react to Turkish provocations, admittedly having no substantial backing by any of its allies in doing so, making this the ideal time for Turkey to persevere with its arm-twisting pursuits in Cyprus.

Enter Israel, whose competition with Turkey over regional hegemony will duly manifest   over maritime predominance, since both states are currently building up their naval capabilities, seeking to extend their strategic depth over the waters of Cyprus and the Aegean, an absolutely essential move for the securing of energy resources in the area. Should Israel utilize its energy aspirations and extend its strategic depth over and out into the sea, by taking advantage of what Cyprus and Greece have to offer- energy synergies, extensive maritime boundaries, the possibility of bringing Egypt and Lebanon into the equation and above all, the capabilities that the Greek navy can provide to the quickly-expanding Israeli fleet, then, things may prove a bit easier for Cyprus to fight off Turkish advances, provided it has the political will to do so.

Realpolitik becomes smoother to enforce between similarly-minded states and with Greece, Cyprus and Israel remaining the only non-Muslim democracies in the region, striking a solid alliance between them could prove less tricky than what it sounds – an alliance, in fact, built not in spite of the obstacles it faces but actually because of them.  

Anna Koukkides-Procopiou
May 2015