Turkey pursuing triple aim in debate over Mosul
Barçın Yinanç - firstname.lastname@example.orgTurkey is looking to kill a number of birds with one stone amid its recent insistence on participating in the offensive on Mosul, according to a Turkish professor of international relations. Regional, anti-terror and domestic considerations are all at play, according to Hasan Köni
Turkey is attempting to accomplish three aims at once in flexing its muscles during the offensive to retake Mosul from jihadists, according to international relations scholar Hasan Köni.
Turkey wants to be involved during the possible redesign of the region in any post-jihadist period, while also moving against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and gaining nationalist votes at home, Köni said.
What is this recent debate about the National Pact (Misak-ı Millî) regarding the lands that those who led the Turkish War of Independence wished to see in a new Turkey?
From 1919, Turks started fighting inside Anatolia. By the end of the World War I, Russia had become the Turks’ ally. There was a debate on the new borders. It was impossible to get the former Ottoman lands back. A parallel state was formed in Anatolia and debates started on what the new borders of this new state should be.
An area was designated that included Mosul, Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk, extending north of Lake Van until the Black Sea. So they [Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his comrades-in-arms] said that if we can save and liberate these lands, this is our nation; let us say our oath for that. So this was called the National Pact.
The war continued with the Greeks [who occupied western Turkey], with the British offering support behind the scenes. As Turks started to win the war, forces were dispatched to Mosul. But the British defeated the Turkish forces. So Turkey could not get back Mosul by force.
At that time, the Lausanne Peace Conference started. Turkey’s position was to keep Mosul, Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah, arguing that the Kurdish and Turkish populations lived in these provinces and that Kurds and Turks were inseparable.
But this argument ended with the Kurdish uprising in 1925. Turks were told, “Kurds don’t want to be with you.” Turkey’s warring strength was limited; so Mosul was left to Iraq with a treaty signed in 1926. And the chapter was closed.
Has there been a feeling ingrained among Turks for generations that we lost Mosul due to great injustices and that we could have become a much bigger power had we kept Mosul?
All countries have certain imaginations that harbor great hopes for the future. Greater Israel, or a great Turkish Empire extending to Central Asia, which was among the aspirations of Talat Pasha.
That keeps societies’ hopes toward the future alive.
Has Lausanne been presented as a great success in the Turkish education system?
The opponents of the Lausanne Treaty claim that those who established the current system [the republic, based on parliamentary democracy] did not succeed.
But one needs to look at what the capacity was and what was possible with that capacity. In politics, however, it is like free shooting.
In order to establish a new regime, you need to criticize the old one. To defend the new system, you need to say the former one was bad. So now there is rhetoric about the shortcomings of Lausanne. When you need to mobilize the public, you designate certain aspirations toward the future to boost hopes; whether you can fulfill these aspirations or not is another question.
So today we are being told that targets set in 1920 were not reached, like Mosul. But what we ended up with that time was a success when you take into consideration the limits on the power of the country. It is very classical to bring to the agenda the failures of the old system.
Is the loss of Mosul a bleeding wound in the subconscious of Turks?
The reason why this feeling has been on the rise is the fact that the global economy has developed over energy. We don’t mourn over Damascus for instance.
Why Mosul? It is because of the oil. They look at the richness of the Saudis and think: “We could have been more powerful than the Saudis. If these tribes have become so rich, if we had the oil and together with an imperial culture, think of what could have happened.” From the 2000s on, the feeling of “We could have been the leader of the Sunnis if we had oil” also started to develop. But with the new treaty signed on climate change, the business of oil is coming to the end.
But is there any framework within which we can claim to be involved in Mosul?
There is a perception that the Middle East is being redesigned and that Iraq and Syria’s territorial integrity and unity will be compromised.
With Russia supporting Syria and Iran having become so involved in Iraq, there is a feeling of “how can we benefit from the situation? Maybe we can also grab something. If Syria and Iraq will disintegrate, can we get a share?”
In addition to that, there is also the plan to strike a blow at the PKK [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] with such a forward move; we did not get Mosul, but can we go to the regions where the PKK is concentrated and eliminate it.
The third dimension is domestic; can we get the votes of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) constituency by fueling these hopes and images when talks have intensified on the presidential system? It’s an approach based on a triple target. It’s good for the inside and good for the outside.
Turkey still says it favors the territorial integrity of both Syria and Iraq; do you think this has changed? Do you think Iraq and Syria will disintegrate?
Although it is not being voiced in the official rhetoric at the state level, it is a conviction that is gaining predominance. When it comes to whether this will happen or not … there is an environment that keeps changing. But looking from a wider perspective, let’s suppose the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been eliminated and there is peace. The country that would feel the most danger will be Israel. That means we would need new scenarios. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the root of all the disasters that have come since 1948. If ISIL goes, what will be the new scenario? Since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not ended, there will be a need for another structure that will create problems. Suppose there is a Kurdish structure that will preoccupy Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, and no one will care about how many Palestinians die. What is horrific is that the military of a country that was wounded by the [failed coup of] July 15 can enter Syria and meet no resistance until Dabiq. It seems the wrong image of ISIL was projected. It seems ISIL was a paper tiger.
But isn’t natural for the government to take action when there are regional developments taking place that will have direct consequences on the country?
Turkey’s rhetoric needs to match its capability. The idea behind the policy might be right, but what is being said is beyond the capability. If you can send a force of 100,000 soldiers, then you can say, “I am coming and I will have a say.” With 600 [Turkish] soldiers in Bashiqa, then it’s just rhetoric.
If Turkey cannot remain idle while crucial developments are taking place and it has limited capacity, how should it act?
What Turkey is doing is what a middle-size country does; using the balance of power in the region. It has reconciled with Russia; that enabled Turkey to enter Syria. Russia has asked Turkey to convince al-Nusra to leave Aleppo, which will stay in the hands of the [Syrian] regime. In exchange, Turkey is asking for tacit support for its offensive against the PKK, which for Moscow is less important when compared with the threat radical Islamists pose to Russia.
On the other hand, the government also realizes that the United States does not want to lose Turkey. So there is an effort to benefit from the regional balances, to see if it can get something regionally while consolidating its power domestically. And in these circumstances it won’t seek peace with the PKK.
Who is Hasan Köni?
Hasan Köni is a professor of international relations and is a frequent commentator on television.
He graduated from Ankara University’s Political Science Faculty in 1970, after which he became part of the academic staff in 1985, staying there until 2003, when he moved to Istanbul and became the head of international relations at Yeditepe University. In addition to his affiliation with state universities, he also taught at the Police Academy between 1981 and 2002, the War Academy between 1983 and 1990 and the National Security Academy between 1997 and 2003.
His area of interest includes U.S. foreign policy, international law and international treaties and organizations. He is the author of several books, including “Decision-making at the United Nations” (1980).