Turkey’s eastern Mediterranean adventure is not about gas

Turkey’s foreign policy in the eastern Mediterranean is not driven by hydrocarbons, but by revisionist, geopolitical sovereignty ambitions, researchers Zenonas Tziarras and Jalel Harchaoui said in an article for Foreign Policy magazine on Tuesday.

Developments in the eastern Mediterranean cannot be considered apart from the larger dynamics in the region, which constitute a clashing point for great-power interests, according to Tziarras and Harchaoui. The region’s vulnerability to conflicting interests surfaced following the war in Iraq, which reshaped the United States’ priorities around the world, they said.

“Ankara is leveraging its various institutional, economic, and security ties with the West to climb the power ladder of the regional system while embracing illiberalism at home,” Tziarras and Harchaoui said. The country’s domestic politics is heading towards “Islamic populism, nationalism and authoritarianism”, they said.

Tziarras is a researcher at Peace Research Institute Oslo Cyprus Centre and a co-founder of Geopolitical Cyprus. Harchaoui is a senior fellow at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, a Swiss-based institute.

In foreign policy, Ankara is seeking to become a big power wherever possible in the region, while investing in military equipment, with the aim of modifying the geopolitical situation to its advantage, they said.

The undercurrent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s worldview shows that a dispute over territory in the Mediterranean with neighbours Cyprus and Greece, which flared up last year, is not just about natural gas resources, rather an ancient sovereignty issue, Tziarras and Harchaoui said. His policy embraces old and new geopolitical aspirations alike, they said.

“Material gain has motivated Turkey’s expansionism, but it is also animated by identity and ideology,” Tziarras and Harchaoui said.

“Turkey is now a revisionist state: It embarks upon military interventions and seeks to control foreign territory, as in Syria and Iraq; challenges land borders and maritime boundaries, as with Cyprus and Greece; engages in demographic engineering and political interference, as in Syria and Northern Cyprus; maintains bases overseas, as in Somalia and Qatar; and galvanizes dependent proxies, as in Libya, northern Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh,” they said.

Tziarras and Harchaoui said that adherents to Turkey’s revered founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, would never have embarked on such risky adventures.

On the contrary, “Kemalist foreign policy was mostly haunted by the fear of losing—not gaining—sovereign territory. Yet for Erdoğan and his followers, there’s always more to be desired,” they said.



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