President Erdogan is once again practicing disruptive diplomacy. During a recent visit to Azerbaijan, he not so subtly expressed regret that Azerbaijani territory is divided. It was a shot at Iran’s religious dictatorship. What was once southern Azerbaijan is now under Iranian control and Iran wants to keep it that way. The area has many ethnic Azeris and the Azeris are a Turkic people, so Erdogan could be polishing his pan-Turkic credentials. Those have been tarnished by his seeming cave to China by agreeing to an extradition treaty that targets Uighur activists he allowed in. Turkey has a sizeable Uighur community of about 40,000. But some diplomats and analysts have argued that an Erdogan confrontation with Iran’s Shia dictatorship is on the horizon. If Erdogan is preparing to confront Iran then Iraqi Kurdistan is a likely location for a Turkish-Iranian scrape. Iran supports Turkish separatist PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) terrorists who have been fighting Turkey since the early 1980s. The PKK still has bases in northern Iraq, in the border triangle area of Turkey, Iraq and Iran. PKK has supply sources in Iran. Syria is another place Turkey and Iran could clash, or at least have a more serious clash than they have already had. In February 2020 Iranian-backed Iraqi PMF militias began to attack pro-Turkish rebels in northwestern Syria (Idlib), but Turkey and Iran avoided a direct confrontation. Turkey sees Idlib as its zone of influence in Syria. One other matter on the agenda: Turkey opposes the Iranian regime’s nuclear weapons program. (Austin Bay)
March 22, 2021: Turkey’s lira dropped 15 percent in value following president Erdogan's sudden decision on March 21 to fire the governor of Turkey’s central bank and replace him with a political supporter who opposes high interest rates. Erdogan has done this several times in the last few years and it has not worked out well. Turkey needs dollars for most imports and suddenly importers found they needed 8.12 lira to buy a dollar rather 7.22 lira the day before, seven lira a month ago or 2.82 lira five years ago. Since 2016 Turks have been paying a lot more for imports and that has not been popular.
March 19, 2021: In raids conducted in Ankara and Istanbul, police arrested over 20 suspected Kurdish militants. Three of the people arrested were identified as officials in the HDP (Peoples Democratic Party), Turkey’s largest Kurdish political party.
March 17, 2021: Turkish prosecutors filed charges against the HDP that could lead to a ban HDP political activities. In February the government indicted nine HDP members of parliament on charges of terrorism. The charges were originally made in 2014.
President Erdogan announced that Saudi Arabia wants to buy armed Turkish military drones. That was his good news for the Saudis. Then he gave the bad news. Erdogan criticized the Saudis for planning to conduct air force exercises with Greece. He indicated Turkey wouldn’t sell Saudi Arabia the drones if they participated in military exercises with Greece. Well, Erdogan has been on the receiving end – that is, being denied high-tech weaponry because he chose to consort with an American adversary. The U.S. dropped Turkey from the F-35 jet consortium after Turkey purchased a Russian surface to air missile system that could be used to snoop on NATO aircraft and air control systems.
Most Turks agree that picking a fight with Saudi Arabia is a bad idea. During centuries of Turkish Ottoman rule the Arabs were harshly treated. The Turks controlled Mecca for nearly 400 years and the Turkish leader (Sultan) declared himself the Caliph (leader of all Moslems), a title long held by Arabs until major defeats in the 1200s. These began with a Mongol invasion that destroyed Baghdad and later independent-minded Turkic mercenaries took control of Egypt. The Ottomans arrived at the end of the 1200s and proceeded to conquer all Arab lands worth having. That meant most of the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa was left alone because these areas were largely desert and not worth ruling. The Turks were very business-like. Imperial provinces were expected to pay their way and then some. One part of Arabia worth keeping was Mecca, which all Moslems were obliged to make a pilgrimage to at least once. The Turks made it easier for Moslems to do that had made a lot of money in the process. This annoyed Arabs, especially the Bedouin tribes and clans, like the Mrudah of central Arabia, which the Saudis belonged to and by the 1700s dominated. The Sauds became allies of the British in chasing the Turks out of Arabia in World War I (1914-18) and this helped the Sauds unite most of the Arabian Peninsula by 1932 and declare the Saudi kingdom, whose main mission was safeguarding Mecca and other Moslem shrines. Western, mainly British and American, oil companies were already finding large deposits of the stuff in the region and this allowed post-Ottoman Arabia to become fabulously rich. Nervous about British influence, the Saudi kingdom founder, Abdul Aziz Ibn al Saud, chose to ally himself with the Americans, because they were not empire builders like the British and other Europeans. The Sauds also noted that when the Ottoman empire was taken apart after 1918, the British deliberately made one Turkish homeland province, Mosul, part of the new state of Iraq. Mosul had oil and with its loss the new Turkish Republic had none.
March 16, 2021: The Turkish Navy won’t be getting the F-35B jump jets it wanted for its helicopter aircraft carrier (LHD), the Anadolu. This 27,000-ton LHD is scheduled to enter service in late 2021. Now the Turkish Navy has confirmed that it would like to deploy advanced armed drones explicitly built for naval carriers, in lieu of the F-35Bs. The Turkish drone-manufacturing Baykar is designing a new a new unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) to meet the navy’s requirement. The UCAV will likely be modeled on the Bayraktar TB2-type drones, but structurally strengthened to handle carrier take offs and landings as well as operate over salt water. Baykar recently announced it has the Bayraktar TB3 under development. In theory, the Andalou could carry up to 50 of the drones. Over the last decade the U.S. Navy developed flight control software enabling UAVs to safely take off and land on carriers.
March 15, 2021: NATO’s secretary-general once again expressed concern over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense missile system. The NATO alliance is also prepared to help Greece and Turkey peacefully resolve their maritime territorial disputes in the eastern Mediterranean. In late 2020 NATO created a “de-confliction mechanism” (communication regimen) designed to help Greece and Turkey avoid military clashes and ship collisions in the eastern Mediterranean
March 11, 2021: The Turkish vehicle manufacturer BMC has made a contract with two South Korean firms, A&T Dynamics and Doosan, to build engine and transmission systems for Turkey’s Altay indigenous main battle tank project. In 2019 President Erdogan’s office described the Altay as a major program. Originally Turkey planned to use German manufactured engine components and French composite armor. Germany and other European have since put sanctions on Turkey for atrocious behavior against Kurds and Arabs. The Turks are still looking for someone to supply composite armor equal to the French design. If not, they can use less capable designs that are adequate. Turkey already paid South Korea nearly half a billion dollars for use of South Koreans tank tech developed for South Korea K1 and K2 tanks. Both of these were based on the U.S. M1 and some licensed U.S. tech was used. But the South Koreans gradually developed their own engines and other components. These they are free to export. Turkey has been a major customer for licensed South Korean military tech.
March 10, 2021: Turkey criticized Iraq’s autonomous KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) for deciding to print a stamp commemorating Pope Francis’ March visit to Iraq and the KRG. The Turkish complaint noted that the stamp included portions of Turkey’s predominantly ethnic Kurd regions.
March 9, 2021: Turkey accused Greece of deploying “assault boats” to the island of Meis, which is just a few kilometers from Turkey’s coast. Turkey accuses Greece of promulgating “maximalist maritime territorial boundary claims” based on such small Greek islands off the Turkish coast.
A Turkish national court sentenced five individuals to life in prison terms for the 2016 assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey. The court determined that a police officer, Mevlut Mert Altintas, shot and killed Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov in Ankara on December 19, 2016. Alintas was later killed by Turkish security personnel. A police investigation revealed that Altintas had been angered by the 2015 arrival of Russian military forces in neighboring Syria to support the Assad government. The Assads were also backed by Iran which, like Russia, are traditional enemies of Turkey.
March 8, 2021: A senior Turkish official claimed that a Turkish-Egyptian diplomatic rapprochement is possible if Egypt is willing to cooperate on solving the divisive eastern Mediterranean, Libyan, and Palestinian issues. Currently Egypt opposes Turkish claims and the presence of Turkish troops and mercenaries in neighboring Libya.
Chinese diplomats indicated that China is anticipating Turkey’s ratification of an agreement to restrict Uighur “terrorism activities.” What that really means is that China wants Turkey to silence Uighur dissidents who live in Turkey.
March 6, 2021: An Iranian-backed Syrian militia, Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, has threatened to attack Turkish forces and Turkish-supported groups in Iraq and Syria if Turkey decides to launch new attacks against the PKK. Iraq’s Sinjar province is particularly sensitive. Until the mid-1920s, Turkey claimed a large portion of northern Iraq from the current Turkish border down to the city of Mosul. This area includes about a third of Iraqi oil production.
March 3, 2021: Turkey’s government indicated that it expects the U.S. government to compensate it for any financial losses due to the U.S. decision to remove Turkey form the F-35 program.
March 2, 2021: The government claimed Turkey’s economy grew by 1.8 percent in 2020 despite the covid19 pandemic. If true, then Turkey was one of a handful of nations whose GDP grew rather than contracted during the year. In mid-2020 the government eased credit and state-run banks increased lending by 100 percent. Analysts said growth of over five percent during the fourth quarter of 2020 put the economy in the black. Critics, however, have accused the government of “binge” spending money it doesn’t have in order to prop up Erdogan’s government as well as the economy.