In 1822, the Ottomans dispatched 40,000 Turkish troops to the Greek island of Chios with orders to kill all infants under three-years-old, all males over 12-years-old, and all females over 40-years-old, except those willing to convert to Islam. Some 20,000 Greeks were killed and the island was depopulated, eradicating a 2,000 year culture. Two years later, Ottoman soldiers burned the island of Kasos to the ground and killed 7,000 of its inhabitants. Eventually, Europeans navies dispatched by Britain and France, and a navy dispatched by Russia, intervened to stop the atrocities.
In 1876, 8,000 Turkish troops were dispatched to the Bulgarian town of Batak where, after promising to withdraw in exchange for the Bulgarians disarming, they beheaded or burned alive 5,000 of the city’s now-unprotected civilians. The massacre was part of a broader Turkish campaign in which 15,000 Bulgarians were eventually murdered, and which a British investigator described as “perhaps the most heinous crime” of the 1800s. Eventually, the Russians intervened to stop the atrocities.
I only bring these up because Israel and Greece just signed a military cooperation pact, and Israel and Bulgaria just signed a military cooperation pact, and European Union officials are slamming Turkey for sabre-rattling, and the Russians today committed to patrolling Eastern Mediterranean waters in response to borderline explicit Turkish military threats against Cyprus’s gas drilling.
Erdogan and his neo-Ottoman ilk seem to have forgotten a fairly straightforward regional reality: nobody likes them.
Per JE Dyer’s trenchant analysis, the collapse of Pax Americana has caused the region to revert to somewhere in between 18th century Ottoman naval hegemony and the 19th century Pax Britannica. There are a lot of reasons for everyone to be worried about that dynamic – you’ll recall that this book ended badly – but it has predictable consequences for Turkey’s current resurgence. The AKP’s years of trying to repair regional relations with “good neighbor” and “zero problems” policies — which as recently as last year involved removing historical rivals like Russia, Bulgaria and Greece from Ankara’s “threats list” and replacing them with Israel – have been reversed in a few months.
Presumably, the Turks intend to compensate for alienating Europe by expanding their influence into the Arab and Muslim world, an “eastern turn” that fits their neo-Ottoman pretensions nicely. They’ve opened up border crossings and boosted trade with Iran. They’ve conducted unprecedented joint military drills and emphasized cultural exchanges with Syria, resulting in New York Times articles with fawning lines like – quote unquote – “people in Syria love Turkey because the country supports the Arab world, and they are fellow Muslims.” Erdogan became a Palestinian champion, valorizing Hamas while hosting confabs to hammer out strategies for the Palestinians’ Fatah-driven UN gambit. He even offered the Taliban an office in Istanbul, because why shouldn’t they have an outpost in the revived center of all Muslim life?
And of course most recently, Ankara immodestly declared it was shaping the Arab Spring via its Islamist engagement.
Except the AKP is screwing all of that up, too. Egypt’s Islamists are in a row with Erdogan, which is a little ungrateful on their part given how he empowered them by calling for Mubarak’s ouster early and often (albeit in the context of anti-Israel bluster, naturally). Even worse, having invested so much in now-impossible Iranian and Syrian alliances – to such an extent that Ankara’s efforts strained relations with the 2010 Obama White House – Turkey’s foreign policy is now in shambles:
The bottom line is that from aspiring to having zero problems with neighbors, Turkey has today surrounded itself with problems with all of its key neighbors, and other countries in the region. Ties with Israel are all but broken, dialogue with Syria is all but non-existent, and the extremely warm atmosphere between Tehran and Ankara of only a year ago has all but dissipated due to serious differences over Syria, as well as Turkey’s decision to participate in NATO’s missile defense shield… As for ties with Armenia, they are not going anywhere.
There’s also a limit on how long Turkey can keep boosting Hamas while routinely killing hundreds of Kurds. Something’s going to give and, as Michael Rubin explained not too long ago, it might already be giving.
Meanwhile the Israelis – much to the chagrin of Turkey and the Arab world – cooperated closely with the Europeans to shut down Flotilla II. Israel’s military, economic, and cultural ties with Greece are blossoming, in contrast to the physical wall Greece is building on its Turkish border. The Bulgarian foreign minister recently chastized his Turkish counterpart over Turkey’s anti-Israel diplomacy.
No one is under any illusions that there’s love lost between the Jewish state and many European countries and publics (witness the ongoing hand-wringing over Palestinian UDI and Durban 3). But in between the smug “analysis” declaring that Israel is isolated — a literal Erdogan talking point that’s been gleefully parroted by the likes of Robert Malley and Roger Cohen – it might be worth noting that, at least versus Turkey, the Jewish state is actually slightly up on allies gained during the last few months.