Recent years have revealed the Western perspective, especially Europe’s perspective, on Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s leadership of Turkey as well as the European vision of Turkey itself.
The West has been intensely hostile towards Erdogan personally and even insults have found their way into official and unofficial discourse.
In light of the current crisis
Europe’s position has been exposed both by its reaction to the failed coup attempt in June 2016 and, more recently, in the run up to April 2017 Turkish referendum.
Europe were slow to condemn the coup and failed to adequately support Turkey’s legitimate political institutions bringing their own democratic characteristics into question in the process.
Moreover, in the context of Turkey’s ongoing referendum campaign, European governments are currently trying to influence the Turkish debate against Erdogan and the ruling, AK party.
In particular, the Turkish communities in Europe, around 4 million strong, most of whom are in Germany, have become subject to an open conflict between Erdogan and Europe, spearheaded so far by Germany and the Netherlands.
Germany, Denmark, Austria and Switzerland have all banned Turkish rallies in favour of the proposed constitutional amendments, while allowing others that oppose the Turkish government’s agenda.
Yet the crisis has reached its peak recently when the Netherlands prevented a plane carrying the Turkish Foreign Minister, who was on his way to participating in the pro-amendment events, from landing.
Obviously, these measures are considered external interference in Turkey’s internal affairs however, most importantly, they indicate Europe’s complex concerns regarding its relationship to Turkey.
These concerns are both related to identity and colonialism but are also linked to the rise of right wing populist politics in Europe.
More than an electoral calculation
There is much to say to make the issue more than just an internal electoral calculation. This includes the numerous incidents recently that suggest the European hatred for Erdogan and the Europeans’ refusal of Turkey’s EU accession.
It is perhaps because the Ottoman Empire expanded to east and central Europe a seizing Constantinople from the Byzantine Empire along the way that a fear of Turkey has resonated in the Western conscience for too long.
Yet we must also remember that the Sykes-Picot treaty, an agreement between two European parties, was actually the division of the Ottoman Empire’s territory.
In any event, the direct military results of WWI was not limited to the occupation of the Ottoman Empire’s Arab states, but also the occupation of large territories that became modern day Turkey after the independence war.
Of course the Ottoman withdrawal in favour of the emerging European forces, as well as the reforms within the Ottoman state in the mid-19th century, has laid the foundations for Turkey’s subordination to Europe. This was reinforced by the Union and Progress government, but what is more ironic is that the leader of the Turkish independence war (1919-1922) pushed Turkey more towards subordination to the West.
Despite opposition from the continental European countries to Turkey’s membership in the NATO, according to secret documents revealed by the CIA earlier this year, its participation enabled the use of Turkey as a means to confront the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc. The relationship was not equal, despite Turkey’s full membership and it cemented the Western dominance over Turkey, not only politically but also on the level of the state’s structure, its institutions and agencies.
With the arrival of Erdogan, Turkey changed. Although his task was almost impossible given the enormous obstacles he faced, Erdogan managed, to use the promise of joining the EU, to maintain his continued governance while also taking advantage of the enormous economic successes to reinforce his tendency toward independence.
The Erdogan project
The efforts led by Erdogan at the moment start with favouring self-determination. This is manifested in a number of ways, the most prominent of which are the large Turkish presence in the Arab uprisings, the nature f its intervention in Syria and Iraq, and its fierce opposition to the coup in Egypt. None of these were in line with the general Western positions, neither in the US or Europe.
Naturally, Turkey cannot simply rely on economic buoyancy alone to liberate the Turkey from the dominance of the West. It must also unshackle the state structures from Western intervention, and this task, in a sense, means a confrontation with the West.
Hence, we can understand the European fear and anger after the failed coup attempt and with regards to the referendum.
Erdogan did not exaggerate when he said, after the failed coup, that Turkey was “fighting a second independence war”. Even as Turkey’s identity as a state and society has been weakened under the decades domination by the West there is still a chance for liberation.
In this regard specifically, I must mention the large Turkish communities in Europe that may put pressure on Europe’s identity at home particularly as many may rise to form a new middle class.
The position occupied by Turkey qualifies it to be a logistic centre for energy given its link between its extraction centres in the Middle East and Central Asia and between Europe, which is one of the top areas in energy use. This matter is in the process of achievement by means of the “Turkish Stream”, if the Turkish-Russian relations continue to improve.
Turkey, which links Asia to Europe and the East to the West is eligible for an improved status, and this is what the current Turkish government is working on by means of enhancing its infrastructure, ports, and airports. It is also seeking to get involved in the new China’s new silk road, which Beijing calls “One Belt, One Road”.
In any case, any eastern Islamic advancement affects the Western orientalist ideology. This is one reason behind Erdogan’s project provoking European hatred.
In order to understand the West’s vision of Turkey in terms of identity, we can recall the statement made by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who said that Europe would not allow the membership of a state with a population of 70 million Muslims.
And we can notice the underlying colonialism in the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s argument that there will be no membership nor will there be negotiations regarding Turkey’s accession.
This theory is similar to Yitzhak Shamir’s theory on negotiations with the Palestinians, or the current theory of Benjamin Netanyahu, meaning that eternal negotiations will not achieve independence or parity, but will ensure permanent dependency and subordination.
Translated from Al Jazeera, 14 March 2017
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.