2017 will be a very challenging and difficult year for the Near East and the Global powers that influence the whole region as the United States, Russia, China and Germany. In any case, what is happening now will be crucial and very significant for which countries will be this world’s biggest powers for the next 50 years to come at least.Some Great Powers into and outside the Near and the Middle East region must think about how to protect secularism and the secular ideal for the countries in the Near and the Middle East.
Turkey’s current political and social context
We focus more on Turkey in this post as we have seen terrible terrorist attacks taking place there, unfortunately,and freedoms such as media freedom have regressed within the country during 2016. Turkey is at crossroads. Its role as the only muslim majority country within NATO has a lot to say during these difficult times.
Turkey is a member of NATO, an ally of Saudi Arabia, . For Voltairenet, is the home for some islamist extremists since the hospitalisation of prince Bandar ben Sultan in 2012, and godfather of the Muslim Brotherhood since the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi and the quarrel between Doha and Riyad in 2013-14.
In Turkey, after the failed coup on 15 to 16 of July last year, the situation has calmed. But the security environment remains potentially volatile and a state of emergency is in place. In some busy areas, especially Istanbul, the Turkish authorities are stopping members of the public to conduct ID checks. In the years 2000 and until recently, the United States used to see Turkey as a resilient, indispensable ally bordering numerous trouble spots, played a strong, quiet role behind the scenes in bringing Turkey back into the international fold. Another part of the puzzle is the fact that Turkey is always somewhat at the mercy of international influence and trends. We shall not forget that the U.S. orchestrated the previous coups d’état in Turkey (not all of course) as well the Turkish and Greek invasions in Cyprus in 1974. It is at a crossroads of Europe and the Middle East, and the crosshairs of the interests of Russia and the U.S. 2017 is kicking off with political fireworks as Parliament debates constitutional changes that would empower the office of the presidency. These reforms would give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a freer hand to rule, and extend his term limit as president through to 2029.
2016 was a difficult year for Turkey and the region. The U.S. military openly cooperating with Syrian Kurds whom Turkey views as a terrorist enemy; a horrible year with Russia after Turkey ill-advisedly shot down a Russian military plane; and disorder on Turkey’s Middle Eastern borders ever since the ill-judged U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Meanwhile, the turkish economy is in grave difficulty as Turkey tries to go it alone, investors grow wary, the Turkish lira erodes, the government tries all kinds of unorthodox methods to keep interest rates down. All that while power is increasingly centralised around one person, the new Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Neo-Ottoman Sultan has so provoked the EU with the current witch hunt for Gulenists and all those who are against Erdogan and, of course, the plan to reintroduce of the capital punishment by the Turkish government. Therefore, European Parliament’s MEPs voted for a temporary freeze on EU accession talks with Turkey. In a resolution voted the 24th of November 2016, they say Turkey should nonetheless remain “anchored” to the EU. They also pledge to review their position when the “disproportionate repressive measures” under the state of emergency in Turkey are lifted.They did this after they promised to give Sultan Tayyip a bribe to stop sending refugees into the EU. EU promised 3 billions to Turkey until now but the Cypriot commissioner for the refugees said the EU had so far contracted 652 million euros for refugees in Turkey.(September 2016, Reuters) But Ankara complained that the money flows slowly as only 181 million euros had so far been disbursed.
Since the breakdown of a cease-fire in July 2015 with the PKK, the Turkish army has laid siege to cities and towns across the Kurdish majority southeast, killing hundreds, including many civilians, and displacing several hundred thousand. Many buildings have been damaged in the offensive, which has included armored vehicles and airstrikes. Human rights groups say many civilians have died during Turkey’s anti-PKK offensive in the south-east. Turkey has imposed curfews and used heavy armour in urban areas in its fight with the rebels.
Thousands of HDP members, officers and elected officials have been imprisoned since June 2015, when it became the first Kurdish-based party to win more than 10 percent of the vote and gain seats in Turkey’s parliament.
Turkey continues to accuse the PKK of “trying to create a separate state in Turkey”. There have been many PKK attacks on Turkish security forces in the south-east.In August 2016 a PKK car bomb in Cizre killed 11 policemen and injured 78. Hundreds of people have died in more than a year of clashes in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority region.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU and US.
Last year more than 150 newspapers and other media outlets have been shuttered and about 120 journalists jailed in pretrial detention without court hearings. Thousands of people have been imprisoned, and more than 100,000 have been dismissed from their jobs on suspicion of sympathizing with the Gulenists.Overseas journalists and agencies are barred from visiting the southeast. As it carried out the latest arrests, Ankara shut down the internet in Diyarbakir and blocked social media websites nationwide.
The Turkish military is continuing to attack the SDF as it advances into northern Syria, aiming to block Kurdish forces from linking territory in the east and west that would result in an autonomous Kurdish region along Syria’s border with Turkey. Ankara says it intends to push the SDF from cities and towns recently liberated from Islamic State and create a military buffer zone. It is also building a large concrete wall along its 560-mile border with Syria.
Recently, we are witnessing terrorist attack not only by ISIS as this that took place the 1st of January at the club Reina in Istanbul but also from extremist kurdish elements as the The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, or TAK have claimed responsibility for the attack in Izmir that has left three members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) severely injured.
A leader at TAK reported to Asharq Al-Awsat that some TAK units attacked two days ago location number 11 and injured three members of the IRCG – consequently, fiery clashes sparked between the two parties.
Turkish authorities consider TAK to be an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency and is considered a terror organization by Turkey and its allies, including the U.S.TAK has claimed multiple attacks in the past year, including two bombings that killed 45 people near a soccer stadium (Besiktas) in Istanbul last month.
Turkey, also , could be described as a historic economical partner of Germany, from which has benefited some kind of “informal protection” until today. Turkey is a more important ally than Greece and Cyprus in the region even if Turkey is not part of the EU. In Germany, there is a huge turkish minority and this year there are upcoming elections in Germany. Turkish minority’s votes count for all parties (except AfD maybe). Mrs Merkel and her right-hand man Mr Wolfgang Schäuble have put an enormous pression the last days, according to Cyprus and Greek state’s & independent media, to give Cypriots a very “quick” solution in order to temper and allay fears of the New Sultan that Europe has turned its back on his dictatorship. I wouldn’t say that Germany has an anti-Greek rhetoric, but their interests for the moment are very different from the Greek ones and therefore the german government is indifferent regarding the Greek interests.
Germany is the country state which is leading any decision regarding the future of the EU and any financial plans for the financial survival of any EU country such as Greece and Cyprus. We all remember what happened in Cyprus back in 2013, when the country asked for a loan from the EU, the response from Germany and its satellite countries was to broke the banks during the night and steal the money from the Russian depositors. If you consider a country a tax heaven, why you accept it then into eurozone from the beginning? And because the Germans are the so-called rulers of this “united Europe” through their tailor-made euro policies made by Schäuble, they are able to pressure and blackmail Greece through their financial “assistance” while helping to “preserve” a failed currency in this country in order to grant its national influence and to abandon decades of ‘red lines’ in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Both the US administration and the EU seem to now be in an extraordinary hurry to immediately solve the Cyprus problem, a problem dating back to 1974, as soon possible in 2016 or even in beginning of 2017. For Dimitris Konstantakopoulos without a doubt, all of this represents a huge opportunity for Cyprus:
One can easily imagine how nice the future of the island will be if the two stronger powers of the world, the United States and the European Union, were to cooperate in solving its problems. Cypriots can be sure of this. All their neighbors in the Middle East, like Syria and Libya, have enormously benefitted from US and European interest in them.
Of course, one should remember at this point that it was not an elected Greek government which organized this coup in Nicosia back in 1974. It was a dictatorial regime imposed by the US and NATO which ruled in Athens and organized the coup. By the way, many analysts believe that the only reason the Americans imposed a dictatorship in Greece in 1967 was to be able to organize the coup and provide Turkey with the pretext it needed to invade the island.
Before becoming an ethnic and religious conflict, the Cyprus problem was a colonial one – and in fact it remains such. London wanted to exempt Cyprus from the decolonization process for one reason: it was the most essential link between the West and the Middle East and the most valuable strategic location in all the Eastern Mediterranean. “We acquired the missing link”, said the British PM Disraeli, who hated Greeks, when his country took Cyprus from Ottomans, in 1878. To keep Cyprus, imperial Britain fomented all kinds of antagonisms between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, Turkey and Greece, communists and nationalists, and so on. The USA, under Kissinger, followed suit.
Greece current financial situation:
- For Greece, the agreements that the Greek government signed with the European Central Bank and with the International Monetary Fund have led to the unprecedented economic and social catastrophe which is ongoing.
- It is the greatest social and financial crisis in capitalistic Europe since 1945. The only one phenomenon which is somehow comparable is the collapse of the Soviet Union.
- The loss of gross domestic product jeering the years that this program is applied is more than 27%. It is a higher percentage than of the material loss of France and Germany after the First World War. It is even worse than what happened in the United States during the Great Depression.
- The Israeli & Russian players through common energy plans
Israel hopes to market its natural gas to Turkey, and via Turkey to the EU, but this aim may hang on the outcome of the potentially historic Cypriot peace negotiations currently underway in Geneva. Since an undersea gas pipeline from Israel’s Leviathan natural gas field to Turkey requires crossing Cyprus’s economic exclusion zone, failure to reach an agreement could force Israel to return to an older plan of marketing its natural gas via Egypt. However, in the new energy and geopolitical realities of the region that emerged in 2016, Israel’s selection of Egypt as its major export option could result in the Russia’s rise as a central player in Eastern Mediterranean energy according to J.Post.
The tripartite cooperation between Israel, Cyprus and Greece i see it as a deal made to put some pression on Turkey. Turkey puts pression on Israel (for deals mainly $) through the Palestinian cause. All studies show that a possible gas pipeline should go through Turkey. Costs and technical risks make unavailable , for the moment, that such a pipeline should go through deep-sea waters from Israel/Cyprus EEZ fields directly to Greece.
On December 12, 2016, the Italian energy giant Eni agreed to sell a 30% stake in the Zohr natural gas field off Egypt’s coast to Russia’s Rosneft for US$1.575 billion.
While most of the gas produced at Zohr is slated for Egypt’s domestic market, natural gas from Zohr or neighboring suppliers such as Israel and Cyprus can now supply Egypt’s dormant liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants, potentially rendering Egypt again into a net natural gas exporter. If Egypt became an LNG supplier to Europe, it could undercut the importance of Turkey’s Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), which, as the main pipeline of the Southern Gas Corridor extending from Azerbaijan to Greece, Albania, and Italy, is designated to transport natural gas from the Caspian Sea to the EU.
While the EU regards the Southern Gas Corridor as a transit corridor to reduce its critical dependency on Russia for its natural gas imports, Ankara’s ambition is also to use TANAP to become an energy hub for the distribution of natural gas from the Caspian Basin and Middle East to Europe. To thwart these developments, Russia has sought a role in developing and marketing Eastern Mediterranean gas, including repeated Russian overtures to Israel to partner in the development of Israel’s gas industry.
For Katehon.com, the “West”(Nato and allies) is also trying to prevent any Russian influence on the negotiation process for Cyprus in Geneva.. To minimize Russia’s participation, the Western lobbyists promise Cyprus preferential deals on possible future production and transportation of natural gas, under the control of European and Israeli companies. But the “West” seems to forget that Turkey now takes common decisions with Russia regarding the issues for the region.
Turkey has already begun changing its rhetoric. President Erdoğan accused the United States of continuing to support the jihadists in general and Daesh in particular, suggesting that if he had done the same in the past, it was under the evil influence of Washington.
Erdogan’s Muslim Brotherhood oriented government in Turkey has deep relations with all the Syrian rebel groups hoping to oust Assad and build a new sphere of influence in the informal space of the former Ottoman caliphate. Based on this logic, Turkey itself become the transit hub of Jihadi extremists moving to and from Syria, and according to WikiLeaks the hub of a dubious and illicit trade even with ISIS. Turkey’s relationship with most of the rebel groups active in Syria and Iraq is widely known and acknowledged.
Turkey’s about-face, if it is to be confirmed in the months to come, will provoke a chain-reaction of consequences. Beginning with the fact that President Erdoğan now presents himself not only as the ally of Russia, but also as the partner of Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran, in other words, the hero of the Chiite world. The end, therefore, of the mirage of Turkey as leader of the Sunni world, fighting the «heretics» with Saudi money. But the artificial inter-Muslim conflict launched by Washington will not end until Saudi Arabia also lets it go.
The extraordinary shift by Turkey is probably difficult to understand for Westerners, according to whom politics are always public affairs. Vladimir Putin has preferred to transform an enemy into an ally, rather than taking him down and having to keep fighting his country. President Bachar el-Assad, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have followed the Russian policy regarding the New Sultan.
- Greek-Turkish tensions in the Aegean Sea
The evolution of the Law of the Sea, which gives countries new spaces of sovereignty and areas of jurisdiction without specifying their delimitation, is the source of the dispute between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean Sea.
The territorial division resulting from the Treaty of Lausanne and the Treaty of Paris of 10 February 1947 seemed relatively stable: Greece logically had almost all of the islands of the Aegean Sea, populated by Greeks since ancient times. However, the evolution of international law, following the Second World War, and particularly after 1958, has hampered the status quo.
From a Greek standpoint, relations between the two countries have always been characterized by a number of staples: Turkish violations of Greek airspace and subsequent dogfights, disputing the Greek Islands’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and the Aegean continental shelf, and meddling in Thrace’s Muslim politics. Despite concerns, a ‘hot incident’ has thus far been avoided and this is often cited as proof of the benevolent nature of Greek-Turkish relations. But the situation is unlikely to remain static for much longer.
On the other hand, Turkey sees itself as a garantor of Turkish or muslim minorities in the Balkans.. It is easy to notice Turkey’s growing involvement in the greater region of the Balkans, involvement that can be seen as part of this country’s increasingly active foreign policy and quest for regional cooperation and involvement with all of its neighboring regions including: the Caucasus, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and the Balkans. Therefore, muslim /Turkish minorities in the North of Greece could not be excluded from this doctrine.
There are several inlets in the Aegean that Turkey has recently ramped up claims to as Ankara has once again begun publicly questioning the sovereignty of the Treaty of Lausanne in what Turkey calls the so-called “grey zone” where the inlets rest in the Aegean sea.
According to Greek Reporter, Greece’s Deputy Shipping Minister Nektarios Santorinios has set forth a plan that details inhabiting some 28 uninhabited Aegean islets for economic development which he has yet to specifically name.
Tensions between Greece and Turkey escalated in 1987 and in early 1996 over the inlets sovereignty when near military outbreaks almost occurred.For Greece, there are no grey areas in the Aegean; everything is cleared out in the international treaties and under these treaties.
In 1995, the Turkish parliament declared any unilateral attempt by Greece to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles from the current six miles as a casus belli, or reason to declare war. Parallel to the dispute over the delimitation of the territorial waters, the two countries are also at odds over the limits of Greek airspace in the Aegean. Greece claims 10 nautical miles of national air space, while Turkey recognizes only six miles because international law defines airspace as covering a state’s land and its territorial waters. (Hurriyet Daily News)
If the two countries established EEZs, the remaining space of international waters (19.7 per cent) would fall entirely under the jurisdiction of Athens.This explains why Turkey has always exerted pressure on its neighbour, claiming that the enlargement of Greek territorial waters to 12 n miles would represent a casus belli. If the Greek territorial waters were extended to 12 n miles in the Aegean Sea, Turkish warships coming from the Bosporus or from Izmir would be subject to the limitations of the ‘right of innocent passage’ or even to regulations adopted by Athens to link the central Mediterranean Sea.
For Turkey, the Greek islands do not have rights to exert jurisdiction on the continental shelf, as they are located on the Turkish continental shelf.