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03/04/2020

Reflections of the Blue Homeland in Idlib

Reflections of the Blue Homeland in Idlib

War against the Syrian government cannot be a goal for Turkey: even if such a victory could be achieved, it would undoubtedly be a Pyrrhic one. As the situation grows worse and worse, the US-backed Democratic Union Party (PYD) has been building up strength, and could soon pose a serious threat to our security. Turkey recently woke up to the news of 33 of its soldiers being martyred in Idlib. We lost 33 of our sons within the span of a few hours for a cause around which there is still a great deal of debate. I hope their families find patience, and may we keep our martyrs in our thoughts and prayers. It is important that we understand that this was a result of keeping Turkish soldiers in an area without any air defense or any airspace control, leaving them open to attack.

The same old mistakes

As a result of Turkey’s geopolitical stance since the Sledgehammer Arrests in 2011, we have been dragged into the US’ destabilization efforts and nearly incited into civil war with our southern neighbor, Syria. Our main motivation was opposition to Bashar al Assad’s Alawite government rule over the country’s majority Sunni population. The United States and its partners saw the sensitivity of the issue for the Turkish government and used it to apply pressure. As a result, the path to a swamp under the idea of “holding prayer at the Umayyad Mosque” was carved. These events occurred around the same time period our historical ally, Libya, was destabilized and destroyed.

Turkey itself added fuel to the fire during the disintegration of Libya. However, in our republic’s history, we had long held to a state tradition of avoiding imperialism in the Middle East and North Africa. For example, we were able to stay away from the Arab-Israeli War, the Iran-Iraq War and the First Gulf War: at that time we were involved in peacekeeping operations in line with the UN and NATO, and not involved in combat. Turkey was able to abide by this tradition when the US pushed to house troops near the Iraq border on March 1, 2003. If Turkey had not voted against the plan to open a northern front in Iraq, we would have entered into the Middle Eastern political swamp for the first time in the Turkish Republic’s history.

A similar event occurred in 2004 around the Annan Plan, which would have brought about the end of the TRNC. If the Greeks had approved this plan, we would have lost a major front in the War for the Blue Homeland in the Eastern Mediterranean. Although Turkey has not actively played a role in the process of disintegration of Iraq as a result of the Gulf wars, it has continued to support the Federal Kurdish Administration which was formed in the post-2003 Northern Iraq, which is today called Barzanistan. Barzani was greeted at Diyarbakır with placards that read “Welcome to Kurdistan” in 2013. The PKK is the biggest threat to Turkey in Iraq, and yet there was no substantive opposition to the United States’ support for them, at least until the operations Turkey conducted in 2015.

The breaking point: July 15, 2016

On the evening of July 15, 2016, Turkey and the US finally went their separate ways. July 15 is etched in history as the day the global hegemon attempted to drag Turkey into civil war. However, our nation managed to thwart Washington’s plans and evade the trap. After 70 years of participation in the Atlanticist system, our “allies” attempted to foment the unthinkable in our country, pitting us against one another. Had they succeeded, brothers would have fought against their brothers and the Atlanticist front would have removed all obstacles to total domination, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean. This would, at the very least, have meant a puppet Kurdistani state with sea access, our military withdrawal from the TRNC and the loss of 150,000 square kilometers of maritime jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean.

As a result, Turkey embarked on an entirely new course on the morning of July 16, 2016. The most important outcome of the situation was the swift improvement of Turkish-Russian and Turkish-Chinese relations. Pro-mandate supporters in Turkey were naturally extremely frustrated with this situation: Turkey was now shifting towards Asia. As the world shifts from a unipolar to a multipolar order, and as the ‘Asian Century’ kicks off, the steps taken by Turkey, the most important country of the Rimland, are critical. After all, Turkey has already stopped the Kurdish puppet state inside the Syrian territory from obtaining sea access, bought S-400s from Russia in defiance of Washington, completed the TurkStream pipeline, threatened to close the Incirlik and Kurecik NATO bases, declared that it would protect his maritime rights in the Blue Homeland, signed a maritime agreement with Libya and made concrete statements on the independent presence of the TRNC.

Countering the hegemon

Despite these important steps forward, there has been a major breach in the Rimland. After the US lost control of Iran in 1979, Turkey’s turn away from the Atlantic front was simply unacceptable. Our enemies began to plot. Pro-mandate supporters inside Turkey, alongside foreign intelligence agencies, were ready for provocation by any means. This is what we are seeing in Syria today, especially in Idlib. After Trump’s arrogant letter, after all of the disinformation and the psychological warfare, after the manipulation of exchange rates and the economic embargo imposed by the United States, a dagger was finally plunged into the soft underbelly of Turkish-Russian relations: first in Libya, then in Idlib. After the 70 years of Atlanticist indoctrination, the Turkish elite on both the right and the left wing have learned to see the US as a savior, despite the coup attempt. February 28, 2020, will be marked in history as a major blow to the new formations that developed in the wake of the attempted coup.

Reflections in the Eastern Mediterranean

While relations with Russia are declining over the situation on the Syrian front, the development of relations with the United States and NATO will naturally have serious consequences for the Eastern Mediterranean. Given that a Presidential adviser in Bestepe has proposed “closing the Turkish Straits to the Russians”, it seems we may now be losing control in the fight against the Atlanticist front in the Mediterranean. In the Eastern Mediterranean, it is likely that Russia will shift toward our other opponents, the Greek-Israeli-South Cypriot and Egyptian bloc. If that happens, only time will tell how long Turkey will be able to maintain its maritime presence and drilling activities. Whatever decisions are eventually made in the UN Security Council will be another direct consequence. Asking NATO and the United States for support in Idlib could open up a major breach in the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean as a result of which significant concessions will need to be made.

The situation will also undoubtedly weaken the fight against FETO. In short, Turkey will become even more isolated in the Eastern Mediterranean basin, a place where it is already nearly on its own. My biggest worry is that this will lead to concessions regarding our Blue Homeland. When NATO Representative Kay Hutchison learned about the situation in Idlib, she said “the Turks must find out who is a reliable partner and who isn’t… And I hope that President Erdogan will see that we are the allies of their past and their future and they need to drop the S-400 project…” Her comments should make it clear who stands to benefit from the ongoing conflict.

State administration and responsibility

The state is essentially like a big ship. Everyone on board is affected when a fire breaks out, or if the ship drifts, gets stranded… or sinks. The main task of the administration on the bridge of the ship is to determine the destination and to draw the most appropriate course for it. In the course of this process, the administration must act with reason and experience, using lessons taken from history, making firm decisions while avoiding senseless heroism. In Syria, it seems we have been blown off course, and Idlib might prove to be a storm that swallows the Turkish State whole. We must avoid being dragged into open conflict with the Syrian government at all costs.

In the spirit of the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Grand National Assembly, the situation in Idlib and the state’s responsibilities should be debated in an open session, rather than in a closed one between the ruling and opposition parties. After all, the sons we have lost in Idlib are the sons of the entire Nation. As Ataturk said, “The nation’s future will be avenged with determination and decisiveness.” The nation has sacrificed its sons, and it has the right to be involved in choosing its course and discussing the consequences.

 
Cem Gürdeniz
Admiral Cem Gürdeniz graduated from Turkish Naval Academy in 1979. As a deck officer, he served in different in destroyers and frigates. He assumed the Command of guided missile frigate TCG Gaziantep and the Third Destroyer Division. He completed his education in Turkish Naval War College and Armed Forces College. He holds two masters degrees from US Naval Postgraduate School and Université Libre Brussels (ULB) in personnel management and international politics respectively. He was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral (lower half) in 2004 and upper half in 2008. He served as the Chief, Strategy and Agreements Department and then the Head of Plans and Policy Division in Turkish Naval Forces Headquarters. As his combat duties, he has served as the commander of Amphibious Ships Group and Mine Fleet. He retired in 2012 as a result of the Sledgehammer Bogus Case. He is the founder and Director of the Istanbul Koc University Maritime Forum. In addition to his native Turkish, he is fluent in English and French. Admiral GUrdeniz is the writer of numerous publications in multiple languages languages including ‘Bluehomeland Writings.’ He is a columnist at Aydınlık Daily and Yacht Magazine.

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