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Is Turkey On The Path To Restoring The Ottoman Empire?

Over the past two days, we’ve documented the escalating violence in Turkey, tracing the roots of Ankara’s newfound zeal for combating Islamic State to a long-running conflict with the Kurdistan Workers' Party and, more specifically, to an electoral setback for AKP.

In short, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s push to consolidate his power by transforming the country into a presidential republic was derailed last month when, for the first time in more than a decade, AKP lost its absolute majority in parliament thanks to the pro-Kurdish HDP which won 13% of the vote.  

The coalition building process has been predictably rocky, prompting Erdogan to threaten new elections in the event politicians can't "sort it out." Needing just two percentage points to regain its majority and clear the way for Erdogan’s power grab, Ankara has moved to stoke a nationalistic fervor by reigniting the conflict with PKK and drawing explicit links between the "terrorist" group and HDP politicians. Case in point (from AFP): 

Turkish prosecutors on Thursday opened a probe against the leader of Turkey's main Kurdish party over bloody October 2014 protests, the official Anatolia news agency reported.

 

Prosecutors in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir have started an investigation against Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) leader Selahattin Demirtas for inciting people to take up arms during the protests that left dozens dead, the agency said.

 

If the case comes to court, he could face up to 24 years in jail, it added.

 

The investigation comes as Turkey presses on with a military campaign against the Kurdish militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq.

 

Should the investigation conclude that Demirtas should be charged, prosecutors will ask that his parliamentary immunity be removed, the report said.

Of course it helps to have a cover for a brutal crackdown on one’s political foes, especially when the result will likely amount to the nullification of a democratic election outcome, which is why the ISIS-inspired suicide bombing in Suruc on July 20 looks rather convenient, as it prompted an angry and, more importantly, a predictable response from the PKK which allowed Erdogan to go straight to the US and then to NATO with a claim that in addition to launching airstrikes against ISIS, Turkey would need to hit the PKK as well. After all, they’re both officially labeled as "terrorist" organizations. 

Now, Turkey’s crackdown on political dissidents is officially sanctioned by NATO and Washington. 

Against that backdrop we bring you some fantastically metaphysical excerpts from a new piece by Stratfor. The following analysis of Turkey’s role in shaping the future of geopolitics is by Stratfor’s Vice President of Global Analysis Reva Bhalla who suggests that if one simply looks "through the lens of quantum theory", Turkey may be heading down an "unlikely path" to establishing a modern day Ottoman Empire.

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From Stratfor

Turkey’s unlikely path

Albert Einstein described space-time as a smooth fabric distorted by objects in the universe. For him, the separation between past, present and future was merely a "stubbornly persistent illusion." Building on Einstein's ideas, celebrated U.S. physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman, some of whose best ideas came from drawings he scribbled on cocktail napkins in bars and strip clubs, focused on how a particle can travel in waves from point A to point B along a number of potential paths, each with a certain probability amplitude. In other words, a particle will not travel in linear fashion; it will go up, down and around in space, skirting other particle paths and colliding into others, sometimes reinforcing or canceling out another completely. According to Feynman's theory, the sum of all the amplitudes of the different paths would give you the "sum over histories" — the path that the particle actually follows in the end.

The behavior of communities, proto-states and nation-states (at least on our humble and familiar planet Earth) arguably follows a similar path...

If we apply the nation-state as an organizing principle for the modern era (recognizing the prevalence of artificial boundaries and the existence of both nations without states and states without nations), the possibilities of a state's path are seemingly endless. However, a probability of a state's path can be constructed to sketch out a picture of the future.

Take Turkey, for example. For years, we have heard political elites in the United States, Eastern Europe and the Middle East lament a Turkey obsessed with Islamism and unwilling or incapable of matching words with action in dealing with regional competitors like Iran and Russia. Turkey was in many ways overlooked as a regional player, too consumed by its domestic troubles and too ideologically predisposed toward Islamist groups to be considered useful to the West. But Turkey's resurgence would not follow a linear path. There have been ripples and turns along the way, distorting the perception of a country whose regional role is, in the end, profoundly shaped by its position as a land bridge between Europe and Asia and the gatekeeper between the Black and Mediterranean seas.

How, then, can we explain a week's worth of events in which Turkey launched airstrikes at Islamic State forces and Kurdish rebels while preparing to extend a buffer zone into northern Syria — actions that mark a sharp departure from the timid Turkey to which the world had grown accustomed? We must look at the distant past, when Alexander the Great passed through the Cilician Gates to claim a natural harbor on the eastern Mediterranean (the eponymous city of Alexandretta, contemporarily known as Iskenderun) and the ancient city of Antioch (Antakya) as an opening into the fertile Orontes River Valley and onward to Mesopotamia. We move from the point when Seljuk Turks conquered Aleppo in the 11th century all the way up to the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of World War I, when a fledgling Turkish republic used all the diplomatic might it could muster to retake the strategic territories of Antioch and Alexandretta, which today constitute Hatay province outlining the Syrian-Turkish border.

We must simultaneously look at the present. A contemporary map of the Syria-Turkey border looks quite odd, with the nub of Hatay province anchored to the Gulf of Iskenderun but looking as though it should extend eastward toward Aleppo, the historical trading hub of the northern Levant, and onward through Kurdish lands to northern Iraq, where the oil riches of Kirkuk lie in what was formerly the Ottoman province of Mosul.

We then take a long look out into the future. Turkey's interest in northern Syria and northern Iraq is not an abstraction triggered by a group of religious fanatics calling themselves the Islamic State; it is the bypass, intersection and reinforcement of multiple geopolitical wavelengths creating an invisible force behind Ankara to re-extend Turkey's formal and informal boundaries beyond Anatolia.