Are Erdogan's ambitions for a superpower status for Turkey crumbling?
By John Solomou
Nicosia [Cyprus], October 5 (ANI): Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan back in June 2018 declared that his next goal would be to make Turkey a "top ten world power" and spoke about his country's increasing influence in international affairs.
As part of Erdogan's ambitions to turn his country into a superpower, Turkey is actively involved in conflicts with Syria and Libya, tries to extend its influence into the Aegean Sea, is illegally drilling in Cyprus' gas exploration blocks, accuses the UAE of betraying the Palestinians, and now backs Azerbaijan in its war with Armenia.
But the question is whether all these moves strengthen Erdogan's grandiose ambitions or actually undermine them and whether his dream of Turkey acquiring a superpower status is crumbling?
It should be mentioned that Turkey has established military bases in Qatar and Somalia, and according to several reports, it makes efforts to establish a base in the Sudanese island of Suakin by the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa, where Ankara, together with Qatar, compete for influence against the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Erdogan's actions instead of gaining him friends have alienated many of its strongest supporters. Ankara has angered the West by trying to establish close relations with Russia and even risks US sanctions with its purchase of the S400 missile defence system. But both in Syria and in Libya and now in Nagorno- Karabakh, Turkey and Russia support different sides in the respective wars. Ankara's policies have alienated it from all its former friends and currently, the only country which can be considered to be its ally in Qatar.
Undoubtedly, the Turkish economy is now in serious trouble -- indicative of this is the fact that according to media reports the Turkish Lira has lost 22 per cent of its value since the beginning of the year. But instead of trying to find ways of improving the economy, Erdogan is trying to distract the public from Turkey's economic woes to "national struggles" abroad, that is, defending Turkic people in other countries.
In recent months the number COVID-19 cases in the country have been rising steadily, while the head of the Turkish Medical Association in Ankara a few weeks ago accused the government of hiding the real numbers of COVID-19 cases and related deaths, while doctors warned that hospitals are running out of beds as infections surge.
It is noted that due to the pandemic a key sector of the Turkish economy, that of tourism lost about one-fourth of its custom this summer. Even the major gas discovery in the Black Sea, which is preliminarily estimated at 11.3 trillion cubic feet, cannot save Turkey's woeful economic outlook, as its development will take more than five years and an enormous investment to be made before gas becomes commercially viable.
Furthermore, foreign investors who previously accounted for about 40 per cent of the bond and equity market, now account for only 5 per cent, following the downgrading by the Moody's rating agency of Turkish bonds to "junk" status.
Another strong blow on the Turkish economy is the Saudi embargo on Turkish products imposed as from October 3, which accounts to some USD 3.3 billion a year.
The relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia have greatly deteriorated due to the policy followed by Ankara in the Gulf, the military operations in Syria and the verbal attacks on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud who is openly accused by the Turks as ordering the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.
Aykan Erdemir, Senior Director of the Turkey Programme at the US-based Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, has said that "the increasing troubles facing the Turkish government at home, now march alongside increasing belligerence abroad" and reminded that "Erdogan has never shied from using force. In Syria he certainly didn't stop at just rhetoric," he pointed out.
President Erdogan wants to portray himself as a defender of Muslims in general and in the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as a great sword-wielding warrior defending Muslim Azeris against Christian Armenians. The truth, however, may be different. By sending men and military hardware to Azerbaijan, Erdogan may be trying to exact revenge on Armenians who for decades have annoyed Ankara, by demanding the recognition of the Armenian genocide by Ottoman Turks back in 1914-1923.
French President Emmanuel Macron on October 2 demanded that Turkey explained what he said was the arrival of jihadist fighters in Azerbaijan and urged his partners in NATO to face up to the behaviour of the actions of their ally.
So far Erdogan has successfully deflected Turkish public opinion from the burning issues of the time, by keeping the population on the edge and getting them rally round the flag. The question, however, is for how long can he implement these tactics?
Davide Luca, a specialist on Turkey and visiting fellow with the LSE Middle East Centre, has said that "Erdogan and his government have always been good at distracting people from their economic woes by getting them rally round the flag". (ANI)