The talented Erdogan is the new Sultan of Turkey, dominating the Middle East chessboard (1)

Le Petit Journal/Getty; Guido Bergmann/ Bundesregierung/ Getty. Portrait of the Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II, 1897; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, 2015

By Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai

The “Justice and Development Party” (AKP) won the Turkish elections with 52.6 per cent of the vote, securing 293 of out 600 of the seats in the parliament. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ruled for 15 years over Turkey and he will rule for the next five years, renewable, and will enjoy a free hand, with full power over the country. By combining with the ultra-Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) which won 49 seats, he enjoys a comfortable majority. He has formed nine presidential committees and eight councils acting as coordinators and advisors on foreign and domestic policies. In foreign affairs, he is today managing the impossible contradictions between the Middle Eastern countries and between east and west and is apparently attempting to unite all these elements under one umbrella.

Erdogan has managed to secure a robust position between Russia and the US, between Israel and the Palestinians, and between the Sunni world he belongs to and the Shia Iran. There is no doubt of his astute intelligence in external policy: no other Muslim leader has managed what Erdogan has achieved to date.

Turkey and Syria:

President Erdogan adopted the “regime change” objective set in 2011 by the international community to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power. Turkey aimed to recover some of the glory of the Ottoman Empire and dreamed of controlling Syria or at least the north, i.e. Aleppo, Idlib and the Kurdish enclaves bordering Turkey.

Turkey has become the favourite crossing point for all jihadists and recruits willing to join the “Islamic State” (ISIS) and al-Qaeda in Syria. The country has become the source of military, logistic, medical, and intelligence support to all jihadists who can contribute to achieving the main goal (Regime Change). Turkey offered support to jihadists and to Syrian proxy groups in the battle of Kesseb where these managed to reach the Mediterranean and take control of Idlib and Jisr al-Shoughour starting the attack from the Syrian-Turkish borders in 2015. Ankara did not hesitate to buy oil from ISIS, contributing massively to the wealth of this terrorist group.

Not only that, President Erdogan ordered his army to shoot downa Russian Sukhoi, challenging a superpower at the end of 2015, a step the US would certainly not dare to take against Russia in Syria. I can remember only one incident when the US bombed the Syrian Army and some Russian contractors in Deir-Ezzour. But then the Americans informed the Russians of their intentions prior the attack.

But it was the Turkish president who restored the relationship with President Vladimir Putin, visiting him in Moscow to both revive the relationship and repair the economic damage suffered by Turkey in the wake of the Sukhoi incident.

Moreover, Erdogan gave the Russians control of Aleppo by ordering his Syrian proxies to pull out the thousands of militants barricaded in the city prior to the attack. The liberation of Aleppo marked a turning point in the history of the war imposed on Syria, when all Assad’s enemies (including the mainstream media) understood to their great disappointment that the “regime change” plan had failed. Nevertheless, Erdogan didn’t lose the loyalty of the Syrian rebels, militants and jihadists, extremist radicals or those combining the Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood ideologies like “Ahrar al-Sham”. All those, in fact, had little alternative but to remain loyal to Turkey, the country that controlled “even the air they breathe”-especially when all the other countries (Qatar, Saudi Arabia and even the US) drop their finance and support.

President Erdogan significantly accepted to participate in the Russian Astana talks and managed to secure a permanent presence of Turkish military observers all around rural Idlib and spare the city from being attacked by Russian and Syrian government forces.

Turkey didn’t stop there: its forces have secured the control of the northern cities and the enclave inhabited by Kurds in Afrin, Jarablus and- last but not least- it imposed on the US to abandon its Kurdish proxies, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and allow Turkish forces to patrol the city of Manbij. Erdogan made it clear to the Americans that he won’t tolerate a Kurdish state or a federation on his borders. Turkey considers the YPG as being a terrorist group, a Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) whose intention is to claim Turkish territory for the largest Kurdish ethnic group in Turkey. President Erdogan represents a real obstacle to the US plans in Syria to annex the north and establish military bases because this would encourage the Kurds to gather in al-Hasaka, which represents 23% of the total Syrian geography but is occupied by less than 7% of the population.

The Turkish President has united all the players: he has supported ISIS and later has contributed to its downfall. He has supported al-Qaeda and informed all militants in Idlib that he would not tolerate extremist jihadists in the area under his custody. He wanted to change the Syrian regime but he offered to Damascus the industrial capital of Aleppo and closed his eyes to the liberation of al-Ghouta (Damascus). He shot down a Russia Jet, challenged Moscow, but later played his cards successfully to the point that Russia pulled out of Afrin, allowing Turkey to control it (mainly due to the Kurdish serious strategic mistake). Erdogan flirted with Russia but forced the US to give up on their Kurdish proxies in Manbij.

Turkey didn’t offer billions to the US (like Saudi Arabia) for protection, nor to stay in power. Erdogan could force the hand of the US because of being sufficiently aware of the importance of his country in international and regional geopolitics. He gave away in Syria what in fact doesn’t belong to him (only to Syria!) and earned the support of Iran even though his proxies are fighting the Iranian allies on the battlefield. He also has gained Syrian territory (around 10,000 sq km) where the Turkish language is taught and where the Syrian population is being assimilated into a Turkish-oriented setup.

Yes, Erdogan didn’t come out as an absolute winner in the Turkish elections despite his overall victory by a narrow margin. But, even if he is widely criticised for his domestic policies, he is emerging as victorious in that most complicated arena, Middle East foreign policy, an astute player recognised as such by both his friends and enemies.

Proof read by: Maurice Brasher

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