Has Turkey’s Erdogan finally overplayed his hand?

Special to WorldTribune, May 11, 2021

Analysis by Eric Clary

An entire century has passed since the Armenian genocide began, yet the Biden administration has suddenly felt compelled to officially recognize it.

The atrocity that occurred between 1915-23 means few if any genocide survivors are still alive. While descendants of survivors welcome the administration’s gestures, the real motives may lay in regional geopolitics.

Comeuppance for Turkish President Recep Erdogan? / Video Image

In an apparent response released days after President Biden’s formal recognition of the Armenian Genocide, Gulnur Aybet, Senior Advisor to Turkish President Recep Erdogan and Professor at the country’s National Defense University, essentially said that if Washington wants a stable Eastern Mediterranean then it had better play by Turkish rules.

“Turkey’s relations with the U.S. have suffered a blow, but the U.S. needs to understand that in a changing world, regional stability cannot be achieved without Turkish cooperation,” Aybet stated.

She continued:

“If Turkey was too important to ‘lose’ back in the day when presidents chose tact over populism and treaded carefully around this sensitive matter, keeping the Turkey – U.S. strategic partnership should be all the more important for the U.S. in today’s more unpredictable world with its plethora of challenges.”

Have the Turks finally overplayed their hand?

For years President Erdogan has attempted to reassert Turkey as the undisputed leader of the Muslim world with deployments of Turkish troops not just to Syria but Libya, Iraq, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan and most recently Azerbaijan.

The Associated Press reported last December that the Turkish parliament quietly extended a law by 18 months for the deployment of Turkish troops in Libya in defiance of a United Nations-brokered ceasefire. The article points out that “Turkey also signed a controversial maritime agreement with the Tripoli government last year, giving it access to a contested economic zone across the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The deal added tensions to Turkey’s ongoing dispute with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt over oil and gas drilling rights.”

Turkey’s aggressive and outright devious behavior won the republic few friends. A decisive blow came when the NATO member took delivery of the Russian S-400 mobile surface-to-air missile system. In late April, Turkey was officially excluded from the F-35 program. This after repeated warnings from the Trump administration and the imposition of financial sanctions on Ankara last December.

Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 system bought little goodwill from Moscow. After supporting opposite sides in the Syrian Civil War, Turkey again sided against its historical adversary when Erdogan welcomed the President of Ukraine to take part in the ninth meeting of the Turkish-Ukrainian High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council.

According to Al Jazeera, “There is substance to the Ukraine-Turkey relationship, not just grand rhetoric. In 2019, Kyiv purchased 12 Bayraktar TB2 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), the very weapon system that gave Turkish allies advantage on the battlefields of Syria, Libya, and Nagorno-Karabakh. Gen. Ruslan Khomchak, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, has confirmed plans to acquire five more.”

After finding itself at odds with Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United States and the minor regional powers, few options remain.

Last Wednesday, meetings commenced in Cairo where Al-Monitor’s Semih Idiz observed, “[n]othing represents the collapse of Erdogan’s Islamist foreign policy, however, more than his efforts to mend fences with the Arab world now, and with Egypt in particular.”

For now, Turkey seems to be recognizing its foreign policy failure. Journalist Martin Jay suggested that the final nail in the coffin came with the Biden administration’s acknowledgement of Turkey’s role in the Armenian genocide.

As valid as this sounds, Politico’s senior politics editor Charles Mahtesian, in a column entitled “Why Biden’s Armenian Genocide Declaration Really Is a Big Deal,” made every effort to say this was not about politics or material gain – it was about justice.

But “from 1894 to 1924, a staggered campaign of genocide targeted not just the region’s Armenians but its Greek and Assyrian communities as well,” a 2019 Wall Street Journal article argued. As a result, Asia Minor’s ancient Christian communities fell from 20 percent to under 2 percent of the population.

But for all of the talk of justice, compensation and reparations can’t be far off. For congressmen like Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), whose district encompasses little Armenia, recognizing the genocide could be the first step in landing large settlements for constituents eager to make campaign donations.

In addition, if this declaration of genocide were truly about justice, then the Biden administration is tasked to explain why Greeks, especially Pontic Greeks, purged from Anatolia were left off the list.

Turkey’s inclusion and cooperation within NATO may be too important for Team Biden to recognize the genocide of the Anatolian Greeks.

As it stands, the declaration on the Armenian genocide is more about Turkey’s behavior today than during World War I.

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