Is Turkey the New Iran?



Recep Tayyip Erdogan with his wife Emine (left) and staff during a visit to Peru. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By now, no one could have any doubt that Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a shady agenda and he pays absolutely no attention to warnings by international organizations or other national leaders.

What is becoming more and more obvious is that every decision, every move Ankara makes of late, aims to provoke the international community. Or rather to test the tolerance of international organizations.

Erdogan does not seem to break a sweat when NATO, the United Nations, the European Union, Washington, France, Greece, Cyprus or anyone else issues warnings, makes suggestions or comments on what Turkey does. He continues to walk the lonely path of the leader who thinks that he is invincible and ever-righteous.

Most likely his perceived righteousness stems from his Muslim religious beliefs. Perhaps he believes he is the chosen one to lead his country to greatness with the help of God. Most of his actions indicate that he wants to turn Turkey into a theocracy, much like Iran.

By now it has become obvious that he does not want his country to be part of the West. All talks about becoming a member of the EU have taken a back seat. He often speaks in vulgar tones about Europe and the European Union. Several times he has used religious terms to refer to the “infidels” of the Western World and their “decline.”

Erdogan’s decision to turn the iconic Hagia Sophia church into a mosque is only one move in the direction of turning Turkey into a religious state. Despite the near-unanimous international outcry, the Byzantine church that stands as a powerful symbol of Christianity in the Near East — and a UNESCO monument of the cultural heritage of the world — is now a mosque and not a museum.

This was a symbolic move that worked two ways: It told the Turkish people that above all they are Muslims and they should not accept having Hagia Sophia as a symbol of Christian Orthodoxy and Byzantium in their land. At the same time, Erdogan spat in the face of Western culture and the West in general. Crocodile tears were shed at the time, but the West has already seemingly forgotten the abuse of the cultural monument and let the issue pass.

This week’s major provocation was the announcement that the seaside ghost town of Varosha in the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus will reopen as a resort. This time Erdogan spat in the face of the UN Security Council which, since 1984 has (kindly and politely) asked Turkey to remove its soldiers from Varosha so that its 39,000 residents can return to their homes.

Of course, the Turkish troops are still there and Varosha will likely open as a resort in the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” the pseudo-state that only Ankara recognizes.

The EU — or rather Germany — so far has treated Erdogan’s grandiose plans and provocative actions against member states Greece and Cyprus as if they are temporary whims. Chancellor Angela Merkel clearly places her country’s interests in Turkey and the three million Turks who live in Germany first.

For her, the EU member nations of Greece and Cyprus have not been seen as significant enough to bring her to sign off yet on any sanctions against the bully of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Discussions about sanctions against Turkey will begin again at the December EU Summit, if Erdogan has not complied with the repeated warnings by then.

By now, there is not a single person who believes Turkey will stop acting like a superpower that does as it pleases in the Eastern Mediterranean. And there is not a single person that truly believes that the exploratory talks Turkey and Greece agreed on will bear any fruit.

What is certain, however, is that before the talks, Erdogan will find even more ways to provoke Greece, Cyprus and the international community.