Turkey’s Hegemonial Ventures in Syria and Iraq

A picture taken from Turkey shows smoke rising from Kobani, as Turkish tanks stand watch


As the U.S.-led air strikes targeted the Islamic State (IS) fighters across the Syrian frontier with Turkey, the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani became more forsaken than ever. The township is now at the mercy of IS militants, who are poised to capture it after three weeks of siege.

Kobani, which is the Kurdish name of the township, is known by its Arabic name as Ayn al Arab. Its original name was Arabounar, given by the survivors of the Armenian Genocide who established it as a haven from Turkish atrocities.

No one is lifting a finger to protect the township and its people from certain slaughter by the IS henchmen. Least of all Turkey, whose armed forces and tanks are within sight across the border, yet they are acting as spectators to the calamity befalling on Kobani.

Turkey’s inaction is very typical toward all Syrian and Iraqi areas that are similarly situated as Kobani. This inaction is deliberate, because it veils Turkey’s hegemonial objectives in Syria and Iraq that were once part of the Ottoman Empire.

What lies behind this transparent veil represents the underpinnings of Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman aspirations. As territories belonging to the Ottoman Empire nearly a century ago, Syria with its strategic location and Iraq with its petroleum riches are coveted prizes in the eyes of Turkey. They cannot be reincorporated into Turkey, but they must surely be brought under Turkish influence via the imposition of the kind of leadership in Bagdad and Damascus that is docile to Turkey.

To achieve this objective, the current governing leadership in Syria and Iraq must be weakened and thereafter replaced by “friendly” faces. This approach explains why since 2010 Turkey has been training, arming and assisting a garden variety of terrorist militants, including Al-Qaeda elements, to carry out their insurgency in Syria and Iraq. It also explains the current Turkish inaction in the face of IS onslaughts against townships such as Kobani. The Turkish motto of the day is: Let IS disintegrate Syria and destabilize Iraq. The more the disintegration and destabilization progress, the better are Turkey’s chances to reach its hegemonial prospects over its two neighbors who are supposed to be sovereigns.

Turkey views the insurgents in Syria and Iraq as natural allies in terms of enhancing its hegemonial objectives. Its belated and reluctant accession to the U.S. led coalition against IS will hardly bring any changes in its ties with the insurgent elements. Recent statements by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan evidence Turkey’s double-talk on the matter of the fight against IS and its militants.

Last Tuesday, in a televised speech in the eastern city of Gaziantep, Erdogan claimed that air-strikes were insufficient and that “ground operation” was needed to defeat the militants. He said, “The terror will not be over… unless we cooperate for a ground operation,” adding, “I am telling the West … dropping bombs from the air will not provide a solution.” These all add up to one solution in the eyes of Erdogan – “ground operation” is needed and such an operation can only be carried out by Turkey’s armed forces.

Erdogan’s solution, therefore, is to obtain a free ticket to occupy northern Syria. Yet this ticket gets even cheaper if one is to follow Erdogan’s recommendation for a final solution to the IS threat. A week earlier, he reiterated his call for a “no-fly zone” to protect against attack against Syrian air force. He maintained, “A no-fly zone must be declared and this no fly-zone must be secured,” claiming that he has already discussed this matter with President Obama and Vice President Biden.

The sum total of these recommendations yield Turkish armed forces a free pass into northern Syria – “no-fly zone”, protection from Syrian air attacks, then a smooth ground operation led by the Turkish army. As they say it in Turkish, “gel guzelim, gel” (“come baby, come”).

Of course this recipe carries with it yet another prize – the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime from power. According to a statement made earlier, Erdogan said that Turkey will fight against IS and other militants, however it will adhere to its aim of seeing Bashar al-Assad removed from power. As Erdogan put it, Turkey will fight IS, yet “We will continue to prioritize our aim to remove the Syrian regime, to help protect the territorial integrity of Syria and to encourage a constitutional, parliamentary government system which embraces all citizens.”

The real issue then becomes – who is Turkey fighting against? The answer is very obvious. Turkish fight against IS may only be a side-show. Turkey’s real fight is for the removal of President Bashar al-Assad and his regime and their replacement with a government docile to Turkey.

Hopefully, President Obama and the State Department are not overlooking Erdogan’s designs in Syria. These are designs that are incompatible with U.S. policy objectives and work counter to U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East. In this sense, Erdogan and Turkey continue to act as spoilers to U.S. objectives in that region.

Some 95 years ago, President Woodrow Wilson and British Prime Minister David Lloyd George faced the same kind of Turkish bravado. This was back in June 1919, when Damat Farid Pasha, the Prime Minister (or the Grand Vizier) of the disintegrating Ottoman empire, presented himself with a memorandum to the Allied Powers at the French Foreign Ministry in Paris. Farid Pasha presented the Allies with many claims and proposals to save his Empire from further disintegration. Among his claims, the Pasha also presented that “In Asia, the Turkish lands are bounded on the south by the provinces of Mosul and Diyarbakir, as well as a part of Aleppo as far as the Mediterranean.”

After the Pasha left, the allies rejected the Ottoman claims. As for the Pasha’s claims, President Wilson said he had never seen anything more “stupid,” while Prime Minister Lloyd George considered the Pasha’s presentation a “good joke.”

Now, another Turkish leader with Ottoman penchants, namely Turkey’s President and former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is making a similar claim.

Will President Obama display President Wilson’s courage and call Erdogan’s designs “stupid”? Will Vice President Biden manifest Prime Minister Lloyd George’s wit and treat Erdogan’s plans as a “good joke?”


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  1. zorik said:

    No, they won’t. They both are under pressure from Erdoghan who runs the U.S.foregin policy. Erdoghan is way smarter than them. U.S and western allies depend too much on this Guy. The first thing, they have to do is expel the Turkey from NATO and Support Iraqi leaders to stabilize the region. Turkey is a cancerous tumor in middle east. It should be removed ASAP.

    • GB said:

      Turkish stupidity and oxymoron hood has no limits, and I wonder how US politician fall into this new Ottoman’s trap!

    • GeorgeMardig said:

      I Agree, Turkey got used for free meal, he betrayed the US again and again and again, while enjoying the benefit of American Tax payers money, Turkey ”is” the problem,

  2. Lusik said:

    Somehow I give an importance to that Turkey was the first country visited by new elected president Mr. Obama.
    Somehow I give an importance to that premier-minister Mr. Erdogan was named as most admired politician by new elected president Mr. Obama.
    Therefore, I don’t exclude that president Mr. Obama plays favorably for new elected president Mr. Erdogan.
    Please prove that I am wrong.

  3. Hrant A. said:

    Excellent analysis. The writer gives a historical perspective to Turkish designs. While It has been nurturing the rise of these terrorist organizations, Turkey is continuing to hedge and to deceive the US and its NATO Allies. After the eventual fall of Kabani, the world will once again witness a present day Genocide and fail to prevent it. Turkey should be held responsible for not acting to stop the bloodshed. The writer fails to mention that Turkey by its inaction and by blocking any supplies or ammunition to reach Kurdish fighters, is bent on letting the Kurdish presence disappear and with it any chance of a future Kurdistan in Syria,, Iraq and most notably in Turkey.

  4. GeorgeMardig said:

    Turkey’s strategy is to drag his feet as long as he can to weaken the Kurds.

  5. AR said:

    Neither the US nor its NATO allies care about the Kurds, Armenians, or other minority groups in the region. Hence why they refuse to publicly pressure and shame turkey into action.

  6. tommy said:

    This is partly untrue. Turkey can’t invade because Iran told it not too–become bigger war. However, Turkey is WRONG in not allowing Kurds to cross the border to go fight. The Turks want it to happen.

  7. Janapar said:

    Smart guy that Erdogan.
    If the war stays over in the south east, those pesky Kurds get killed and sooner or later ISIS and Assad are gone.
    ​If the war goes up into western Turkey he will call on NATO to save him and sideline the Kurds who will be out of the news way out west.

  8. Ahmet said:

    What the author depicts seems to be the only viable option today. It has been proven time and again that the US policies have not worked in the region at all. So, let Turkey’s policies be put in action and see how things go…

    • Armenian said:

      Turkey’s policies put into action? You mean completely cleanse the region of Kurds and Armenians? No thanks.

  9. Hrant K. said:

    Seto, a very thorough analysis, bravo! One thing hasn’t been noted though, mainly the PKK’s re-emergence
    and threatening of the current turkish (artificial) state’s geographic unity. Disintegration is imminent!!!!!!!

  10. Jacque said:

    with all my respect to the offices they both hold, that’s president Obama and Vice President Biden .
    I don’t see neither one of them to have the ability to see nor to take action against any Turkish aggression or self interest plans, they’re both just too ignorant and lack the vision and courage.
    We have the records to prove that domestically and in foreign affairs.
    I haven’t seen bunch of politacl idiots in all my life and that goes to all of the personels that work and advise our leaders.
    What would you expect from a government run by special interests.

  11. Alex Postallian said: