Much is being said about the Russia-Turkey tiff over the latter’s shooting down of the former’s warplane which had supposedly crossed from Syrian airspace into a spit of “Turkish” territory (really part of Armenian Cilicia) that juts into Syria. I’ll start my observations by pointing out Turkey’s typical hypocrisy when it comes to the underlying reason, the “sanctity” of its borders, for which Ankara is in such a huff. This matter hasn’t gotten quite as much attention.
No doubt you recall the violation of Armenia’s airspace by Turkish military helicopters on October 6 and 7, allegedly because of bad weather. No one shot them down.
I’ve been hearing about Turkey’s violations of Greek airspace of the latter’s Aegean islands since the 1980s. One source put these transgressions at 2244 instances during 2014 and another just mentioned 114 with no time frame. No planes shot down in any of these violations.
Syria shot down a Turkish reconnaissance plane in 2012 when it crossed into Syrian territory, sending Ankara into a tizzy. Finally, a downed bird… but it was flying over the wrong nest.
Turkey conducted a raid into Syria to move the relics of Suleiman Shah (grandfather of the Ottoman Empire’s founder), to a “safer” location. The tomb is located in Syria. What happened to the border?
A Syrian jet that Turkey said crossed into its airspace was shot down in March of 2014. Oops, it seems the border that had “vanished” for Suleiman suddenly reappeared!
Of course we have the much more substantial situations, too, than the mere crossing of borders. Turkey wants Artzakh returned to Azeri control despite the legal, legitimate, steps our compatriots there have taken to establish their independence. Turkey occupies 40% of Cyprus. The Sanjak of Alexadretta was obtained by Turkey from the French under questionable conditions and is still claimed by Syria. The biggie is Wilsonian Armenia, of course, which Turkey has illegally occupied for 95 years.
In Ankara’s eyes, the sanctity of borders matters ONLY when it accrues to Turkish interests. All other cases are null and irrelevant.
What really seems to underlie this crisis isn’t really a question of borders. It’s clear what the Russians are doing there, and it is not a threat to Turkey in any meaningful, substantive, way. It seems to me there are four factors, listed below, in no particular order:
1- Only one segment in the band of land just south of the Turkey-Syria border is currently NOT under Kurdish or Syrian government control. This is the only direct route Turkey has remaining to continue its support of its IS/Daesh allies. It is also evidently heavily populated by Turkmens which fits neatly into Ankara’s Pan-Turkist calculus. This is a sector where it appears Russian supported Syrian troops are currently attempting to re-assert Damascus’ control, hence the downing of the Russian plane in that area.
2- Similarly, this corridor is the clearest path for transshipment of IS/Daesh controlled oil to and through Turkey. If Russian assertions are correct, then there is also a personal-gain factor for Turkey’s Erdoğan, in that his family is benefiting directly from this illicit oil trade.
3- Another IS/Daesh related angle underlying Turkey’s brazen downing of the Russian plane is to complicate matters among the various air-forces operating in the area in addition to Russia’s which might give IS/Daesh some wriggle room or time to regroup. It also is a way to increase the costs to Russia of its operations by forcing it to have more planes in the air during any given operation to protect one another against future Turkish attacks.
4- Questions of control over the skies that are not exclusively related to the conflict in Syria also play into this action as Russia installs ever more sophisticated equipment and weaponry in the area.
Once again, it’s time for all of us to harangue, cajole, argue, lobby, etc. the White House and Congress to bring Turkey to heel and focus all efforts on the real threat posed by IS/Da’esh.
*”Twaff” is a term I learned from my paternal family meaning some combination of “odd,” “weird,” “strange,” “unusual,” “off.” Evidently it’s the Armenianized version of “tuhaf,” a Turkish word of the same meaning.