Category Archives: Turkey

Muslim Ban? Fragile States?

 

Here’s Trump’s list of banned Muslim countries in red, and the ones where he has business interests are in gold. The unlabeled one at the uper right is Azerbaijan.

Trump's Muslim Ban Countries

Trump’s Muslim Ban Countries

And here’s a fragile states index for the region.

Fragile States Worst

Fragile States Worst

The banned countries are places where the governments have basically collapsed. People are complaining about the relationship between Trump businesses and the presence or absence of a ban. I’m not justifying, nor am I criticizing, I’m just noting that here is some data that hasn’t commonly appeared in conjunction with the coverage of the issue.

This map originally appeared in Fragile States Index 2016.

Eastern Mediterranean Gas Fields & Pipelines

Eastern Mediterranean Gas Fields

Eastern Mediterranean Gas Fields

The eastern Mediterranean has natural gas resources but with the exception of Egyptian production this is rarely mentioned, almost never in the geopolitical press and only rarely in the energy specific trade press. The Oil Drum offers an excellent series of detailed articles tagged with ‘Israel’, but the style is dense and high context – you have to know the business to be able to interpret the content.

Eastern Mediterranean Gas Corridor

Eastern Mediterranean Gas Corridor

A third gas corridor: prospects for the East Med offers details on the construction of a pipeline from Israel to the European gas market.

The construction of this ‘East Med Pipeline’, which would connect Israel, Cyprus and Greece to Italy and the rest of Europe, is feasible but it will be costly, and can only be justly assessed when further exploration is concluded and additional gas deposits are confirmed. If, however, the scientifically estimated deposits are proven to exist, it is undoubtedly the best long-term option and solution, not only for the countries involved, but for the EU as well

The red lines in the first map denote the Arab Gas Pipeline. Here’s a more detailed view of it.

Arab Gas Pipeline

Arab Gas Pipeline

We find in the Wikipedia article an example of what The Oil Drum would call “above ground issues”:

The Egyptian pipeline carrying natural gas to Israel and Jordan, has been attacked 15 times since the start of the uprising in early 2011 and 21 July 2012. On November 13, Jordan Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said that “In the past 18 months of the Arab Spring, Jordan has lost between $4-5 billion at least as a result of oil stoppage, especially the Egyptian gas supplies”.

Turkey Pipeline Network

Turkey Pipeline Network

Russia is currently the dominant natural gas provider to Europe. The network of pipelines from the Caspian basin are theirs or European investments passing through Turkey. The European/Turkish facilities transit the perpetually simmering Caucasus and Kurdish eastern Turkey.

Some months ago I wrote The Only Red Line That Matters, which fitted together thoughts on the Russian naval supply station at the Syrian port of Tartus, the Cypriot bank collapse, the Syrian civil war, and other regional issues. The conclusion was that Russia would not permit another intervention like the one in Libya. Four months later the U.S. and Russia reached an agreement regarding handling of Syria’s chemical weapons.

Today, six months after publication, Syrian & Iraqi Conflict Merging, Possibly Spreading is a sadly accurate statement about Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle. Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are the regional powers and it is their opinions and moves that matter.

Where is Israel in all of this? Their most vocal supporters here in the U.S., The Militarist Galaxy, are attempting to stir trouble on the international front by whipping up domestic furor over the Benghazi nontroversy, while simultaneously attempting to crash the entire U.S. government with their ill considered shutdown.

The Groundswell members have been seen for what they are – a disloyal minority with an apocalyptic world view. The Democrats were already opposed and GOP strategists made things painfully clear, indicating they would no longer tolerate ‘stupid candidates’, and this was served up on Christmas day. The message to religiously motivated fringe right actors couldn’t be more clear. Most notable of all is this: Israel approves of this move.

A political splinter group that will risk demolishing the U.S. economy with one hand while promoting some “end times” battle in their backyard with the other isn’t very useful to a pragmatic Israeli administration trying to navigate choppy diplomatic seas. Those people are cut off from their former international support and the effects are visible on the domestic front, too. We’re seeing more talk of the suffering of minority Christian groups in the Mideast, and Egyptian Copts have become the cause of the moment for last year’s Israel Firsters.

This has interesting domestic implications. We already know how adept the Saudi and Qatari money men are at fomenting trouble in an arc from Mali to Pakistan. Given that Citizens United threw open U.S. elections to ‘dark money’, and the FEC already approved bitcoin as a funding method for PACs. Unsophisticated actors here are liable to end up pawns in games that conclude with them in federal custody, offering agents phone numbers that are disconnected, apartment addresses that have been abandoned, and names of individuals that simply don’t exist.

Aegean Ethnographic Map

Aegean Ethnographic Map by Richard Andree ca. 1885

Aegean Ethnographic Map by Richard Andree ca. 1885

I just noticed the full size version of a Richard Andree map from the Balkans dated 1885. Greeks and Turks or their predecessors have been fighting over and mingling on the islands of the Aegean and the surrounding territory for at least the last 2,500 years.

Missing from that map is the island of Cyprus, which nearly bowled over the entire EU finance sector when their banks collapsed last year. The island has been split into Greek and Turkish sectors since a 1974 U.N. brokered cease fire. This is the only place where two NATO members are at odds with each other. The ethnic groupings and the UN division are not consistent, as these two maps show.

Cyprus Ethnic Groups Circa 1960

Cyprus Ethnic Groups Circa 1960


Cyprus Green Line

Cyprus Green Line

Turkey has sought membership in the European Union for the last twenty six years. Cyprus is one sticking point and there are others. Given the chaos in Syria and concerns over European fighters joining the various militias there the free travel EU membership would allows would create a serious security problem.

I have no additional information at this time, I just saw the nice map and wanted to memorialize it so I can dig up more work by Richard Andree in the future.

Lesser Syria, Greater Kurdistan, Armenia’s Mt. Olympus

Here in America it’s somewhat notable to meet up with someone who can identify all fifty of our states if presented with a national map that doesn’t have a legend. European weapons and European diseases made quick work of the native population and there are only a few areas where there is any political friction from the survivors, mostly remote places like Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

The ethnic, sectarian, and historical divisions of the Mideast are obscure and puzzling to us in general, and they remain puzzling to our policy makers. This is about expectations – the U.S. civil war was an anomaly. We had defined nation states, uniformed armies, a clear cut beginning, a fairly clean end, and while the meme has never died there hasn’t been any large scale violence since the cessation of the conflict, nearly 150 years ago. The Mideast is full and there are always tensions the likes of which we never experience here.

This being said, I am now going to put up a bunch of maps and engage in a bit of wild speculation about some things that aren’t all that likely to happen, but if they did … well … game changers.

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

I’ve written about the Ottoman empire enough that it has its own category here, so I won’t gum up this post with excessive maps. This is the French Syrian Mandate, created after World War I. Syria lost the Sanjak of Alexandretta, Lebanon, the Golan Heights, and it isn’t that much of a stretch to imagine the Kurds of Syria seeking freedom, which I wrote about in Funding The Syrian Insurgency.

Syrian & Iraqi Conflict Merging, Possibly Spreading and The Syrian Conflict Spreads contain grim news from credible sources, and the conflict is Spilling Into Lebanon.

Could the end result of Lesser Syria be Greater Kurdistan?

Kurdistan With Population By Country

Kurdistan With Population By Country

Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey all thwart the ambitions of the Kurds. But the Iraqi Kurds are in a position to tax an extractive industry, and that’s all that is needed to fuel an insurgency.

Iraqi Kurds & Oil Fields

Iraqi Kurds & Oil Fields

Even more touchy than oil is the subject of water. The Kurds dominate the mountainous part of eastern Turkey where both the Tigris and Euphrates originate. Control of the last onshore supergiant oil field in the world and the two largest rivers in the region? I think it is not a question of if, it’s a question of when things change for the Kurds.

Tigris Euphrates Watershed

Tigris Euphrates Watershed

Speaking of mountains …

Ararat

Ararat

Mount Ararat is a potent symbol for Armenian nationalists and a constant goad, visible from the capitol of Yerevan, but under control of Turkey. The Armenians do not forget the Ottoman genocide that wiped out a million of their people as ethnic Turks sought to maximize their territory in their empire’s final few years.

Armenia Genocide 1915 to 1923

Here’s the Google map of the region. The red letter A marks Ararat, the circular green dot nearby is Little Ararat, and there are a lot of lines on this map. The borders of Armenia, Azerbijan, Iran, and Turkey meet just to the east of the smaller mountain, and there are other, more serious territorial problems than the missing sacred mountain.

Ararat, Nakchivan & Nargorno Karabakh

Ararat, Nakchivan & Nargorno Karabakh

This map should make things a bit clearer. Armenia contains the ethnic Azerbijani enclave of Nakchivan, while Azerbijan contains the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nakchivan & Nagorno-Karabakh

Nakchivan & Nagorno-Karabakh

That map might make a bit more sense if you see how Nakchivan lines up against the ethnic makeup of northwest Iran.

Northwest Iran

Northwest Iran

We have had 365 years of Westphalian sovereignty, but the nation state is on the skids. Corporations are the obvious successors when the state’s grip slips in the west, but there are many parts of the world where ethnic and tribal loyalties have never faded. Afghanistan and Somalia are countries not due to their internal cohesion, but due to the boundaries their neighbors keep with them.

Syria and Iraq are already in trouble. Turkey is feeling the heat from the conflict next door. If there is some ill advised adventure by Israel and/or the U.S. against Iran, that would leave three of four Kurdish populations in an unsupervised condition. I lack the wisdom to do more than speculate here, but if the Turks can keep it together and provide a path to European markets for Kurdish oil, what are the odds we might see a coalition type regional power form between the two parties?

And if this does come to pass, could the Armenians get their sacred mountain back as part of the redrawing of maps??

Syrian & Iraqi Conflict Merging, Possibly Spreading

UN envoy: Iraq and Syrian conflicts are merging

That headline appeared in my inbox earlier and I have been dreading it. The Syrian civil war has spilled over into Lebanon, it’s encroaching on Turkey’s territory, and it’s set off troubles in neighboring Iraq, which are now merging into an end to end regional threat.

Let’s take a look at how things got this way. The Ottoman empire laid claim to Syria and Iraq between 1512 and 1566.

Ottoman Empire 1300 1683

And they lost control of the area as a result of picking the wrong side during World War I.

Ottoman Losses 1807-1924

The territory was divided between the English and French via the Sykes-Picot Agreement, with approval from the Russians.

Sykes Picot Partition Of The Mideast 1916

Sykes Picot Partition Of The Mideast 1916

The French Syrian Mandate broke up with the loss of the Sanjak of Alexandretta back to Turkey in 1939 and the independence of Lebanon in 1943.

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

The British Mandate of Mesopotamia became Iraq, an independent monarchy in 1932 and a republic in 1958. Today’s ethnic map is consistent with the boundaries of the original territory. Yellow is for Sunni Arabs, green is Shia Arabs, and the Kurds are in blue.

Iraq Ethnic Groups

Iraq Ethnic Groups

I have written quite a bit about Syria’s patchwork of ethnic and religious groups. Summarizing – yellow are Sunni Arabs in the interior the dun colored areas are Kurds. The coastal region of Syria and Lebanon are very diverse and intermingled.

Syrian Ethnic Groups - Detailed Map

Syrian Ethnic Groups – Detailed Map

The Syrian conflict triggered the troubles in Iraq and the U.N. envoy now reports the two conflicts are merging. I noted that this conflict was also Spilling Into Lebanon. Refugee flows are a big part of that, as they put a support load on their neighbors.

Syrian Refugee Flows

Syrian Refugee Flows

Immediately outside the troubled trio of Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, are three regional powers vying for influence – Turkey, Iran, and the money men of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. I wrote about the underlying details in Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle.

Perians, Saudis/Qataris & Turks

Perians, Saudis/Qataris & Turks

Beyond the bounds of the regional players there are global concerns which include:

  • Israel’s ill advised obsession with Iran, somewhat backed by the U.S.
  • Russia’s longstanding relationship with Syria
  • Turkey’s membership in both the European Union and NATO
  • China and Russia’s disapproval of extreme sanctions against Iran
Mideast Regional Map

Mideast Regional Map

Let’s take stock of troubles in the region:

  • Egypt – military coup against Muslim Brotherhood, supported by democratic forces
  • Yemen – outright civil war
  • Bahrain – simmering discontent, sometimes violent
  • Syria – outright civil war
  • Lebanon – being sucked into Syria’s civil war
  • Iraq – being sucked into Syria’s civil war
  • Turkey – massive protests
  • Greece – bank crash, economic implosion
  • Cyprus – bank crash, U.N. brokered peace between Greeks & Turks
  • North Caucasus – long running insurgency, Chechen jihadis turning up in Syria
  • Iran – brand new government, same ol’ impossible sanctions

What, if anything, will the United States do about this?

The U.S. left Patriot missile batteries, F-16s, and 700 troops behind in Jordan this year after the annual Eager Lion exercise.

We seem to have just one aircraft carrier with its attendant carrier strike group in the region.

Information on the disposition of Expeditionary Strike Groups, which contain helicopter carriers, amphibious assault craft, and marines are not as readily available. I believe there is one on station at or near the 5th Fleet HQ in Bahrain and another active in the Mediterranean due to threats to diplomatic posts across North Africa.

We already have Bipartisan Opposition To Syrian Intervention. Today I saw further news to the effect that even the belated announcement we were going to arm the rebels faces Congressional disapproval.

President Obama is facing criticism for having an unclear strategy to resolve the Syrian conflict. Having spent the last ten years field testing neoconservative theories in the Mideast rather than applying pragmatic diplomacy, the White House’s apparent lack of strategy may be in and of itself a strategy. That last map and conflict list looks a bit like the Balkans a century ago, right before World War I engulfed Europe. Given our history in the region anything we attempt is liable to backfire badly.

The three regional powers I described in Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle each have a vision of what qualifies as good governance and only Turkey’s thinking would be vaguely familiar to American voters. “Bringing Democracy To Country X” sounds just grand, but in this part of the world we might want to substitute “a majoritarian blood bath” for the word democracy, and then see how palatable our plans sound. It’s time we listened to those who are there regarding what will and will not work.

Modern Turkey

Turkey Ethnic Groups

Turkey Ethnic Groups

The Turkey of today is the homeland of ethnic Turks in the western two thirds, while the major population groups of the east are Kurds and the Zaza, an Iranian people with their own language, but who view themselves as closely connected to the Kurds.

Kurdistan Languages

Kurdistan Languages

There are a smattering of other ethnic groups in the far east – Georgians, Armenians, Azerbijanis, and there are two pockets of Arabs along the Syrian border. The little appendix with the Arab population on the Mediterranean coast was the Sanjak of Alexandretta, which slipped away from Greater Syria in 1939, the first territory gain for the Turks after centuries of the Ottoman empire withering.

Greater Syria 1935

Greater Syria 1935

The Ottoman Empire was known as The Sick Man Of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, just prior to the partition of their territory by the British, French, and Russian empires.

Ottoman Losses 1807-1924

That partition came after World War I, when the Ottomans ended up in the wrong Imperial Alliance Network.

Europe Empires 1914

Turkey, along with Iran and the Sunni money men of the Arabian Peninsula are engaged in Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle. This ring of regional powers has opinions on Syria and they serve as proxies for the former imperial meddlers of the prior century, who still have interests in the region.

The United States has spent the last decade wandering around Afghanistan and adventuring in Iraq, pouring blood and treasure onto the sand, perpetually confused over the inability to find and fight an epic, dualist battle between good and evil. The year 2012 has come and gone, taking with it a clutch of also-ran apocalypse movies and much of the political power of the end of days myth believers. We are now in the painful process of a return to objective reality, and we have no appetite for facing the world on its terms.

What does all of this mean for modern, Kemalist Turkey?

Would-be jihadis in Europe can reach southeast Turkey without so much as a single visa application, and from there recruiters for various Syrian factions are happy to transport them into battle. NATO member Turkey has chosen to back the Syrian Sunni majority rebels, while Russia worries over loss of this last regional client state and their naval supply station at Tartus. Choosing sides in this fashion positions the Turks to be the interface to moderate Sunni groups, but Saudi and Qatari funding will back radicals, while everyone but the Wahabi dither over how to either preserve the Assad regime or how to replace it with an inclusive coalition that won’t abuse the Alawite and Druze minorities.

Modern Turkey faces challenges today not unlike those the Ottoman empire faced a century ago. I hope that public attention on the region will prevent a repeat of what happened to the Muslims of the Caucasus in the late 19th century, the Armenians in 1915, the Jews in Hitler’s Europe, or the Muslims of Bosnia in the 1990s. I do not mean to insult the Turkish people or their government with this statement, I merely wish to point out that we’ve had four genocidal episodes in the last century and a half, and conditions in Syria are ripe for another one.

The U.S. still doesn’t have a policy regarding Syria and this might be the natural result of there simply being nothing that will work as we wish. Whatever comes to pass will involve Turkey and their strong desire to not have a failed state on their southern border. We should discard opinions from here based on discredited ideologies and pay more attention to local, pragmatic thinking.

A Streetcar Named Democracy

Ten years ago Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan famously quipped “Democracy is like a streetcar. When you come to your stop, you get off.” This was meant to prod Turks into thinking about their form of government, but the quote is applicable, albeit displeasingly so, for other situations in the Mideast.

Global Islam Sects

Global Islam Sects

The differences between the Sunni majority and the Shia and other related derivative sects are something of an analog to the split between Protestants and the Catholic church between four and five hundred years ago. Christendom fought it out, coming to the separation of church and state as a solution to the conflict. Islam is six hundred years newer than Christianity and they have not yet had such a resolution.

Our society, with the Wars of Reformation long over and four hundred years of English liberalism as a foundation, has an expectation of what democracy means – a pluralist government with regular elections that enforces the rule of the law. What we are seeing in Egypt today is that the Muslim Brotherhood viewed democracy in the way Erdogan represented it; they rode it past the removal of a compliant strongman, then wanted to hop off at the “majoritarian Islamist” stop. What happened there a few days ago fits the definition of a coup, but our definition might be in need of an update.

Syrian Alawites, facing a loss of control of the country and an aggressive, majoritarian Sunni insurgency funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are suddenly interested in democracy – a peaceful, pluralist government strikes them as a better deal than payback for years of oppression at the hands of the Assad regime. If you ask any policy maker outside of the Arabian peninsula you would get a heartfelt “YES!” if you could point the way to achieving this. The conflict has already spilled into Lebanon, once part of Greater Syria, and it’s starting to draw would-be jihadis from across Europe, who can make it as far as Turkey without needing a visa. The border is porous and policy makers fret about radicalized jihadists returning home as hardened urban guerrillas after spending time in Syria.

Trying to see the Mideast as we saw eastern Europe during the Cold War – as a place that needed and wanted to be liberated, is fundamentally incorrect. Islam is the substrate upon which societies there are built, and we have to see things as they are, not through some simple minded lens of western rhetoric. Egypt’s coup may be the clean, well lit, safe stop for its people. If we insist on enforcing our idea of what democracy means we could well be compelling the Egyptians towards something similar to what is happening in Syria, and no one wants to face that.

I see varying opinions on this, some simple minded and knee jerk, while others are carefully measured positions by those who have traveled and worked in the region. The only consensus I see right now is that rushing to judgment could have grim consequences.