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Political geography of Turkey’s intervention in Syria: underlying causes and consequences (2011-2016)

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Purpose What are the causes and consequences of Turkey’s intervention in Syria? The purpose of this paper is to explore this question by focusing on the time frame from 2011 to 2016, i.e. prior to Turkey’s strategic U-turn from uncompromising enmity toward Russia and Iran. Design/methodology/approach Process tracing is used as the main methodological guideline. Findings Turkey’s intervention in Syria has been driven by a mutually reinforcing interaction of geopolitical, geo-economic and geo-cultural factors. Turkey’s neo-Ottomanist geo-strategy has been militarized in the context of the Arab Spring, perceived decline of US hegemony, increasing Kurdish autonomy and Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi’s (AKP) electoral setbacks. Second, Turkey’s intervention has been triggered by the converging motivations for energy security, easily gained profits from the black energy market and economic integration with Arab-Gulf countries in the face of a stagnating Western capitalism. A third set of factors speaks to the AKP’s instrumental use of Sunni sectarianism and Kurdish ethnopolitics. Originality/value The research aim is to provide a systematic and multi-causal explanation of Turkey’s involvement in Syria.
Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research
Political geography of Turkey’s intervention in Syria: underlying causes and consequences (2011-2016)
Efe Can Gürcan,
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Efe Can Gürcan, (2017) "Political geography of Turkey’s intervention in Syria: underlying causes and consequences
(2011-2016)", Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, https://doi.org/10.1108/JACPR-10-2017-0329
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Political geography of Turkeys
intervention in Syria: underlying causes
and consequences (2011-2016)
Efe Can Gürcan
Abstract
Purpose What are the causes and consequences of Turkeys intervention in Syria? The purpose of this
paper is to explore this question by focusing on the time frame from 2011 to 2016, i.e. prior to Turkeys
strategic U-turn from uncompromising enmity toward Russia and Iran.
Design/methodology/approach Process tracing is used as the main methodological guideline.
Findings Turkeys intervention in Syria has been driven by a mutually reinforcing interaction of geopolitical,
geo-economic and geo-cultural factors. Turkeys neo-Ottomanist geo-strategy has been militarized in the
context of the Arab Spring, perceived decline of US hegemony, increasing Kurdish autonomy and Adalet ve
Kalkınma Partisis (AKP) electoral setbacks. Second, Turkeys intervention has been triggered by the
converging motivations for energy security, easily gained profits from the black energy market and economic
integration with Arab-Gulf countries in the face of a stagnating Western capitalism. A third set of factors
speaks to the AKPs instrumental use of Sunni sectarianism and Kurdish ethnopolitics.
Originality/value This research provides a systematic and multi-causal explanation of Turkeys
involvement in Syria.
Keywords Energy security, Geo-culture, Geo-economy, Geopolitics, Neo-Ottomanism, Sectarianism
Paper type Research paper
The ongoing civil conflict in Syria has triggered one of the worst humanitarian crises and the
largest refugee crisis in the post-Second World War era (Otero and Gürcan, 2016). Certainly,
Turkey has been a key actor in this conflict by resorting to diplomatic and economic sanctions,
encouraging military intervention and fueling the proxy warfare (Phillips, 2017; Okyay, 2017;
Daoudy, 2016). Turkeys active role in the Syrian conflict, thus, arouses widespread curiosity
about the political-geographical causes of Turkeys intervention in Syria. In exploring these
causes, the present paper aims to provide a systematic and multi-causal explanation of Turkeys
involvement in Syria.
In this paper, foreign intervention refers to the threat or use of force across state borders by a
state (or group of states) [] without the permission of the state within whose territory force is
applied(as adapted from Holzgrefe, 2003, p. 18). In Turkeyscase,itsSyrianintervention
entails a mix of direct and indirect methods, that is, cross-border military and intelligence
operations as well as cooperation with Turkey-aligned opposition groups in Syria. Given the
centrality of territorial rivalries in the Syrian conflict, my analysis of Turkeysintervention
employs a political geography approach, understood as an approach that is invested in
investigating the interaction of territories and borders with political power and resistance
(Agnew et al., 2003). Within this framework, I identify three sets of mutually reinforcing factors
that may have encouraged Turkeys intervention in the Syrian conflict: geopolitical,
geo-economic and geo-cultural factors. Accordingly, this paper is divided into three
sections that address each of the mediating factors in their order. In these sections, I focus on
the time frame from 2011 up to 2016, i.e. prior to Turkeys strategic U-turn from
uncompromising enmity toward Russia and Iran (Phillips, 2017, pp. 44-5).
Received 2 October 2017
Revised 14 October 2017
27 October 2017
Accepted 29 October 2017
Efe Can Gürcan is a PhD
Candidate in Sociology at the
Department of Sociology and
Anthropology, Simon Fraser
University, Vancouver, Canada.
DOI 10.1108/JACPR-10-2017-0329 © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599
j
JOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH
Process tracing is used as the main methodological guideline. This method heavily relies on
logical reasoning and evidence gathering. Therefore, the research process is structured just as in
detective work, which consists of piecing the clues together with reference to suspectsmeans,
motives, preferences, perception and opportunity to have committed the murder in question
(Vennesson, 2008; Bennett, 2010). Hypothesis confirmation in process tracing is strongest when
the given hypothesis passes the smoking gun and doubly decisive tests. The smoking gun test
provides the researcher with implicating and conclusive evidence, as in the case of a detective
that catches a person of interest with the murder weapon. In turn, the doubly decisive test
involves several conclusive results that eliminate all of the alternative explanations. This test is
analogous to a detective who catches the person of interest with the murder weapon and
acquires the video footage of the murder, simultaneously (Collier, 2011). Indeed,
the interpretivistmode of process tracing (Vennesson, 2008) allows for a more flexible
narrative structure without compromising its empirical robustness. This interpretivist mode is of
great convenience for strategic analysis, which is also interested in understanding the
preferences, goals, values and perceptions of global actors.
I conceptualize geopolitics as an approach invested in studying the politics of power in a
geographical frame (Steinmetz, 2012, p. 2). As regards geopolitics, I restrict my focus on how
Turkeys overall geo-strategic parameters are configured by its geopolitical location and strategic
developments in neighboring regions. In turn, geo-economic factors speak to the relationship
between economic policy and changes in national power and geopolitics(Baru, 2012, p. 47).
I posit that the primary geo-economic factors inTurkeys intervention inSyria are energy politics and
Arab-Gulf capitalism. By geo-culture, finally, I understand the ways in which astatemightutilizeits
cultural bonds such as religious, historical, linguistic or ethnic ties with other countries
(Dogan and Yuvaci, 2012, p. 10) in pursuit of strategic interests. Geo-cultural parameters in
Turkeys intervention in Syria are configured by the Sunni sectarian and ethnopolitical thrust of the
Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP)) government. In the particular
context of this paper, sectarianism is understood as the politics of creating religious divisions in
society according to denominational boundaries(Hogan, 1984, p. 85). Ethnopolitics is used to
denote the politics of mobilising ethnicity [] into political leverage(Rothschild, 1981, pp. 2-3),
and examined here in the context of Kurdish politics.
Geopolitics of neo-Ottomanism, the Arab Spring and the AKPs foreign policy
Until former PM Ahmet Davutoğlus resignation in 2016 and Turkeys early rapprochement with
Russia, the AKPs foreign policy has hinged on what came to be called the neo-Ottomanist
doctrine. Davutoğlu argued that Turkey sits at the main power corridors and energy routes in the
Black Sea and Mediterranean. Therefore, according to him, Turkey must assume its pivotal status
by redeploying its Ottoman legacy (Davutoğlu, 2001). The ultimate geo-strategic objective in the
long term consisted of transforming Turkey from a regional into a global power. Meanwhile,
Turkeys expansion was to start from the closest basin, especially the Middle Eastern region
(Davutoğlu, 2001). Not surprisingly, Davutoğlu attributed a strategic importance to Syria, not only
because Turkey shares its longest common border with Syria, but also in terms of dominating the
wider Mediterranean geopolitics (Davutoğlu, 2001).
From 2002 to the onset of the Syrian conflict, the AKPs foreign policy had started to carry into
effect the neo-Ottomanist project with strong emphasis on the policy of what Davutoğlu called
zero problems with neighboring countries(ZPNC). Special efforts were devoted to avoid direct
confrontation and instead, pursuing mutual economic interests in the region (Davutoğlu, 2001).
Since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, its hijacking by Islamist movements and Western military
interventions (Otero and Gürcan, 2016; Keyman and Gumuscu, 2014), however, the AKPs
new-Ottomanism seems to have shifted its priorities from conflict avoidance and diplomatic
mediation toward direct confrontation and interventionism. The increasing autonomy of regional
Kurds following the US interventions and rise of the so-called Islamic State have further fostered
Turkeys interventionism (Khan, 2015; Taşpınar, 2012).
In process tracing, declared intentions by political leaders and state officials can only provide hoop test
evidence, which is still inconclusive and requires further investigation (Bennett, 2010). The strategic
JOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH
developments since the outbreak of the Arab Spring provide smoking gun evidence on the evolution
of neo-Ottomanist expansionism and the geopolitical aspects of TurkeysinvolvementinSyria.
The electoral success of Egypts Muslim Brotherhood and TunisiasEnnahda Party in the Arab Spring
conjuncture rendered an opportunity for Turkey to create a belt of moderate Islamist governments in
the region(Khan, 2015, p. 46). In Libya, Turkey took the lead in coordinating anti-Qaddafi foreign
mercenaries and jihadists in lieu of the Wests determination in overthrowing Qaddafis regime.
This deviation from conflict avoidance made Turkey explore emerging opportunities to re-activate its
neo-Ottomanist strategy by taking advantage of civil conflicts in the Islamic world. Motivated by the
Libyan experience, the AKPs policy makers believed that Assads regime could easily be overthrown
in line with the neo-Ottoman project of creating a belt of moderate Islamist governments in the region.
The militarization of Turkeys neo-Ottomanism toward interventionism is perhaps best exemplified in
Turkeys active role in hosting jihadist meetings, funding Libyan and other mercenaries, providing them
with medical assistance and leisure opportunities, shipping arms to Syria, and sending mercenaries
and equipment to Syria (e.g. Abouzeid, 2013).
Moreover, it is highly probable that this geo-strategic transformation has been facilitated by recent
developments in domestic politics since 2012. Turkeys recourse to military interventionism may
have been accelerated by the breakdown of the hegemonic alliance of President ErdoğansAKP
with the left-wing liberal bloc that was used to mobilize non-devout AKP supporters, and more
importantly with the AKPsso-calledmoderateand pro-Westernwing including key figures
such as Fethullah Gülen, Bülent Arınç and Abdullah Gül (Türkeş, 2016, pp. 2, 7-10, 14-17).
In this regard, the Gezi Park protests the anti-government civil unrest that erupted on 28 May
2013 (Gürcan and Peker, 2014, 2015a, b) and the general elections of June 2015 in which the
AKP lost its parliamentary majority may have played a crucial role in increasing the military overtones
of neo-Ottomanism. Eventually, in the face of its eroding legitimacy in domestic policy, it seems that
the AKP started to increasingly rely on coercive measures and consolidate its core voter base
via the militarization of Turkeys Syrian policy and the expansion of the military conflict toward
Syrian and Anatolian Kurds.
An auxiliary factor that may have further encouraged the militarization of Turkeys
neo-Ottomanism concerns the perceiveddecline of US hegemony in the Middle East.
According to Christopher Phillips, the failures of the 2003-11 occupation of Iraq, the decreasing
importance of Gulf oil, the economic and military retrenchment following the 2008 financial crisis,
and the election of Barack Obama, a critic of his predecessors military adventures, all prompted
reluctance in Washington to continue an active hegemony (Phillips, 2017, p. 36).Accordingly,
Phillips maintains that the perceived decline of US hegemony provided an encouraging
environment for Turkeyalong with Saudi Arabia and Qatar to extend its own regional influence
and proactively oppose Irans increased activism in the region (Phillips, 2017, p. 37).
Finally, the overall implications of the militarization of Turkeys neo-Ottomanism are worth exploring
in the context of the Syrian conflict. Under rising authoritarianism in domestic politics and
militarization, neo-Ottomanism has lost much of its appeal and credibility by undermining its
underlying principles of ZPNC, humanitarianismand global justice and democracy
(Ozkececi-Taner, 2017; Ayata, 2015; Aras, 2014). This loss of credibility has also consigned
Turkey to political isolation from the international community and, especially, the USA, who is
displeased by Turkeys overconfidence and adventurism. Inparticular, the above-mentioned trends
and implications have found their sharpest expression in Turkeys Syrian intervention, because not
only was Syria seen as the poster-childor the most successful applicationof TurkeysZPNC
doctrine (Ayata, 2015, p. 102; Phillips, 2012, p. 13; Coşkun, 2015, p. 192), but also Turkey has
been more actively engaged in Syria than any other Arab country in the context of the []Arab
revolutions(Öniş, 2014, pp. 209-10). The Syrian conflict has marked Turkeys abandonment of its
value-based foreign policy(Ayata, 2015, pp. 106-07) toward military interventionism at the price
of multiplying regional security threats, domestic instability and political isolation.
Geo-economics of Turkeys intervention in Syria: energy politics and the Gulf
connection
Turkeys energy-related geo-economic involvement in Syria is greatly attributable to
pipeline politics. In fact, the entire Turkish energy security relies on gas from Russia and Iran
JOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH
(Muhawesh, 2015, para. 27). Turkey, thus, aspires to diversify its energy sources, relieve its
excessive dependence on Russian and Iranian energy and eventually become an energy hub that
connects Eastern energy to Europe. As Igor Delanoë reveals, Ankaras deep anti-Assad stance
partly illustrates how strategic is its objective to become a key energy hub(2014, p. 5). In this
context, one could argue that Turkey sees Syria as a great rival that shares the same aspiration of
becoming a regional energy hub (Ipek, 2015; Winrow, 2016; Delanoë, 2014).
As part of Turkeys energy aspirations, the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline was initiated in
March 2015. Its successful construction would open up a gas corridor from Azerbaijan through
Georgia and Turkey to Europe (Nader, 2013). According to Delanoë (2014), this project was
interfered by the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline project, which also presented a direct competition to the
Qatar-Turkey pipeline project. The Qatar-Turkey project was to connect Qatars natural gas over
Turkey via Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. Syria rejected this project in 2009 to protect the
interests of Russia Syrias main economic partner which is pointed as being one of the main
reasons for Qatars active involvement in the Syrian conflict (Nader, 2013).
In addition, there is more to the story than energy politics. The AKP years have seen a spectacular
increase in the circulation of unregistered currency in the Turkish economy since the Syrian
conflict. This is believed to be a result of the governments encouragement for the expansion of a
black economy in partnership with oil rich Gulf states and jihadists. Net errors and omission
(NEO) are used as an indicator to assess the illegal movements of financial funds (Cypher and
Dietz, 2005, p. 469, f. 9). The World Bank data depict the changing NEO trends in the period
between 2005 and 2014 (BoP, current US$). A positive NEO value represents the statistically
unrecorded capital inflows or exports, whereas a negative NEO value represents the statistically
unrecorded capital outflows or imports. It is striking to observe that Turkeys NEO value peaks in
2011 with the onset of the Syrian conflict with a value of over $8 milliards as compared to the
2005 level of over $1,4 milliards. This being said, the 2002 NEO levels were -$758 million
(World Bank, 2016).
The AKP government is known to have pursued a deliberate policy of attracting Arab capitalists to
Turkey. Undoubtedly, ideological and religious sentiments have played a crucial role in the AKPs
active policy of attracting Arab investment. By the same token, Arab investment is seen as an
opportunity to stabilize the Turkish economy in the face of stagnating Western economies.
Eventually, the convergence of ideological affinities and the need to maintain economic stability
facilitated foreign policy partnership, as observed in the former Saudi, Qatari and Turkish alliance
to take down Assad.
From a geo-economic perspective, the increasing integration of the Turkish economy with
Arab-Gulf capitalism is clearly visible in foreign trade and investment. Between 2002 and 2015,
Turkeys export levels to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates increased by more than
526, 2,617 and 923 percent. Similar levels have been recorded as to imports from the same
countries in the same period, namely, over 1,652, 3,286 and 1,892 percent ( Turkish Statistical
Institute, 2016a). A dramatic hike was observed in inward FDI flows from Gulf-Arabian countries,
from $47 million in 2004 to 1.5 milliards in 2013. Concerning the United Arab Emirates and Saudi
Arabia, the available OECD data suggest that the amount of inward financial FDI to Turkey in
liabilities is not at a level that can be ignored, having changed from $210 and $223 million in
2013 to$207.35 and $323 million in 2014, respectively (OECD, 2016).
Aside from foreign trade and investment, another key area that grows in relevance with Turkeys
relationships to the Arab-Gulf capitalism is the real estate market and tourism. The real estate
sector is important, because it can easily stimulate the economy without even engaging in
productive activity. Similarly, the importance of the tourism sector in Turkey lies in its status as a
crucial revenue source, which generated over $34 milliards (4.3 percent of GDP) in 2014 alone
( Turkish Statistical Institute, 2016b; TURSAB, 2015). According to the available official data in
2015, Iraqi, Saudi and Kuwaiti nationals occupied the first three ranks in total real estate sales by
foreigners, with 4,228, 2,704 and 2,130 real estate transactions, respectively ( Turkish Statistical
Institute, 2016c). In 2015, half of total real estate sales to foreigners were made by buyers of Arab
nationalities (CNN Turk, 2016). Finally, it is worthwhile to take a glance at the number of arriving
foreign citizens and citizens from Arab-Gulf countries, which offers a broader picture of how
Turkeys tourism, cultural interactions and business cooperation have been developing with
JOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH
these countries. The number of arriving foreign citizens and citizens from Qatar and Saudi Arabia
has soared by 4,248 and 1,656 percent between 2002 and 2015, from 824 and 25,656 to
35,832 and 450,674, respectively ( Turkish Statistical Institute, 2016b). In sum, given that
converging economic interests and concerns about mutual welfare gains have a propensity to
generate harmonious foreign policy behavior between countries by also increasing the
opportunity cost of uncooperativeness (Kleinberg and Fordham, 2013), one could conclude that
Turkeys increasing dependence on Arab-Gulf capitalism in order to maintain economic stability
in the face of a stagnating Western capitalism seems to have facilitated the formation of an
alliance against the Assad regime.
The geo-cultural aspects of Turkeys intervention in Syria: the AKPs instrumental
use of sectarianism and ethnopolitics
Turkeys geo-cultural engagements have been a major determinant in its interventionism against
Syria. However, this determinant warrants caution, since it only partially explains Turkeys
interventionism in Syria. For example, ethnoreligious ties cannot account for the Turkish-Syrian
rapprochement in the period 2002-2011 (Akbaba and Özdamar, 2016). What Erdoğan originally
wanted in post-2011 Syria was to replace Assads regime with a friendly, Sunni leadership
(Phillips, 2012, p. 9). This was one of his chief motivations in supporting the revolt against Assad
who belongs to and has instrumentalized the Alawite sect against the Sunni dominated
insurgency. In practice, however, the AKP has relied on an instrumentaluse of Sunni
sectarianism and Kurdish ethnopolitics (Hinnebusch, 2016; Farha, 2016), that is, a pragmatic
attempt at politicizing religion and ethnicity characterized by inconsistent appropriation of the
Sunni tradition and enmity with the Kurds. Capitalizing on ethnoreligious ties and supporting
Sunni Syrians have certainly helped the AKP government to mobilize its own constituency at the
home front (Akbaba and Özdamar, 2016).
Regarding the instrumentalist aspect of sectarianism, Turkeys inconsistencies find their sharpest
expression in its abandonment of Sunnieastern Aleppo in December 2016, its inaction against
deadly Russian airstrikes in SunniIdlib several times, and Turkeys closing of IdlibsKhirbet ah-Joz
humanitarian border crossing in July 2017. Yet, one cannot deny the sectarian Islamization of
Turkeys foreign policysince 2009 given Erdoğans references to Quran in justifying his foreign policy
stance, rupture with Israel, offering of asylum to Sunni ex-Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, rifts
with Iraqs Shiite ex-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, unconditional support for Egypts Muslim
Brotherhood and support for the Free Syrian Army alongside Sunni Syrian and Iraqi Kurds
(Ozkececi-Taner, 2017, pp. 205-06; Coşkun, 2015, p. 194; Öniş, 2014; Özpek and Demirağ, 2014,
pp. 343-4). Meanwhile, the use of sectarianism has been extremely convenient in motivating the pro-
Turkish Sunni opposition in Syria and consolidating anti-Assadism with the aim of expanding
Turkeys area of influence. Based on this evidence, Ziya Öniş(2014, pp. 207-13) points to unresolved
tensions between Turkeys growing sectarianism and pragmatic priorities. Yet, in the
final analysis, Turkey can [] be viewed as having narrowed its Middle East understanding into
Sunni groups(Özpek and Demirağ, 2014, p. 344).
As part of the doubly decisive evidence for Turkeys implication in the Syrian conflict,
the immediate reflection of the AKPs Sunni sectarianism in the Syrian conflict can be found in its
policies toward Turkmen communities. A portion of Syrian Turkmens has been one of Turkeys
most important policy instruments for its intervention in Syria. The Turkmen population in Syria
is estimated at between 750,000 and 800,000 (Ödemiş, 2015). Turkmens are known to have
fought against the so-called Islamic State under the roof of the Turkey-led Euphrates Shield (ES)
in August 2016. However, Sunni Turkmens allied with al-Nusra Front and Chechen terrorists have
also been supported by Turkey in attacking the Assad regimesŞabanlımilitary station and
massacring Alevi villages in the region. These Turkmens were organized in small armed gangs,
such as the Sultan Selim Brigade,Sultan Abdülhamit Brigade,Sultan Murat Brigade,Fatih/Fetih
Army and Bayır Bucak Army (Ödemiş, 2015). During the conflict in El Lazkiyye with regime forces
in 24 November 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian jet with the pretext of protecting Turkmen
forces. However, the AKP government did not exhibit the same kind of sensibility when 700
Shiite Turkmens were massacred by jihadists in the Northern Iraqi village of Beshir between
11 and 12 July 2015, among many other reported and unreported incidents (Ödemiş, 2015).
JOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH
No major sectarian rifts were evidenced among Turkmen communities until the US wars in Iraq
and Turkeys interventions in Iraq and Syria since the 1990s (Erdemol, 2015; Yıldırım, 2016).
However, their political fragmentation and concomitant vulnerability to jihadist attacks are mostly
result of Turkeys intervention (Erdemol, 2015). Regarding Syrian Turkmens, the majority of whom
are Sunni, they were not politicized and organized prior to the Syrian conflict and Turkeys
intervention (Taştekin, 2015). It is reported that most Syrian Shiite Turkmens sided with the Assad
regime or took refuge in Turkey, contrary to Sunni Turkmens who are associated with pro-Turkish
jihadism (I
˙diz, 2015). In turn, Shiite Turkmens who took refuge in Turkey following the
AKP-supported al-Nusra attacks to Alevi villages, joined Turkeys homeless populations,
whereas Sunni refugees from Syria were provided with better conditions and settled in refugee
camps (e.g. Sol Daily News, 2013).
Indeed, Turkeys sectarianism in Syria is not confined to the micropolitics of Turkmens, and can
be observed at a more general level as to its confrontation with Iran and Hezbollah.
Most importantly, Irans growing influence over Syria has fostered Turkeys
interventionism in the post-Arab Spring period, since Syria was even more than before seen by
Turkey as too important to be lost to Irans sphere of influence (Kalaban, 2016, p. 36). In Turkeys
eyes, Syria had also emerged as the weakest link in Irans resistance axis’”, and thus provided
an opportunity for Turkey to stage a countermove against Tehran (Kalaban, 2016, p. 36).
For Iran, sustained cooperation with the Assad regime offers guaranteed access to Lebanon
and the rest of the Middle East along with an opportunity to expand its regional Shiite
influence and constrain Israels regional power (Türkeş, 2016, p. 13; Öniş, 2014, p. 211). As a
straw-in-the-wind evidence, it must be more than a mere coincidence that the Iran-Iraq-Syria
pipeline project was accepted in 2010 and formally announced in 2011 right before the onset of
the Syrian conflict. This was a competing project with Turkeys Nabucco and Qatar-Turkey
pipeline projects (Ahmed, 2013; United Press International, 2011). Of geopolitical and
geo-cultural relevance for Irans presence in Syria are its concerns about Assads possible
departure, which could result in a Sunni government and concomitantly Irans regional isolation
(Barfi, 2016). Indeed, Hezbollah which has been present since the very beginning of the Syrian
conflict and associated with Iransproxywarwould greatly suffer from such outcomes.
From the standpoint of Turkey, finally, the consolidation of a Shiite axis in Syria would
undermine Turkish regional hegemony and sectarian desires (Tremblay, 2016).
Kurdish ethnopolitics is of similar geo-cultural importance as Turkeyssectarian
policies. Kurdish groups have been taking advantage of the power vacuum created by the
Syrian conflict. Against this backdrop, Turkeys worries about a possible Kurdish spillover effect
of autonomization toward its territories constitute a chief factor that fosters Turkish
interventionism against Syria. Turkey has the worlds largest Kurdish population, which is
estimated to account for at least 17 percent of its population, whereas Syrias Kurdish population
is estimated at about 10 percent of the Syrian population (Thornton, 2015; Lindenstrauss and
Eran, 2014; International Crisis Group, 2014; Dal, 2016). Upon Turkeys growing aggression
toward Syria in 2012, the Assad regime decided to withdraw most of its authority from the
Kurdish regions in northeastern territories bordering Turkey. Formerly exiled Kurdish leaders such
as Salih Muslim Muhammed were invited back to Syria. These tactical decisions by Syria were
aimed at not only diverting Turkeys attention from anti-Assadism toward the Kurdish question
but also concentrating all available resources on holding the Syrian position in the heartland of the
country (Gunter, 2013; Phillips, 2012).
One of the greatest winners of Syrias retreat has been the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which
is accused by Turkey of being affiliated with the outlawed and Turkey-based WorkersParty of
Kurdistan (PKK). Not only had the PKK built a relatively solid base in Syria thanks to this countrys
active support in the 1990s, but also Turkey had introduced a reform package in 2009 in order to
improve the rights and freedoms of its Kurdish population and disarm the PKK, which gave a free
hand to the PKK for moving its troops to Syria (Thornton, 2015; Keyman and Sebnem, 2014).
In this context, Turkish authorities have grown fearful of rising Kurdish autonomism in Syria and
alleged Kurdish attempts at reengineering the regional demographics and triggering a
pan-Kurdish awakening that could spread to the region. They fear that this situation could also
further undermine Turkeys hegemony in the Iraqi Kurdistan in the PKKs favor and destabilize
JOURNAL OF AGGRESSION, CONFLICT AND PEACE RESEARCH
domestic politics in Turkey (Gunter, 2013; Dal, 2016; Thornton, 2015; Lindenstrauss and
Oded, 2014; Nader et al., 2016; Plakoudas, 2017). Moreover, although the PYD still remains
open to the prospects of cooperation with Russia and Iran, the consolidation of its partnership
with the USA is a source of growing concern for Turkey, who feels alienated by the reluctance of
the USA to resort to direct military intervention and its reliance on Kurdish proxies that could
undermine Turkeys national security (Gunter, 2016). Therefore, Turkeys threat perceptions have
further motivated its interventionism against Syria, which is perhaps best exemplified in its shelling
of PYD targets in Syria and Operation ES in August 2016. Particularly, Turkey was widely
criticized for using the Islamic State threat as a pretext to intervene in Syria in order to curb the
PYDs growing power (International Crisis Group, 2016, p. 5; Ayata, 2015, p. 108; Gunter, 2016,
p. 82; Dal, 2016, p. 19; Plakoudas, 2017, pp. 107-12). With this aim, Turkey has also expanded
its military activities following ES and started a new military operation in Idlib as this paper was
going to press (Çoban, 2017; Tastekin, 2017).
Finally, as in the case of sectarianism, Turkeys use of Kurdish ethnopolitics reflects an explicitly
instrumentalist inclination that seeks to divide Syrian Kurds by pitting them against each other.
In Syria, the Kurdish opposition is divided into two groups: the PYD-supported Peoples Council
and the Kurdish National Council (KNC) formed of 12-15 Kurdish parties. The KNC, however,
is known to be backed by Turkey against the PYDs hegemony, and is widely associated
with the leadership of Massoud Barzani, an Iraqi conservative Sunni leader who has established
closer economic and political ties with Turkey (Gunter, 2013, pp. 451-3; International
Crisis Group, 2014, p. 37, 2016, p. 5).
Conclusion
Between 2011 and 2016, Turkeys intervention in Syria has been driven by a mutually
reinforcing interaction of geopolitical, geo-economic and geo-cultural factors. It is possible to
argue that Turkeys neo-Ottomanist geo-strategy in Syria has been militarized in the context of
the Arab Spring marked by Islamist resurgence, Western interventionism, Turkeys
opportunistic moves away from conflict avoidance, and the AKPs electoral setbacks.
The perceived decline of US hegemony and increasing Kurdish autonomy thanks to US
interventions may have further encouraged the transformation of Turkeys geopolitics in a
so-called proactivedirection. Further militarization has been observed due to the converging
motivations for pipeline projects, easily gained profits from the black energy market,
foreign trade with Arab-Gulf countries, and real estate and tourism, all despite the global
stagnation. These sources have been important in maintaining the political stability of the AKP
regime to a certain extent, which however proved to be unsustainable after the Gezi Park
protests and the 2016 military coup attempt. A third relevant factor has been Turkeyseffortsto
prevent the consolidation of a Shiite Iran-Iraq-Syria-Hezbollah axisand pan-Kurdish
nationalism as well as its devastating manifestations in Turkeys Turkmen and Kurdish policies.
Considering this picture, the research agenda ahead is to explore how the new configuration of
political geography characterized by the unexpected resilience of the Syrian regime,
the advance of Russia and Iran in Syria and the dubious alienation of Turkey from the Western
alliance will affect Turkeys geopolitical trajectory. It also remains to be seen whether Turkeys
strong sectarian and ethnopolitical legacy could impede the abandonment of its already
bankrupt foreign policy model for the time the AKP remains in power.
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Corresponding author
Efe Can Gürcan can be contacted at: egurcan@sfu.ca
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CJAS’ın ilk sayısı, Türkiye’de modern Çin çalışmaları ve araştırmaları konusuna ayrılan bir özel sayı olarak hazırlandı. Özellikle 2000’li yılların başından itibaren ciddi bir kalkınma ve iktisadi büyüme ivmesi yaşayan Çin, hem bölgede hem de dünyada artan siyasi etkisiyle Türkiye’den birçok akademisyenin ilgisini çekmeye devam ediyor. Türkiye’de Çin üzerine çalışan akademisyenleri bir araya getirmek üzere Kapadokya Üniversitesi Siyaset Bilimi ve Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü tarafından Türkiye’de örneğine az rastlanan akademik bir konferans 14 Haziran 2019 tarihinde Mustafapaşa Yerleşkesi’nde düzenlendi. CJAS, bu konferansta sunulan tebliğleri de içeren, Türkiye'de modern Çin çalışmaları ve araştırmaları konulu özel bir sayıyla okuyucuları ile buluşmaktadır. Modern Çin, Mao Zedung’un önderliğinde Çin Komünist Partisinin iktidara geldiği 1949’dan günümüze kadar olan süreci kapsamaktadır. Bu tarihsel süreç dahilinde modern Çin sosyal, siyasal ve ekonomik değişimleri içeren dönemlerden geçerken 1978 sonrası dönemde yoğun bir iç göç yaşamış, sanayileşirken alt yapı yatırımlarına önem vermiştir. Son yıllarda binlerce Çinli öğrenci ABD ve Avrupa’daki üniversitelerde eğitim almış, Çinli akademisyenlerin yayınları dünyanın her yerinde itibar görmeye başlamıştır. Bilim, teknoloji ve araştırma alanlarında hızlı bir atılıma imza atan Çin, Afrika, Ortadoğu, Güney Amerika, Avrupa, Güney Asya ve Kuzey Amerika ile ticari ve ekonomik ilişkilerini geliştirmiştir. Modern Çin, artık afyon savaşlarında işgal edilmiş, yarı sömürge haline gelmiş ve Japon emperyalizmi tarafından Nanjing’de katliama uğramış olan yoksul Çin değildir. Günümüzün Çin’i modern bir eğitim sistemi olan, nüfusunun yarısından fazlası şehirlerde yasayan, dünya ile bütünleşmekte olan, modern bir sinema ve edebiyata sahip, yapay zekâyı dış politika karar mekanizmalarında kullanan, Birleşmiş Milletler Güvenlik Konseyi’nin beş daimî üyesinden biri olan, uluslararası siyasette söz hakkı olan modern fakat tarihsel kökleri güçlü olan bir devlet ve toplum konumundadır. Bütün bu modernleşme, kalkınma ve bütünleşme çalışmalarının yanında, Çin bu dönüşüm ve değişimleri yaşarken diğer ülkelerde olduğu gibi bazı sorunlarla karşılaşmaktadır. Kırsal ve kentsel bölgeler arasındaki gelir dağılımındaki dengesizlikler, şehirlere çalışmak için gelen göçmen işçilerin çalışma ve yaşam koşullarının kötülüğü, dış politikanın yeniden yapılandırılmasındaki sorunlar, cinsiyet farklılıklarının ortaya çıkması, daha fazla yabancının Çin’e çalışmak için gelmesi ile oluşan farklılıklar, eğitim sisteminin dünyaya entegre olma çabası, güvenlik sektörünün ABD’dekine benzer bir yapıya bürünmesi, orta sınıfın oluşması ile ortaya çıkan talep ve arz dengesinin değişmesi, mali sistemin yeniden yapılandırılması, Çin medyasındaki değişim ve dünyaya açılmada yaşadığı sorunlar, etnik sorunların giderek artması ve bunun Çin’e rakip ülkeler tarafından kullanılması, dinsel yöneliş ile ortaya çıkan sorunlar, gelir dağılımındaki dengesizlikler, hızlı sanayileşmeye paralel olarak sürekli artan enerji talebini karşılamada yaşanan zorluklar, enerji ve tüketim talebi karşılanırken doğal çevrenin uğradığı tahribat, güney komşuları ile yaşanan sınıraşan su sorunları, aşırı tüketime yönelik bir üretim mekanizmasının oluşması gibi hususlar, modern Çin’in yirmi birinci yüzyılda yaşadığı bazı sorunlar olarak görülebilir. İlk sayımızda hepsi Çin ile ilgili beş araştırma makalesi, iki görüş yazısı ve bir yayın değerlendirmesine yer verdik. Araştırma makalelerimiz genel olarak Çin’in dış politikası ve yükselen bir küresel güç haline gelmesi üzerine yazılmış önemli makaleler. Emre Demir’in makalesi, Çin’in değişen statüsünü tartışıyor ve bu statünün Çin’i “meydan okuyan güç” yapıp yapmayacağı sorusu üzerinde şekilleniyor. Conrad John Masabo ve Taner Zorbay, Çin’in Kuşak ve Yol Projesi üzerine yazdıkları makalelerinde, Çin’in bu inisiyatifinin Çin’deki yabancı öğrencilerce nasıl algılandığı ve Türkiye ile Çin arasında kalan Orta Asya’nın durumunu irdeliyorlar. Safiye Ergun dış politikanın iktisadi boyutuna odaklanıyor ve Çin’in Afrika’da Afrika Altyapı Yatırım Bankası aracılığıyla etkili olup olamayacağı konusuna odaklanıyor. Abdurrahim Sağır ise Çinli düşünce kuruluşlarının geniş bir değerlendirmesine yer veriyor ve bu düşünce kuruluşlarının Çin’in siyasi gelişimine paralel ne yönde dönüşüm geçirdiklerine vurgu yapıyor. Nazmul İslam, Çin’in askeri gücü ve bu gücün temel unsurlarını tanıtıyor. Efe Can Gürcan ise kendi katkılarıyla gelişen Jeopolitik Ekonomi Okulu çerçevesinde Çin’in Avrasya bölgeciliği politikalarını değerlendiriyor. Bu sayımızda yer verdiğimiz yayın değerlendirmesi ise Ching, Pao-yu’nun Zaferden Yenilgiye: Çin’in Sosyalist Yolu ve Kapitalizme Geri Dönüşü adlı kitabı. Kitap Türkçe’ye 2020 yılında çevrildi.
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