Recep Tayyip Erdogan's expansionist urge catches no one by surprise, the Turkish president has revived the discourse on the great Ottoman Empire from some time ago. The Eurasian country has been moving away from more restrained policies and has become one of the major destabilisers in the region.
Turkey is involved in practically all the conflicts that are taking place or have taken place in the Middle East and a large part of Africa, including Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and so on. But Erdogan's expansionist policies have not only affected this region in particular, but he also maintains an open dispute with Greece and Cyprus over the exploration of territorial waters, as well as the decisive role he played during the Azerbaijan conflict.
Indeed, Turkey's role during the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict set off alarm bells, as it once again pitted the Eurasian country against Russia. These two former Soviet republics were disputing the Nagorno-Karabakh area, located in Azerbaijan, but where the majority of Armenians live. From the outset, Russia stood with Armenia, while Turkey backed Azerbaijan.
Turkey's support for the former Soviet republic goes beyond any possible historical or cultural ties they might share; this strategy is aimed at controlling resources. In the words of Middle East expert James Dorsey: "The military victory turned Azerbaijan into an alternative gas transport route to the west that would allow Central Asian countries to avoid the corridors dominated by Russia or Iran". And not only gas, Kazakhstan has started exporting copper to Turkey via Azerbaijan, in a first attempt to use the country as a transit zone.
In a new expansionist boast by Turkey, a pro-regime Turkish television channel has leaked a map showing the country's area of influence in 2050. On this map, the Eurasian country's reach extends from southeastern Europe to the northern Mediterranean coast (Greece and Cyprus) and the southern coast including Libya, the Maghreb countries, Egypt and the Gulf states, as well as the Caucasus to Central Asia and the Chinese border.
This map is based on information from a book entitled The Next 100 Years: Predictions for the 21st Century, written by US policy researcher George Friedman, founder of the Stratfor Center for International Policy Research. The book, published in 2009, includes expectations about the geopolitical situation in the world in the 21st century, its development and the changing balance of power in the coming decades.
Countries such as Iran and Russia have dismissed this as yet another provocation on Erdogan's part, rather than a real threat. However, they have claimed that this map, which includes the North Caucasus countries and the Crimean peninsula, threatens Russian interests. Vladimir Khabbarov, a member of the Russian Federation Council, noted that "This information is intentionally shown to see reactions, but we will not pay attention to it, we have normal relations with Turkey and we are partners in many areas".
Iranians have also expressed that such a Turkish sphere of influence would besiege their country from the north, south and west and threaten their national strategic interests. Still, Iranian officials have not commented on Turkey's plans. But they see Turkey as a threat, especially after Erdogan repeated a nationalist speech calling for the annexation of two Iranian provinces of Azeri origin to Azerbaijan. This is why Tehran seeks to strengthen its military presence in the Caspian Sea and establish closer naval relations with the countries bordering its basin, which would include: Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.
This act is just one more example of Erdogan's expansionist delusions that at a time when the country is suffering the harsh economic consequences of the pandemic, he is highlighting the dream of that great Ottoman Empire, focusing society's attention on external conflicts so as not to have to face the necessary reforms that the country demands.