What does the “Map of the Turkic world” mean in Erdogan’s hands?

MOSCOW, 25 Nov 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.

Over the past year, we have already witnessed three major scandals related to the demonstration of maps illustrating the fantasies of Turkish politicians about the “Great Turan” due to greatly reduced territorially, or even completely absorbed neighbours.

In September 2020, Turkish parliamentarian Metin Külünk showed a map of “Turkey of the Future”, which included large pieces of Greece, Bulgaria, Armenia, Georgia, Iraq, Syria, Cyprus. The representative of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan posted this map on the Internet, accompanied by corresponding comments.

I must say that the act of the Turkish politician did not cause much resonance: you never know what is being posted by inadequate people on social networks. However, in February of this year, another provocative map was shown live by the Turkish state TV channel TRT-1.

The map was drawn not just anywhere, but by the American intelligence and analytical company Stratfor, which needs no introduction. This structure calls itself the “shadow CIA” and has some grounds for this due to the specifics of the staff and professional experience of a significant part of the staff.

The name of the map was not as provocative as that of Külünk. It was not about the future borders of Turkey, but only about the “Turkish sphere of influence.” On the other hand, the scale of the claims was much more significant, covering the entire Transcaucasia and Central Asia, as well as Crimea, Kuban, the North Caucasus and a number of other Russian regions.

The demonstration of the map on the official TV channel did not go unnoticed, including in Russia. Questions arose to Ankara, to which the Turkish side answered in the spirit that, they say, it was not us who drew the map, this is just the opinion of foreign experts, which is interesting to the Turkish audience.

Finally, on November 13 this year, an even more provocative than the two previous ones, a “Map of the Turkic World“, appeared on the official Facebook page of the Turkish Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

It became clear that the borders of the “Great Turan” outlined by Stratfor did not suit the Pan-Turkists, they needed much more. Almost half of Eurasia is included in the “Turkic world” here, including huge chunks of the territory of the Russian Federation.

As it turned out, the ambitions of Turkish nationalists extend not only to the republics of the North Caucasus, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, but also to Altai, Buryatia, Tuva, Khakassia, and Yakutia. And also in the Astrakhan, Irkutsk, Kurgan, Novosibirsk, Penza, Omsk, Orenburg, Samara, Ulyanovsk, and Chelyabinsk regions.

Beijing and Tehran were not ignored. The “Turkic world” included the Chinese Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR), and in Iran – the north-western regions of which are the regions inhabited by ethnic Azerbaijanis.

The leader of the MHP Devlet Bahçeli is today the coalition partner of President Erdogan. His party, together with AKP, forms an electoral bloc that now controls the parliamentary majority. And I must say that historically MHP is a gathering point for odious Turkish Russophobes, for whom Russia has always been a historical enemy.

In the 1940s, the founder of the party, Colonel Türkeş, sympathised with the Nazis, but went on trial after the Red Army defeated the Wehrmacht at Stalingrad, and Ankara decided to get rid of pro-German elements. At the trial, Türkeş stated literally the following:

“Russia brought us to our present state, Russia sharpened its teeth on us, Russia destroyed our empire. And again, Russia is doomed to squabble and play noisily with us because of our geographic location. Therefore, I believe that our biggest enemy is Russia.” Since then, the party’s ideology has not changed much. The aforementioned Devlet Bahçeli is the successor of Türkeş, who, after the latter’s death in 1997, headed MHP.

“Map of the Turkic world” was posted on the Internet on the very day when Erdogan successfully completed the summit of the Turkic Council, which changed its name to the Organisation of Turkic States and adopted the Concept of the Turkic World up to 2040, by the way, quite balanced and politically correct, replete with references to respect to the sovereignty of independent states, inviolability of borders, the importance of cultural exchange and other self-evident things.

It is only in Turkey itself that the results of the summit began to be interpreted as if the process of creating a pan-Turkist superstate had been launched there. And the notorious “Map of the Turkic World”, where vast territories of countries that are not part of any Turkic community were painted over in yellow and orange, gave food for very disturbing reflections.

Finally, the situation took on a very ominous character after Erdogan was personally photographed next to this map, presented to him by the leader of the nationalists. This raised the story from the sphere of marginal provocations to the level of interstate relations, since the presence of the country’s president next to such a cartographic “masterpiece” is very serious.

Reassuring statements that Erdogan allegedly made such a gesture only for “internal use”, in order to bind the electorate of radical nationalists to himself, should not be misleading.

Let me remind you that simultaneously with the summit of the Turkic states, the situation on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan sharply aggravated, which was stopped only thanks to the intervention of Russia. The foreign policy message of the demarche undertaken by Erdogan is obvious, and the Turkish leader, apparently, is well aware of this.

Today there is a lot of debate about what is the role of Turkey in the modern world, in which direction Ankara is moving. Does it strive to become one of the centres of a multipolar world, or, on the contrary, does it not think of itself outside NATO, outside the Western camp, where it only wants to gain additional points and raise its status, to become a player in the major league, such as Great Britain and France?

The “map of the Turkic world” in the hands of Erdogan largely contains answers to these questions. In fact, this is yet another claim for geopolitical status in a big game on the side of the West against Russia and China. And this does not bode well for us, Beijing or Turkey itself.

Elena Panina – Director of the RUSSTRAT Institute

Institute for International Political and Economic Strategies – RUSSTRAT

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