Turkey's well-known expert on the Middle East and South Caucasus: "Calls for war are dangerous for both countries"

Political commentator of "Independent Türkçe" publication, Faik Bulut, answered the questions of Turan News Agency.

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Turan: As a researcher-writer who has been following the processes taking place in the Middle East for a long time, how would you interpret the situation in the 6 months after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7?

Bulut: On October 7, 2023, the attack of the Islamist Hamas fighters on the lands under the control of Israel, together with the war between Russia and Ukraine, is on the agenda of the world as an important event that changes the balances in the world and in the Middle East. On the other hand, the operations carried out after this attack had a profound effect on the internal balances in Palestine and Israel. In 2011, popular uprisings ("Arab Spring") in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen led to the overthrow of some dictators and the start of civil wars in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. These processes caused the issue of Palestine, which is the most important issue of the Arab world, to fall off the agenda. It laid the groundwork for the strengthening of the Al-Qaeda organization located in Iraq occupied by the US and coalition forces. The jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which gained strength in Iraq, declared a caliphate by capturing Raqqa, Deir ez-Zur, Kobani, Tel Abyad, Aleppo, and its surroundings in the northeastern regions of Syria after occupying Mosul, the country's second-largest city (2014-2019). Jihadi fighters who joined ISIS from all over the world spread terror. The Iran-backed Houthi Movement took the stage against the initiative of Al-Qaeda, which intervened in the civil war in Yemen. The forces of the Arab Coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates bombed the Houthis from the air and from the ground in the civil war in Yemen. The Houthis responded by hitting the oil facilities and some airports of both countries with missiles and drones. In such a chaotic environment, the issue of Palestine was forgotten. When such a situation appeared, the Palestinian resistance organizations - Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other groups (including Palestinian nationalist and Marxist organizations) - which were subjected to all kinds of oppression and pressure under the Israeli occupation, decided to resist Israel. The fanatical Zionist-racist Jews who were settled in the Palestinian lands forcibly usurped the villages, towns, and empty lands on the left bank of the Jordan River. When the more fanatical Jews wanted to occupy Al-Aqsa Mosque, which has been considered the second qibla of Muslims for 1300 years, and its surroundings, the resisters carried out the raid they had prepared about 1 year ago. This raid, which stunned Israel, Western countries, and the world community, brought the issue of Palestine back to the agenda at the international level. Furthermore, it appeared that Western countries blindly supported the Israeli government rather than the oppressed Palestinian people. The October 7 incident shook the Israeli people's confidence in their state. In these processes, it appeared that the operations of the radical right-wing and racist government in Israel intended to destroy not only Hamas but also the civilian population of Gaza, which has a population of 2,300,000. Hezbollah (Lebanon), Al-Hashd al-Shabi (Iraq), Islamic Resistance (Syria-Iraq-Jordan border), and Houthi Movement (Yemen) who oppose Israel, showed solidarity with Palestine and attacked Israel with rockets. US President Joe Biden described the October 7 attack as "a turning point in international relations and the history of the region." Yes, more than 30,000 people, mostly women and children, have been killed by Israel. Israeli operations have been going on for about 180 days. We can characterize the situation as follows:

- The fact that the Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu committed "genocide" is accepted by most of the world community.

- At first, injustice and unfairness were allowed by saying that "Israel has the right to defend itself." Now, the United States, Great Britain, the European Union, and the European public are slowly changing their positions. The UN Security Council's decision to declare a ceasefire in Gaza is one of the indicators of this.

- After the Arab and Muslim voters in the USA, together with the supporters of the Democratic Party, announced that they would not vote for Biden in the November election, the Democratic Party candidate, who went to 7 states in March, managed to minimize the gap between the Republican candidate and the Democratic Party candidate. The harsh criticism of Netanyahu by President Biden and Jewish senators and members of Congress has also caused tensions between Washington and Jerusalem. Currently, on the one hand, Israel is attacking the Rafah region of Gaza on the border with Egypt, and on the other hand, negotiations between Israel and Hamas to release captives and prisoners continue. Egypt and Qatar are the main mediators in the discussions, in which US, Egyptian, and Israeli intelligence representatives also participate. 6 months after the attack of Hamas, the people of Israel came to the streets again and demanded the resignation of the prime minister. Among the Israeli public, the number of people who oppose the war is not as high as it used to be. No matter how long the ceasefire and consensus between the warring parties may last, the 75-year-old Palestinian problem will not be satisfactorily resolved. Because, regardless of their party, none of Israel's right-wing and religious political institutions want the creation of an independent Palestinian state. However, if an independent Palestinian state were to be created by surprise, Israel's right-wing parties would demand that the state be completely disarmed and subject to Israeli security regulations. In this regard, the Kurds in Syria and Iraq will be deeply affected by these mutual challenges, skirmishes, and tensions. Despite trying to take advantage of the contradictions and balances between the US and Russia, Iran and Turkey, they cannot dictate their power to anyone in a serious manner. On the other hand, the armed forces of Russia and China, which the United States and the European Union see as serious enemies, want to become the main actors of the geopolitical game in the region with military aircraft and ships.

Turan: What would you like to say about the role or roles that Turkey has played or has tried to play or failed to play since October 7?

Bulut: Despite all official claims, it could not play a vital role in solving the crises in the Black Sea and Mediterranean regions (Russia-Ukraine and Gaza wars). Exploiting the contradictions between Washington and Ankara may benefit Ankara for a while. But it won't be permanent. The back-and-forth between Russia and Ukraine has recently brought Turkey closer to the United States, and President Erdoğan was invited to the White House on May 9. Minister of Foreign Affairs Hakan Fidan, Minister of National Defense Yaşar Güler, and the head of the National Intelligence Agency İbrahim Kalın went to Baghdad and met with the members of the government of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The goal is to end the activities of the terrorist organizations in the region with the support of the central government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government. They want to implement the same plan in Syria.

Due to the operations of Hamas and Gaza, President Erdoğan said harsh words to the Prime Minister of Israel and claimed that he would resign from power. In view, there are such criticisms against Erdoğan, who is considered a sincere supporter of Palestine, in both Arab and Turkish media: If so, why is your trade turnover with Israel increasing? Although it does not target Iran directly, due to Turkey's recent political-diplomatic and military moves in the South Caucasus and Iraq, Tehran is worried that the gap that will appear in the South Caucasus can be filled by Turkey. Despite currently sitting in the chair of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hakan Fidan, who has not yet left the influence and sharp style of being the head of national intelligence, is trying to apply the expansionist theses of the AKP government, which is eager for "New Ottomanism", in the diplomatic field and plans to create a new buffer zone on Turkey's southern borders with Iraq and Syria. One of the goals of the operations currently being carried out on the other side of the border is to control energy sources and territories in Syria and Iraq that have not yet been controlled by other countries. To make a long story short, I can say that in addition to petty gains, Turkey's regional policy is not based on accurate calculations, it is satisfied with daily diplomacy rather than long-term, and it takes a step back at decisive moments and acts recklessly. This disparity is more evident when looking at the migrant and migration policy. Conducting its foreign policy somewhere within the framework of the "fight against terrorism" and turning it into a "life-and-death struggle for national security and survival" can lead Turkey to a dead end. However, diplomacy requires flexibility, dialogue, consensus, a gentle approach, and patience.

Turan: The latest situation in the South Caucasus: Could the non-signing of a peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia indicate a new war?

Bulut: The main focus of the crisis in the Caucasus is the disagreement and conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. After 44 days of military operations, a document on "non-war" was signed with the direct participation of Russia. However, this does not mean the final agreement; on the contrary, it is an unfinished agreement and war can start again at any time. Thanks to Turkey's support, Azerbaijan succeeded in clearing Karabakh of invaders and separatists, exaggerating its victory. Such exaggerations are dangerous and can sometimes cause problems for decision-making states. Yes, Armenia was wrong in the Karabakh issue. During the 1991-1994 war, the Armenian nationalists not only occupied the land but also exiled all Muslims of Turkish and Kurdish origin from the region. For example, 20 thousand Muslim Kurds who were displaced from their homelands took refuge in Azerbaijan. At that time, approximately 2,500 Kurds were killed by radical Armenian nationalists. Because those Armenian nationalists divided the Kurdish people into two categories: Yezidis and those who believe in Islam. They claim that Yezidis are not of Kurdish origin and are actually relatives of Armenians. Therefore, the Kurds in Yerevan were divided into two parts. On the last day of the war, Armenia led by Pashinyan began to distance itself from Russia, which did not help Armenia in the war, after accepting the surrender. The relations of Armenia, which is approaching Western countries, with Turkey can be considered to have improved. The truth is that Azerbaijan, trying to take advantage of Armenia's weaknesses, is trying to dictate its conditions to that country, and sometimes there are voices that the war will start again. This position is dangerous for both countries. Part of the geopolitical game is the goal of jointly using the Zangazur corridor, which opens to Central Asian countries between Turkey and Azerbaijan. Armenia and Iran object to this. Because it means paralyzing one of the big trade doors. On the other hand, the trade turnover between Azerbaijan and Israel is also increasing, and in particular, the natural gas and oil it buys from Azerbaijan helps Israel a lot in the war. Most likely, Israel will convince the leadership of the Republic of Azerbaijan and support the opposition of the population of Iran-Azerbaijan to the Tehran regime. For this purpose, there are reports that Tel Aviv has taken serious steps in Azerbaijan. In the USA, European countries, and Britain, media organizations promoting this have been operating for years.

Turan: How much influence does Turkey have in the processes in the South Caucasus? Can we say it has "no influence"?

Bulut: In the current situation, Turkey is one of the countries of which words are listened to and influence is accepted. In particular, the slogan "One nation, two states" is extremely catchy and a phrase loved by Turkish nationalists. But there are aspects that cannot be overcome. Yes, Turkey, which passes through the Zangazur corridor and goes to Central Asia, will also see the benefits of this. The more important aspect is this: Turkey, which is trying to create an imaginary bridge with South Caucasus-Afghanistan-Pakistan-Central Asian countries, can see Russia, China, and Iran as serious competitors in those regions. When the USSR collapsed, the failure of Turkey, which wanted to assume the role of "the big brother of the Turkic world from the Adriatic Sea to the Great Wall of China", is a lesson for all countries.

Turan: What should be done to normalize Turkish-Armenian relations when Armenia is rapidly moving away from Russia and moving some distance towards joining the Western Union?

Bulut: There is a serious Azerbaijani lobby in Turkey. This lobby, which consists of both the Turkish nationalist-Turanist class and people of Azerbaijani origin, has been the main reason for the non-opening of the Turkey-Armenia border crossing from the past to the present day. Normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations is impossible without this obstacle and the strong Turkic thinking going into the background. On the other hand, Azerbaijan gains the most from the friendly relations between the two countries, both economically and politically. For example, when Turkey supports the Palestinian people who are at war with Israel, Azerbaijan does not have such a problem. Because it sells oil and gas used in the war to Israel. Despite Turkey's unlimited support during the 44-day war, Azerbaijan still has not officially recognized the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. I need to make this clear: I am not interested in whether Azerbaijan recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus or not, I say that there are two states that act contrary to the saying "One nation, two states". Here, either Turkey acts in contradiction to itself, or Azerbaijan's words and actions contradict each other.

Turan: In the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, it is possible to predict that the Crimean Peninsula will become one of the main fronts and that the processes will be directed to the Black Sea. What do you think Turkey should do in these processes?

Bulut: In fact, the fate of the Black Sea and Crimea depends on the course of the war between Ukraine, supported by NATO, and Russia, supported by China and Iran. So far, Turkey's initiatives in all these matters have reduced the tension, albeit temporarily. However, there is still no talk of peace in the war. If ships enter the Black Sea, Russia may choose Turkey as its target. In this case, what will Turkey do? We don't know that either.

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