From enmity to amity at a turning point in the Syrian crisis: A brief historical analysis of Turco-Russian relations

From enmity to amity at a turning point in the Syrian crisis: A brief historical analysis of Turco-Russian relations

The Turkish-Russian rapproachment, as the world is being redesigned, has seriously disturbed not only the European countries but also the historical rival of Russia, the U.S.

On Dec. 19, a police officer identified as Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş killed Russia's Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov, who had made many personal contributions to the development of ties with Turkey and done a lot to overcome the jet crisis in bilateral relations, during the opening ceremony of an embassy-sponsored exhibition. According to popular wisdom and some evidence, the attacker had strong relations with the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) and consequently was supported by the CIA and the U.S. administration. The possible reason for this terrorist attack was to hinder and disrupt newly re-established Turkey-Russian relations and inhibit a meeting of Russian, Turkish, and Iranian foreign and defense ministers in Moscow to discuss Syria. Fortunately, this assassination could not achieve its goal, and contrarily, relations between Russia and Turkey have developed even more thanks to past historical similarities and a shared common destiny. Let's elaborate on these relations and striking turning points that make today's relations more sincere and proximate.

Sharing a common faith throughout history

Turkey and Russia are two countries that have gone through similar historical processes for hundreds of years and almost have a common destiny. The Principality of the Ottomans became a state in 1299, similarly the Moscow Knezi became the Russian Tsarist only a few decades later. Immediately following their establishment period, the development of the two countries and the beginning of the expansion of their political borders coincided. The period of turning into empires and the period in which the two countries started to become unproductive for the West and started modernizing movements to try to regain their old strength are also similar. Although modernization steps were taken in the Alexis of Russia period, Russian modernization was institutionalized during the Peter the Great period (1682-1725). On the other side, in the Ottoman Empire, modernization was institutionalized during the reign of Sultan Selim III, who came to power in 1789. At the end of these happenings, the Russian Empire turned into a new regime in 1917, and the Ottoman Empire disintegrated, becoming the Republic of Turkey in 1923. As you can see, everything from the establishment to the destruction and the re-uptake in the two countries took place almost at the same time and in the same direction.

Of course, confrontation and war between these two countries in the course of these historical processes became inevitable. The Russian-Turkish wars that started with the Astrakhan campaign between 1568 and 1570 lasted until the 1918 Baku war, and between the 16th and 20th centuries, there were about 30 small wars and conflicts. Some of the wars and conflicts resulted in the supremacy of the Russians or the Turks, while in some no one came out on top. However, wars and conflicts between Russians and Turks have always had a winner: Europe.

Due to this historical process, warm relations between the two countries developed immediately after the foundation of the Republic of Turkey. Many investments in the newly formed republic received great support from Russians in terms of finance and technology transfer until the Cold War.

Erdoğan and Putin share the same destiny

Turks and Russians, who were in different blocs during the Cold War, experienced the same fate after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The 1990s were lost years for both countries. After the lost decade, the two leaders who changed the fate of the peoples of the two countries were victorious in elections: In 2000 the United Russia Party and President Vladimir Putin, and in 2002 the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The resemblance between the two leaders is so astonishing in that both leaders are not merely coming-of-age, but so are the similar institutions they came from. Erdoğan came from the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality; Putin came from the St. Petersburg Municipality - the Istanbul of the Russian Federation. After 14 years of Erdoğan's and 16 years of Putin's rule, which continue today, their people described the two leaders similarly: "He made our passport reputable in the world," "He destroyed inflation," "Interest rates fell," "He made large infrastructure investments," and so on.

These two leaders, who are almost heroes in their own countries, preferred to win together rather than lose each other, to have mutual cooperation instead of fighting and to have friendship rather than fighting in a situation, because they'd learned from past conflicts that always worked for the West. In this framework, primarily economic investments were mutually increased and then visa liberalization was realized between the two countries. Moreover, Turkey declared its desire to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization by giving up the European Union where it was being held back in a situation that is over half a century old. Even the Shanghai Energy Club elected Turkey as the 2017 term president although Turkey is not a member. Together with these developments, Turkey developed a very important investment plan - a nuclear power plant - with its Russian partners, and perhaps more importantly Russia and Turkey have squeezed the West into a corner with their natural gas transportation projects.

The steps taken in the context of this union have become much more important and meaningful today when the world is being redesigned. Because the two countries, acting on a win-win principle, have seriously disturbed not only European countries but also the historical rival of Russia, the U.S. In this context, Russia was first harassed by colorful revolutions and Turkey by terrorist organizations, and then these abusive actions turned into activities of demoting democratic and legitimate governments.

FETÖ attempts to drive a wedge between Turkey and Russia

When all this could not be achieved, the downing of a Russian jet, which deeply affected relations between the two countries, was carried out by FETÖ members supported by the West. The Moscow administration, which reacted strongly at first, saw the background of this event after Turkish diplomatic discourse and intensive diplomacy, and relations were restored within a year after the incident happened.

While issues between the two countries, both regional issues and a global business alliance, will be restored to their former proximity, an attempt has been made to destroy relations again through a terrorist who is obviously a FETÖ member inside the police organization.

The assassinated Russian ambassador is not ordinary. Karlov, who has great respect among Russian diplomats, is the greatest architect of the nuclear plant project and the Turkish Stream. Moreover, he is the originator of the idea of the direct line established between the Turkish and Russian military to prevent another aircraft crisis from happening again. Therefore, he is one of the dominant actors in the good relations that developed in the most recent period of time. Another point that should be emphasized is that Russians closed FETÖ schools through court decisions at the beginning of the 2000s because they employed American agents in these schools.

After all these developments, what is desired is obvious. The aim is to engender conflicts between Russians and Turks as in the past and to profit from these conflicts. However, immediate cold-blooded explanations by the authorities of both countries, their decisions on joint action with regard to the investigation, and the Russians saying, "Relations will not be affected," showed that the assassination would not achieve its goal.Apparently, the assassination will further strengthen the relationship between the two countries' peoples and their governments and strengthen the desire to act jointly instead of harming relations.

Finally, it is the FETÖ terrorists those who use them that lost. After the July 15 coup attempt, the terrorist group whose activities ceased in many countries will now meet with Russia's response, not just Turkey's, in every step they take.

* Dean of Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, head of Political Science and International Relations at Dumlupinar University

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