November 26, 2015

Centuries-old enmities are behind current tensions along the Turkish border

Posted in Irish Independent · 37 comments ·

The shooting down of a Russian jet by Turkey yesterday underscores yet again just how many proxy wars are going on in the region and just how old enmities are resurfacing, despite increases in trade and investment over recent years.

For example, only a few weeks ago the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was photographed chatting to Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. Russia is Turkey’s No.2 trading partner. Trade has increased to more than $32.7bn annually, according to the Russian government, and a deal was signed with Russia to help build a $20bn nuclear plant in Turkey.

However, old hatreds and the history of this region concerns the constant Russian push to the South and the constant Turkish/Ottoman push to the East. Every few generations, these two major powers clash – and the battle for Syria is no exception. Although the line spun by the Europeans and Americans (particularly since the Paris bombing) is that there is a common enemy in Isil, this is not the case.

The war in Syria is a patchwork of various different mini-wars, with many of the main supposed allies actually locked into a generational war with each other. So, for example, the Russians support Assad – who the Turks can’t stand. The Turks worry about the Kurds, who the Russians are happy to arm. The Turks (or, at least, this Turkish government) looks on as Isil fighters have infiltrated Syria through Turkey’s borders, largely because Isil is a threat to Hezbollah – who are supported by Turkey’s enemy, Iran. And guess who is Iran’s mate on the global stage? Russia!

These crucial alliances and simmering hatreds are misunderstood by many in the West, because we don’t learn about the history – and particularly the economic history – of this region, which for millennia was the centre of the world.

Nowhere will you see these patterns more evident than in Istanbul, which is one of the world’s great cities. Last year, I spent a little while in the Turkish capital – and the experience allowed me to appreciate that yesterday’s Turkish downing of a Russian plane wasn’t an accident.

Istanbul has been at the centre of the world for close to 2,000 years, stretching down the ages from the Roman Eastern Empire to the centre of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were eventually deposed and replaced by Ataturk and his extraordinary secular vision in the early 20th century. He fashioned the new Republic out of the twin ingredients of international science and Turkish nationalism.

Over the years the city has been home to Jews, Greeks, Slavs, Armenians and Georgians, as well as the Muslim Turk population. It has been one of the three great Muslim Caliphates, the centre of the flourishing sophistication of the Christian Orthodox Church at a time when Rome was home to barbarians, and it was also the site of Judaism’s finest synagogues.

You can see the imprint of all these great tribes in the architecture, the places of worship and the markets. You can feel the 19th century European aspirations of the Ottoman merchant class in the wide, French-designed boulevards – but its narrow, higgledy-piggledly lanes tell you this isn’t Paris, London or Berlin. It smells of the Orient, yet large parts look like the West. This is the echo of all who have passed through, set up home and then moved on again. Most of the Greeks, Jews and Armenians left in the 20th century.

However, one constant has been the Bosphorus Strait, linking the Black Sea, Russia and the Mediterranean.

For thousands of years this was the single most important trading route in the world and, even today, it still feels like this. Every day, massive Russian cargo ships plough through it, heading from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. This is where East meets West, and it is critically important.

Is it any surprise that this is where Winston Churchill chose to attack Ataturk in 1915?

One hundred years ago, the Irish were the first troops who landed in Gallipoli. To put the futility and slaughter in context, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers were the first to attack the Turks from the SS River Clyde. Of the first 200 men to leave the ship, 149 were killed and 30 wounded immediately.

But the Turks remember that the British were in cahoots with the Russians against the last remnants of the Ottoman Empire.

The Turks also remember earlier in the 19th century, when Russian troops attacked the Ottoman Empire and secured major lands north of the Black Sea, in what is now modern-day Ukraine, and huge tracts of territory by the Caspian Sea. They remember that Britain looked the other way.

And, worse still, the British Empire allied itself with Persia – the Ottoman’s enemy – rather than supporting Istanbul in its fight against Imperial Russia.

All this may seem in the distant past, but it forms the geopolitical framing for the disaster that is Syria. The Cold War simply solidified alliances that are much older and continue to play a pivotal, and sometimes unheralded, role in our recent history.


For example, people here seem to forget the famous Cuban Missile Crisis was actually solved by Turkey. Turkey is also NATO’s biggest army, despite being quite far away from the North Atlantic. It has been America’s bulwark against Russia for over half a century, yet still has one of the most vibrant communist parties in the world.

In short, the world – and particularly, the world that is loosely described as Asia Minor – is complex, fragile and fragmented. Almost 12 million people have been displaced already by war. Two of the main states – Iraq and Syria – are failed states and will never again be rebuilt.

Isil has emerged out of that stateless vacuum – but it is by no means the major protagonist.

We are dealing with a massive, intricate, geopolitical game of chess – whereby remote leaders move pawns around to garner some strategic advantage and innocent people get killed.


As always.

  1. McGoo

    A picture is worth a thousand words. Although I have some doubts about it’s accuracy, this is brilliant:

  2. sravrannies

    Russia completely missed off above chart.

    Apparently, the day before the Russian plane was shot down, oil trucks owned by Balil Erdogan, the Turkish President’s son, were attacked by the Russians. It seems Balil is one of the principal agents trading in ISIS oli.


    • DB4545


      There’s nothing like viewing war through the prism of money to get a balanced perspective. I read that article on ISIL oil routes in zerohedge. If ISIL are moving oil through the Med I’m sure that could be curtailed without the need for boots on the ground or bombs.But that would probably interfere with key business interests. Dead Russian pilots. Dead US soldiers. It’s just a business cost to these people.

      • Antaine

        Its not a cost to them. Its a cost to humanity but it doesn’t register on their balance sheets. Corporations take the profits whilst the nations people pay the tab of these ‘business costs’.

  3. cooldude

    Some interesting historical stuff in the article but the analysis of the present conflict is flawed. Neither Iraq or Syria are or were “failed states” they are states where the neocons in the US and NATO have decided to institute “regime change” because it suits their purposes.

    In Iraq we had the famous non existent weapons of mass destruction on which clear and proven lies the west invaded a sovereign nation. That State is definitely failed now because we bombed the shit out of it and killed close to a million men, women and children.

    In Libya, which is now also a failed state, the US and Nato funded and trained a bunch of ruthless mercenaries to revolt against Gadaffi. Then they gave them aerial support and proceeded to turn another prosperous nation into a bomb site.

    This current conflict in Syria has being going on since 2011 when the US moved their mercenaries from Libya into Syria to repeat the dose. It isn’t and never has been a civil war but most definitely is another “regime change” being sponsored by the West and their local allies one of whom is Turkey. In 2013 Turkey sent sarin gas to it’s mercenaries in Syria and staged a gas attack on civilians with the intention that this would give Obama the excuse he wanted to invade. This attempted false flag was exposed very quickly as an amateurish scam and shortly afterwards Russia instigated an agreement in which the Assad regime got rid of any poisonous gasses.

    Since then we have had the emergence from nowhere of ISIS which is definitely another neocon sponsored mercenary outfit who are particularly ruthless. They enjoy open support from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel who want to expand into the Golan heights. All these states fund, arm and train these mercenaries with the support of the west purely to eliminate the Assad government. This has nothing to do with democracy because the US will not allow Assad to run in any elections and have openly stated this.

    Assad has asked Russia for help to deal with these blood thirsty terrorists as is their perrogative as a sovereign nation. Russia has been very successful in this and has achieved more in a few weeks than the US and Nato had achieved in years for the simple reason that the US was covertly supporting the terrorists and giving them arms.

    That is the real background to this war crime that Turkey has committed. Even Washington now admit that the plane never entered Turkish territory and therefore it’s destruction is a clear war crime and Turkey should be reprimanded over this act. The reason they are not is because the real goal is the removal of Assad and anyone who assists can commit whatever war crimes or terrorist acts they want. These are the real facts behind this latest escalation of this conflict which is all about regime change to the exclusion of national sovereignty and democracy.

    • cooldude

      Here is an article by Paul Craig Roberts, who served in the Reagan government, discussing this situation and the pathetic media coverage

      • Mike Lucey

        Cooldude, You have summed it up perfectly and PCR is always on target.

      • Deco

        Paul Craig Roberts is a true American patriot, because he is telling the truth, and calling authority to account.

        The same idiot mindset that prevailed in the Vietnam era, and the 1980s Aghanistan policy debacle has morphed into something frightening, in the current era.

        The entire debacle of backing the Al Qaeda franchise holder in Syria in the current civil war is pure madness.

      • joe sod

        yes very good analysis cooldude. Everyone acknowledges that the invasion of iraq was a huge mistake but of all the dictators Sadam was the worst and he did invade Kuwait and before that engaged in a bloody war with Iran. But the western allies stoking up the “arab spring” was the worst mistake of all even worse than Iraq. The blame for that lies with Obama not the neo cons. Was Gadaffi really that bad, no. I remember Tony Blair restoring diplomatic relations and meeting with him not that long before the chaos. As for Assad he is intelligent educated and modern, these are the guys the west should have been propping up

    • Deco

      Are they “failed states” or “wrecked states” ?

      Things were stable, until the geo-startegists in Western universities and “think thanks” found a way of “improving” matters for the locals.

  4. michaelcoughlan

    A super political analysis very wide ranging in scope. I find it difficult to make overall connection to underlying economic imperatives but I suppose it would be very difficult to do so considering the myriad of factions.

    Since you are talking about aisa minor it is worth remembering this close to christmas that the first Santa

    • michaelcoughlan

      ….. Came from here st nicollas and maybe goodwill to all men might be a superior way of doing things than bombing the bejasus out of each other.


  5. Colm MacDonncha

    Hasn’t history shown us that major financial crises are usually followed by catastrophic wars? We’ve had the financial crisis…storm’s a-comin’!

    • Mike Lucey

      Colm what you say has been true in the past but it looks that Russia and China are not interested in going to war, currently at least. Both Putin and Jinping appear to know what the game is and are not going to be drawn in on the military front however it would not surprise me if they go to war on the monetary front at some time.


    The American led invasion of Iraq in 2003 ranks as being as dumb a move as American involvement in Vietnam ( for a decade). Irish americans didn’t have the guts to criticise either.
    The use of Shannon as a transport hub for 6,000 American troops each week hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Islamic world, the days of feeling safe while holding an Irish passport are long gone.
    Irish politicians have continually refused to say NO to foreign interests. That’s the price the Yanks demand for turning a blind eye to Irish illegals in Boston and the use of Irish tax code as conduit to avoid American corporate taxes. China cutely mostly stayed out of both world wars, it let the Viet Cong do the heavy lifting in Vietnam.

  7. US scam and corruption in their wars of destablization and devastation.

  8. Deco

    The current regime in Washington is playing on a “global chessboard” (the term was devised by US foreign policy opinion-maker and “geo-startegist”, Zbigniew Brzezinski).

    Brzezinski, has already been instrumental in the creation of one Frankenstein monster. After 9/11, he should have been in a state of permanent disgrace. But, instead he has become a dominant thinker in foreign policy circles.

    The imperial faction in Washington, are playing games similar to those played in France, in th 1700s. They are aiming for complete pervasive full spectrum dominance. The neo-con agenda was to use US military personnel to achieve this. It was honest, and aspirational. The current agenda is to use other countries as proxies to achieve the same aim. But all they are achieving is mayhem. It is dishonets, and dysfunctional.

    The people driving this agenda are assuming that this is not going to produce “blow-back”. But this is incorrect. Current US foreign policy is deeply divisive in many regions of the world and will create all sorts of problems.

    At the heart of the matter is the division in US politics, between the positivists and the vindictivists. The positivists produced the Here-are-Saddams-WMD episode. The vindicitivists gave the world the Benghazi debacle.

    It is because of this current policy, that the Shanghai Co-operation Organization, has moved away into several positions of direct opposition to NATO. The SCO might have objected to Neo-cons but they never actually fell out.

    But with the global chessboard players, the SCO is riled, and often angry. Making the SCO angry is not in any way indicative of success. If anything, it should be taken to be feedback, that the current policies are not working.

    The current regime in Turkey is deeply divisive, and is causing a massive chasm in Turkish society between the educated, and the TV watchers. Turkey could have erupted in a civil war many times in the past decade. It nearly happened again one month ago. The regime dramatically closed down a television station led by a US based Iman, who was advocating less agression in respect of the role of religion in society).

    The current government in Turkey is extremely corrupt, and extremely committed to turning the clock back, and making Turkey backward. No amount of gulf oil money based investment can cover this up.

    Russia also has severe internal problems. The West has been assuming that these will cause deep concerns in Russian society. This has not yet transpired. Russia has the backing of China, because China knows that it does not have sufficient military capability on it’s own, to address it’s security concerns. It is in China’s interest that Turkey’s current government gets contained.

    The Middle East, currently is a mess. Moscow has made it clear that the situation demands stabilization. Beijing, New Dehli, and Tehran are of the same opinion. Even Cairo sees this as being the key objective. Often that can best be achieved by Arab nationalist leaders who keep peace on the Arab Street. It might not be ideal. But the alternative is anarchy.

    Washington is taking advice from Petro-monarchies that have been repeatedly found out as unreliable with respect to the objectives of Western interests. The same countries that are funding the spread hate-based-preaching in madrassas, and causing mayhem across from Algeria to Bali.

    The West has picked the wrong side in this mess. Adam Curtis produced the documentary “Bitter Lake” to explain how that came about. In view of the shale revolution, and low oil prices, perhaps it is time we completely revised Western strategy.

    Because I don’t think that pleasing gulf petromonarchies is in the interests of the West, anymore.

    • Deco

      The Vietnam policy was not in the long term interests of the West.

      Likewise, intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s produced a massive problem.

      Is there any evidence to indicate that the past 10 years of Western led “regime change” in the Middle East is any smarter. And by the way, at least Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld had a plan. There is no serious plan currently. Just loads of vague statements about one Arab ruler or another needing to be replaced. In each scenario, the principal beneficiary is Gulf petromonarchy funded extremists who create chaos for the locals, and who murder Westerners whenever they get an opprotunity.

  9. US perfidy. Warn the truck drivers before bombing them. Do not get around to attacking the oil conveys for 12 months. Ally Turkey absorbs a huge amount of oil sales to fund ISIS. US supplies weapons to ISIS. ISIS grows from Al Qaeda et al in a deliberate policy to overthrow Assad formulated years ago. Middle East despots including Saudi Arabia arm and fund ISIS.

    Corruption rules. Bankers, Oil barons, etc rule the world.

  10. I think the headline “Centuries-old enmities are behind current tensions along the Turkish border” is misleading.

    On first sight it is plausible. On reflection one becomes aware that these local enmities are being used by the Powers That Be, to pull strings to create the destruction of yet another Middle East state. Vilifying Russia is a bonus.

  11. StephenKenny

    One of the differences today, from the days of the “Centuries-old enmities”, is that then, unlike today, there was never likely to be limited nuclear strike. With the US, UK, and the rest of NATO having already bombed five countries back to the stone age, under the famous Vietnam War adage “we’ve got to destroy them to save them”, they now seem determined to replicate this “policy” ever more.

    For myself, this is the most depressing time of my life, in terms of the international situation. I always believed hat the west stood for, generally, trying to improve the plight of the world’s majority. When it’s military was committed, there was a clear international law behind it; It would go out of it’s way, not every time, not all the time, but generally, to leave a place better than it found it; to go the extra mile so as to create less ‘collateral’ damage; basically to be a force for good.

    There is now no doubt that the west are a force for greed, corruption, and evil, at any cost. Where the ends justify any means at all, however horrific.

    I feel contempt and disgust not only for the politicians and media banging away on their war drums, but also for the volunteer military personnel ‘executing’ such instructions. I used to believe that at least military officers would draw the line at such blatant war crimes. But it seems I was wrong.

    • It is very disconcerting Stephen.
      History as I read it showed an improvement over the centuries in the plight of the regular person. Serfdom gave way to private property ownership being widespread. Democracy gained acceptance. Rights took precedence over responsibility.
      Autocratic monarchs gave way to robber Barons who gave way to individual rights and the rule of law. Law that reflected the community being derived from an agreed moral structure of acceptable behavior. Law that reached back to before written history such as the Brehon Laws and the English Common Law.
      Laws of Equity developed when the Common law was too rigid. ” When Law and Equity conflict, let Equity prevail. ”

      Today , too often the law is abandoned or ignored. State laws are not enforced by their appointed regulators. A moral code has been abandoned and now it is every man for himself. What ever it takes to win or be successful is deemed acceptable.

      Without a moral code society will be destroyed. Into the vacuum will come others with a new moral code rigidly enforced. Those overtaken will be too weak and fragmented to object to the new code.

      It is happening. Moral decay destroys all empires and states and individuals. Might is right, black is white, right is wrong.


    Bill Holter commentary

    Not only are the financial markets rigged, they are distorted beyond credibility.
    Economically speaking the whole economy is one big lie. Politically speaking the politicians are also a big lie as they pretend the economy is what it isn’t. Nations war against each other based on lies and distortions. Commentators do not ask the questions needed to expose the lies, thus the main stream media is a big lie.



    Lies, austerity, corruption and degradation result in following the banker maxim.
    What the banker creates from nothing must be repaid with the flesh of women, pennies at a time.

    Fire the central bankers, reinstate sovereignty, sovereign honest money and reclaim your dignity. Will you wait until your mother, wife or daughter takes to the streets to survive before you do anything to change.


    Centuries old enmities are being fostered and duplicated by the CIA and western intelligence to provoke the illusion of the world being taken over by terrorism.

    I revert to my original supposition that there is a concerted plot to break the western industrial democracies one way or another in order for one world government to step in to clean up the mess and save the people.

    Perpetual slavery is the goal for us by TPTB. Do not be deluded. Bankers and big pharma are providing toxic solutions to manufactured problems. The money supply and control is nearly accomplished. GMO foods and control of the food stocks of the world is well advanced. All is left is control of the people through population control (eugenicists are at work). The new world order will be run and controlled by the elite who will be beyond reproach.

    In a cash less society your credit and bank account card will include all your personal information. Non compliance will result in being cut off from all benefits. Medical, financial, food, and passport. You will become a non person, a deemed terrorist. That or slavery!

    Reminds me of two historical figures. Hereward the Wake and Robin Hood.


    The shooting down of the Russian plane has nothing to do with ancient enmities but everything to do with US war mongering.

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