Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan knows all-to-well about the emotional significance that the so-called Kizil Elma, or “Red Apple”, has for the masses of his country.
The Red Apple, a militaristic myth that symbolizes the Turks’ political ambitions for ultimate world domination, has appeared ever more frequently in the Turkish media. What is important to remember about the myth is that, though the symbol’s origins are obscure and likely date from when the Turks were a nomadic people on the steppes of Central Asia, for the Ottomans it meant the inevitable capture of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), Vienna, and Rome – three of the greatest cities in 15th and 16th-century Europe – by the armies of the sultan. It’s those visions of grandeur that lay at the crux of the recent media campaign to assist Erdogan in fulfilling his grand vision – to revive the Ottoman Empire.
That may sound far-fetched to the outside observer, but unfortunately, it is true.
This most recently manifested itself in a speech given in late August by Erdogan to mark the 11th-century Battle of Manzikert, which saw the Seljuk Turks defeat the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire and opened the door to the eventual Turkification and Islamization of Anatolia. In his speech, Erdogan said Turkey “will take whatever it is entitled to in the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black seas. We will not make any concessions,” and added that Greece “is unworthy” of its Byzantine legacy.
Erdogan’s aggressiveness and his dreams of a modern-day Ottoman Empire, with images of centuries’ old warriors dreaming of conquering Vienna and Rome, is not only evident in Turkey’s foreign policy and its relations with neighboring countries, but it is also prevalent in the way that Erdogan’s government deals with anyone that disagrees with his autocratic stance within the country itself. Over the years, he has imprisoned thousands of journalists, academics, civil servants, opposition and human rights activists, Kurds, and judges.
It is quite clear that Erdogan is now a mirror image of his political ally Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves party. This does not at all come as a surprise for the people of Cyprus. As a result of the Turks’ 1974 invasion of Cyprus, and the ongoing occupation of 37% of the island by the Turkish Armed Forces, Cypriots have for decades followed closely the political developments in Turkey, especially after Erdogan first came to power nearly a generation ago, in 2003.
The realities of Erdogan’s goals are of no surprise for Cypriots, who see that the Turkish President is aiming to start a war that would lead to conquest and looting. After all, Cyprus has been living with this reality, every single day, for the past 46 years.
In the years since the Turks invasion of the Republic of Cyprus, many believed that Ankara’s appetite for expansion and conquest would be satiated by “just” occupying a substantial part of the island nation, which was and is an independent and sovereign country as well as an EU member state.
Though Cyprus may seem small and unimportant to many, the miscalculation that the Turks would be satisfied with carving off more than a third of its territory for their neo-imperial ambitions has proven to be fatally incorrect.
It is quite obvious that Turkey’s fantasies do not end with Cyprus. The invasion of northern Syria and the subsequent ethnic cleansing of the region’s Kurds, its bellicose rhetoric and direct threats to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, its open support for terrorist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, the enlisting of Islamist mercenaries to fight in Libya and Syria, and Erdogan’s recent referral to “liberating” Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque only point to one thing – Erdogan has cast himself in the role of being the only leader who can revive and rule over a Turkish-led Islamic empire that stretches from Bukhara in Uzbekistan to Andalusia in southern Spain.
He faces, however, one major obstacle in his neighborhood – Europe.
It is evident that some European capitals like Paris and Vienna have a clear view of what Erdogan’s end game is. Others are still caught up in the short-sightedness of maintaining deep economic ties to Turkey, with future investment returns in their sights
The EU appears hesitant to put forward a strong and unified stance to fully support their fellow members – Greece and Cyprus – when their sovereignty is directly being threatened by Turkey. This, in essence, undermines the EU’s own credibility. That might make economic short-term sense to some, but it is likely to pave the way for medium and long term instability in the future.
The EU cannot be held hostage by a bully state like Turkey. At the end of the day, the ultimate victim will eventually be the European Union, itself. The policy of threats and blackmail from the Turks will, at some point, be directed at the heart of the EU if Erdogan is left to control the Eastern Mediterranean. Both Libya and parts of Syria are already flooded with jihadists that were either transported or recruited by Erdogan’s troops.
In the case of Libya, the Islamist fighters sent by Erdogan are there to support his only ally in the Eastern Mediterranean, Fayez al-Saraj, the man who signed a maritime deal with Turkey that is in full violation of international law and has been flatly rejected by the European Union. What’s even more worrying is that Erdogan’s jihadist militias in Libya are now just a short hop away from the Italian coast.
It is decision time for the European Union and it is imperative that the right decision is made. Sanctions must be imposed on Turkey for its aggressiveness, not only towards Cyprus and Greece, but also for the sake of stability, peace and prosperity for Europe and the wider region.
In the event that the opposite happens, the rest of Europe better stand in line for the next wave of Turkish aggression which could be targeted at the heart of the European Union itself.