Fighting at the walls of Constantinople
Roger Bara

Of course, our title should now read “My country and Türkiye”, as the new, official name takes its place in every format.

Frankly, the UK and Türkiye have a lot in common. And a whole load of history thrown in for good measure.

We were one of the first countries with which the Ottoman Empire established regular diplomatic relations. Our first Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire was a chap called William Harborne, who began his term of office in Istanbul in 1583, while another chap you’ve never heard of, Yusuf Agah Efendi, was appointed Ottoman Ambassador to London in 1793. 

These two countries enjoyed periods of friendship as well as confrontational periods of war in various alliances, all this before Turkey was actually founded in 1923.

Turkish Flag

In recent years, these two countries have developed strong relations, particularly as the UK supported Türkiye’s efforts in its battle against the so-called Islamic State (Daesh). Unlike the rest of Europe, we presented Türkiye our sympathy after the failed attempted coup in 2016, which I think we called “an attack against Turkey’s democracy.” Yes, what democracy, I hear you ask. Since Brexit, The U.K. has continued to supply weapons to Türkiye, while France and Germany halted theirs.

A post-Brexit trade deal has protected existing agreements which were worth over $25 billion in 2019, including Türkiye’s exports to the UK. Britain is Türkiye’s second-largest export partner, after Germany. Indeed, it could be argued that Brexit has been an incentive for stronger ties between the two countries and may well further enhance their relations for years to come. Yes, Ankara is increasingly seen as both a strategic and economically important friend to London. 

To me, the most depressing element to all this is the similarity between the two leaders; Erdoğan we know has cracked down on all forms of dissent, including imprisonment for journalists and anti-establishment activists and protestors. Johnson and his cronies seem to be going the same way; first, cracking down on the right for peaceful protests and, just this week, alluding that the U.K. may well withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights, so we can send the poor, traumatised refugees recently arrived in the U.K. to that well-known country of liberty, personal freedoms and safety, Rwanda. 

We have to remember that the U.K. was the first nation to ratify this convention in March 1951, and our Human Rights Act of 1998 enshrined the convention into British law!

Yes, the two countries appear to be cosy in bed together, but I’m not sure I like it one iota.

My country and Turkey

Our Rusuk Blog writer Sergey

Russia and Turkey have a very long history that started back in 1453 when the Ottoman empire, led by sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror, took Constantinople by storm, effectively ending the Byzantine era. Constantinople was known as the second Rome. Moscow later proclaimed itself as the Third Rome declaring that it was accepting the Byzantine heritage (including the Orthodox faith).

It was five centuries of fierce fighting between the rising Moscovite state, later Russia, and the Ottoman Empire. 

God only knows how many wars and smaller fights have taken place during this prolonged period! I remember from my childhood watching slide films at my kindergarten about General Suvoroff’s taking Ismail by storm! Legends from my early years…

The Turkish waves have been flooding southern Russia – what is now Ukraine – until Catherine the Great finally turned the tide. She took the territories to the north from the Black Sea, plus Crimea (which is originally a Tatar word) during her reign from 1762 to 1796. I remember those names: Potyomkin, Rumyantsev, Suvoroff – those were the great war leaders who crushed proud Turkish armies back then. Grigory Potyomkin was not only the Supreme Commander but the Empress’s lover and, then, the #2 man in the Russian empire till his death in 1791. 

Russian Cavalry at Constantinople
Russian Cavalry lands at Constantinople

In the Crimean War, 1853-55, the Russian Black Sea fleet defeated the Turks near Synop, but then it was the British and the French who came to join the Turks. That military adventure ended in the Crimean debacle in 1855 and Emperor Nicolas I died defeated, watching British battleships off the coast on the horizon from his residence in the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. To me, the personalities and ideology of him and Vladimir Putin look very similar. Probably, Putin will go down the same road… We will see.

In another war of 1877-78, Russian Cossack vanguards almost reached Istanbul… That was already the decay of the Ottoman’s once-great empire. Once again, Britain and France saved Turkey.

 So the long story of both empires fighting each other is breathtaking. In Soviet times, Turkey was basically nothing to a typical Soviet citizen. Its revival started to happen in the 1990s when Russians, granted the right to freely travel abroad, began their peaceful invasion of Turkey. 

It has become the #1 destination for Russian tourists. At the same time, going to Turkey was, mostly, some kind of cheap and second-rate vacation compared to, say, Sri Lanka or The Seychelles. 

Lately Turkey, because of its leader’s ambitions (who is mirroring Putin in his imperial grandeur) has become somewhat of a friend-foe to Russia. We either love Turkey or hate it. 

Still, it is, the #1 destination and I’d love to go back there to see places I haven’t seen yet, like Istanbul or walking the Lydia path…

My country and Turkey

Photograph of Dean Lewis

Old people have time to think about things. Yeah, we think about the standard stuff: damn, is this tooth really going to fall out? But there’s the other stuff: Will Mrs. B figure out that Roger loves Mud House wine more than he loves cleaning the Jacuzzi?

I will also suggest that the famed Mrs. B will see that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has never heard of Roger and has little interest in his opinions. Now, to be clear, this will lead to a great deal of shouting on Roger’s part. A poster will be painted and he will start marching in front of my house. This is illegal in Turkey as it could be considered an insult to Erdoğan. 

I don’t really understand Erdoğan, he clearly considers himself the Grand-Master of international relations and tries to play the Kremlin off the White House. He fails in this endeavor in spectacular explosions. 

Then there is the E.U. Turkey started the process to become part of the E.U. in 1959 but that couldn’t happen because of poor relations with Greece & Cyprus. The current President wants to collect power so E.U. membership is off the table. There are 36 areas of law that a candidate country must comply with. These areas are called Chapters and cover things like the Judiciary and Press Freedom. Obviously, if there is freedom of expression then Roger would be free to carry his sign in front of my house. This will never happen under Erdoğan. Only one chapter was completed.

Erdogan Gives Speech

Erdoğan simply announced that the reason Turkey cannot join the EU is because everybody in Europe hates Muslims. It’s a line almost all Turks believe but has no basis in truth. 

The point I’m trying to make is that under President Erdoğan, Turkey has poor relations with not only the US but most of the planet. There are many pain points between the two countries but I’ll limit myself to one: the F-35 stealth fighter. 

Turkey made the landing gear hardware and was supposed to buy the advanced jet. Remember Erdoğan likes to play Moscow off Washington. Being the Grand-Master, he decided to buy the fighter and the S-400 anti-air system from Russia… at the same time. 

Of course, the Russians are thrilled because they will send technicians to train the Turks and, while they are there, they can get a nice radar profile of the F-35.

The Americans are not amused and announce that Turkey can choose between the jet and the anti-air system but they cannot have both because of the Russians wanting the radar profile. Erdoğan says he WILL have both and doubles down. Upshot: Turkey is no longer part of the F-35 program.

The US gets blamed for everything negative in the world: everything.  But this time I think the blame lies elsewhere.