Prior to landing in India, during an interview with the WION news channel, the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made a controversial statement: he suggested that a “multilateral” dialogue should be held to resolve the on-going Kashmir issue. “We should not allow more casualties to occur (in Kashmir). By having a multilateral dialogue, (in which) we can be involved, we can seek ways to settle the issue once and for all,” he said. “All around the world, there is no better option than keeping the channel of dialogue open. If we contribute towards global peace, we can get a very positive result.”
In addition, he remarked that resolving the Kashmir dispute was an utmost concern, since it would prevent future generations from suffering.
The statement seemed rather ironic coming from the President whose nation has a history fraught with multiple territorial and border conflicts. Take the Turkish government and the Kurds, for instance. The Kurds constitute one-fifth of Turkey’s population, however, certain Kurdish groups like the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) have been in conflict with Turkish authorities for decades now.
These groups emerged primarily for having a demand for greater political rights, while advocating a need for a separate independent Kurdish state. In effect, the Turkish authorities have deemed the PKK forces as a ‘terrorist organization’. Until 2015, a two-year ceasefire had been established between the Kurdish groups and Turkish authorities, however the ceasefire was done away with by the PKK following the incident when the Islamic State militants killed 30 Kurdish civilians near the Syrian border. PKK believed that the Turkish security forces were responsible for the death of the Kurds since they did not provided ample protection to them.
Following the failed coup in July 2016 and the purge led by Erdogan, the clash between the Turkish forces and the Kurdish groups has heightened.
Then there is the murky narrative shared between Cyprus and Turkey. The latter refuses to recognise Cyprus. Of course the conflict between the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots dates back to the time when it was annexed and controlled by the British. However, the issue is still ripe. In 1974, a military coup led by Turkey, invaded the north of Cyprus. As a result, the Mediterranean island was divided – one-third (northern Cyprus) was now populated by Turkish Cypriots (and guarded by the Turkish Armed Forces) and the remaining two-thirds (southern Cyprus) belonged effectively to Greek Cypriots.
Cut to present, Cyprus’ President Nicos Anastasiades is trying to make attempts to resolve the Cyprus issue – he wishes to re-integrate the northern Cyprus into the larger, remaining southern part. In a recent bilateral meet with India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, Anastasiades tried to urge Modi to hold a conversation with Erdogan about the Cyprus issue. Post the meeting, Anastasiades said, “I had the opportunity to brief Prime Minister Modi on the latest developments in the negotiations for a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem, outlining the challenges we face and the stumbling blocks that inhibit further progress. I underlined our unwavering commitment to unify our country and its people in functional, viable federation in line with UN Security Council resolutions and EU law, values and principles.”
In response, Modi said, “I am aware of your initiative for resolving the Cyprus issue. You have led from the front in trying to bring a new era of peace, development and security. Not just for Cyprus, but for the whole region. We wish you every success in your efforts.”
There is also Armenia. The Turkish-Armenian border has been sealed since 1993. Among many reasons, remains the Armenian genocide that took place between 1915-1917. The ethnic cleansing led to an orchestrated massacre of 1.5 million Armenians in Anatolia by the Ottoman Turks. This genocide is denied by Turkey to date. To this day, the unresolved issue stirs abrasive disputes between the two nations. There was also the Turkish-Armenian war called the Eastern Operation of the Turkish War of Independence which began in 1920 between Turkish nationalists and the Armenia, where the Turks won and following that, Russia occupied Armenia.
Armenia has been at logger heads with Turkey’s ally, Azerbaijan over territorial disputes. As a result, Turkey officially closed its borders. In 2009, although efforts were made by international bodies to have Ankara and Yerevan come to an agreement, since the discussion regarding the genocide continues to remain fraught with complications, the border has been closed since 1993.
Greece is another country with which Turkey has territorial conflicts. Kardak has been a point of contention between the two nations, which almost led both the countries to war in 1996. In Turkish, Kardak translates to tiny islets in the Aegean Sea, which are situated between Kalymnos (Greek island) and Turkey’s Bodrum Peninsula. Greece considers these islets to be part of its territory, while Turkey understands it to be falling in the “gray” area – which, according to its understanding, cannot be claimed by Greece. While Kardak has no strategic importance (no life has been detected there), it is still considered a territory by the NATO allies worth battling over. In January 1996, the two countries almost went to war, however it was thankfully averted.
While there are several territorial and border conflicts which involve Turkey, it is startling that Erdogan has advised India to hold multilateral dialogues regarding Kashmir.