Turkey’s Foreign Military Bases and Their Threat to Stability

By Wayne Madsen

Rather than view with alarm Turkey’s announcement that it is building at least three military bases abroad, the United States and NATO have welcomed Ankara’s move as a contribution to stability. Nothing could be further from the truth. Turkey’s duplicitous fingerprints are all over support for terrorist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Jabhat al-Nusra, and Al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia.

The plans by the Adolf Hitler-praising Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to build military bases in Qatar, Somalia, the Republic of Georgia, and Azerbaijan are in keeping with Turkey’s more aggressive and neo-Ottoman foreign and military policies. Turkey is also building its first aircraft carrier that will extend Turkey’s naval presence into the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

The announcement that Turkey is building a base in the Republic of Georgia comes after the Turks announced plans for a military base in Qatar, where 3000 Turkish troops will be stationed, and in the failed state of Somalia, where the Turks already manage the port of Mogadishu on a twenty-year contract and are looking to take over operations of the port of Kismayo.

The plans for a Turkish military base in Georgia and a potential future Turkish base in Azerbaijan, perhaps in the Nakhichevan exclave between Armenia and Turkey, has prompted the mainly Armenian population of the Georgian regions of Javakhq and Tsalka to contemplate secession from Georgia and incorporation with Armenia. Armenians throughout the region have long memories about the Turkish genocide of the Armenian people in the early part of the 20th century.

The proposal for a Turkish base on Georgian soil was discussed at a meeting in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, of the defense ministers of Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. In addition to creating worries in Armenia, a Turkish base in Nakhichevan would alarm Iran, which has been wary of Turkish ties to ISIL and other Sunni jihadist groups.

In the past, Erdogan has stoked the flames of Azerbaijani nationalism against Armenia. In 2010, Erdogan said,

Military cooperation between Turkey and Azerbaijan and the NAR (Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic) is one of the major components of our relations.

It is believed that Turkish liaison officers have for some time been stationed at an Azerbaijan military base already maintained in Nakhichevan. Except when separatism achieves Turkey’s own Islamist aims, as in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Karachay-Cherkessia, and Dagestan, Turkey has become the natural enemy of separatists in the Caucasus region due to Turkey’s own war against any notion of an autonomous or independent Kurdistan.

Ankara is also threatening separatists that lie at the heart of Turkey’s planned military base in Somalia, the official mission of which is to train the officer corps of the fledgling Somali National Army.

The first victim of the Turkish military in Somalia may be the de facto independent Republic of Somaliland, which has existed as a peaceful but unrecognized nation since 1990 when it broke from the brutal Somali regime of dictator Mohammad Siad Barre. Although Turkey allegedly tried to moderate between Somaliland and Somalia, Turkey’s belligerent attitude toward separatists is well known in not only Somaliland but also in other separatist regions of Somalia, including Puntland, Jubaland, and others. These will be the initial targets of the Turkish military forces in Somalia.

Turkish ambassador to Somalia Olgan Bekar paid his first visit to Puntland in 2014 where he met the president, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali. In 2015, Bekar was present at the inauguration of the newly-engineered Central State in Adado. Abandoning his role as an ambassador, Bekar appeared to be taking on the role of an Ottoman viceroy in Somalia. The primary item for discussion was Puntland’s re-integration into a federalized Somalia. In 2015, a Turkish business delegation, with Bekar’s support, visited Jubaland, the location of the strategic port of Kismayo.

Ali’s predecessor, Puntland President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole, along with Galmudug State President Mohamed Ahmed Alim, pulled out of a Somali peace conference held in Istanbul in 2012. Both regional leaders stated that the conference was not Somali-owned and that the Turks had their own agenda. With the announcement of the Turkish base in Somalia, both leaders have been proven correct.

After subjugating Somali autonomous regions, the Turks will turn their attention to predominantly Christian Ethiopia, where the largely Muslim Oromo people are suitable Trojan horses for Turkish intrigue; Kenya, where there is a growing divide between the Muslim coastal region and the Christian interior; and Zanzibar, a secessionist-minded part of Tanzania dominated by the moderate Ibadi sect of Islam. Turkey has already shown itself to be a significant threat to Christian majority nations facing Islamist extremism, particularly Armenia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.

Turkey is also a threat to non-Sunni nations like Shi’a majority Iran and Ibadi sect majority Oman. Hence, Turkey is establishing a large military base in Qatar from which it can apply pressure on Iranian and Omani interests in the Persian Gulf.

In every move by Turkey to expand its military presence abroad, Ankara has the full support of NATO and the United States. The Turkish foray into Georgia and Azerbaijan would not be possible without NATO’s encouragement. NATO’s main objective in the Caucasus is to isolate Russia and apply direct pressure on such independence-minded republics as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh, the latter an Armenian enclave located within Azerbaijan. In Somalia, the Turkish military adventurism has the support of the ever-present US Africa Command (AFRICOM), which oversees all US military operations in Africa. And in Qatar, the Turkish base will co-exist with the massive US airbase at Al-Udeid, America’s largest military base in the Middle East.

Will Turkey’s plans to become a regional superpower end with bases in Qatar, Somalia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan? Erdogan’s and his Justice and Development Party’s pan-Turkic appetite may see additional Turkish bases in Europe, Central Asia, and North Africa. Under an agreement with Albania, the Turkish Navy has the right to use the Vlore Naval Shipyard, also known as the Pasha Liman Base. Turkish military and intelligence involvement in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Albania, and Macedonia on behalf of Muslim Albanians and Bosniaks, including stoking Muslim tensions, is well-known.

Turkey has established a military base presence in Iraqi Kurdistan and within Syria using proxy armies of Turkmen and Sunni tribes. And, for many years, the Turks have operated military bases in Northern Cyprus, which it known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a secessionist entity recognized by no other nation.

Turkey’s choosing to support Muslim secessionist movements in Cyprus and Macedonia while opting to fight Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq, Somali groups in the Horn of Africa, and Armenian groups in Georgia may come back to haunt Ankara. By no means is the Turkish Republic immune to secessionism, from Turkish Kurdistan, former Assyrian and Armenian lands, and Lazistan in the east of Turkey to former Greek lands on the Turkish Mediterranean coast and to East Thrace, including Constantinople, in the western part of the country, there is ample room for external powers to use secessionism against the pan-Turkic regime of Erdogan and his cronies. Turkey, far from being a united Turkish republic beholden to a strong man like Erdogan, rests on an ethnic and religious house of cards. It would take only a strong gust of wind from Athens, Yerevan, Moscow, Belgrade, Skopje, Tehran, Hargeisa, and Addis Ababa to send the pan-Turkic regime’s troops home to deal with the rise of homegrown ethnic and religious nationalism far beyond that offered up by the Kurds.