Iranian Expert Shohreh Poulab: Erdoğan's 'Red Apple' Project 'Provides A New Version Of Geopolitical Rivalry With China And Russia In Central Asia'

In January 20, 2021 arti­cle titled “The ‘Red Apple’ And The Plan Followed By Turkey; The Eurasian Dream of Erdoğan,” in the media out­let Iranian Diplomacy, Iranian expert Shohreh Poulab argued that the con­cept of Kızıl Elma (Turkish for “Red Apple”), “in Turkish mythol­o­gy rep­re­sents the final aim of dom­i­nance, is the sym­bol of the Pan-Turkic move­ment with its main objec­tive being the uni­fi­ca­tion of all Turkic peo­ple to gain world superiority.”

(Source: Facebook.com)

In her arti­cle, Poulab stressed that “the geog­ra­phy” that is embed­ded in the con­cept of the “Red Apple” is a large swath of land from Southern Europe to Central Asia where Turkey, under the lead­er­ship of Erdoğan, applies an active for­eign pol­i­cy. Poulab added that from a polit­i­cal stand­point, Erdoğan’s “Red Apple” project gives a new ver­sion of a geopo­lit­i­cal rival­ry with China and Russia in Central Asia in the form of a “bal­ance of pow­er pol­i­cy.” She also stat­ed that Erdoğan’s plan is to change the exist­ing geopol­i­tics of Eurasia and become a glob­al power.

Shohreh Poulab (source: Irdiplomacy.ir)

The ten­sion in Iran-Turkey rela­tions has recent­ly been expressed in the Iranian media. The Iranian regime is alarmed by the expan­sion­ist actions of Erdoğan’s Sunni Islamist gov­ern­ment, which come at the expense of Shi’ite Islamist Iran and its resis­tance axis.[1]

Following is Poulab’s arti­cle, pub­lished in Iranian Diplomacy, an Iranian news analy­sis and polit­i­cal com­men­tary web­site ded­i­cat­ed to Iranian for­eign pol­i­cy:[2]

The Geography Embodied In The Concept Of ‘Red Apple’ Refers To A Wide Area From Southern Europe To Central Asia”

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the President of Turkey, on August 26, 2020, on the occa­sion of the anniver­sary of the vic­to­ry of the Seljuk dynasty over the army of the Byzantine Empire in the Battle of Manzikert, stat­ed that Turkey ‘will get what is right­ful­ly its in the Mediterranean, the Aegean and the Black Sea.’ In this speech, Erdoğan, respond­ing to the joint mil­i­tary drill of Greece, France, Italy and Cyprus near the Greek island of Crete in the south of Cyprus, warned that ‘we will nev­er make any con­ces­sions on what belongs to us… we urge our coun­ter­parts to pull them­selves togeth­er and avoid mis­takes that would lead to their dev­as­ta­tion.’[3]

The aggres­sive speech of Erdoğan at this event, along with the nation­al­is­tic enthu­si­asm result­ing from the his­to­ry of the Ottoman Empire, is fur­ther proof of Erdoğan’s strong belief in his expan­sion­ist for­eign pol­i­cy. At the same time that he was mak­ing this war-mon­ger­ing speech, Erdoğan men­tioned the ‘Red Apple’ in his tweets, which is the sym­bol of leg­endary foun­da­tion of the Turkish dom­i­nance in Central Asia and rep­re­sents the most impor­tant sym­bol of Turkish nation­al­ism and expansionism.

The term ‘Red Apple’ (‘Kızıl Elma’), which in Turkish mythol­o­gy rep­re­sents the final aim of dom­i­nance, is the sym­bol of the Pan-Turkic move­ment that aims to unite all the Turks in the four cor­ners of the globe to gain glob­al suprema­cy. This con­cept is the core of the expan­sion­ist approach of Turkey. As Fahrettin Altun, the Head of Media and Communications in the office of President of Turkey, declared: the ‘Red Apple’ to us rep­re­sents a great and pow­er­ful Turkey and is the sym­bol of the sacred progress of our nation in the his­toric march from [Battle of] Manzikert in 1071 to the 15th of July (the failed coup of 2016). The ‘Red Apple’ is like a huge tree that pro­vides shade from Gibraltar to Hedjaz and from the Balkans to Asia.[4] The point is that the Seljuqs, who are the pre­de­ces­sors of the Ottomans, in 1071 defeat­ed the pre­dom­i­nant­ly Greek forces of the Byzantine Empire and opened the gates of Anatolia to the Turks. In Turkey, this vic­to­ry is cit­ed as the onset of the grad­ual Turkification of Anatolia.

The geog­ra­phy embod­ied in the con­cept of ‘Red Apple’ refers to a wide area from south­ern Europe to Central Asia, in which Turkey pur­sues an active for­eign pol­i­cy under Erdoğan. Turkey seems to have main­tained its inde­pen­dent posi­tion in the Mediterranean region by engag­ing direct­ly in the Libyan polit­i­cal process, pre­serv­ing the sov­er­eign­ty of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots in the Eastern Mediterranean. By set­ting a new agen­da it manip­u­lates geopol­i­tics in Eurasia to achieve its poli­cies through­out the region – based on the con­cept of the ‘Red Apple,’ from Andalusia in south­ern Spain to Bukhara in Uzbekistan.

Contemporary for­eign pol­i­cy based on pan-Islamism derived from Islamic iden­ti­ty along with the use of the re-mod­el of civ­i­liza­tion left over from the Ottoman Empire as neo-Ottomanism Combined with nation­al secu­ri­ty doc­trines such as ‘Blue Homeland’ – in Turkish Mavi Vatan – will pave the way for strength­en­ing the foun­da­tions of eco­nom­ic, mil­i­tary, and polit­i­cal pow­er to con­tin­ue Turkey’s active role in the wider are­na. Turkey demon­strat­ed a wide range of claims from the Eastern Mediterranean, the Aegean and the Black Sea dur­ing the ‘Blue Homeland’ naval exer­cise from February 27 to March 8, 2019.

Turkey, by fill­ing the geopo­lit­i­cal vac­u­um in the Eastern Mediterranean, has demon­strat­ed its res­olute com­mit­ment to defend its mar­itime bor­ders and its nation­al sov­er­eign­ty. And by inter­ven­ing in the Nagorno-Karabakh con­flict, in order to attain the secu­ri­ty of the south­ern Caucasus and to open the gates from Anatolia towards Central Asia, has shown that [Turkey’s] dream of Pan-Turkism and Turanism is achiev­able. These dis­plays of Erdoğan’s hard and aggres­sive pow­er in the Middle East have calmed down as they enter Central Asia, and soft pow­er through trade and invest­ment has become Ankara’s influ­en­tial arms.

Fahrettin Altun tweet­ed: “For us, the Red Apple is a great and pow­er­ful Turkey. It is the blessed march of our nation, which has writ­ten leg­ends from Manzikert to July 15, [2016, i.e., the attempt­ed coup in Turkey]. The Red Apple is the great sycamore tree in the shade of which many oppressed [peo­ples] cool them­selves. It is what all peo­ple from Gibraltar to the Hejaz, from the Balkans to Asia, await wish­ful­ly.” (Source: Twitter.com/fahrettinaltun, August 24, 2020)[5]

The Revival Of The Concept Of Pan-Turkic Solidarity Smoothed The Way For The Turkic Coalition In All Of Central Asia”

Central Asia is vital to the glob­al ener­gy pro­vi­sion, espe­cial­ly for the secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty of the Euro-Atlantic region, and is strate­gi­cal­ly impor­tant due to its ener­gy resources. In addi­tion to being the main hub for the oil and gas pipelines, this region is of geo-eco­nom­ic impor­tance for pro­vid­ing trad­ing routes and cor­ri­dors. Hence, a sta­ble and inde­pen­dent Central Asia is able to affect and attract inter­na­tion­al eco­nom­ic policies.

Turkey is the first coun­try to have offi­cial­ly rec­og­nized the coun­tries of Central Asia, and has sought to use com­mon his­tor­i­cal, lin­guis­tic and cul­tur­al bonds with the region to increase its trad­ing and com­mer­cial activ­i­ties. Turkey and the Central Asian coun­tries are part of a larg­er group which share the same Turkish ances­try, eth­nic­i­ty and lan­guage which stretch­es from the Mediterranean to Siberia. The revival of the con­cept of Pan-Turkic sol­i­dar­i­ty smoothed the way for the Turkic coali­tion in all of Central Asia and the Caucasus and the cre­ation of the Turkic Council, or the ‘Cooperation Council of the Turkic-Speaking States,’ which was estab­lished in October of 2009 among Turkey, Republic of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan for the aim strength­en­ing the coop­er­a­tion among mem­ber states in var­i­ous fields. Through the ‘Cooperation Council of the Turkic-Speaking States,’ Turkey attempts to devel­op strong and pow­er­ful ties with its periph­er­al states. The influ­ence of Ankara in Central Asia and the Caucasus caus­es that all mem­bers of the Council to ben­e­fit from the vast array of Turkish cul­ture and history.

From a trad­ing and eco­nom­ic stand­point, Turkey is the most direct trad­ing route between Central Asia and the European coun­tries; and, on the oth­er hand, Central Asia and the Caucasus present the most direct trad­ing route between Turkey and the Far East Asian coun­tries, China and Japan. The strate­gic loca­tion of the Caucasus means that the route of influ­ence of Turkey over all of Central Asia pass­es through the Caucasus and becomes the most impor­tant gate­way for Turkey to increase its eco­nom­ic and com­mer­cial rela­tions with the Central Asian republics. The pres­ence of vast ener­gy reserves in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea region and the trans­porta­tion of those resources through the Caucasus to the glob­al mar­kets, has made the Turkish strate­gic vision of build­ing the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline obvi­ous and in this man­ner jus­ti­fies Ankara’s inter­ven­tion in the 44-day Nagorno-Karabakh con­flict in October of 2020.

Politically, Erdoğan’s ‘Red Apple’ project pro­vides a new ver­sion of geopo­lit­i­cal rival­ry with China and Russia in Central Asia in the form of a ‘bal­ance of pow­er pol­i­cy.’ Turkey, by rec­og­niz­ing the hege­mon­ic role of Russia in Central Asia and being aware of the eager­ness of Kremlin to assim­i­late the republics that split from the Soviet Union that are includ­ed in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), has cho­sen to coop­er­ate with Moscow. The abil­i­ty of Moscow and Ankara to over­come the November 2015 cri­sis and the down­ing of the SU-24 Russian fight­er jet was the onset of the rap­proche­ment between the two coun­tries and strength­ened their coop­er­a­tion. Thus, pur­su­ing Turkey’s defense coop­er­a­tion pro­gram with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan will not be a direct chal­lenge to Russia. Signing the Turkey-Kazakhstan mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion agree­ment includes defense indus­try, joint maneu­vers, intel­li­gence sys­tems and cyber defense, and Ankara’s crawl­ing to Russia’s periphery.

In a video com­mem­o­rat­ing medieval vic­to­ry and show­cas­ing mod­ern Turkish mil­i­tary, Turkish President Erdoğan urges lis­ten­ers ‘to the Red Apple!’ (source: Twitter.com/rterdogan, August 25, 2021)[6]

China, Turkey’s oth­er rival in the region, with the Silk Road Economic Belt ini­tia­tive, has been able to align Central Asia, Russia, Eastern and Central and Western Europe in one direc­tion. From 2013, with the expan­sion of its glob­al Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), [China] has been able to choose the short­est route to Europe through Central Asia. Turkey has wel­comed Chinese eco­nom­ic growth in Eurasia and with its [Turkey’s] Middle Corridor ini­tia­tive which pass­es through Georgia, Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea, has com­plet­ed China’s Silk Road Economic Belt Initiative. One of the ben­e­fits of Turkey’s inter­ven­tion in the Nagorno-Karabakh con­flict was to gain access to the Eastern Caspian Sea region through Armenia to advance its own posi­tion and to become, in China’s view, an impor­tant play­er in this cor­ri­dor. In 2017 the rail­road between Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, con­nect­ing Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to areas beyond the Caucasus, became oper­a­tional, and it also played an impor­tant role in the Middle Corridor project.

Ankara’s goal is to estab­lish rela­tions with Central Asian coun­tries based on cul­tur­al codes based on his­tor­i­cal ties in order to pen­e­trate a new geopo­lit­i­cal axis in the heart of Eurasia. Turkish fam­i­lies in the five republics of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, as well as Turkish minori­ties in the far east of Russia and west­ern China, will con­sti­tute the infra­struc­ture for this influence.

In gen­er­al, in order to increase Turkey’s geopo­lit­i­cal stature, Erdoğan has on one hand used hard pow­er and, by invest­ing in mil­i­tary capac­i­ties, has exert­ed con­trol over the land bor­ders in Syria, the Caucasus, and the mar­itime bor­ders of Cyprus and Greece. On the oth­er hand, through the use of soft pow­er in the form of a mod­ern out­ward look­ing vision under the guise of com­mon­al­i­ty of reli­gion and lan­guage, as well as trade, [Erdoğan] plans to change the exist­ing geopol­i­tics of Eurasia. Erdoğan’s state­ment that ‘with­in half a cen­tu­ry, Turkey will emerge as one of the strongest pow­ers of the world, sail­ing into larg­er accom­plish­ments,’[7] is an indi­ca­tion of his Eurasian dream.”


[1] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 9185, Iranian Academic Rohollah Eslami: ‘Turkey Pursues Its Racist Foreign Policy In The Context Of Its Expansionist Behavior’; To Counter The Threat, The Iranian Government Must Prioritize The ‘Idea Of Iran’ And Its National Interest, February 18, 2021; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 9111, Iranian Expert Sadeq Maleki: ‘The Old Ottomanism Was Looking To Expand To The Gates Of Vienna And To The West, [Erdoğan’s] Neo-Ottomanism Has Its View Toward The East,’ December 29, 2020; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 9105, IRGC-Affiliated Javan Daily: Erdoğan ‘Is In Pursuit Of Creating His Delusional State,’ His ‘Imaginary New Ottoman Empire,’ December 23, 2020; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 9065, Anti-Turkish Statements In Iran – Part I: Iranian Daily: Erdogan Is Pursuing A Policy Of Religious, Ideological War, Hiding His Hostile Regional Policy Behind An Islamic Mask, December 2, 2020; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 9078, Anti-Turkish Statements In Iran – Part II: Iranian Daily On ‘Sultan Recep [Tayyip Erdogan],’ Who ‘Fantasizes That He Is The Equal Of The Ottoman Sultans And Can Tell The World What To Do,’ December 9, 2020; MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1546, Anti-Turkey Statements In Iran – Part III: Erdoğan Is Undermining Iran’s Territorial Integrity, January 11, 2021; MEMRI TV clip No. 8530,Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan In A Parade In Baku, Azerbaijan: We Are Two States, But One Nation; We Must Hold Accountable Those Who Violated The Honor Of Humanity In The Nagorno-Karabakh War, December 10, 2020.

[2]http://irdiplomacy.ir/fa/news/1999549/%D8%B1%D9%88%DB%8C%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%B3%DB%8C%D8%A7%DB%8C%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AF%D9%88%D8%BA%D8%A7%D9%86, January 20, 2021.

[3] On August 26, 2020, speak­ing at the 949th anniver­sary com­mem­o­ra­tions of the Victory of Manzikert, President Erdoğan said: “That those, who were forced to leave Anatolia in a mis­er­able con­di­tion just a cen­tu­ry ago, now pur­sue hol­low brava­do in the Aegean is noth­ing but a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the psy­chol­o­gy of whistling past the grave­yard.” He con­tin­ued as fol­lows: “There is no use fear­ing the inevitable. Turkey will get what is right­ful­ly its in the Mediterranean, the Aegean and the Black Sea. Just as we do not have our eye on anyone’s lands, sov­er­eign­ty or inter­ests, we will nev­er make any con­ces­sions on what belongs to us, either. To this end, we are deter­mined to do what­ev­er it takes in polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic and mil­i­tary terms. We urge our coun­ter­parts to pull them­selves togeth­er and avoid mis­takes that would lead to their dev­as­ta­tion. We want all to see that Turkey is no longer a coun­try whose patience, res­o­lu­tion, capa­bil­i­ties or courage can be test­ed. If we say we will do it, we will do it and pay the price.” https://www.tccb.gov.tr/en/news/542/121919/-we-want-all-to-see-that-turkey-is-no-longer-a-country-whose-patience-resolution-capabilities-or-courage-can-be-tested‑, August 26, 2020.

[4] It is worth not­ing that on August 24, 2020, in hon­or of the 949th anniver­sary on August 26 of the 1071 Battle of Manzikert, Turkey released a music video titled the “Red Apple March.” Seeking to present the mod­ern Turkish mil­i­tary as the heir to the mil­i­taries of Turkish states stretch­ing back 1,000 years, includ­ing the Ottoman empire and the Seljuks, the clip cuts between images of the Turkish mil­i­tary, includ­ing spe­cial forces, tanks, fight­er jets, attack heli­copters, rock­ets, naval ves­sels, and images of men in Ottoman and Seljuk mil­i­tary garb.

Upon the release of the video, Fahrettin Altun, the Head of Media and Communications in the office of the President of Turkey, tweet­ed: “For us, the Red Apple is a great and pow­er­ful Turkey. It is the blessed march of our nation, which has writ­ten leg­ends from Manzikert to July 15, [2016, i.e., the attempt­ed coup in Turkey]. The Red Apple is the great sycamore tree in the shade of which many oppressed [peo­ples] cool them­selves. It is what all peo­ple from Gibraltar to the Hijaz, from the Balkans to Asia, await wishfully.”

Commenting on Altun’s tweet, Poulab com­ment­ed: “The point is that the Seljuqs, who are the ances­tors of the Ottomans, in 1071 defeat­ed the main­ly Greek forces of the Byzantine Empire and opened the gates of Anatolia to the Turks. In Turkey, this vic­to­ry is cit­ed as the onset of the grad­ual evo­lu­tion of Anatolia to become part of Turkey.” See MEMRI TV Clip No. 8240, Turkish Government Music Video Presents Turkish Military, Erdoğan As Heir To Ottoman, Seljuk Dynasties, Portrays Turkish Conquerors Praying In Hagia Sophia Mosque, August 24, 2020.

[5] See MEMRI TV Clip No. 8240, Turkish Government Music Video Presents Turkish Military, Erdoğan As Heir To Ottoman, Seljuk Dynasties, Portrays Turkish Conquerors Praying In Hagia Sophia Mosque, August 24, 2020.

[6] On August 25, 2020, the offi­cial Facebook account of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan post­ed a video mark­ing the 949th anniver­sary of the Battle of Manzikert. In the video, President Erdoğan recites a verse from a poem by Niyazi Yıldırım Gençosmanoğlu that urges the read­er “to the Red Apple!” Kızıl Elma (“Red Apple”) is a con­cept from Turkish mythol­o­gy that has been used to refer some­times to world dom­i­na­tion and at oth­er times to a par­tic­u­lar mil­i­tary goal by a Turkish state that, once achieved, is replaced by some oth­er goal, mak­ing the “Red Apple” ever elu­sive. The poem also refers to the mehter, the tra­di­tion­al Ottoman mil­i­tary band whose cen­tral wind instru­ment, the zur­na, can be heard in the video, giv­ing the music a dis­tinct­ly “Ottoman” sound. The final line of the poem “Oh, Allah… In the name of Allah… Allah Akbar,” is three sim­ple Arabic prayers used in Turkish before begin­ning a task, in this case, pur­su­ing the “Red Apple.” In the video Erdoğan refers to the 1071 Battle of Manzikert as a gaza, or “a holy bat­tle against non-Muslims for the pur­pose of pro­tect­ing or prop­a­gat­ing Islam.” At the bat­tle, Sultan Alp Arslan led a Seljuk army to vic­to­ry over a Byzantine army on a field near the mod­ern-day town of Malazgirt in Muş province, Turkey, open­ing the path for the Seljuk con­quest of and migra­tion into Asia Minor. The video shows horse­men in medieval mil­i­tary garb bear­ing the Seljuk stan­dard cut with footage of the mod­ern Turkish mil­i­tary, includ­ing sol­diers on foot, fight­er jets, attack heli­copters, and the armed Turkish-made Akıncı drone. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: “The brave ones will shed blood, the flag will begin to fade, and Anatolia will begin to be a home­land. To the Red Apple, to the Red Apple! Before play­ing the mehter, the best march. Oh Allah, in the name of Allah, Allah Akbar! “In the name of my nation, I remem­ber with grat­i­tude Sultan Alp Arslan and all the heroes who took part in this holy bat­tle with him.” See MEMRI TV Clip No. 8711, In Video Commemorating Medieval Victory And Showcasing Modern Turkish Military, Turkish President Erdoğan Urges Listeners ‘To The Red Apple!’, August 25, 2020.

[7] Sabah.com.tr/gundem/2019/08/26/baskan-erdogan-malazgirtte-konusuyor, August 26, 2019. See also MEMRI TV clip No. 8257, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: ‘Our Civilization Is One Of Conquest’; Interlocutors Should ‘Stay Away From Mistakes That Will Open The Way For Them To Be Destroyed,’ August 26, 2020.

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