Sinan Ogan: Exploring the New Generation Ultra-Nationalist's Outlook on Turkish Foreign Policy

May 25, 2023
by Haşim Tekineş, published on 25 May 2023
Sinan Ogan: Exploring the New Generation Ultra-Nationalist's Outlook on Turkish Foreign Policy

Sinan Ogan emerged as a notable surprise during the initial round of the Turkish Presidential elections on May 14. Despite his limited recognition among voters and a modest campaign budget, his vote share, which exceeded 5 percent, is a significant achievement. Notably, his endorsement of Erdogan's campaign in the second round opens up the possibility of him playing a role in the forthcoming cabinet. Given his potential as a key player in Turkish politics, one could argue that he harbors ambitions to eventually lead the Nationalist Movement Party, succeeding its current leader, Devlet Bahceli. 

Despite Ogan's well-known prioritization of hardline policies towards Kurds and refugees, it is worth noting that his interests also extend to matters of foreign policy. He harbors a deep suspicion of the United States and the West while fostering close ties with Moscow. However, he perceives Russia as a more immediate and formidable threat, leading him to view NATO as the lesser of two evils. Additionally, Ogan openly criticizes the AKP's previous Islamist policies, although he does not necessarily oppose the militarization of Turkish foreign policy.

Russia

Ogan's stance towards Russia is indeed complex. Given his anti-American sentiment and favorable relations with Moscow, it can be argued that his ideology aligns with Eurasianism, which advocates for a shift away from Turkey's traditional pro-Western foreign policy and seeks to establish alliances with Russia, China, and Iran. However, Ogan's perspective is more nuanced. He recognizes that Turkish-Russian interests often clash across various domains, indicating a potential for conflict.

Ogan, who is fluent in Russian, holds a PhD degree from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, showcasing his expertise in Russian affairs. He also attended the Valdai International Discussion Club, which is organized under the auspices of the Kremlin, as a speaker in 2010 - the auspices of the Kremlin, further highlights his engagement with Russian affairs. Alongside his contacts with the Russian Foreign Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and Governor of St. Petersburg, Ogan also had a chance to have dinner with President Putin within the scope of the same event.

However, Ogan urges about Russia’s dangers too. He thinks that Turkey and Russia are on different sides in Libya, Syria, and Caucasia. Moreover, Ogan believes that Russia pursues a more aggressive foreign policy compared to the United States. Consequently, he asserts that Turkey may encounter more perilous situations in its dealings with Russia. Ogan even argued that a conflict between Russia and Turkey was more likely than a conflict between Russia and Ukraine. It is for these reasons that he emphasizes the significance of Turkey's NATO membership, recognizing it as a crucial safeguard against potential Russian threats.

U.S. and NATO

As an ultra-nationalist, Ogan shares deep anti-Americanism within Turkish society and political elites. His frustration with the United States primarily stems from its support for the PYD in Syria. However, despite his anti-American stance, Ogan recognizes the importance of engaging with the US, particularly regarding matters concerning the Kurds and Greece. He believes that it is essential to navigate and leverage relations with the United States to address these issues effectively.

To Ogan’s thinking, the United States is the intrusive hegemon that design the Middle East and Eurasia through various hard and soft power tools. Accordingly, the 2003 invasion of Iraq caused a Vietnam syndrome in Washington and encouraged the US policymakers to rely more on soft power tools. His 2006 book, titled Turuncu Devrimler (The Orange Revolutions), explains the colored revolutions in former Soviet republics as American design, which is implemented through Hungarian-American investor George Soros and his web of NGOs. Likewise, Ogan sees the Arab Spring as another manifestation of the same US strategy applied in the Middle East.

Yet, contrary to the weakening profile of US hegemony in international media, Ogan still holds the belief in the capacity of the US to design and influence the region. To illustrate, the war in Ukraine was actually a US trap for Russia and Putin. Having a good grasp of Russia’s strengths and weaknesses, the United States, Ogan says, provoked Russia to invade Ukraine. 

Not surprisingly, Ogan’s greatest annoyance with the United States is related to the latter’s partnership with the Kurds in Syria. Ogan believes that Washington is determined to establish a Kurdish state at Turkey’s borders – a plan which will be implemented within the project of the larger Israel.

Military Operations

Ogan directs criticism towards the foreign policy approach of the AKP during the Arab Spring. He believes that Turkey's actions during that period led to an increase in adversaries and a loss of allies. However, it is important to note that Ogan does not oppose the militarization of Turkish foreign policy per se. Instead, he argues that Turkish nationalism, rather than Islamism, should be the guiding force behind this militarization. He wants Turkish nationalism, instead of Islamism, to take the lead in shaping and directing Turkey's military involvement and strategic decisions on the global stage.

According to Ogan, Turkey's confrontations with Egypt, Israel, and the Gulf countries resulted in no tangible gains, only leading to a loss of these nations to the Greek side. Consequently, he supports Turkey's efforts to normalize relations with Arab countries. Ogan believes that pursuing diplomatic and cooperative approaches with Arab nations is crucial to prevent further deterioration of relations and to regain influence and partnerships that may have been strained or lost in the past.

Having said that, he has no objection to an aggressive foreign policy for more nationalistic causes. Given his ultra-nationalism, it is not surprising to see him asking for more confrontational steps against Kurds and Greece. Turkish nationalism has historical hostility with these two groups. Ogan, however, supports some of the AKP’s expansionist policies, like its political and military initiatives in Libya. The reason that Ogan backs AKP’s Libya policy is related to the Blue Homeland – a hallmark Eurasianist doctrine that interprets Turkey’s territorial waters in a maximalist way. Turkey assists its Libyan proxies, who recognize Turkey’s territorial claims in the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, it is no wonder to see the nationalists cheering for the AKP’s Libya policy. What is new here is their readiness to employ military power for expansionism and changing the regional status quo. 

Azerbaijan

Ogan’s unexpected kingmaker role after the first round of presidential elections also shed light on his cordial relationship with the Azerbaijani government. Being of Azerbaijani origin himself, Ogan has always enjoyed close ties with Baku. In order to protest the Soviet invasion of Azerbaijan in 1990, he organized a demonstration in front of the Soviet consulate in Istanbul. He later cultivated a friendship with former Azerbaijani President Abulfaz Elchibey and worked in his office. He also worked as a representative of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) in Baku. President Aliyev awarded him with a state medal for his services to Azerbaijan.

Ogan’s friendly ties with Baku cause eyebrows to raise. Ogan’s critics depict him as Aliyev’s man in Ankara – who mediates between two leaders. Azerbaijani opposition even argues that President Aliyev might have played a role in Ogan’s decision to support Erdogan.

Sinan Ogan is a new-generation ultra-nationalist who embraces AKP’s expansionism and militarization in foreign policy. His point of departure from the AKP is that he wants to deploy this foreign policy activism to serve Turkish nationalism instead of Islamism. In this respect, conventional Turkish nationalism, whose military activism was mostly defensive and temporary, has learned “the virtues of expansionism” from the AKP experience.

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