In the previous article, we began by considering the Roman dragon as it developed in the region of modern Turkey. We examined, in broad terms, the beginning of the Byzantine Empire, tracing the development of the various powers that impacted on the purpose of God. We concluded our consideration with the decline and final eclipse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, represented in the Apocalypse by the drying up of the River Euphrates. In this article, we will examine the rise of modern Turkey and its relationship to Europe, Russia and the Middle East.

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the drying up of the Ottoman Empire, but the prophet Daniel anticipated these events in his 11th chapter, 2500 years ago. We read, “And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind…” (v40). The “him” referred to is the “king” of verse 36 and describes the Roman power, which occupied the territories of the King of the North and the King of the South. Later, when Eastern Rome was overthrown, the Ottoman Turk assumed the role of the “king” by taking over Constantinople. Britain occupied Egypt during the Great War, and finally broke the resistance of the Turks in September 1918. Thus, Britain, as the King of the South, pushed against the Ottoman “king”.

But Daniel adds another detail. He speaks of “the king of the north” pushing against “him”. This informs us that the power occupying the territory of the King of the North would also attack the ruling power of Constantinople. This event has not yet taken place, but is reserved for the future Russian “king of the north”.

The Republic of Turkey

Attaturk – Father of Modern Turkey

The end of the First World War marked a significant change for Turkey, one which would place the country in an important position for the end time. One of the treatises imposed upon the Ottoman regime of Sultan Mehemed VI was the Treaty of Sevres. The treaty was designed to break up the Ottoman Empire and impose concessions on its territories in favour of the Allied powers. The Turkish nationalists, led by Mustafa Kemal, later known as Ataturk (father of the Turks), rejected the treaty and organized resistance against the allies. The Turkish War of Independence was successfully fought, with the result that the allied armies were expelled and the old Sultanate was abolished. Another Treaty was signed by the allies, formally recognizing the newly established “Republic of Turkey”. Turkey was now on the road to reform and modernization. It should be remembered that life under the Ottoman rule was dictated by Islamic law, controlled by the Sultan who occupied the position of Caliph. Ataturk set about to introduce a series of radical reforms which would change the face of Turkey, one of which was to “westernise” the new republic. Subsequently, the capital was relocated to Ankara and Islam was removed and replaced by a secular and democratic system of government.

During the Second World War, Turkey took a neutral stance. However, it turned to Britain, who, under a new treaty, agreed to defend Turkey if it came under threat from German aggression. Interestingly, the Soviet Union made a series of demands for military bases in the Turkish Straits (the Bosporus Straits and the Dardanelles). The United States quickly intervened by guaranteeing the security of Turkey by providing large scale support, both militarily and economically. Turkey’s association with the West was developing.

Turkey and NATO

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed in 1949 with the purpose of providing collective security against the Soviet Union. In 1952 NATO expanded its 12-nation membership by accepting Turkey and Greece. Geographically, Turkey, at the time, did not appear to qualify as a NATO member, being 2000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and isolated from the original NATO members. The decision to accept Turkey as a member was based upon the vulnerability of Turkey to Soviet expansion, as well as NATO members’ interests in the Middle East region. Today NATO has a membership of 29 countries, but Turkey’s location and military clout makes it an important member. The Turkish army is the second largest in NATO after the USA. Also, it is estimated that 24 Turkish military bases are used by NATO. The Incirlik airbase allows the US Air Force to conduct airstrikes on ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Recently, relationships between NATO members and Turkey, especially the United States and Germany, have deteriorated. The USA is supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), fighting the Islamic State. Turkey, however, views the SDF as enemies because of their afiliation with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), considered a terrorist organization within Turkey. Germany angered Turkey when it gave asylum to soldiers accused of being involved in the failed coup. Overall, Turkey’s President Erdogan is unhappy with NATO, due to its lack of support during the attempted coup, and whilst Turkey’s relationship with Russia has been rocky over the years, Erdogan shows strong signs of drawing closer to Turkey’s historic enemy. One indication of this is the missile defense radar system installed by NATO in Turkey for the protection of Europe. Earlier this year, Turkey decided to discard the system and replace it with Russian radar and anti-missile batteries.

Other evidence of strains with Turkey’s western allies comes from the European Union’s decision to suspend accession talks for membership in the EU. The talks stopped after President Erdogan’s constitutional victory, which gave him increased powers.

Turkey and Russia

The history between Turkey and Russia has been mainly hostile. One reason for the hostility has been the Ottoman control over the Black Sea. Although Russia is the dominant power on the Eurasian continent, it is seriously disadvantaged, being virtually landlocked. Many of its ports are ice-locked for most of the year, restricting Russia’s naval movement. The shore line of the Black Sea is shared by six countries, including Russia, and easy access to the Mediterranean is across the Black Sea, through the Turkish Straits.

It is critical for Russia to ensure that access into the Mediterranean is maintained, and since annexing the Crimea, Russia has increased its military presence in the Black Sea. The prophet Daniel is clear, that when the King of the North moves to “overflow and pass over” into the land of Israel, it will be accomplished with military might, both on land and “with many ships” (Daniel 11:41). Russia’s success, therefore, depends upon the Turkish waterways. Following the First World War, the Turkish Straits were controlled by an International Commission, but in 1936 Turkey resumed control over them, under the Montreux Convention, on the basis that Turkey would retain the right to restrict naval traffic to non-Black Sea nations. The Russian General, Valeriy Gerasimov, noted, “Several years ago, the capability of the (Black Sea) fleet was sharply contrasted, in particular, with the Turkish navy, when it was said that Turkey is virtually the master of the Black Sea. Now everything is different”. He claims that the Black Sea fleet is now stronger than Turkey’s navy, and is capable of easily striking the Bosporus straits. As far back as 2014, the Jerusalem Post reported that “With the annexation of Crimea, Turkey faces a stronger and bolder Russian naval power in the Black Sea”.

Russian Warship sailing through the Bosphorus

Turkish-Russian relations deteriorated in 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian plane, during an airspace dispute near the Turkish-Syrian border.

Russia imposed economic sanctions on Turkey, which were later lifted, after President Erdogan expressed regret over the incident. Since then, there appears to have been a normalisation between the two countries. Turkey and Russia have engaged in several projects which place Turkey in a vulnerable position. In May, the Associated Free Press (AFP) reported that the Russian gas firm, Gazprom, had begun a gas pipeline under the Black Sea to Turkey, which would eventually serve the European Union. In June, Turkey issued a power generation license to Russia for a 49-year period in southern Turkey. Russia’s investment will be in the range of 20 billion dollars. Putin, however, is not fooled. In March of this year, the Jerusalem Post reported this comment regarding Putin’s view of Erdogan: “Russia and Turkey are talking – but there is much distrust. Putin thinks Turkey has an exaggerated sense of its own power”.

Turkey, President Erdogan and the Middle East

Over the past sixteen years, the face of Turkey has been transformed. In 2001, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) was formed. It is a party rooted in conservative Islam. The party swept to victory in 2002, and, in 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdogan became Prime Minister. His power was further consolidated in 2014 when he became President. An attempted coup was foiled in 2016 and a Constitutional referendum was successfully held earlier this year, giving Erdogan increased power. Since then, President Erdogan has demonstrated his intention to exercise his new powers.

Two conflicting ideologies appear to be driving Turkish politics. One is called ‘Kemalism’, which was the founding ideology of the Republic of Turkey. Kemalism aims to protect Turkey’s secular, nationalist identity. The other is ‘Neo-Ottomanism’, which promotes the reviving of Ottoman culture and traditions. Neo-Ottomanism leans strongly towards transforming the existing parliamentary system into a presidential system. The Constitutional Referendum provided the means for this becoming a reality.

The political face of the Middle East over the past six years has changed, due to events created by the Arab Spring, and Turkey has taken full advantage of this. Its foreign policy shows signs that the AKP’s Neo-Ottomanism leanings are very much alive. In 2016, Mr. Erdogan criticised the Treaty of Lausanne, signed in 1923, which created the present borders of Turkey, claiming that the Treaty left the country too small. Turkey remained aloof from the conflict when the Islamic State (ISIS) burst onto the political scene in 2014, taking advantage of the instability in Syria and Iraq. Both Turkey and ISIS dislike Assad, the Syrian President; therefore, weakening the opposition towards Assad, by becoming involved in the conflict, was not in Turkey’s best interest. This now has changed, following an incident in 2015, when a suicide bomber killed more than 30 people in the Turkish town of Suruc. But there seems more to Turkey’s involvement than simply retaliation. ISIS is losing ground in northern Syria and Iraq and Turkey is concerned that the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG), viewed by Turkey as an extension of the PKK, may seek to fill the vacuum created by the exit of ISIS. Turkey is not prepared to allow this. In 2016, Turkish television showed maps of Turkey’s geography bigger than its present land mass. Included in Turkey’s imaginary southern border is Syria’s city of Aleppo and Iraq’s city of Mosul.

Another development in the Middle East is the crisis in Qatar, where some of the Gulf States and Egypt have cut ties with Qatar and made several demands. Turkey has troops stationed in Qatar and the Arab States have demanded that they too must be removed. At the time of writing, these demands have also been rejected by President Erdogan. Once again, Erdogan is demonstrating a determination to press forward with his own agenda, regardless of the odds. Even more surprising in the present conflict in Syria, is the fact that Russia and Iran (Turkey’s allies) are supporting Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, whereas, Turkey is involved with the US-led coalition, supporting the rebel groups (some of which are Turkey’s enemies) in opposition to the Assad regime.

Israel is never far from the centre of Middle East controversy, and in Turkey’s case, this is certainly true. Israel has maintained some form of diplomatic relations with Turkey since it recognized the Jewish State in 1949. However, it has not always been smooth sailing. Turkey condemned Israel in the Six-Day War, and since that time, has criticized Israel for its Middle East policy. Diplomatic ties were suspended in 2010 following the Gaza Flotilla incident, when Israeli Defence Forces intercepted six ships, which were attempting to break a naval blockade. Nine Turkish citizens were killed.

What to expect

In April, the BBC news commented on the new powers attributed to Erdogan, following the Turkish referendum: “From humble beginnings Recep Tayyip Erdogan has grown into a political giant, reshaping Turkey more than any leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the revered father of the modern republic.” Ataturk revolutionized his country and it appears that President Erdogan is bent upon further revolution. As we write, CNN has reported that Erdogan intends to eliminate evolution from the school curriculum. The move is viewed as an attempt to move the country away from the secular path introduced by Ataturk and restore Turkey to what has been described as a “dogmatic religious system”.

What can we make of it all? Over the past 100 years, Turkey has shared a love-hate relationship with both eastern and western nations. Which direction Turkey chooses in the future will determine what triggers its involvement recorded in the prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel. The present alignment of the nations needs to change in anticipation of the fulfilment of the prophets. For this to happen, NATO must disappear as presently organized and Turkey, along with the European nations, must become realigned. We are witnessing this taking place. The two strongest military powers in NATO are already isolating themselves – the United States and Turkey. Britain, in separating from the European Union, is preparing itself for its latter-day role of Tarshish. Nations need not agree when cooperating against a common enemy. Lord Palmerston, the 19th century British Prime Minister, once noted, “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests”.

When the political scene is viewed through the eyes of Bible prophecy, we are reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ can return at any time. As watchman, we ponder the events of Gentile darkness, with the confidence that “the morning cometh”. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”.