Should Turkey have abdicated its sovereign rights for the greater good?

Published: November 25, 2015

An activist holds a tablet with a picture of the lifeless body of a Russian pilot of a war plane shot down by Turkey, in front of the Turkish embassy in Moscow, Russia, November 24, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

The downing of the Russian plane that allegedly violated Turkey’s borders might go down in history as the event that led to something much grander in the global context. Or it could just be a news story that shocked and bemused its audience. For an amateur historian, this particular incident is a point of great interest because he knows that the worst of conflicts have erupted over much smaller bullets.

Those conflicts have taken the lives of millions and have had the potential to wipe out all existence from the face of the earth.

The fateful bullet that took the life of Austrio-Hungarian Prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, was destined to trigger a massive clash that would be known as World War I. Another incident where humanity as a whole came under the threat of mass extinction was when the then USSR shot down an American U-2 spy plane in its airspace. At the time, nuclear exchange seemed quite possible.

It is evident that this incident will lead to deterioration in relations between Turkey and Russia. An enraged Putin has called for Russian citizens to refrain from visiting Turkey. He called the act a “stab in the back committed by accomplices of terrorists”.

Those are not words we should take lightly.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has clearly stated that,

“No one should expect us to remain silent when our border security and our sovereignty are being violated.”

The jet plane was downed after it was warned more than 10 times as per the Turkish official statement. This is not the first incident of a breach by the Russian fighter jets, as previously there have been reports of similar incursions. The Ambassador of Turkey to the US, Serdar Kilic, tweeted in the aftermath of the incident:

“Understand this: Turkey is a country whose warnings should be taken seriously and listened to. Don’t test Turkey’s patience. Try to win its friendship.”

The Russian media is reporting that the plane was inside the Syrian territory and one kilometre away from the border when it was brought down. It is significant to note that the most turbulent region in the whole war theatre of Syria lies towards the north along the Turkish border. Thus, Russian presence near the border is inevitable.

Historically, the relations between Turkey and Russia have been complicated at best, due to the animosity between the two major empires of their age – the Ottoman and the Russian Empire. Numerous wars were fought between the two nations over territories in the Balkan region and the areas surrounding the Black Sea. In contrast to their conflict-ridden historical relationship, the Russia and Turkey of today had started warming up to each other. The Western world’s criticism of Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies and repressive state censure, and Turkey’s curtailed involvement in NATO’s preparedness to meet the rising Russian aggression, prompted it to look towards the East. A new trade bloc containing China, Pakistan and Turkey in cooperation with Russia seemed to be on the cards.

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, was expected in Istanbul on December 25th for a diplomatic huddle which has naturally been cancelled. The future of Russian-Turkish diplomatic relations hangs in the balance for now. President Putin has vowed tragic consequences for the relations between the countries.

The world is watching with bated breaths.

The Western world stands behind Turkey, its traditionally close ally. President Obama has asserted the right of Turkey as an independent nation to protect its physical boundaries but has wisely advised the parties involved to attempt to communicate with each other.

There is no denying the extent of influence that Russia wields in the Arabian Peninsula, and with American withdrawal from Iraq, Russia is bound to set its mark. President Obama has taken a radical shift from the original US policy of alienating Russia, and has invited the country to come together with the US to contain and manage the affairs of the tumultuous region.

Long gone are the days of the Cold War.

However, we shouldn’t be celebrating. Putin and Obama may be able to work together but the fact of the matter is that the emerging world order will pose threats and dangers that the global community has not experienced before. The importance of nation states has significantly declined. Non-state actors, such as terrorist organisations, are the ones carving a new era in history.

It’s time to re-examine how states organise themselves in the international arena. With the new climate of fear and terror, several problematic notions have surfaced.

Are geographical territories more important than defeating terrorism?

Should Turkey have abdicated its sovereign rights for the greater good?

If the roles were reversed, would Russia have taken the high road?

I believe that the idea of the sovereignty of nation states needs to be amended in this new world order. The biggest threat to a nation is no longer an enemy nation, but organisations which have no borders or rules – organisations that permeate through countries and wreak havoc from within.

It’s time to change our archaic rules to win a war that is not territorially or geographically limited. Let’s not get embroiled in squabbles that will only lead to more destruction.

In all that transpires between Turkey and Russia, the concerted effort to root out terrorism should not suffer. Countries need to come together to reconstruct a global society that has been torn after decades of devastation. Whether the plane that went down took with it the hopes of a peaceful Middle East is yet to be seen, as more unfolds from Moscow, Ankara and Damascus.

Ali Izhar Bajwa

Ali Izhar Bajwa

The author is a news junkie with an interest in global and national politics. He majored in Accounting and Finance from LUMS and is currently working in State Bank of Pakistan as an Assistant Director.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • wb

    The fact is, Turkey is one of the few countries that is supporting Isis to oust Bashar.

    The rest of nonsense regarding sovereignty and integrity are just wordsRecommend

  • abhi

    Turkey shot down a russion plane which was attacking ISIS millitants, clear indication of Turkey’s priority.Recommend

  • Madhav Das

    Sensible point of view. When viewed from the ground or even on radar minor incursions inside your territory can hard to judge and ought to be ignored. If the incursion is in an area where there are already a lot of planes flying, it is all the more reason for it to be ignored.
    I think Turkey should publicly regret the needless death of a Russian pilot without tendering an explicit apology. I think Putin will accept and understand.Recommend

  • Sane

    Turkey shot down the plane as it was in Turkey territory and despite repeated warnings plane did not move away. As a last resort it was shot down. Every country has right to defend its territory. Don’t color it other way.Recommend

  • Milind A

    Turkey is stupid ..period!!! The statement “The Western world stands behind Turkey, its traditionally close ally” should not leave any doubts as to why Turkey embarked on this misadventure… By shooting down that plane, Turkey is doing what other Muslim nations did, lending their shoulder to the West to fire upon its adversariesRecommend

  • Ari C

    You’re so naive! To Turkey ISIS is not a problem. The Kurds are. On top of that the Russians were bombing the pro-Turkish Turkmen militias that are anti Kurd and anti-Assad! What do you expect?Recommend

  • Parvez

    I thought that was a fair and balanced article. The aggressor does appear to be Turkey in this case but what ‘ signal ‘ it intended to send out to Russia is not quite clear……but we are lucky that its Putin making decisions and not George W Bush.Recommend

  • Bvgt

    Thinking that Russia is fighting against Isis is being naive. Do you think Russia in Syria fighting against Isis or securing its own interests such as military bases in Syria? If India would violate Pakistani airspace again and again how would you react? Will you accept the violations? In Syria Asad regime, Russia and Kurds are cleaning the ethnicities of the region. Last year Syrian regime shot down Turkey’s war plane on Turkey’s airspace, what is changed now? On the other hand if Turkey was supporting Isis why at 10.10.2015 more than hundreds of people killed in Ankara by Isis. Even kids know that Turkey is not close allies with west. Turkey’s interests never overlaps with then. On the contrary Russia and western countries were allies against Ottoman. I would suggest Russia to fight against Pyd who claims to represent kurdish people in Syria and who is the Syrian arm of the kurdish terrorist group Pkk. I advice to the author to read more.Recommend

  • abhi

    It was not in Turkish territory and even if it strayed in to it they should have acted sensibly. Russians may not have understood the Turkish warning due to language barriar.Recommend

  • KahnaKacha

    Currently, most of the forces that are engaging Assad regime directly are not ISIS. They are several other rebel groups that have been threatening Assad, and Russians have been bombing all these rebels. They have hardly touched ISIS.

    Even in this case, Russian pilots were bombing Turkmen villages who speak Turkish and have close ties to Turkey across the border. There is also a Turkmen militia based in these villages, which is very secular but anti Assad regime.

    It is quite possible that Turkey shot the plane down in Syrian airspace, but to save Turkish speaking Turkmen villages on the ground.Recommend

  • KahnaKacha

    These Turkmen militias fought along side Syrian Kurds in Kobane, They are definitely anti Assad, but made an alliance with Kurds, against ISIS. For now, they are Anti Assad and Anti ISIS.Recommend

  • Farhan

    ISIS militants are in the East of Syria! What was the Russian plane doing near the border with Turkey?

    It was attacking non-ISIS targets.Recommend