On Monday evening, the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies organized a lecture titled “Hegemon Risen: Turkey’s Emergence as an Independent Authoritarian State” with support from the Donia Human Rights Center, the University of Michigan Department of History, the Michigan War Studies Group and the International Institute. The audience consisted of about 50 people, both students and professors.
Michael Hickok, an FBI assistant special agent-in-charge in the Las Vegas Division with a Ph.D. in Ottoman history from the University, was the lecture’s keynote speaker.
Fatma Müge Göçek, professor of sociology and women’s studies, began the event by introducing Hickok’s background in Ottoman history and work with the FBI.
Hickock said he conceived of the idea for this lecture two decades ago.
“The Hegemonic Rise piece comes out of something I did approximately twenty years ago,” Hickok said. “I was sitting and doing some thinking about some pieces I had done previously in Turkey in the context of what was changing in Turkey in that period and I speculated a little on where I thought things were going, sitting in 2000.”
Hickok asserted that very little of what is happening in Turkish politics is happening for the first time. He mentioned a piece he wrote in 2001, where he analyzed the political and economic history in Northern Iraq to get a broader understanding of the situation.
“In taking it back to the Ottoman times, through the British, through what Saddam was trying to do, I would suggest to you that the themes are very similar,” Hickok said. “The mistakes that we made in our policy, the mistakes that the Ottomans made, the mistakes that the British had made in trying to make an economy in Iraq.”
Hickok also contrasted 1990s Turkey and present-day Turkey. He spoke about Turkey’s newfound willingness to invade other countries, which has contributed to Turkey’s rise as a hegemon.
“(Turkey’s) previous strategic planning had been based on somebody else invading them,” Hickok said. “But they spent much of the 2000s, and more recently last week, invading other people. They are comfortable doing that in a way they would not have been prior to 1998.”
Hickok further emphasized that Turkey’s previous view as a bridge to get somewhere else and not be somewhere to go has changed and that this change in perspective has led Turkey to recognize itself as a regional power.
“Now Turkey no longer sees itself as this thing that people use to get to somewhere else,” Hickok said. “It is, in itself, an independent security actor within the area.”
In an interview with The Daily after the event, LSA sophomore Alp Yel, executive board member of the Turkish Student Association, said he believes Turkey can indeed become a significant regional power in the future.
“If Turkey plays its moves right it can become a regional power,” Hickok said. “Turkey has to strike a balance between its own goals and political ties with its allies and neighbors.”
To conclude the lecture, Hickok said he believed that though there are changes coming in the future in regards to Turkey’s internal politics, the relationship between Turkey and the United States is still uncertain.
“Whether in the end (these internal changes) bring us to a better relationship with Washington or whether it makes Turkey a more predictable security actor within the region,” Yel said. “I think it is something that has not been decided and I think that it is very hard right now from the Americans’ point of view, due to the nature of our relation, to see that. We are in a position where it is very hard for us to see what’s going on internally.”
At the end of the lecture, audience members were able to ask Hickok questions.
In response to a question regarding whether the change in Turkey’s military strategy is a reflection of the Ottoman legacy, Hickok said Turkey was almost semi-isolating the Ottoman legacy and recognizing itself as a Eurasian power.
“(Turkey) is almost turning its back on the Ottoman tradition and Ottoman history,” Hickok said. “If anything, (Turkey) is integrating with the West.”
Finally, Hickok was asked how powers like the Moscow, Tehran and Baghdad reacted to Turkey’s assertion as an independent power as compared to the United States.
“So it’s been a different dynamic because the Russians, the Iraqis have had a different relationship with Turkey than Washington,” Hickok said. “So for Iraq, to see Turkey as an independent security actor is less of a concern than the internal issues within Iraq right now. So they can’t do anything about Turkey’s interference in Northern Iraq and so are more or less set with kind of negotiating it out.”
LSA senior Selin Levi said after the lecture she thinks Turkey is indeed becoming an unpredictable hegemonic power.
“Turkey’s rise to a hegemonic power has made the future uncertain,” Levi said. “With its military action in Syria, it is becoming increasingly hard to predict what sort of actor it will become in the future.”