Mexico and Turkey: Unlikely Similarities in their Geopolitical Situation with Powerful Northern Neighbors

Mexico and Turkey: Unlikely Similarities in their Geopolitical Situation with Powerful Northern Neighbors

At first glance, one might think that Mexico and Turkey do not have anything in common. They are both in different regions of the world, speak different languages, and have different religions. On the contrary, there are many similarities between Mexico and Turkey. This article will examine some of the biggest similarities between the two countries and try to draw at the fact that Mexico and Turkey, despite being half the world away, have very much in common.

Economy and Population

Both countries lie to the south of the two strongest regions of the world, the United States and Europe. They both have strong economical ties with their northern neighbors and because of these ties are fast becoming growing regional powers. Mexico is the world’s 14th biggest economy and Turkey is just 3 places behind Mexico at 17th place (UN 2004). Both countries have natural population growth, whereas Europe and the US have ageing populations with below replacement level birthrates. Despite this, the US maintains growth due to the fact that it is a country of immigration. The table below illustrates the similar population situation for both countries and their Northern Neighbors.

Data compiled from Eurostat and the UN Population to 2300 report.

Data compiled from Eurostat and the UN Population to 2300 report.

resim1Mexico is poised to become a major power in the future with its growing economy (3.9% growth in 2011) and large population. Turkey is also experiencing extreme economical growth 8.5% in 2011 (OECD 2013). The GDP for both countries is almost equal: 15,000 USD for Turkey and 15,300 USD for Mexico. However, the most staggering difference is the fact that 51.3% of Mexico’s population lives in poverty, whereas only 16.9% of the population in Turkey lives below the poverty line (CIA World Fact Book 2010). Turkey’s role as bridge between the east and west is and will still be important. Mexico may also become a so-called bridge between the north and south and the leader for the rest of Latin America, while it is on the border with the United States, effectively bridging North and South America. Historically, both Mexico and Turkey are the successor states to former grand empires; the Ottoman and the short lived Mexican Empire of 1821-23, which then became the first republic of the United Mexican States (1823-1864) (Green 1987). At its height, the United Mexican States was an enormous country. From the border of, what is today Costa Rica, to having a substantial piece of land of what is the United States today. The map to the left better illustrates how the Mexican Empire looked in 1821 (University of Texas 2013).

Emerging Regional Powers: Unintentional Land Reclamation of their Former Empires?

Turkey

In Turkey’s expansion as a new regional power, many have started to label it as a rehashing of the Ottoman Empire, under the new title of Neo-Ottomanism. Neo-Ottomanism is, in a basic sense, the re-engagement with nations that were formally part of the Ottoman Empire; for sometimes dubious reasons.  The skeptics in Georgia (using Georgia for demonstrative purposes; as they are a direct neighbor and at one time used to be a part of the former Ottoman Empire) use this as an argument against Turkey’s policy in Georgia. Georgia considers that Turkey’s foreign policy, in general, alludes to Neo-Ottomanism. After years of negations with the European Union, Turkey has started to drift away from the idea of being a member, and it is pursuing its own policy with neighboring countries. With or without the EU, Turkey will pursue its own regional developments. The advent of the Neo-Ottomanism came to the forefront after the appointment of Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, in 2009. He began to create Turkish zones of influence in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East. These zones are originally areas that were part of the Ottoman Empire, and still have some ties to modern day Turkey.  Instead of playing the role of reactionary, Turkey has assumed the role visionary, in order to prevent crises in the aforementioned areas, as well as to develop and cultivate them. In referring to the former possessions of the Ottoman Empire, Davutoğlu states, that Turkey has a “responsibility to help stability towards the countries and peoples of the regions which once had links with Turkey…Beyond representing the 70 million people of Turkey, we have a historic debt to those lands where there are Turks or which was related to our land in the past. We have to repay this debt in the best way” (Trifkovic 2012). This sounds like a nice policy directed at the former possessions of the Ottoman Empire.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s “Zero Problems with Neighbors” has been a great attempt to normalize relations with neighbors. However, it still has yet to achieve this with more than one country, namely Georgia, where there have been recent “allegations that President Mikheil Saakashvili’s [former] ruling United National Movement Party is allowing ‘Turkish expansionism’ that threatens Georgian culture and Georgian jobs. And even the country’s sovereignty itself” (Corso 2012). This has been because of the ease of movement between the two countries, since only national identity cards are needed to cross the border. Thus, more and more Turkish nationals are appearing in Georgia.

These achievements in the international sphere have given the AK party positive results in terms of popularity among voters. On the other hand, poor domestic policies, such as the lack of the freedom of speech and the ability to openly criticize the Turkish government[1], and the leanings towards Islam, shed a negative light on the party both domestically (from the opposition) and from the international community. This coupled with its achievements begin to give the party the look of resembling neo-Ottoman tendencies. Re-establishing ties with Turkic countries and shift towards the Middle East further contribute to this neo-Ottoman sentiment.

As mentioned previously, the bordering countries only stand to benefit greatly from the accession of Turkey to the EU, bringing an EU border to many countries doorsteps that also are seeking EU membership one day. Not allowing Turkey membership in the EU could lead to Turkey pursuing its own devices in the former Ottoman lands, and may have strong, long, lasting effects on the developing countries of the Caucasus, as well as in the Balkans and the in the Middle East. With the current AK party in power there is fear that with all the development that the AK party produced in Turkey, Islamization under the guise of development, and implemented though Neo-Ottomanism could be the road that Turkey is starting to travel down.

Mexico

Mexico on the other hand does not carry such a strong historical memory as the Ottoman Empire did within its former territories, as the enemy at the time was Spain and not Mexico. Despite the fact that Mexico was a colony unto itself for Spain, this is what brought the now independent states of Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua into line with the Mexican Empire to fight of Spanish domination. Mexico is not interested in being a leader for the region, at the present moment. Mexico still has to deal with its own internal problems before it can focus on being a regional power (Friedman 2012). On top of that, Mexicans immigrate to the US rather than the countries of Central America because of the opportunity to better themselves and live a better life. The immigration issue is one of the United States biggest issues, because of a porous border with Mexico and the destabilized borderland run mostly by drug cartels. Akin to the Mexicans going north, we also see the Turks doing the same thing. They usually do not go south or to former Ottoman countries.

The growing minority of Mexicans living in the United States is creating many issues; economically and culturally. It has lead to the creation of the “Other” in the US as the Turks have become the “Other” in many Western European countries. However, in the US, what replaces Islamophobia, that is associated with the Turks living in Europe is the fear of growing Hispanic gangs in the US.

It cannot be said that neither Mexico nor Turkey is intentionally trying to reclaim parts of their former empires but it just simply the irony of geopolitics and history that Mexicans are returning to the lands that they once inhabited by the process of a slow demographic shift. This is in a similar fashion to what is happening to Europe and other countries of the former Ottoman Empire.

Geopolitics and “Gateways”

The term “gateway” is a doubled edged sword for the country with such a title. Breaking down the word it becomes clearer: “way” is a road to get somewhere and “gate” is a barrier. Essentially the road is only opened to those deemed fit to pass. Turkey borders the Middle East and some unstable countries, namely Syria at the moment, as Mexico also borders impoverished, unstable countries in Central America, namely Guatemala—still reeling from the long civil war—Mexico is seen as the “gateway to America” and Turkey is the “Gateway to Europe” for people seeking a better life in the EU or the US, these countries usually act as a transit country. This makes the final destination country or countries wary of the “gatekeepers”, in this instance Mexico and Turkey.

As mentioned earlier, borderlands are an important issue for both countries. However, the situation is reversed. In Turkey, the volatile borderlands are to the east, away from Europe, whereas in Mexico the volatile borderlands are the borders with the United States itself. What make Mexico’s borderlands dangerous are the drug cartels, a problem that does not affect Turkey. This is a major problem between the US and Mexico. The US has permeable southern borders with Mexico, because of the lawlessness and the rule of the cartels in these regions. George Friedman, director and founder for Stratfor, describes the peril of the US-Mexican border:

The American position is to demand that the Mexicans deploy forces to suppress the [drug] trade. But neither side has sufficient force to control the border, and the demand is more one of gestures than significant actions or threats. The Mexicans have already weakened their military by trying to come to grips with the problem, but they are not going to break their military by trying to control a region that broke them in the past. The United States is not going to provide a force sufficient to control the border, since the cost would be staggering. Each will thus live with the violence (Friedman 2012).

Proliferation of People and Culture in the Northern Neighbors

In today’s modern world, it is much easier to move around, traveling to other countries is not so much of a problem, provided one has the paperwork in order. An interesting phenomenon that is being seen today is the fact that both Mexico and Turkey are taking back their lost territories and in some cases adding to it from the glory days of their empires. However, not in the traditional sense; there is no war being fought for California, New Mexico or Texas. Instead, with the massive influx of Mexicans coming to settle in these borderland areas, coupled with a higher birthrate (Batalova 2008) and time on their side, the US is now seeing the rise in Mexican and Latina Americans in these former swaths of land from the Mexican Empire (Batalova 2008). The culture is changing and Spanish is being a de facto language in some areas of these regions.

Fighting for land could be becoming a method of the past. It is simply easier to move to another country and start a minority of people there and grow and grow. Time is on the side of the growing minority inhabited regions of the world, because it is a slow growth and by the time a problem emerges with the host country, the minority group has been there so long that the host country can really not do anything about it. Many of the minority people are third or fourth generation and most likely citizens of that country now. The government cannot just deport its own citizens to a country, where they have never even lived.

Perhaps, it is more prevalent and defined in the US than in Europe, but the same thing is happening there too. Since the Gästarbeiter programs of the 1950s and 60s Western Europe, most notably Germany, has seen a dramatic rise in its Turkish population. Again, due to higher birthrates and looking for a better way of life many Turks are now living in former lands of the Ottoman Empire and in many cases farther afield. Coupled with the Turkish government’s policies in the near abroad, there are more Turks going to Bosnia and Georgia. Bosnia has seen a boom in investment from Turkey in recent years (Schleifer 2011).

On a final cultural note, both the US and Europe enjoy the flavorful cuisine that has been brought up from the south. The döner is to Europe as the taco is to North America. The food coming from the south has been a celebrated event, which brought some spice into the local cuisines. Another common factor that benefits both Mexico and Turkey are the beaches and the weather. Both countries are tourist destinations for people from the north. Mexico and Turkey are glad to receive the tourists and any dollars or Euros they leave behind. Ironically though, with so much to offer and both countries modernizing and becoming better and better, the people in the north are still afraid of the Turks and the Mexicans. They bring “strange” culture and different traditions. Furthermore, Islam worries some and organized crime and drugs worry others.

 Eric R. Eissler, Research Assistant, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey)

Please cite this publication as follows:

Eissler, Eric (September, 2013), “Mexico and Turkey: Unlikely Similarities in their Geopolitical Situation with Powerful Northern Neighbors”, Vol. II, Issue 7, pp.6-13, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=4051)

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[1] Defamation is a criminal offence under Turkish law. Article 125 of the TCC provides that defamation is punishable by either a prison sentence or a fine. There are many on-going cases and convictions under this provision. Insults against the Turkish nation are still criminalized under Article 301 of the TCC. Other provisions of the TCC16, the Anti-Terror Law and the Press Law are also used to restrict freedom of expression. EU Progress Report 2010.:20. http://www.ihb.gov.tr/dosyagoster.ashx?id=179 Retrieved: 24 April 2012.

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