I love Ilya Repin’s work. His “Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmet IV of Turkey” (above) is just wonderful. Look at the expressions on those faces. Exactly the way I imagine some people, and sometimes feel, on the internet. The only thing that could make it better would be to include women, which was not a thing in his time.
Russia and Turkey butt up against each other in uncomfortable places. Across the Black Sea. Turkey’s Dardanelles Strait controls access there. Near the Caucasus. Not only that, but people speaking Turkic languages spread as far east as China. So there have been many conflicts over time, most recently concentrated in the areas once controlled by the Ottoman and Russian empires. “Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks” recounts only one incident.
Part of the sensitivity on both sides of the Turkish shootdown of a Russian bomber comes out of that history. More recently, Russia and Turkey had been getting along fairly well. The war in Syria, however, brings out particular concerns of those getting involved, and all those concerns seem to clash. Turkey wants Syrian president Bashar al-Assad out and worries about the Kurds in its eastern provinces pushing toward independence. Russia wants to keep Assad in power and to strut its stuff. Russia has been strutting in Syria in ways that irritate Turkey, which may have been quick on the trigger.
Vladimir Putin responded very angrily to the shoot-down, and Russia is now imposing sanctions on Turkey and may have other actions in mind. He seems to be much angrier over this incident than to the downing of a passenger jet in Sinai.
But there are Turkic people within Russia. The Crimean Tatars who cut electricity to Crimea are Turkic; their grandparents were deported to Uzbekistan by the Soviet Union, and they feel they are being treated badly in Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
As part of the current sanctions against Turkey, the Russian culture minister sent a telegram to the heads of the Turkic republics within the Russian Federation, including Altay, Bashkortostan, Sakha, Tatarstan, Tyva, and Khakasia, calling on them to immediately cease cooperation with TURKSOY, an organization that promotes cultural cooperation among Turkic peoples. TURKSOY was organized in 1993, in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union. Some of us wondered if Turkey would take a lead in pulling the Turkic world together; that didn’t happen for a variety of reasons.
But maybe Vladimir Putin could make it happen, just as he is encouraging more European nations to think about joining NATO.