Skip to main content

Turkey’s Libya gambit raises stakes in eastern Mediterranean

Turkey’s military commitments to Libya’s Tripoli-based government have escalated the conflict in the eastern Mediterranean.
Members of Libya's internationally recognized government forces carry weapons in Ain Zara, Tripoli, Libya October 14, 2019. Picture taken October 14, 2019. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny - RC1F8CC25910

Few Turks — and even fewer non-Turks — are aware of Libya's historical significance for Turkey. Yet recent developments have shifted international attention to the eastern Mediterranean as a new zone of conflict. Specifically, Turkey and Libya's agreement, signed Nov. 27, to determine maritime borders, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's statement that he would send Turkish troops to Libya if the Tripoli-based government requested as much.

Libya was once called Ottoman Tripolitania, from 1551 to 1864 under the Ottoman Empire — the empire's last African possession. Italy had designs on the Ottoman province and attempted to invade it. The founder-to-be of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal, was dispatched by the Committee of Union of Progress to Tripolitania in 1908 on a mission to build support for the "motherland." In 1911, he served as a volunteer in the eastern part of the province, Cyrenaica, to organize the armed resistance against the invading Italians. Libya played a formative role for the leaders and future founders of the Republic of Turkey, which replaced the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.