The official visit of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, treasury and finance minister and an important figure in Turkey’s energy sector, which is controlled by Erdoğan, to Libya revealed that the Turkish oil industry has become the dominant actor in shaping the Turkish government’s Libya policy.
Albayrak, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and head of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) Hakan Fidan paid a visit to the North African country on June 17 and were received by Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the Tripoli-based and UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). Albayrak was also accompanied by presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın and chief adviser Sefer Turan.
Today, Turkish foreign policy formulation and decision-making are executed within the presidency, and Erdoğan has a habit of conducting foreign relations with a small group of formal and informal advisors, based largely on personal choice, businesspeople from several sectors and his sons-in-law, who lead Turkey’s energy and defense industries on behalf of President Erdoğan. While the relevant authorities provide practical information to the presidency, Erdoğan benefits from different advisors in line with the topic and takes decisions in a personalized fashion instead of according to a long-term foreign policy strategy.
Besides Fidan and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, Erdoğan has been working closely with Turan and Kalın with regards to his policy on Libya and appointed Emrullah İşler as a special envoy to Libya. The recent visit to Libya of Albayrak, who was formerly energy minister, exposed the fact that he will lead Turkey’s Libya policy and coordinate reconstruction activities and oil drilling in the country.
Following the Turkish delegation’s visit to Libya, Çavuşoğlu stated that they had discussed measures to be taken in the region with regards to energy. “As you know, we have signed a memorandum of understanding with Libya regarding the delimitation of maritime jurisdiction. We have discussed all the measures that need to be taken in the Mediterranean regarding energy,” he said, adding that “[t]he purpose of the visit was clear: to strongly reiterate that Turkey supports Libya. We also discussed how the two countries can improve their bilateral relations.”
Speaking at a joint news conference with al-Sarraj in Ankara on June 4, Erdoğan revealed his plan for Libya’s oil reserves. “We aim to expand our cooperation including exploration and drilling operations to take advantage of natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean including Libyan territory,” he said.
Çavuşoğlu met in Ankara with Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio on June 19. Following the meeting the two ministers held a joint press conference. Minister Çavuşoğlu emphasized that the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) and Italian energy company ENI could work on Libya’s energy needs. Furthermore, Çavuşoğlu defined the EU’s Operation Irini as one sided and not balanced. “It did not address demands and concerns of the GNA in any way. Is there any report about France’s continuously arming of Haftar? France, which is part of Operation Irini, is itself supplying weapons there. Therefore, it [Operation Irini] is not objective. Operation Irini will not contribute to resolving the Libyan conflict or to the arms embargo,” he said.
In April the European Union launched a new Mediterranean naval and air mission, named Irini, to monitor the UN-mandated arms embargo on Libya, imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1970 (2011), and to stop arms shipments to the war-torn North African country.
In an interview with Middle East Eye Turkish Presidential Envoy to Libya İşler also confirmed that the countries would engage in extensive cooperation on reconstruction and oil drilling and that Turkey might establish a drone base in al-Watiya and a naval base in Misrata.
İşler, who is also a member of parliament from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and a former deputy prime minister, was named President Erdoğan’s special representative to Libya in 2014. Since then, he has regularly visited Libya and coordinated Erdoğan’s official and private contacts with the GNA and other actors in the country.
“In order to begin the political negotiations and reach a ceasefire, the GNA believes further territorial gains are needed. Their priority is Sirte and Jufra,” İşler stressed. The strategic Al-Watiya airbase was recaptured by the GNA last month with Turkish military assistance.
In May Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Dönmez announced Turkey’s plan to conduct oil and gas exploration off the Libyan coast. Speaking at a ceremony to mark the launch of Turkey’s first oil-and-gas drilling ship, the Fatih, in the Black Sea, Dönmez said TPAO would begin operations in areas under its license after the process was complete. “Within the framework of the agreement we reached with Libya we will be able to start our oil exploration operations there within three to four months,” he stated.
Turkey and the GNA in November signed a military cooperation pact along with a maritime demarcation deal. The maritime agreement determines the Turkey-Libya continental shelf and exclusive economic zone (EEZ), while the security deal allows the Turkish government to deploy its troops in Libya.
The Turkish support has been crucial in the GNA’s efforts to push back the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar, which launched an offensive in April of last year to seize Tripoli. After a string of recent military gains, the GNA said it had captured all areas surrounding the Tripoli administrative area at the beginning of June.
The LNA controls eastern Libya and much of the south, where some of the main oilfields, the source of most of the North African country’s external revenue, are located. However, the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and the Central Bank, the only bodies allowed to sell Libyan oil according to international agreements, are located in Tripoli and controlled by the GNA.
The son of a longstanding friend of the Turkish president, Albayrak married Erdoğan’s daughter Esra in 2004 and has in subsequent years become one of the Turkish leader’s closest confidants. Albayrak was handed the key job of energy minister in November 2015 after winning a seat in parliament in June of that year. Before entering politics Albayrak spent most of his professional career at the Çalık Holding conglomerate, which has interests in energy, textiles and construction and was owned by another Erdoğan family friend.
According to its web page, Çalık Enerji, a Çalık Holding company established in 1998, has conducted energy projects across a wide area encompassing the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and the Balkans.
In 2017 Albayrak’s offshore dealings were exposed in a combination of leaked financial documents and the Redhack e-mails as part of the Malta Files. According to the files, Albayrak helped establish offshore structures in Malta and Sweden to evade millions of dollars in taxes for his company, Çalık Holding.
At the peak of a crisis with Russia after Turkey shot down one of its warplanes in November 2015, Moscow explicitly accused Albayrak of participating in illicit oil smuggling in Syria. In parallel, Turkey’s opposition claimed “that there is a very high probability” that Albayrak was linked to the supply of oil from terrorist groups.
Erdoğan’s second son-in-law, Selçuk Bayraktar, who in 2016 married the president’s youngest daughter Sumeyye and is a top executive at the company that has made Turkey’s first domestically produced drone, has emerged as an important figure representing the defense industry in the Turkish foreign policy decision-making process.
Bayraktar is the technology officer at Baykar Makina, which manufactures armed and unarmed drones for the Turkish military and law enforcement agencies and became chief of the Turkish defense industry following his wedding. In addition to Turkey’s drone campaign in Syria in March, Bayraktar also plays an increasingly significant role in the GNA’s Turkey-backed advance in Libya. The success of the Turkish drones has expanded his influence in Erdoğan’s presidential complex in Ankara.
In the Libya crisis the LNA’s goal of seizing the capital abruptly ended after Turkey’s intervention with its supply of armed Bayraktar drones. According to former UN Special Representative to Libya Ghassan Salame, the Libyan conflict is “the largest drone war in the world.”