The end of neo-Ottomanism?
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan’s Africa tour, which covered Sudan, Chad and Tunisia, took place right after a successful move in the United Nations, in which he played an important role by motivating the Islamic Cooperation Organization (OIC) against the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Before the objection of 128 countries in the U.N. General Assembly, the Istanbul declaration of the OIC united rivals such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, despite warnings from the U.S.
But the spirit brought by Jerusalem did not stop the anti-Turkish rhetoric among the Arab governments. Despite a recent war of words last week between Abu Dhabi and Ankara over an Ottoman general, Fahreddin Pasha, who defended Medina and Jerusalem against British armies and had to leave after the defeat in the First World War, UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash signaled that the anti-Turkish sentiment was still in place. In his tweets on Dec. 27, Gargash called on the Arab world to unite around a “Riyadh-Cario axis” against what he claims an “Ankara-Tehran” one. That was after a statement by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who said the rhetoric about a Turkey-Iran-Qatar axis was not true.
The UAE officials obviously want to give the impression they are not alone and act as the spearhead of a Saudi-Egyptian alliance (if there is such a thing) against non-Arab countries like Turkey and Iran, who have Muslim populations. And from this point of view, Iran is the ideological actor because of the Shia-Sunni sectarian divide, but Turkey is the historical actor the UAE is actually targeting. It was the Turkish Empire under the Ottoman dynasty that ruled the Arab peninsula and an important part of North Africa for more than 400 years.
There had been a nostalgic assumption among the ideologues within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) in Turkey, that the people living in the former Ottoman lands had still been missing the good old days under Turkish rule, especially the Muslim people in those lands, if it is considered that there are more than 20 countries now in the boundaries of the dissolving Turkish Empire almost a century ago.
This assumption started to become the dominant policy line after the break of the Arab Spring in late 2010, when the AK Parti government chaired by then Prime Minister Erdoğan and motivated by the strong rhetoric of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu started to think about reviving a Turkey-led Sunni alliance in the Middle East. First, the chaos in Libya, then the coup in Egypt and then the civil war in Syria, made everyone think the Arab Spring was not something the orientalists in the West, especially in the U.S., have been dreaming of. Turkey learned its lessons, too.
No, it is not true that Arabs want to be ruled by Turks again.
And it is not only limited to Arabs. The Balkan peoples are not missing their days under Turkish rule either, perhaps other than small groups of Muslim minorities who suffered oppression and massacres in former Yugoslavian republics, and that is not because they’d like to be ruled by Turks, but because they detest the conditions they have been experiencing. This is especially applicable for Muslim minorities in Greece and Bulgaria.
That game is over. This is the naked truth for the neo-Ottomanists in Turkey, including those in the AK Parti.
That is why almost a century ago, when the Turkish Republic emerged from the ashes of the Turkish Empire after the toppling of the Ottoman dynasty at the end of the War of Independence, the founding fathers had adopted a non-interference and good neighborhood policy with their former citizens and new neighbors. That is why Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s famous quote “Peace at home, peace in the world” was adopted as the motto of Turkey’s state policy.
Erdoğan’s comments during his Africa tour about “increasing the number of friends” is a version of that motto, and his words on bettering relations with the EU, especially with Germany and the Netherlands, are promising. Çavuşoğlu’s moves are also showing a stance that is not only focusing on Middle Eastern policies. He is, after all, a politician who has served in the past as the speaker of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.