Erdoğan’s ‘handshake and Ottoman slap’ doctrine
Last week’s most important developments in Turkey have included getting into a surprise normalization process with two major Western countries with whom Ankara’s relations were stuck in a rut of deep uncertainty.
U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson’s visit to Ankara, which followed a sudden flurry of intense contact between the two countries, mark efforts to renew U.S-Turkey relations, which were in a downward spiral. Similarly, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin has slightly opened the door to mending ties with Germany.
These developments show that policymakers in Ankara, especially President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, do not wish to risk cutting ties with the West or burning bridges despite the negative environment. It is obvious that policymakers in the West share the same attitude.
Whenever Turkish-Western relations reach the brink of the abyss somehow disaster is averted at the critical point as mutual interests outweigh the problems and some flexibility is shown.
Erdoğan’s discourse also demonstrates traces of the normalization perspective. However, when Erdoğan is the actor, the change of tone is usually accompanied by hard touches despite the softening.
One of the concepts manifest in this type of comportment is “musafaha,” which describes the Islamic tradition of handshaking. It was the word Erdoğan used in his speech in the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) provincial congress in the western province of Afyonkarahisar on Feb. 17, following his lengthy meeting with U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson in Ankara on Feb. 15.
Emphasizing that foreign policy should be based on common interests rather than absolute friendship or absolute enmity, Erdoğan said: “Our hands are always open for handshaking [musafaha] with those who want to walk towards a shared future with us.”
But in the next sentence, he added a stark caveat. “But those same hands will inevitably deliver a slap or a punch to those who want to darken our future,” he added.
In this context we should note that the concept of the “Ottoman slap” has become an integral part of the president’s recent political discourse. We observe this not only in his remarks on the ongoing military operation against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria’s Afrin district but also in the context of glorifying the historical past such as First World War battles.
It is also clear that despite lending his hands to the U.S., Erdoğan’s anger, provoked by U.S. support for the YPG, which Ankara sees as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), will not ease anytime soon.
“The area we cleared of terrorists during ‘Operation Euphrates Shield’ has become a place of peace and trust both for Turkey and the real owners of the territory. After the operation, DAESH attacks inside Turkey came to a halt,” Erdoğan said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levent (ISIL).
“That is what is going to happen in Afrin, Idlib and Manbij. The same will happen along our border from Tal Abyad to Qamishlo. Our fight in the whole region both for the future of our brothers and sisters there and for our own security will continue until there is not even a single terrorist left without being limited to this or that city,” Erdoğan said, explaining the strategy Turkey will follow in the north of Syria in the near future.
On the basis of these remarks, we may assume that Turkey has turned towards a security doctrine that involves military intervention in the Turkey-Syria border-zone, and will enter the east of the Euphrates when necessary.