The year 2071 will mark the millennium for The Battle of Manzikert which was fought between the Byzantine Empire and Seljuk Turks near Manzikert (modern Malazgirt in the eastern province of Muş). The decisive defeat of the Byzantine army and the capture of the Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes played an important role in undermining Byzantine authority in Anatolia and Armenia, and paved the way for the Turkification of Anatolia.
But why are Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his admirers so enthusiastically obsessed with 2071, which is 59 years away, or with 1071, from which we are 941 years removed? Just the other day the prime minister addressed a crowd of party supporters and told them that “you are going to raise the generation of 2071,” before preaching to the bachelors that “they should get married and have at least three children.” A bizarre placard among the cheerful supporters read: “1071, our seal on Anatolia; 2071, our seal on the world.” Do the Turks intend to Turkify the whole world?
What do Mr. Erdoğan and his tens of millions of supporters hope “the generation of 2071” will achieve when we will no longer be living in the Turkish millennium? Why does Mr. Erdoğan dream of 150 million to 200 million Turks in Anatolia by the year 2071? Because whatever he may be dreaming of for the year 2071 won’t be achievable with 100 million Turks? What, then, could that dream be?
We possibly know the answers. Neither Mr. Erdoğan nor his pan-Sunni-Turkist ideologues have hidden their ideals. For instance, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu wholeheartedly believes, in his own wording, that “Turkey is capable of hosting 22 million Syrian refugees,” and that “We will rule the flow of history.”
Obviously, we are not talking about a bunch of men who hope that, upon the millennium of their forefathers’ conquest of the lands they now live in, their grandchildren will cure the worst illnesses mankind has suffered, make discoveries, invent what others have failed to invent and live in welfare and peace with their neighbors and with “the others” in their own country. For that, you don’t need “masses” like in Pakistan but an intellectual population, big or small, like in America or in Israel. And you certainly don’t need dreamers but realists.
It is not a secret that Mr. Erdoğan is not merely a prime minister. He is Turkey’s elected chief social engineer. He wants to raise “devout generations.” He believes in the supremacy of the Sunni Muslim Turk. He believes that the supreme Sunni Muslim Turk will one day rule the world like his faultless ancestors did after the Battle of Manzikert. Hence his remarks that “God willing, we will reach the level of our Ottoman and Seljuk ancestors by the year 2071.”
All the same, the prime minister’s obsessive Sunni Turkish supremacy dreams about 2071 may be problematic over their symbolism and historical facts. To begin with, the conquest of Anatolia in 1071 may once again remind everyone of the fact that the homeland of the Seljuk Turks was quite far away from Anatolia – that Anatolia is not the Turks’ homeland (the Seljuk Turkish homeland was near the Aral Sea, or nearly 4,000 kilometers away from the present Turkish homeland).
The symbolism over 1071-2071 also betrays sentiments for the unnamed war of religions, not the alliance of civilizations. The Battle of Manzikert is often viewed as a sign that Byzantium was no longer capable of being the protector of Eastern Christianity or Christian pilgrims to the Holy Places in the Middle East. It simply was Muslims fighting Christians. But there is more.
With the post-modern Safavids nowadays accusing post-modern Ottomans of triggering World War III, Mr. Erdoğan should be reminded that the Seljuks were not a Turkish dynasty, but a Turco-Persian empire. They were highly Persianized in culture and language, and they exported Persian culture to Anatolia.
I don’t think Mr. Erdoğan would like the idea of further Turkish exports of Shiite Persian culture to Anatolia almost a millennium after his Seljuk ancestors happily did.