Davutoğlu’s lost soul found at the Presidential Palace

Davutoğlu’s lost soul found at the Presidential Palace

The optimists were optimistic that former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s forced de-parture in May and his replacement with the pragmatic Binali Yıldırım would recalibrate Turkey’s Sunni Islamist-based foreign (and domestic) policy. This columnist voiced hope that the optimists were right but predicted they were not. Call it blind faith in President Re-cep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political codes.

The optimists became more optimistic after the putsch attempt of July 15 when Mr. Erdoğan showed signs of less polarization and Mr. Yıldırım’s more reconciliatory (and often, even, sympathetic) political language eased tensions that had piled up over the past 14 years. Little, if any, seems to have changed since the changing of the guards at the prime minister’s seat.

President Erdoğan has a serious religio-political problem with Turkey’s international sta-tus, including its borders. Last week, he made overtly revisionist statements, including that “Turkey did not voluntarily accept its current borders,” with further implication of his self-righteous desire to change the borders: “We cannot act in the year 2016 with the psychol-ogy of 1923. To insist on [the borders accepted in 1923] is the greatest injustice to be done to the country and to the nation.”

He did not explain how he plans to correct the “greatest injustice” (remember how often Mr. Davutoğlu spoke of “correcting the wrong flow of history?”) that Turkey’s 1923 bor-ders remain where they are today. He owes his nation and the nations concerned an honest explanation: First, does he think that the foreign nations concerned will think he is totally right and surrender some of their territories to Turkey in a new border agreement?

If not, and of course they will not, how does he plan to make Turkey’s borders “more just?” Military hardware? Is this why Mr. Erdoğan has over the past years been encourag-ing the military establishment for the local development of offensive missiles with a range of up to 3,000 kilometers? With such military toys in the Turkish inventory, does he think he can redesign maps in Turkey’s vicinity?

A more likely explanation could be that Mr. Erdoğan knows very well that he and his country’s political and military powers cannot change any borders he wants to change (alt-hough it is very likely that he sincerely wants to change them) but he loves the talk of it for the sake of appealing to the Turks’ strained soul of having lost an empire a century ago. This can be a rational explanation but does not make Mr. Erdoğan’s intentions totally peaceful in a region best known for its turbulence and violence.

The Turks (and, to a lesser degree, their neighbors) have suffered more than enough for the Turkish Islamists’ never-ending desire to Ottomanize regional politics “from Palestine to Siberia.” Mr. Erdoğan does not understand that further efforts to Ottomanize lands that refuse to be Ottomanized will not work but could instead add to the price Turkey has had to pay.

Mr. Erdoğan may be right in thinking that he has an unofficial army of tens of millions of Turks who are ready to kill or die for him. But this is not how in the 21st century countries fight and enforce new borders on their neighbors.

Across Turkey’s southern, southeastern and eastern borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran, millions of Kurds and Shiites will not disappear overnight in order to make sure that their Turkish and Sunni Arab neighbors rush to give land to the neo-Ottomans. Nor will the Greeks and Bulgarians across the western border, or the Georgians in the northeast, wake up to a fine spring day and decide to support Mr. Erdoğan’s dream about “correcting the greatest injustice” in terms of their borders with Turkey.

But if Mr. Erdoğan is so keen on redesigning maps in order to revive the former Ottoman lands, he could always start with friendlier nations. Why shouldn’t he ask his dear Saudi friends if they would like, once again, to come under the neo-Ottoman Turkish flag?