The Ottomans are back! (and so are the Safavids...)
Which countries and geographies in the world the Turks do not share a common past or future with is becoming an ever bigger mystery.
Last year, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu spoke of “a common history and a common future that Turkey and Egypt share.” In his earlier speeches, Professor Davutoğlu had spoken of “a very long, common history shared by Turkey and Iran.” Mr. Davutoğlu had also asserted that “a common destiny, a common history and a common future” were the slogan of Turkey and Syria. In other remarks, Mr. Davutoğlu had spoken of “a common history, a common destiny and a common future, as well as cooperation, between Turkey and Greece,” and “a common history and a common future” with the Balkans and Benghazi.
Judging from where relations between Turkey and all those lands with which it has a common past and a common future stand, it may be a bad omen that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told the Old Continent in a recent speech in Germany: “We wholeheartedly believe that Turkey and the EU share a common future.”
All that boringly repetitive rhetoric reflects a powerful desire to build a new world order in which: a) Turkey is not only a regional superpower but also has a seat and vote in a restructured United Nations Security Council; b) It also rules former Ottoman territories not by the force of sword this time but by “softer” (not necessarily soft) power; c) It influences both regional and global politics by a bizarre blend of pragmatism and the supremacy of Turkish Sunni Islam.
It was not a coincidence that Prime Minister Erdoğan recently reiterated Turkey’s wish (earlier expressed by Mr. Davutoğlu) that the U.N. Security Council be reformed to better address international crises like the Syrian civil war. In his language, the word “better” obviously refers to a situation in which Turkey has equal powers with today’s quintet of permanent members.
As prominent columnist Robert Ellis has reminded, in a speech in Sarajevo in October 2009, Mr. Davutoğlu explained: “As in the 16th Century, when the Ottoman Balkans were rising, we will once again make the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East, together with Turkey, the centre of world politics in the future. That is the goal of Turkish foreign policy and we will achieve it.” In an April 2012 speech, he was even more specific. “On the historic march of our holy nation, the AK Party signals the birth of a global power and the mission for a new world order. This is the centenary of our exit from the Middle East … whatever we lost between 1911 and 1923, whatever lands we withdrew from, from 2011 to 2023 we shall once again meet our brothers in those lands. This is a bounden historic mission.”
Apparently, the more Mr. Davutoğlu’s dreams of a new world order hit the walls of regional and global realities, the more he (and the prime minister) gets nervous. Every new day that reminds him that Turkey may in fact be much less powerful than he believes or hopes, he blames failures on the “old world order.” Hence, there is an urgent need for a new one.
It may be a newfound feel-good psychology for Turkish statesmen who seek comfort in reversing the world order only in words, such as: “Ha ha! If the EU needs money we can lend some.” But these are the facts: Turkey is a candidate country for EU membership, not the EU for Turkish membership; Turkey’s per capita income is still less than a third of the EU average; Muslim immigrants arrive in Turkey only to slip into EU territory; Turkey is a net buyer of arms and technology from the EU, not vice versa.
The Ottomans may be back, and there are no signs of Inquisitors or Crusaders making a comeback. But the jihadists and Safavids are also back. Messrs Erdoğan and Davutoğlu, you better watch out for the next Persian gambit.