Two pages from our bloody history with Russia
In Jerusalem, over the hill where Jesus Christ was believed to be crucified, carried into a cave and resurrected, rises the holiest church of the Christian world.
In 1852, the roof of the church was damaged and the sectarian groups who ran the church could not agree on who was to repair it while the Ottomans who ruled the city did not care about it.
The pretext of the unrepaired roof of the church ended up pushing the Ottomans and Russia into the Crimean War. In that war, Europe’s two biggest powers, the United Kingdom and France, allied with the Ottomans instead of Russia, and the Ottomans won.
The outcome of the war was that the Ottomans’ fate was joined with Western Europe. But, at the same time, this war speeded up the financial bankruptcy of the Ottomans.
This is the first page I picked subjectively from very bloody history of Russia and the Ottomans.
The ‘War of ‘93’
The second page stands as a stark contrast to the first one; the 1877-78 Ottoman- Russian war, which we call “the War of ‘93.”
This time, the important powers of Europe, United Kingdom and France, preferred to watch the escalating tension from afar and find a diplomatic solution to the problem. But a diplomatic solution was not found and even the declaration of a constitutional monarchy by Abdülhamid I did not enable a rapprochement between the Ottomans and the West. In the end, Russia attacked both from the east and the west. The Russian army came within the vicinity of Istanbul and with an agreement signed in today’s Yeşilköy neighborhood, Turkey had to accept a tremendous loss of land, prestige and even more importantly, a serious loss of sovereignty.
Not the old Russia but still…
These two wars are not the only ones between the Ottomans and Russians but I preferred to recall them a little bit because of their resemblance to the present.
Why do the Crimean War and War of ‘93 resemble the current situation?
Turkey is facing Russia today because of the Syrian crisis.
Indeed, Russia is not the old imperial Russia nor is it the Soviet Union.
And Turkey is not the Ottoman Empire.
Still, there is a difference of cost between facing Russia alone in crisis situation or in alliance with Europe (Let’s not forget that Ottomans’ alliance with the West was not a “costless” one.)
Today the crisis that brings Turkey against Russia is about the other side of the Syrian-Turkish border and related to Turkey’s security concerns.
This crisis will be overcome one way or another and most probably Turkey will be deeply disappointed.
But the hostile relationship that goes beyond rivalry between Turkey and Russia will remain.
We will remember our history more in the coming days.
Turkey needs to take into consideration that this rivalry over zones of influence and indeed the permanence of this hostility when it plans its future and its strategy.
This rivalry is progressing in a very speedy way. Those who are curious should look at the foreign visits conducted by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu since December 2015; it is clear that he is trying to form a response to Russia’s policy of containing Turkey.
The Cold War ended for the U.S. in 1989; it is partially over for Europe but it has probably never ended for Turkey.
At this stage, Turkey has no place to turn other than the West (Europe, not the U.S.) to balance Russia and protect the zones of trade and influence s that it is losing.
That’s why instead of rhetoric that could damage the positive environment that has come around with the European Union and especially Germany, it will be a better option to use this environment to reach a common policy with the EU first on Syria and then Russia.