Opposition warns Turkish government of WWI lessons

Opposition warns Turkish government of WWI lessons

Answering a question from a journalist about reports claiming U.S. President Barack Obama has changed his strategy on Syria to prioritize the removal of Bashar al-Assad, to aid in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on Nov. 14 that this would be the “correct thing to do,” adding that it is something the Turkish government has long demanded. Davutoğlu also said he would raise the issue with Obama when they meet during the G-20 conferences in Brisbane, Australia.

But by that time, perhaps because of a mistake by one of Davutoğlu’s advisors, the CNN report that was cited by a number of pro-government media outlets had already been denied by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the White House. They said there had been no change of focus in the anti-ISIL fight in the U.S.’s strategy.

This could be a new example used to build criticism against Davutoğlu’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government for getting too involved in the Syrian civil war, which has devastated the country since 2011. On Nov. 13, military talks between Turkish and American officials in Ankara resulted in an agreement suggesting that Turkey would train some 2,000 members of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Turkey. The FSA was established three years ago with the aim of toppling al-Assad, before the emergence of radical Islamist groups like al-Nusra and ISIL.

In another words, Turkey agreed as a NATO country to give training to rebel forces of a neighboring country on its own soil, whereas the U.S. will train mostly Kurdish rebel forces not in its own territory, but in the territory of another of Turkey’s neighbors, Iraq. In the past, Ankara used to rightfully criticize Syria and Iraq for hosting the leadership and militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been carrying out cross-border attacks in Turkey since 1984.

This last example shows how the political perspectives and balances in the region have been dramatically changing in line with the security atmosphere.

At almost the same time as Davutoğlu was speaking to Turkish reporters in Brisbane, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), was giving the opening speech of a conference in Istanbul titled “The 100th Anniversary of World War I.”

“Those who are bringing the whole Middle East and our country to the brink of war seemingly lack the wisdom to draw lessons from history,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, adding that Turkey must “remain loyal to the peace-oriented foreign policy of Turkish Republic’s history.”

He elaborated that with the perspective and lessons drawn from World War I, the Turkish government of the time managed to keep the young and weak Republic away from the damage of World War II by staying out of it. The CHP leader suggested that the government should stick to the principles Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, who coined the phrase: “Peace at home, Peace in the World.”

Turkey entered WWI on Germany’s side not as a matter of national interest, but more, according to many historians, as the result of an adventurist nostalgia in the days of the failing Turkish empire of the Ottoman Dynasty, pushed by the ruling Committee of Union and Progress (ITP) and its leader Enver Pasha.

Despite the heroic resistance shown in Gallipoli in 1915, for example, or the resistance in Kut, Iraq in 1916 against invading forces, the Ottoman army lost the war, together with the Germans, leaving tragic pages behind, including the forced deportation of native Armenians by the ITP government in 1915, which led to massacres. Following a humiliating armistice in 1918 that marked the invasion and occupation of Turkey by Greek, British, French, Italian and Armenian armies, (the Russians had withdrawn after the 1917 revolution), a War of Independence was started by Atatürk. The victory brought about a regime change, and the Republic was established in 1923.