The new generation’s Great Game
The new generation in Turkey is as devious as its elders. Although it is always difficult to categorize people, be it young or older, there seems to be at least two distinct types of new young people. The ruling party, who has been in power for 16 years, had enough time to create a young set of supporters and has also created another set who are resentful. Since the latter is politically ineffective, let’s meet the former.
It is difficult to define the ideology of the young supporters of the governing party, or rather its leader President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It is not simply Islamism but a new variety of irredentist religious nationalism. In fact, Turkish Islamism has always been nationalistic and neo-Ottomanism has always been a disguised form of Turkish nationalism. In this view, it was Turks who saved and ruled the Muslim world for centuries and now again, it is Turkey, who is strong enough to reverse the decline of the Islamic world. Long before the governing party allied with the Nationalistic Movement Party, the meeting of minds was there.
Nevertheless, the new generation is different from their Islamist and nationalist forbearers, as they are not simply resentful of the Republican era and are only as defensive as before. Now, it is not only that their party and ideology is in office but they define the state and establishment. That is why the previously detested National Intelligence Organization (MİT) is now a dream career and the despised General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) is the hero.
Academics and journalists feel proud to be close to MİT as they commend politics on TV. The Ottoman past is no longer only a matter of nostalgia, but a reference of confidence for the new conduct of foreign affairs. The resentment against Western imperialism is no longer defined in terms of defeatism but in terms of rivalry and competition. That is why young academics, journalists and self-styled strategists proudly speak about successful beyond border operations by Turkish intelligence. They are eager to mention stories of “capturing the enemies of Turkey from foreign countries” and they do not even refrain from hinting murky deals.
Finally, even the rank and file of young supporters of the ruling party feel like real imperialists who learned the rules of the game and prove as good as their Western rivals. In their view, it must be the way Western powers gained global supremacy by intrigue, fifth columns, agents, operations and of course, by playing the countries off each other. That mindset is not new but has its history among all varieties of right-wingers in Turkey. Nevertheless, now, it seems to be possible to implement it under the strong leader who does not care what Westerners think.
The new conservative/Islamist/nationalist generation is fed up with the stories of the Western might, now they want to repeat it under the new leadership. Despite their resentment of Western powers, the admiration is also there, they seem to be fascinated by movies, novels and popular history books of Western might and now they want to play the Great Game. Some call it the “Turkish century,” or the call of history, some define it as the revival of imperial soul.
Go ahead and ask if Turkey is stuck between Russia/Iran and the United States/Europe nowadays, the answer is clear: We can play with both. It is the New Great Game of Turkey in the eyes of young strategists and it is the world of the “Valley of the Wolves” (Kurtlar Vadisi) in the eyes of an ordinary youth.