Reviving Ottoman glory in the Middle East?

Reviving Ottoman glory in the Middle East?

It would not be wrong to describe the Middle East as a “boiling cauldron” as the crisis that flared up in Syria early last year has been accompanied by internal conflict in Iraq and tension around the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Western powers over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program. 

As was written in this column two weeks ago, the current picture in the region illustrates creation of a new polarization with Iran, Iraqi Shiites, Syria’s minority government and Hezbollah on one side and Turkey, the United States, Iraqi Kurdish groups and Israel on the other. 

Among others, Turkey’s positioning itself in this regional division with strong language against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki draws the most attention. 

That does also bring to mind whether the government has a secret agenda regarding the future of the region with suspicions that it favors a Sunni-dominated environment where it could more easily revive its Ottoman glory. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s comparison of al-Assad with Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic in this sense caused many question marks as late Serbian leader was kicked out of his reign after a NATO intervention. The following lines are taken from the editorial of the Gulf News, the leading newspaper of the Gulf region, on Jan. 31, the same day Turkish President Abdullah Gül visited the region. 

“There were some indications Turkey was mulling military intervention, which would have been a mistake,” read the editorial, adding “Turkey must not forget that it comes to the region with heavy baggage – centuries of iron-fisted rule over this region during the Ottoman Empire. Some people in Turkey might want to play around with the idea of reviving Ottoman glory. They should not.” 

Although the paper praised the role Turkey could play in the region, especially at a moment when Iran was trying to increase its influence, it openly opposed any strong Turkish intervention in Middle Eastern affairs. 

A similar message is also coming from Washington, especially on matters related to the current crisis in Iraq. The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone’s saying “Their internal affairs are their internal affairs. We certainly respect them. We can’t direct what they do. We never presume to do that,” was critically important in this regard, especially at a moment when Ankara greeted the Shiite’s influential leader Anwar al-Hakim last week. 

This growing uneasiness from both regional countries and Washington could have pushed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to strongly deny Turkey had a secret agenda in the Middle East, during his address to his parliamentary group Tuesday. “We are neither against nor behind any sect,” Erdoğan said. 

Despite Erdoğan’s words, many foreign diplomats in Ankara believe this sort of Turkey’s engaging in regional affairs will let it lose gravity in the eyes of neighboring countries.