Who are Turkey’s friends in the Arab world?
Anti-Turkish sentiment among Saudi Arabia’s rulers has reached such a peak that they recently banned Turkish TV series. The cost of the broadcast deals for the six series is said to be around $50 million, but still the Saudi authorities removed them from their TV channels.
The way of life represented in those series must have been perceived as “too modern” for Saudi Arabia. After all, the Saudis present allowing women to drive as a “reform” and “moderation” to the world!
The political moves are even more remarkable.
Speaking to journalists in Egypt, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman reportedly referred to Turkey, Iran and Qatar as an “axis of evil.” He also opted to lash out at “the Ottomans.”
Saudi Arabia was perhaps the key sponsor of the 2013 military coup in Egypt, transferring $5 billion to the putschists overnight after the takeover was complete. That was the same amount as the Muslim Brotherhood had demanded from the International Monetary Fund.
The Ankara government condemned the coup in Egypt and took a stance against Egypt on every possible subsequent occasion. As a result, Egypt is today fertile ground for criticizing Turkey.
Do you remember those ugly comments made by United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah during a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about Fahrettin Pasha, the hero of Medina, a few months ago? During the same press conference, he also accused Turkey of “colonialism.”
We should also recall the many decisions that the Arab League has taken against Turkey. Most recently its members have criticized Turkey’s ongoing military operation in Afrin.
By looking at all these events and incidents, we should not slip into thinking “the Arabs are our enemies.” Such a mindset would make it difficult for us to develop any healthy relationships with Arab countries.
Indeed, the Arab world has mixed feelings. It is therefore important that we avoid needlessly provoking those feelings. It is even more important that we avoid taking sides in inter-Arab conflicts.
We need to develop relations with the Arab world through the constructive language of economics and diplomacy. Taking an ideological approach towards history makes that much more difficult. An ideological approach could be summarized as the one emphasizing the geography of the “ummah,” romanticizing about the Ottoman Empire, and constantly talking about an imperialist conspiracy.
The logic behind that kind of thinking is as follows: The Ottomans were just doing great but the imperialist Sykes-Picot Agreement from outside and the Young Turks from inside together destroyed the empire. As a result, the Republic eventually turned its back on the Arabs, but we are now “closing a 100-year parenthesis.”
Unfortunately, when that parenthesis was closed what ultimately emerged was not the Ottoman Empire but the bloody conflicts of today.
Certainly, the Ottomans are important and precious to us. As historian Yılmaz Öztuna has written, “the Ottomans carried us to the 20th century.” With this heritage we were able to succeed in the national independence struggle and founded the Republic.
But can we expect the Arabs to think this way? Arab nationalism was a problem even during the time of Sultan Abdülhamid II (1876-1908), particularly in Egypt. The Abdülhamid of today’s popular mythology prevents us from properly understanding history and drawing the appropriate lessons from it.
Arab deputies in the Ottoman Parliament cheered joyfully when on Oct. 19, 1918 Grand Vizier (Sadrazam) Ahmet İzzet Paşa, who unveiled the government program at that day, declared that “the Arab provinces would be granted autonomy.”
What’s more, the Misak-ı Milli (National Pact), which is often referred to by government officials today, did not even include Iraq, Syria and Palestine.
Contrary to popular belief, the founders of the Republic of Turkey did not turn their back on the Arabs. They did not interfere in their affairs but focused on developing good relations with them. Atatürk hosted King Abdullah, the son of Sharif Hussein.
Both history and the present day advise us to develop equal diplomatic and economic relations without taking sides in the internal feuds of the Arabs, and without evoking any reference to the Ottomans.