Let the commonwealth in
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika suggested establishing a “Commonwealth of Ottoman States” under Turkey’s leadership to visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu last week. Bouteflika seems to be obsessed with this idea as he made the very same suggestion to President Abdullah Gül, the then foreign minister in 2005.
In a speech given in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, in October 2009 Davutoğlu also implicitly presented a vision of establishing a “post-modern” commonwealth under Turkish leadership. In that speech he stressed that it was time to create a new feeling of unity in the region and a common regional conscience through the encouragement of multicultural coexistence and the creation of a new economic zone. The spirit of the “post-modern” version of multiculturalism was also apparent in President Gül’s address at the Chicago Council On Global Affairs in May 2012. He suggested that Turkey’s assertiveness be aimed at bringing more stability and welfare to the broader region. In another speech in 2012 he emphasized Turkey’s goal to ensure effective multilateralism, suggesting the creation of an OSCE-like (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) regional security organization in the Middle East.
The idea of a commonwealth does not automatically suggest the inspiration of the rise of a hegemonic Turkish Empire or neo-imperial ambitions at all. It also doesn’t mean the recreation of an alliance of Muslim countries. This is in fact similar to the Commonwealth, formerly known as the British Commonwealth, which is an intergovernmental organization of independent member states which were (except Mozambique and Rwanda) part of the British Empire. The International Organization of the French-Speaking People is a similar network based on the sharing of the French language, promoting special ties among its members. Or take Russia’s Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) which is a regional organization of former Soviet Republic states. In the Turkish case the goal is this very same idea of functional integration and interdependence under a common roof that would improve cross-border trade, facilitate labor and capital movement, privilege soft power and emphasize a common history.
Turkey should be proactive within multilateral initiatives by playing the “constructive leadership” role. This is not a vertical form of leadership, but a horizontal one: Relying on its unique soft power, Turkey should initiate, endorse and lead regional and international cooperation. Pioneering a regional commonwealth would only strengthen its soft power capacity and make also the way to be the hub for negotiations for regional disputes and mediation between states.
In his “Communist Manifesto,” Marx says “all that is solid melts into air.” Apparently the reverse is also true. All that is gas turns back again to a solid. Time for the spirit of the regional unity to solidify.