In very challenging times, it is difficult to maintain individual or professional integrity. It was a shock for me to learn what great compliments had been made for Nazi Germany by the Turkish government once upon a time, in the buildup towards the Second World War, assuming it would be an undefeatable major power at the time. Turkey was lucky, there were people with integrity in key positions of the Turkish state and a repeat was prevented. Turkey did not enter the war as an ally of the Third Reich. Technically, it joined the war on the side of the allies when that sad chapter of human history was coming to an end and the Nazis had already been defeated.
What would have happened should Turkey have engaged in the war? No one thinks about that, but many speculate today about food rationing and other problems faced by the country as a consequence of war conditions. The dictum, “peace at home, peace abroad” by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founding father of the republic, was a principle of the government of the time and respected and honored in full. No one thought of engaging in the war against the Germans to recover some of the territory Turks lost by joining the previous war on the side of the Germans. Nor was there an effort like the first war to “maintain the integrity of the sick man of Europe” by aligning with the prospective victor.
Another key foreign policy principle of the Turkish Republic was to behave as the “older brother” of many states established in the former Ottoman Empire without interfering in their internal affairs. It was just as well an established principle, unless specifically requested by all parties involved, to avoid becoming engaged in bilateral or multilateral disputes among themselves.
The Turkey of those times was a much weaker country. It had very serious economic and financial problems. No one should forget the times when the country was in need of “70 cents.” Turkish ministers and ambassadors were being humiliated for a tanker or two of oil from their “very brotherly” Muslim brothers or others. Recently, a former ambassador was discussing how he was rejected by the head of the Venezuelan oil company when he had asked for a tanker of oil on credit by orders from Ankara.
Still, whatever Turkey said on a regional or global issue was important. It was an honest broker trusted by all. Even at times when it had problems of various kinds with its neighbors, there was mutual respect. It was unthinkable to humiliate heads of state or government of other countries and branding as a “terrorist” or such ugly adjectives towards other countries was unthinkable. Even after the 1974 Turkish intervention, despite all heated exchanges of harshly-worded diplomatic notes, between Turkish and Greek leaders the “war of words” was devoid of nasty and degrading adjectives.
The Istanbul summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which could be described as the “Jerusalem Summit,” was indeed a major success for Turkish leadership. Bringing all the OIC countries together around a table—many of them at the level of heads of state or government—and successfully producing a consensus text cannot be belittled in any way. Furthermore, even if what is more important is how it will be applied over how it is said, it was the first time Muslim countries have come up with a firm declaration that a) East Jerusalem is the occupied capital of the State of Palestine and b) the United States is no longer an honest broker for peace in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, while on the OIC level, Turkey has been successful in bringing out the common and united voice in the Muslim community against the U.S. presidency’s Jerusalem provocation, it was a very sad and malapropos attitude to engage in a contest of “who is the more terrorist state” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Over the past decade, Turkey has negated its standing in this region as a trusted interlocutor and an honorable broker, by partaking in such inappropriate and downgrading recrimination.
In the media, however, some bootlickers have even gone to the extent of describing the Turkish leader as the neo-Saladin fighting a neo-Crusade.