New Ottomanism on Track


By Edmond Y. Azadian

No matter how much journalists and scholars question and ridicule the Turkish leadership’s dream to recreate the Ottoman Empire in the 21st century political realities, the newly appointed Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his boss, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seem to be determined and steadfast in their ambitious plan.

Mr. Davutoglu does not miss any opportunity to glorify the Ottoman Empire as a tolerant and benevolent ruler of other nations, without asking the opinion of the groups and nations who have suffered at the receiving end of that “benevolence.”

After being elected president, Mr. Erdogan delivered a farewell speech as the retiring prime minister and extolled his party’s achievements during the last 12 years of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule. He also outlined his plans for “the new Turkey,” moving toward “holy conquest” which promises to bring more prosperity, piety and global influence.

In this scheme of things, Mr. Davutoglu has a pivotal role to play, although the Economist casts a shadow on Davutoglu’s ambitions. In its August 31 issue, the London-based weekly writes, “The academic-turned-diplomat is criticized for the collapse of his ‘zero-problem with neighbors’ policy.” Further down, the weekly continues, “Behul Ozkan, an academic who has studied Davutoglu, says he sees himself as “infallible, as someone who is shaping history — but whose dreams of building a Sunni Muslim realm of Turkish influence spanning the Middle East and Balkans have proved empty.”

Undeterred by all those criticisms, the Erdogan-Davutoglu team is continuing in its set course. Today, no political problem is resolved in the Balkans without Ankara’s consent, participation or blessing. During his first trip as president to Baku, in a joint press conference with President Ilham Aliyev, Mr. Erdogan vowed that the political agenda in the Caucasus would be set by Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Indeed, to make strong political statements, President Erdogan made his first two visits to two potentially explosive regions, namely Azerbaijan and northern Cyprus — the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey. He demonstrated his intransigence in Cyprus, thumbing his nose at world public opinion and international law, by perpetuating the 1974 occupation of 38 percent of Cypriot territory by Turkish forces. The recent rapprochement between Israel and Greece has hardened Turkish resolve even more and the Cypriot and Israeli deal to exploit the gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean has infuriated Mr. Erdogan to no end.

The Cypriot and Karabagh conflicts have many similarities, though they are not identical in nature. Yet Turkey applies two contradictory principals to the same problem; Mr. Erdogan defends the self-determination rights of Turks in Cyprus and denies the same for the people of Karabagh. The international community buys those policies and even tries to justify them.

Greece, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally, and Cyprus, a European Union (EU) member, would have to wait for a very long time to see fellow NATO and EU members slap Turkey on the wrist, since the US secretaries of state and defense, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, respectively, have just rushed to Ankara seeking Turkey’s cooperation in defeating the Islamic State for Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the terrorist group which continues beheading American journalists.

All this, despite knowing that ISIS was Turkey’s creation. The terrorist organization’s members were trained, armed and supplied by Turkey and allowed to cross into Syria and Iraq from the Turkish border. In fact, in Aleppo, Armenians have been at the receiving end of their firepower. After all the outrage that ISIS has caused, Turkey is still reluctant to join a collation to stop the barbarism.

We read in a recent Reuter’s article, “Turkey’s dilemma illustrates the sort of challenge that Kerry faces pulling together an active collation among states with very different interests and constraints in the region.”

In the same article, Henri Barkey, a Lehigh University professor and former member of the State Department policy planning staff, predicts that “they will not allow the use of Incirlik [US air base] for lethal strikes.”

The US and the West armed Turkey to such an extent that it boasts of having the strongest army in the NATO structure, after the US. It also helped Turkey to develop its economy, so that today Ankara can implement an independent policy, undermining its allies. It is because of unreliable partners like Turkey that the US is not able to develop a coherent policy to stop ISIS immediately.

President Obama’s hesitation has given ammunition to his opponents and journalists to satirize his statement of “leading from behind” or “we have no strategy yet.” However, that policy has a silver lining in engaging Iran in the fight. It so happens that the US and Iranian polices in destroying ISIS coincide, but in this case, my enemy’s enemy still remains my enemy. The US is dragging Iran into the conflict to overstretch and exhaust its forces, since the latter is already heavily engaged in Syria.

It looks like Turkey will be the beneficiary of another political windfall, if we believe Armenia-based journalist Igor Muradian, who seems to have many intriguing political sources. In an article in lragir.am, on September 4, titled “Turkey Isn’t Asleep: Russia’s Fragmentation Plan,” he reports on a secret gathering in Ukraine: “In late August and early September, a conference with a strange agenda was organized in one of the beautiful towns of southern Ukraine. A large group of experts from Turkey, Azerbaijan, Tataria, Chuvashia, Gagauzia, Crimea and many other republics and communities from the Volga basin and North Caucasus were attending.”

The agenda comprised US and NATO policy in the Black Sea region, the Crimean Tatar problem and the possibility of the fragmentation of the Russian Federation, giving rise to the emergence of independent and sovereign states on its territory.

If the collapse of the Soviet Empire was unthinkable and it happened, nothing can be ruled out in today’s political climate. President Putin called the fall of the Soviet Union “the most catastrophic geostrategic tragedy of the 20th century.”

The Soviet Union imploded because the system had itself sown the seeds of self-destruction. Of course, those factors were further activated under pressure from the empire’s adversaries.

In case of the disintegration of the Russian Federation, there is a belt of Turkic nations extending from Azerbaijan to Central Asia, ready to form the new Ottoman Empire, a dream which Enver Pasha pursued, but did not see realized, as he was killed in Bukhara.

Today, with the Cold War winds blowing again, they may exacerbate the fault lines in the federation. Because of the falling birth rate, the number of Slavic people is shrinking and the Islamic groups are growing at a rapid rate. Mr. Putin can hardly keep the lid on smoldering tensions in Chechnya. It is believed that Chuvashia is becoming a restive region. Everybody witnessed that in Crimean referendum the most vocal ethnic group that voted against Ukraine’s union with Russia was the Tatars. The Tatars have legitimate grievances, since they have ruled Crimea for many centuries, sometimes falling under Ottoman rule, which extended all the way to Crimea. Mr. Davutoglu publicly came to the Tatars’ defense as former Ottoman subject/allies.

Two major wars were fought between the Russian and Ottoman empires in the 19th century. The Tatars even had a republic after the Soviet rule (1921-1944) until Stalin deported 238,500 Tatars to Central Asia because they had cooperated with the Nazis during the German occupation (1941-44) of Crimea. That elevated the Russian ethnic profile on the peninsula, until Sergey Khrushchev annexed the region of his native Ukraine in 1954 and Putin undid that annexation this year.

In addition to the restive Muslim groups within the Russian Federation, an uneasy cohabitation is manifest between Russia on one side and Kazakhstan and Belarus on the other side in the Customs’ Union, which Mr. Putin is crafting, as a counterpart to the European Union.

Adding to the mix of these problems is the fact that Russia’s Far East, with all it natural resources, is depopulated. This paves the way for Chinese settlers, whom China might one day defend, like Mr. Putin wishes to defend Russians living in Ukraine and “near abroad.”

This is a pretty gloomy scenario, which is whetting the appetite of Mr. Erdogan, who was hailed recently in Azerbaijan as the “standard bearer of new Ottomanism.”

As if Soviet domination over Armenia was not bad enough, now the specter of new Ottomanism looms on its border.