Erdogan’s Ottoman Empire Strikes Back


editorialcartoonBy Edmond Y. Azadian

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist AKP party has turned Turkey into a fascist state terrorizing its domestic population and murdering the Kurdish minority. The US, Europe and Russia have all subscribed to Erdogan’s policy, each driven by their selfish interests. They all need a bully in the region to resort to in rotation for their political ends.

On the one hand, the Turkish government is in pursuit of a rigorous witch-hunt to purge followers of Abdullah Gulen, who supposedly was behind the failed recent military coup. On the other hand, the army has been waging a war of extermination against its Kurdish minority under the guise of fighting terrorism. The US and the European Union (EU), to ease their consciences, have accepted the Turkish government’s claim that the PKK (Kurdish Worker’s Party) is a terrorist organization and not a national liberation movement.

The irony is that on the other side of the border in Syria, the PKK affiliate is hailed and supported as a US ally.

To demonstrate the dictatorial nature of Erdogan’s regime, Ali Bayramoglu has posted an article in Al Monitor, where he states: “Turkey has been governed through legislative decrees that bypass parliament. The paradox stems both from the legal flaws in how Gulenists are being pursued, which has increasingly resembled a witch-hunt and the way the emergency-rule regime is being used, going beyond the stated purpose of pursuing and cleansing the putschists.”

To further substantiate the above claims, Bayramoglu writes in the same article: “The purges have produced a staggering toll — 93,000 public employees suspended, 60,000 people expelled from public service, 50,000 people detained and 32,000 people imprisoned pending trials, according to open sources. The toll also includes the closure or seizure of 4,245 entities, including 129 foundations, 1,125 associations, 15 universities, 198 trade unions, 23 radio stations, 45 newspapers and 29 publishing houses. … A political system centered on suspicions and perceptions of threat has long been a fundamental feature of authoritarian regimes.”

Intellectuals, writers, journalists and artists are either in jail or have already fled the country. The turmoil created by this campaign — or Erdogan’s version of “Cultural Revolution” — has already had its adverse impact on the economy and on society.

Parallel to this witch-hunt, the Erdogan government has suspended peace negotiations with the Kurds and instead has turned southeastern Turkey into a “slaughterhouse province,” once again.

Despite the overwhelming military might of the government, many areas in the Kurdish region have become a no-man’s land. Erdogan is also vying to reinstate the death penalty. At a recent rally in Bursa, he said, “You know my views about the death penalty. Once this comes to the parliament floor and passes, I will give it my approval. The Westerners ask us about why we keep talking about this. Why should we get permission from you?”

In fact, the death penalty was abolished in Turkey to accommodate demands from the EU. The Erdogan government seems to have given up hopes of joining the EU.

If this two-pronged action continues, it will certainly lead to Turkey’s partition.

To stave off the ultimate catastrophe, Erdogan has resorted to his hallmark ruse, whipping up patriotic fervor of his fanatical Sunni Muslim constituency, floating Ottomanist dreams, which were first brought forth by the former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. To deflect internal discontent and resentment, Erdogan is clamoring for the return of fabled lost territories of the defunct Ottoman Empire.

After losing a war, military leaders are considered war criminals and consequently they are punished by execution. That happened in Nazi Germany and Japan, after World War II. But after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish general Mustapha Kemal emerged as a war hero for his people and for the Allies who had defeated the Ottoman army. The defeat of the Ottoman army offered the right historic opportunity to liberate the long-suffering nationalities from the Turkish yoke. That is the way the Treaty of Sevres was negotiated and signed on August 10, 1920. Armenians and Greeks were to receive lands from their historic territories under the terms of the treaty.

But the rebel leader Kemal continued his war of “liberation” and slaughtered more Greeks and Armenians while negotiating on two opposing fronts to gain support and concessions, on the one side with the Allies and the other with the rising Soviet power. This continued until the international community settled on the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, which drew the current borders of the Republic of Turkey. That was an unbelievable gift to a defeated country. Additionally, in 1939, French colonial powers ceded the province of Antioch to Turkey, with its Arab population and that became today’s Hatay region. Syria never acquiesced to that loss.

Now, Mr. Erdogan is unhappy with the Lausanne borders. He complains: “When we shout in Turkey it is heard on littoral Greek Islands.” In a recent speech at Rize University, Mr. Erdogan, the historian, invoked the Misak i Milli (The National Pact) proclaimed by the Ottoman Parliament in 1920 before its dissolution and said: “Some historians admit that the borders of the National Pact included Cyprus, Aleppo, Mosul, Erbil, Kirkuk, Batumi, Salonika, Varna an the Aegean Islands.”

Based on that fictitious claim, Turkey has already occupied 38 percent of Cyprus territory, which was ceded by the Ottoman Sultan to Britain with disgrace at the conference of Berlin in 1878. This is the price of the Armenian blood, spilled by the Sultan. In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus and occupied its northern region to establish the Turkish Republic of Cyprus, misinterpreting the Zurich Accord of 1960 which approved the independence of Cyprus.

Britain, Greece and Turkey would guarantee the integrity of the country, while Turkey has violated and continues to violate that integrity and no power has been able to dislodge the aggressor.

This is a very instructive example for naïve Armenian pundits who dream of having Armenia join NATO. Greece is an equal partner in NATO, yet Turkey is treated preferentially. Would Armenia enjoy a better chance than Greece in the NATO structure?

Turkey has already invaded Syria to prevent the formation of a Kurdish enclave, under the watchful and tolerant eyes of Russian forces. But more seriously, Turkey has stationed its forces in Iraq to participate in the liberation of Mosul from ISIS. “We have a historic responsibility in the region claims,” claims Erdogan, while the Iraqi government requests the Turkish forces to leave its territory. In response, the normally mild-mannered Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, writes the New York Times, warned last week of a military confrontation between Turkey and Iraq. If Turkish forces intervene in Mosul, he said, “they will not be at a picnic.”

Despite the fact that Turkey has undermined American goals in Iraq by insisting to play a role in the fight in Mosul, the US has been very tolerant of the Turkish thrust. The US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who was sent to Turkey to convince Mr. Erdogan to withdraw his forces from Iraq, has given his equivocal assessment of the situation: “The United States is trying to balance our respect for the sovereignty of Iraq and our respect also for Turkey’s historic role in the region.”

It is this kind of sleazy approval that encourages the Turkish bully in its transgressions.

Mr. Erdogan was also championing the rights of Tartars in Crimea and threatening Russia for taking over Crimea, but after crawling to Moscow to ask for favors from Mr. Putin, the Tartars no longer feature in his Ottomanist agenda.

This approach is used against other countries, too. After pouring tremendous amounts of investment in the Ajaria region of Georgia, when Erdogan claimed the Batumi Seaport on the Black Sea was Turkish territory, there was a strong backlash and hostile anti-Turkish demonstrations in Georgia.

At this time, Turkey is well entrenched in Cyprus with the collusion of the US and Europe. After the wars wind down in Iraq and Syria, Turkey may keep its forces in those countries, playing the interests of the East against West.

Erdogan’s Ottomanist claims may turn out to be a tactical game to divert the attention of Turkey’s disgruntled population but he is becoming a threat to all neighboring countries.

However, an Arab journalist based in London believes otherwise. Abdel Bari Ratwan, editor-in-chief of Rai al-Yom, writes: “Turkey’s policies and its falling into the quagmire of Syrian war, by supporting terrorists and plotting to overthrow Basha Al-Assad, it will experience the same fate as Syria, since it played a major role, besides others, in exporting terrorism to Syria.”

While addressing Iraq’s prime minister on his claim on Mosul, Mr. Erdogan has boasted, “I am teaching him a history lesson.”

And indeed, he has been an astute professor of history, sometimes jumping from the sublime to the ridiculous. In 2014, addressing Latin American Muslim leaders gathered in Istanbul, Erdogan made a historic revelation, derided around the world. He stated that Muslim sailors had arrived in America in 1178. “Contacts between Latin America and Islam date back to the 12th century,” knocking Christopher Columbus off his historic perch.

Given Mr. Erdogan’s fertile imagination and ambitions, one is prompted to ask when he is planning to claim the Americas as part of his Islamic Empire, as he strikes against domestic and foreign enemies.