Does “Neo-Ottomanism” Have Anything To Do With Turkey Downgrading Relations With Israel?
At least three Israeli diplomats are being expelled on Wednesday from the Israeli Embassy in Ankara, following the warning given by Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu last Friday, when he said that the diplomatic relations with Israel would be downgraded to the rank of second secretary.
The expulsion of the personnel in the embassy seems to have no effect on the consulate personnel, since there are different treaties on embassy and consulates, and the expelling of the ambassador does not require the expelling of consuls too.
On Tuesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister of Turkey, had announced that new sanctions would follow after the expulsion of the ambassador and the embassy personnel, alluding to the termination of military ties, and of the economic ones.
An official at the Turkish commerce ministry clarified that the halt of economic ties does not refer to the $3billion mutual trade but mainly to the military trades the two countries used to have.
Erdogan announced on Tuesday that these measures represent Turkey’s “plan B,” and that a “plan C” was in progress, without going into further details.
Israeli officials stated their willingness to take steps toward patching up relations with the Turks, some of them saying that what is happening now in no more than little bumps that will go away as the time goes by and proper diplomatic measures are being employed.
There are voices in Israel that say that the deterioration of the relations has nothing to do with Israel but it is a reflection of the new trend in Turkish policies, which is directed toward the Muslim world.
Erdogan is expected to visit Cairo next week and there is talk about his intention to visit the Gaza Strip also, via Rafah border crossing. When asked if he intends to do so, the PM said that it is a decision he would make on the spot, when in Egypt.
According to the governor of the Bank of Israel, the trade between Turkey and Israel have increased even though the two countries were at odds during the last year. Turkey has the largest economy in the area, with a gross domestic product in excess of $700billion, which makes it very important strategic partner to Israel.
Even though these measures are beginning to take effect on the Turkish side, Ankara is not abandoning completely its ties with Israel. According to some high military official in Israel, the Israeli military attaché continues to work in Ankara, and the prime minister has not announced any measure that would involve this level of cooperation. This is about to change, however, as the Prime Minister announced that by the end of Wednesday a decision would be made regarding the office of colonel Moshe Levy.
Erdogan said that Turkey would become more present in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Turkish vessels would patrol the area more often, but his words could be taken to mean what the Israeli observers already begin to say they mean: that Turkey sees a perfect opportunity to assert itself as the new leader of the region, now that its economy is the largest and the strongest, the army is the largest in the region, the second-largest in NATO and the four-largest in the world, and the other Muslim countries are crumbling one by one as a result of the Arab Spring.
Turkey’s vision of the NATO intervention in Libya was the one that was applied, the intervention in Syria, Erdogan said, cannot be done without Turkey, since Syria is, according to the same PM, “internal matter to Turkey,” and Egypt becomes closer ally than ever after the ouster of the former president, pro-Western Hosni Mubarak.
Turkey seems to revisit an Ottoman vision of its importance in the region, which the Western observers have already deemed as “new-Ottoman Empire,” when asking whether such imperial ambitions are being entertained by the officials in Ankara.
One very important thing that must be taken into consideration when speaking of Ottoman and new-Ottoman is that all the revolutions that have succeeded so far have been on the territory of the former Ottoman Empire: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria are former colonies of Istanbul, with very strong ties to the Turkish nation. It is only normal that Turkey may feel some sort of inclination toward asserting its presence in these parts.
Since 1923, when Kemal Attaturk defeated the last sultan and installed the Republic of Turkey, the country has been a strictly secular country, helped by the West and aiming at becoming a democracy similar to those on the European continent. The goal is almost reached, though many things remain unsolved with respect to the observance of human rights mainly.
The new leadership of Turkey, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, which has been in power since 2002, is thriving on the glorious past, and, though applying for the EU candidacy, is more inclined to build a future on that glorious past.
In March 2011, Turkish scholar Omer Taspinar spoke of different trends in Turkish policy, and called the one embraced by Erdogan “neo-Ottomanism,” a political view characterized by moderate secularism at home and a powerful implication at the level of foreign policy, especially by expressing the willingness to moderate conflicts and assert Turkey as a regional leader on which one can depend.
Taspinar also speaks of a sense of grandeur and self-confidence in the foreign policy of Turkey. The ideologue and the architect of such vision is seen the current foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Davutoglu is an university professor with a PhD in international relations, and author to many influential books about Turkish foreign policy. Davutoglu was reluctant to taking public positions, but accepted to become the foreign minister in 2009, being considered the one behind the renewal of ties with countries in the region, including controversial Hamas.
Once he was appointed, Davutoglu said Turkey would take a more proactive role in the Middle East, Balkans and the Caucasus region, the exact territory of the former Turkish Empire.
“Turkey must assume the role of order instituting country in all these regions,” Davutoglu said, adding that Turkey is no longer a country that reacts to crises, but one that sees the signs of crisis before it emerges and intervenes effectively, “given shape to the order of its surrounding region.”
A bold plan, if one takes into account that the states of the Balkans that were once under Turkish influence are now members of the EU (Greece, Bulgaria and Romania), or in negotiation with the EU (Serbia), and even Bosnia and Albania have European ambitions. Not to mention that the countries in the Caucasus region are under the Russian influence, and that is unlikely to change any time soon, as could be seen in 2008, on the occasion of the war on Georgia.
This vision has prompted other scholars, from neighboring countries, to feel that Turkey is acting toward establishing its own domination area, independent of Washington and Brussels, but willing to act multilaterally if its agenda coincides with the one of the two power centers.
There are people who think Turkey is no longer the compliant ally within NATO, and that it only postpones showing its intentions of regional dominance.
The neo-Ottoman vision has its adversaries back home, but as can be seen the nationalists and the representatives of the military have been confronted by the prime minister and they lost. The fact that the military has lost its bearing in decision-making at political levels is indicative that the Kemalism, that has ensured the secularism of the state for decades, is over.
If the neo-Ottoman visionaries play their cards right, their influence could increase the way not even the greatest of the Turkish sultans, Suleiman the Magnificent, has ever dreamed of, considering that Turks have linguistic, religious and cultural ties with the nations that live in all Central Asia. Practically, a Turkish form of language is being spoken from Kazakhstan and Chechnya to Mongolia and China’s Xinjiang, which the Uyghur nationalists call “East Turkestan.” All these countries also share Islam, not to mention that they are stinking rich in oil and natural gas.
There is such talk of creating a Turkish-Islamic Union, by Turkish scholars like Adnan Oktar (Harun Yahya is his pen name), who laid down a vision in 2008, according to which the Turkic nations should all unite under the Turkish leadership. Oktar sees this development as the heaven on earth not only for the Islamic nations in the region, but for Russia, China and Europe too.
Oktar answers to the question why Turkey and not any other Arab nation should undertake the goal of establishing the Kalifah, the caliphate, the state recommended by the Islamic prophet. And the answer is simple: Turkey had the Ottoman experience, which, in his version, was a pleasant and fruitful one, and had a success in administrating large parts of the world with a good administration.
Oktar is no politician, not yet anyway, but there is no telling how many people could embrace this daring cause at some time. The idea of a caliphate is ancient and sounds good for all Muslim ears.
Davutoglu did not go as far as to speak of the Turkic nations comprised now in states like China and Russia, but he expressed the role Turkey must undertake in the regions where it used to reign during the Ottoman Empire as a “discharge of an ancient duty” his country had toward these countries. The duty to bring them peace, and stability.
Oktar is taken seriously by some of the European and American experts in foreign policy, who believe that his words may not fall on deaf ears. How can one ignore words like:
“The Turkish Islamic Union is a union of love. The basis of the union is love, altruism, helping others, compassion, tolerance and understanding.
“Once the union is established not just Turkish societies and Muslims, but the whole world will attain enlightenment… The union will bring peace to the world… terror will come to an end… America, China, Russia, Europe and Israel will breathe easier.”
For a moment there even Christians could believe that the Turkish-Islamic Union is the fulfillment of their prophecies about the reign of the Trinity of love in the restored universe.
Even though Oktar’s vision is one of the most vivid utopias in the history of mankind, his reputation is known everywhere in the Muslim world and his writings could nurture the minds and the hearts of the young people all over the Islamic world, giving them hopes that such a plan could actually work. The funny part is that it even may work at some point.
Until then, Erdogan’s regime is lifting visa requirement for the people in Islamic countries who want to travel to Turkey. He is careful to say that creating this new free space is not a competition for the EU. He is right. EU is about anything but freedom. His gesture may practically a democratic form of expanding the idea of a leading Turkey.
These considerations may make the understanding of the new relations with Israel a little easier. The Israelis are attempting to explain that the Turks are downgrading the relation to Israel because they have other expectations and that they no longer feel the outsiders of the Middle East, as it was the case by the time they started the intense relations to the Jewish state.
Even the offence taken by Turkey on May 31, 2010, when nine Turks were killed by Israeli navy as they were trying to breach a blockade imposed on Gaza Strip, could be interpreted this way as the reaction of a state that cannot lose face in front of other nations in the region it is trying to assert itself to as the regional leader.
However, the matter of the fact remains that Turkey demanded an apology for what happened, which any other country would have done in their place. South Korea froze negotiations with North Korea after one of its vessels was destroyed by the Communist country. Things did not move forward until such an apology was offered.
The Vatican state apologized to Israel for the way the Jews had been treated in the past by the Roman Catholics, and the series of examples could go on.
Israel refused to apology, and that is what hurt the Turkish pride most, not to mention that the Palmer report looks like an elaborated trick played against Turkey at the highest level of the UN, though it was probably meant from the beginning as a way of pleasing both sides and contribute to bring them back together.
Turks are making the best of the situation, expelling Israeli diplomats, careful not to damage economy. Israelis seem to go along with this and to show patience until the hit is off and Turks have made their stand. After all, what better way to show the whole Islamic world that your country is ready to make sacrifices rather then accepted to be humiliated by their loathed enemy?11