In recent years, many Arabs started to naively fall for a romanticized and meticulously embellished version of Turkey. A race-centric, tax thirsty, heavily bureaucratic country that ruled most of North Africa and the Middle East between the 14th and 20th centuries. This neo-Ottoman expansion started first in the Arab minds before extending to their lands through a glamorously crafted drama machine and a populist political discourse directed towards the region by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the aspiring Islamist “Sultan”.
Erdogan’s latest neo-Ottoman spectacle was to reconstruct the fall of Constantinople in 1453 by his ancestor Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror who razed the Byzantine city’s Christian heritage and converted the Church of Hagia Sophia into a Mosque. The Turkish president reordered the reconversion of the “Holy Wisdom” museum to a place of Islamic worship after a court annulled a 1934 decree. This symbolic decision confirms once more the end of the Ataturk secular era.
Erdogan’s latest neo-Ottoman spectacle was to reconstruct the fall of Constantinople in 1453 by his ancestor Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror who razed the Byzantine city’s Christian heritage and converted the Church of Hagia Sophia into a Mosque.
Commenting on his latest decision, that was largely criticized internationally, Erdogan confidently noted, “These are domestic Turkish affairs”. The 12th Turkish president has clearly a very distorted and morally flexible understanding of sovereignty. While he refuses to allow any foreign comments of his atrocious human rights account and the dreadful purge that followed the failed 2016 military coup, he gave himself carte blanche to repetitively breach the sovereignty, bombing and invading sovereign Arab states.
For example, the Turkish venture in Libya is straight out of a Kafkaesque novel to say the least. Locals claim that the country has been facilitating the transit of mercenaries from the Turkish-backed National Syrian Army for years before officially sending troops to Libya in January 2020 using the pretext of supporting its ally the Government of National Accord. It seems that Istanbul is longing for its past as the patron of outlaws and pirates in the Mediterranean. I can almost see the corsair Kheireddin Barbarossa resurrected from his 16th century grave and embarking with his fleet into the port of Tripoli. In reality, the Turkish ambitions in the mare nostrum are much more significant. As part of its Blue Homeland Doctrine mavi vatan, the broken empire by the 1923 Lausanne Treaty hopes to revive its domination over the trade corridors, controlling vessel movements, natural gas reservoirs, gas pipes, and securing a base in the southern Mediterranean.
Erdogan has been desperately sugarcoating Turkey's Muslim Brotherhood ideology and meddling in the internal affairs of several Arab countries like Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Libya ignoring that the wheel of time doesn’t spin backwards
During fieldwork in northern Iraq, I have witnessed first hand the conspicuous Turkish presence and influence in Iraqi Kurdistan and Nineveh province. What the public may ignore is that this NATO member runs 19 active military and intelligence bases in Iraq, notably in the Bashiqa mountain, in northern Mosul, equipped with heavy artillery and around 3000 troops. The former empire audaciously claims historical ties to large portions of Nineveh. Ignoring the central government warnings, it persistently violates Iraqi air space with repetitive bombings and operations claiming to chase PKK rebels or to defend Turkmen minorities.
This article wouldn’t be enough to describe the Turkish role in the Sham cacophony. There are extensive data and analysis on the subject: How it has been feeding the cycle of violence along with other countries in the region, how it utilized the refugees crisis to blackmail the European Union, how it allowed terrorist groups and weaponry into the fragmented country, and how since 2016 it has been using northern Syria as its own backyard.
Similarly to a monotonous Turkish soap opera, after decades long failed courting of the “beautiful” European Union, Istanbul is feeling nostalgic to its old colonial territories in the Middle East and North Africa. It has been desperately sugarcoating its Muslim Brotherhood ideology and meddling in the internal affairs of several Arab countries like Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Libya ignoring that the wheel of time doesn’t spin backwards.
My Syrian great grandma used to tell me stories about the Turkish atrocities in the Levant that she witnessed as a child, and how the greedy Ottomans imposed taxes on every single traded good except from salt that they call tuz in Turkish. To fool and mock soldiers, Arabs merchants used to shout tuz while passing Ottoman checkpoints. An urban legend or a historical fact, in both cases it is high time that Arab countries overcome shortsighted interests with their former Ottoman colonizer, and collectively scream in the face of “Sultan” Erdugan: Tuz!