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The neo-Ottoman issue

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Giancarlo Elia Valori

Turkey is currently pursuing the following aims: 1) ​​becoming a Eurasian regional power; 2) later uniting all Turkmen ethnic groups from Anatolia to Xinjiang; 3) finally becoming a leading country in the Sunni Muslim world.

  With specific reference to the first aim, the relationship between Turkey and the United States is at the lowest ebb since the last ten years.

 The Turkish leader blames the United States for the Turkish Lira crisis of August 2018 – and not without reason – while he does not  clearly take into account the US strategy in Syria, where Turkey has reached a stable agreement with the Russian Federation and – in December 2018 – also with Iran.

 In Syria Turkey wants above all to avoid the stabilisation of a large Kurdish internal area.

  Initially Turkey thought that in Syria, as elsewhere, the Arab “spring” would favour the Muslim Brotherhood organizations, which would enable the Anatolian country to increase its role and expand its influence throughout the Arab world.

 This could explain Erdogan’s initial harshness against Syria.

 Nevertheless the situation in Syria developed in a different way and Erdogan readily adapted to be on the winners’ side.

  The Turkish leader has recently hit the Kurds in Afrin, Syria, because he wants to win the next local elections scheduled for March 31 next.

 Anti-Kurdish nationalism is still a winning factor at electoral level.

 Moreover, the AKP government of the President (of the Turkish Party and of the State) is increasingly dependent on the coalition National Movement Party (MHP) (also known as the Nationalist Action Party) which is both heir to Atatűrk’s ideology and a very strong opponent of any  negotiation with the Kurds.

 The assassination of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, that took place in Turkey, was an issue handled by Erdogan to harm the Saudi power throughout the Middle East and hit the alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Once again, however, he was not successful.

 Saudi Arabia preserved its Arab and Middle East sphere of  influence and the United States remained its staunch ally.

 The Saudi Kingdom has also recently refused to grant to Turkey the possibility of building a base on its territory, while it is instead building its own military centre in Djibouti.

 Another important strategic factor is the evident support provided by Turkey to the Muslim Brotherhood.

 In fact, Turkey is funding many mosques in Africa and Latin America and it is thus reviving the myth of the Ottoman Empire, as the last bulwark of Sunni Islam and of the Turkish nation.

 Turkey still hosts many Muslim Brotherhood’s operative leaders who fled Egypt after Morsi’s fall and Al Sisi’s coup.

 Erdogan’s support for Hamas is well known, and Hamas is Ikhwan’s Palestinian armed wing, which recycles large funds, preferably in Turkish banks.

 Moreover, Turkey supports many Muslim Brotherhood’s organizations also in the United States.

  Obviously, Erdogan’s clear support for the Muslim Brotherhood puts him in trouble with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, but it also creates a strong strategic relationship with Qatar, as we have already seen in the Libyan crisis.

The very recent agreement with Iran is based on the fact that Turkey and Iran have the same interests in Syria, i.e. to support Syria without this country harming their interests.

 Many years ago the confrontation focused on a Turkish-Israeli link as against a bilateral relationship between Syria and Iran.

 Erdogan, however, no longer wants close relations with the Jewish State, and the Iranian and Turkish vision on the Palestinian issue is the same.

 The Turkish project for a joint Islamic seat at the United Nations is still in place, but it would demonstrate a now reached, but impossible, Turkish hegemony over the whole Islamic world.

 In Syria, however, the Turkish government is pursuing what the United States has already accomplished, unconsciously, with its leaving Syria, i.e. the weakening of the Syrian Democratic Forces, militarily led by the Kurds, that still control slightly less than a third of the Syrian territory.

 Furthermore, the United States has recently sold the Patriot anti-missile networks to Turkey.

 The Turks’ war against the Syrian Kurds will be a long-lasting war, also protected by the naive West.

  This will create a further opportunity for hegemonic mediation  by Russia, which has great credibility for both the Turks and the Syrians and Kurds.

 However, how many Turkish-origin populations are in Asia and Africa whom Erdogan wants to use in his neo-Ottoman project?

 There is a large majority of Turks in Azerbaijan, who account for  62.1% of the population.

 There is also a significant number of Turks in Uzbekistan, but there are still no reliable statistics in this regard.

 There are approximately 150,000 Turks in Kazakhstan, but the so-called “ethnic” Turks are even more.

 In Turkmenistan, almost all inhabitants are original Turks, i.e. 4,248,000 people.

 In Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz people themselves are an ethnic group of Turkish origin, who account for 70.9% of the whole  population.

 The strategy implemented by Erdogan to build the Asian “Greater Turkey” is based above all on soft power.

 This obviously means large trade and economic exchanges in the “Turkmen” regions of Central Asia, especially in the construction, textile and service sectors.

 In particular, however, the Turkish soft power is strengthened with the distribution of popular TV series, as well as with university exchanges and Islamic proselytism, in clear competition with Saudi Arabia.

 There is also a military side in this soft strategic influence: Turkey trains several officers from the Central Asian Republics, in the framework of NATO’s Partnership for Peace.

 At economic level, Turkey provides funds, technologies and its Mediterranean ports to the Turkish ethnic groups in the Central Asian region, while it receives oil and gas in exchange.

 There is also the TÜRKSOY, a sort of UNESCO for Turkish-speaking countries, and a Turkish Council, i.e. a multinational Parliament for the Turkish-speaking countries.

 Mention should also be made of the Turkish Academy and of the Turkish Business Council.

 Obviously Turkey’s penetration is disliked by  Russia, but so far there have been no specific tensions between the two countries.

 Among the Central Asian countries, Turkey has the most significant relationship with Kazakhstan, with which it has also established a Strategic Partnership.

 Furthermore, Turkey actively supported the accession of this Asian country to the WTO, as well as to the OSCE.

A corridor between Turkey and the Caucasus was also built.

 Economic relations, however, are mainly held through close relations with the AKP, the Turkish majority Party that is at the core of the State.

 Nevertheless aid to Central Asia must consider and come to terms with the large sums that Turkey spends on aid to Africa.

 With specific reference to the expansion of Turkish Islam in Asia (and Africa), two factors must be taken into account: the Muslim religious renaissance after the fall of the USSR and the large spreading of the mystical tradition typical of the naqshibendyya or naqsbandyya in Central Asia.

 It is an Islamic mystical order that claims to be based on the tradition of Caliph Abu Bakr, namely the first Companion of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.

 It is a religious line of descent that is also linked to Abu Talib bin Talib, cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, the first Shia Imam, through Jafar al-Sadiq.

 However, historically, the initial and also the current teachings of the Brotherhood derive from Yussuf al-Hamadani.

 The line of the Brotherhood is above all mystical, such as to spread the Qur’anic teaching and the Sunnah “sayings” in the mind, behaviours and feelings, up to reaching a complete Imitatio Prophetii.

  For example, as soon as the Soviet State materialism was over, the new Central Asian regimes reopened the memorial of Bahauddin Naqshband (the founder of the sect) in Bukhara, Uzbekistan.

 In Kazakhstan, the new regime publicly follows the dictates of Ahmed Yassavi, the founder of Yasawiyya, an Islamic poet and mystic who was the first to have great religious influence on the whole Turkish-speaking world.

 All these initiatives, in addition to other similar ones, were carried out with Turkish funds.

 It should also be recalled that there is a large presence of Turkish-speaking populations who still live in the Russian Federation, such as the Tofalar in Southern Siberia, apart from the four Central Asian Turkish-speaking republics and the only one that speaks Persian (Farsi), namely Tajikistan.

 In Russia, there are also Turkish-speaking areas on Central Asia’s borders, with the Tatars in Crimea and on the border between the Chinese Xinjiang and Central Russia.

 Clearly the core of Turkey’s geopolitics in the region is the union of all Turkish-speaking areas.

 It should also be recalled, however, that at the beginning of the first millennium BC, the Turkish populations spread in Central Asia starting from the Altai Mountains in Western Mongolia.

 They were subsequently absorbed by the previous nomadic populations.

  In the eleventh century AD, however, the Turks reappeared on the borders of Asia Minor, in Anatolia, at the time controlled by the Greeks.

 Many Turks of the time were mercenaries serving Arabs and Persians, but in 1037 the Seljuk Empire was established, i.e. a State of Turkish ethnicity, born in North-Eastern Iran, which  quickly conquered Iran itself, as well as Iraq and much of the East, in the footsteps of Alexander the Great.

 It is worth recalling that, at the time, the Turks were a minority that ruled a large majority of other Turks, Iranians and Arabs.

 Later, with the dissolution of the Central Asian Byzantine and Armenian Empires, the Turks – the only well-armed and homogeneous group – rose to power also there and led to a Turkification of the masses, starting from their ruling elites.

 Hence this is what is currently happening in Central Asia, with Erdogan’s new cultural, ethnic and political expansion of Turkey.

 It is the return of current Turkey to its historical and political-military origins.

Honorable de l’Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France

President of International World Group