Erdogan In the Middle East; Drawing a New Map of Neo-Ottomanism

The Ottoman Empire 1798–1923

Turkey is one of the most important countries in the Middle East, which has entered a high level of political, military, and security conflicts in West Asia, the Caucasus, and North Africa. There is no critical point in the region where Turks do not have an important presence; From Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and Libya, and most recently Nagorno-Karabakh. Turks are looking for playing an important role in the middle east. Sometimes they are not even loyal to their friends and these friends are abused by Turkey. This shows that Erdogan has well learned this chapter of the political lesson that “we have no real friend or foe; we have permanent interests”; “The interests are our friends!” Of course, Erdogan has a special policy. He believes that “in order to be at the negotiating table, a state must have a serious presence on the field.” This can answer many questions about his regional behavior.

The Driving Force Behind Erdogan’s Behavior

But why is the scale of Turkey’s presence in the region so widespread under Erdogan’s influence? Has he switched from a quiet politician with a “zero tension” strategy to a “pervasive tension” strategy in the region? Or is Erdogan the same as he was, but the previous perception about him was a misunderstanding and it gradually was unfolded?

Whatever it is, there is a very important point: Turkey, according to Erdogan, suffers from a “historical injustice.” The historical injustice that Erdogan believes took place after World War I at the hands of Allied forces; the oppression that led to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Erdogan still has a heart for the Ottoman Empire and wants to revive it in today’s world. Even he is willing to pay for it as well. This means believing in historical oppression and trying to get rid of it- which has led to the emergence of ambitions based on Ottoman traditions- has been the driving force behind much of Erdogan’s regional and trans-regional behaviors, actions, and policies in recent years.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

The Revival of the Ottoman Empire

The restoration of the former glory that once flourished in the Ottoman Empire is the headline of Erdogan’s foreign policy goals in the region and beyond. The Turkish government is using every means to advance this policy. For almost 20 years, from 2002 to the present, when Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been the ruling political party in Turkey, the strategy of “neo-Ottomanism” has gone through various tactics, including zero tension with neighbors (from 2002 to 2010) and entering regional crises (from 2011 to the present). This was first in the context of covert policies and then it was brought up openly on the agenda. This has even manifested itself in the views and academic writings of AKP leaders and theorists.

Ahmet Davutoglu, one of the most powerful and influential politicians between 2009 and 2016 in Turkey was once the mentor of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In a speech in 2012 he defined the foreign policy perspective of this country most clearly:

“On the 100th anniversary of our departure from the Middle East, whatever lands we lost between 1911 and 1923, from wherever we withdrew, we will in those lands meet again with our brothers between 2011 and 2023 and we will rebuild international order again.”

Ahmet Davutoglu, 26th Prime Minister of Turkey and Leader of the AKP Party from 2014 to 2016.

This is not an insignificant word. It is so clear that it does not need any further explanation. Davutoglu, whose views- despite their differences and separation from Erdogan- are still influential in Turkish foreign policy, has drawn the British model of colonialism and imperialism for his country in his mind. He explained the purpose of the Ottoman Commonwealth of Independent States in an interview with Washington Post:

“England, with its ancient colonies, has formed the Commonwealth of Nations. Why shouldn’t Turkey take the lead again in the old Ottoman lands in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Central Asia?”

The above statements are a summary of Turkey’s foreign policy since 2011. The year 2023, which is the 100th anniversary of the Ottoman Empire’s collapse, is also marked as the final perspective of this vision. The period from 1911 to 1923 is a dark period in history, during which the largest and most powerful empire in the world was so weak and powerless that it collapsed and lost a considerable size of its territory. Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq are among the countries that departed from the Ottoman Empire between 1911 and 1923.

Concluding Remarks

The purpose of this article is to express the important dimensions of Turkey’s foreign policy in the region and its defined goals and perspectives. These goals and perspectives are very difficult to achieve in the current era of international relations, in which countries have a very serious and special sensitivity to their national independence and territorial integrity. Perhaps if Turkey could achieve- and in some places, it has achieved- popularity among other nations, still the structure of the international system and the UN Charter would impose so many restrictions, including territorial integrity and national independence rights. Of course, it is obvious that Turkey’s presence and role in the developments of the region, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, is wide-ranging. But it is not “deep” to be able to achieve whatever it wants. Therefore, it should not be exaggerated. Erdogan’s policies in the region and among other nations have created much more “repulsion” instead of “attraction”. Although neo-Ottomanism is a justifiable idea and strategy for the Turkish elites, its advancement has continued to lead to the violation of red lines, territorial integrity, and national independence of other countries in the region; an issue that is not tolerable for these countries under any circumstances.

Freelance Middle East Analyst and Researcher