The neo-Ottomans in Ankara have skillfully been able to return to their Ottoman past – well, not really the glorious times, but rather the empire’s days of decline.
The Turks vigorously played the role of the leader of the Muslim world. But now that the Muslim world is deeply engaged in a growing proxy war along the Shia-Sunni fault line and Turkey has found itself in a Sunni alliance, it will have to be content with playing the role of the leader of one Muslim sect only. That’s a much smaller cake, but one cannot pretend to be all things at all times.
The Sunni Arabs are in an alliance of convenience with the Sunni Turks, perfectly aware that this, too, is merely a temporary coalition. Once the Sunni-Shia divide ends up somewhere definite, Turkey will no longer find its Sunni brothers around. Instead, this time, the Sunni brothers will see the Turks as a rival and a threat to their Arab Sunni brotherhood – unless of course Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can prove that the Turks are in fact Arabs!
In a recent article, the Economist argued that: “With one foot in the West and the other in the Middle East, Turkey was able to mediate between Lebanon’s rival factions, between Iraq’s Shias and Sunnis, and between Israel and Syria (until Israel’s 2009 assault against Gaza).” The Economist quoted Nikolaos Van Dam, a former Dutch ambassador to Ankara, as saying that: “It was this ability to talk to all sides that made Turkey an effective player. But ‘now it has chosen sides.’” (Turkey’s foreign policy: Growing less mild, the Economist, Apr. 14, 2012)
In fact, Turkey’s southern and eastern borders have not been this tense for a decade. Syria has again become a “military matter,” like in the late 1990s. It is an open secret that the Turkish-Persian chess game has turned into a cold war that’s getting warmer every day. And most recently, the Iraqi government has declared Turkey “a hostile state.” Naturally, Mr. Erdogan no longer is the rock star he once was to the Israel-hating Hezbullah hooligans in Lebanon. Did anyone say “zero problems with neighbors?”
To make things less pleasant, there is a lot of hypocrisy going on around the Syrian crisis. Some sunshine-or-rain pro-Erdogan fans disguised as intellectual peace activists explicitly advocate pinpoint airstrikes against Syria. By whom? Ah, the Americans of course. But was it not you, gentlemen, who fiercely wanted the United States “out of Middle Eastern politics?” Besides, if pinpoint airstrikes from countries with deterrent firepower against regimes oppressing a majority of their own people is a legitimate remedy, why not Russian pinpoint airstrikes against Bahrain?
The fact is that the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad would have looked terribly sympathetic to most of his present-day enemies if tomorrow he disconnected his country from the Shia axis. I can imagine western and Turkish headlines: New evidence reveals al-Assad was victim of terrorist propaganda! Independent reports confirm al-Assad was innocent…
Last week, a cheerful Mr. Erdogan gladly announced that the sanctions against Syria were now yielding results as evinced by the fact that the government in Damascus now had to distribute aid packages to the Syrians. Is Mr. Erdogan a friend or an enemy of the Syrian people? Why is he pleased with the Syrian people’s plight? Was it not him who opposed sanctions on Iran “because sanctions would only punish innocent people?” Do the “Friends of Syria” want to punish Mr. al-Assad or his people?
Mind you, Prime Minister, if Syria consisted of the rebels and defectors only, its population in fact books would be indicated as 1-2 million, instead of 22 million.