THE LEVANT – By Catherine Shakdam – Turkey, a keen supporter of the now-vilified Muslim Brotherhood has been thus far in a position in which it can shrug off allegations its state policies have been crafted in a manner that benefits the terrorist group the world has come to know as the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” or the “black army” in some circles. It has done so by arguing that it stands for democracy and freedom. However, US Vice President Joe Biden’s outburst in October somewhat blew the lid off this tightly closed Pandora’s box, shedding a new light on Turkey’s real intentions.
Following a speech at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, US Vice President Biden clearly and unmistakably accused Ankara of abating terrorists – to forward its own hegemonic and political ambitions in the Middle East, and more specifically Syria. The implications of his comments is that Turkey is engineering religious radicalism as an ideological weapon to ignite a sectarian fracture and bring about a Turkish-designed Middle East.
“Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria,” Biden stated. “They [Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE] were so determined to take down Assad,” he added, that in a sense they started a “proxy Sunni-Shia war” by pouring “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad.”
Even though Biden was then forced to issue a retraction and an apology due to political pressure, his tirade uncovered a truth that many experts and political analysts have expressed as early as 2011.
This idea that a government, in this case Turkey, would be using terror and religious radicalism as a tool, a commodity to assert, serve and carry its goals, as well as manifest its predominance, is hardly groundbreaking. One only has to study history to understand that such tactics of indoctrination have been major powers’ weapon of choice across the ages. One particularly striking example comes to mind: The Crusades. Under the impetus of the Roman Catholic Church in the 11th century, European nations waged a series of wars against the so-called “infidels of Islam,” looking to reconquer the “holy land,” which happened to sit onimmense wealth and geo-strategic gateways. This holy war, which was sold to the masses, was but an attempt to claim control over a lucrative commercial hub, the land of “milk and honey” as Pope Urban II put it at the time.
As it now appears – or, if you will, as the United States has portrayed and even confirmed – Turkey, under the leadership of its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has manipulated and crafted radicals into a veritable army in order to manifest its longing for regional domination, by way of resurrecting the Ottoman Empire.
Erdogan the sultan
In April 2013, Turkish writer Cinar Kiper said in The Atlantic that President Erdogan and his acolytes carried indeed a certain nostalgia for the Ottoman Empire and the political and religious formats which came with it. Kiper essentially argued that while Turkey has scoffed at allegations it is looking to renege its republican tradition to rise an empire again, changes at a social level indicate otherwise.
In an article published in August by The National, writer Piotr Zalewski underlined Turkey’s Islamic and hegemonic ambitions, thus defining what many have already branded Turkey’s neo-Ottoman strategy and policy.
Zalewski referenced comments made in 2009 by Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s prime minister since August, in which he actually confirmed to the press that, “We are the new Ottomans” just before he became foreign minister.
“Whatever we lost between 1911 and 1923, whatever lands we withdrew from, we shall once again meet our brothers in those lands between 2011 to 2023,” Davutoglu was quoted as saying in 2012.
If a theme was to be found when discussing Turkey, both the word Ottoman and Islamic would adequately describe which directions President Erdogan has veered his country toward and more importantly which goals he wishes to achieve.
Just as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk came to symbolize the rise of Turkey as a modern republican state, President Erdogan is fast becoming a poster child for neo-imperialism.
In an interview with political analyst and well-known Etijah TV presenter Marwa Osman, she stressed that President Erdogan has steered Turkey onto a path he wishes will bring about the establishment of Turkey as the main driving religious and political force in the region.
“Erdogan sees himself as a man endowed with a mission. He is using terror and religious indoctrination as weapons to carve a new order in the Middle East. He believes that as long as he is pulling the string of terror, he stands to control the fall and rise of governments across the region and ultimately weave his web of control,” Osman stated. Adding, “There is another dimension to Erdogan and it has to do with his religious ideology. Erdogan, I believe, wants to reassert Turkey as the beating heart of Sunni Islam and reclaim the caliphate.”
The terror connection
If Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan has been labelled by some the “Prince of Terror” or the mastermind behind the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other terrorist organizations in the Middle East and North Africa, President Erdogan is fast becoming a strong contender for such titles as his involvement with the “black army” has prompted many to raise concerned eyebrows.
In March 2013, before the attack on Kobane and Ankara’s inaction before the rise of ISIS, northern Syria became centre stage to a heated debate on Turkey’s ties with Islamic radicalism, journalist and Assyria TV editor Dikran Ego accused Turkey of directly supporting al-Qaeda and other radical groups in the region as part of its strategy for territorial expansion.
Looking back to May 2012, quite early on in ISIS’ advances in the region, Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu remarked to the press, “We will manage the wave of change in the Middle East. Just as the ideal we have in our minds about Turkey, we have an ideal of a new Middle East. We will be the leader and the spokesperson of a new peaceful order, no matter what they say,” pointing to Erdogan’s grand plan for the region. At the time, too few realised how exactly this “new order” will be brought about and more importantly under which banner it will be brought forth.
If the Egyptian government’s accusations against Turkey that Ankara has masterminded terrorism are any indications of broader regional concern, President Erdogan appears more and more to sit within the eye of a raging terror storm.
Recall that in September, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry issued a statementslamming Erdogan for his promotion of terrorism in the region. The statement read, “The Turkish President, who is keen to provoke chaos to sow divisions in the Middle East region through its support for groups and terrorist organisations … Whether political support or funding or accommodation in order to harm the interests of the peoples of the region to achieve personal ambitions for the Turkish president and revive illusions of the past.”
Similarly, in April, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh echoed the Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s statement in an article in the London Review of Books titled, “The Red Line and the Rat Line,” alledging that Erdogan was behind the sarin gas attack in Ghouta to better drag Washington into Syria and use the US army as a powerful instrument to dispose of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
More troubling yet, the very existence of the Free Syrian Army has also been pinned down to Turkey, raising some questions regarding the group’s intentions, motivations and methods, as described by Aron Lund, editor of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace’s Syria in Crisis Blog in, “The Free Syrian Army Doesn’t Exist.”
Turkey and President Erdogan’s links to terrorism have been many and well documented, yet no power, safe maybe from Syria, Iran and Egypt have openly voiced their rejection of it and warned of its repercussion prior to Ankara’ shadow games.
As lines have been blurred between ISIS militants, the Free Syrian Army and Turkey itself, all three appear as extensions of one another, the manifestations of the same will to engineer the inception of an Islamic state whose reach will encompass the MENA region and recreate the long lost Ottoman Empire.
First appeared in Al Akhbar