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Erdogan: A Man Obsessed With Neo-Ottomanism

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What Tayyib Erdogan is poised to do after the expiration of treaty of laussane by 2023? Is he really endeavoring to resurrect ottoman caliphate? Almost every political discourse, nowadays, led by political luminaries, spin doctors and academicians, revolves around such questions. The whole world is curious to learn what Turkey under the auspices of its ambitious leader Erdogan is likely to do beyond 2023. Further, to intensify the apprehensions of the foes of Turkey, exceedingly popular Turkish drama Series “Dirilis: Ertugrul” premised on the history of Ottoman Empire and patronized by the Erdogan administration, has also sent shock waves across the world for the  drama is an implicit move of Turkish authorities to rejuvenate the struggle for reclaiming the ottoman empire.  

So far as Erdogan’s ambition to revive Ottoman Empire is concerned, it is quite evident through his policies as well as orientations that he is paving the way to reclaim Ottoman Empire by hook or crook no sooner does the treaty of Lausanne go dead by 2023. Although denied, during  teething period of his political ascent,  his aspiration to re-install ottoman state, his recent inflammatory rhetoric and aggressive policies  towards opposition, neighboring states   and international powers vividly reveal his desire to assume the title of “ New sultan” or “ Caliph” in neo-ottoman dispensation.

To translate his dream into a reality, Erdogan has taken myriad endogenous and exogenous measures that clearly reflect his aggressive policy and passion to regain lost glory of Muslims by breathing into a dead Empire. His bid to do so is conspicuous in his move of dismantling and restructuring of the Turkish identity through invoking the manifestations and symbols of the Ottoman heritage. Alongside, his domestic re-engineering, He has also adopted hegemonic and expansionist policies with the aim of reproducing the “Ottoman colonization” era in the Middle East region.

Let’s analyze how Erdogan is flattening the ground locally and internationally for the erection of neo-ottoman Empire.  

Domestically, Erdogan knew that without consolidating his power, it was almost impossible to put his brilliant brainchild of re-building ottoman caliphate into a practice. He, therefore, realizing this undeniable fact, resumed consolidating his power. To this end, he transformed Turkish political outlook from parliamentary to presidential one that, for sure, gave him absolute powers at par with that of king or Sultan. Abdul Rehman Dilliak , a Turkish thinker affiliated with Erdogan’s regime, opined that the transformation of Turkey’s presidential dispensation will  allow Turkey to turn into a caliphate state, Erdogan to caliph of Muslims, and will culminate into opening representative offices of the ottoman Islamic caliphate at his palace.

In addition, following the footprints of sultans of Ottoman Empire, Erdogan has left no stone unturned to crush dissention. He employs the Ottoman legacy as a repressive tool to eliminate political opponents, seeking to put forward an ideology that is diametrically different from Kemal’s secularism (Mustafa Kemal Ataurk). Erdogan attempts to do this through implementation of social re-engineering tactics to influence the population to restore the Ottoman values and practices as part of the collective memory. This ensures his political hegemony and the exclusion of opponents, since he is part of the “Ottoman Sultans”, for whom the term “opposition” was not in the lexicon of their administration.

He, therefore, to keep the dissent voices at bay, arrested a large number of opponents after the failed military coup attempt in July 2016. The political crackdown included dismissal of state employees, police and military officers, restructuring the administrative apparatus of the state, domination over the judiciary, consolidating his power; making Erdogan all in all by concentrating all legislative, executive and judicial powers into his hands.

 Inter alia, Erdogan, indubitably, is a man of unprecedented political acumen. He knows that without giving his regime a religious tint, he would not be able to embark at his destination. Hence, he is employing all of his occupied resources to morph secular turkey into an Islamized dispensation. For justification of all of his just or unjust moves, he constantly takes refuge in Islamic cocoon. In his bid to Islamize turkey, he has made religious education mandatory in Turkish schools which, off course, confirm his intention to disinter ottomanism.

Moreover, in order to re-build the image of grandeur, magnificence and splendor that Ottoman Empire epitomized, among his countrymen and in the world, Erdogan seeks to revive the historic and architectural patrimony of the Ottoman Empire. In July 2016, for example, Erdogan announced his intention to reconstruct some military barracks in Istanbul and to demolish the Ataturk Cultural Center, stating: “We will reconstruct the historic Taksim military barracks in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, whether they like it or not,” defying the opposition of many Turkish citizens.

 Further, In August 2016, he renamed the largest bridge on the Bosphorus in Istanbul “Selim I”, amid intense opposition from Shi’ite Alawis in Turkey, due to historical hostility between Sultan Selim I and Shi’ites.

Erdogan is also keen to use Ottoman Empire-inspired symbols in all the details of daily life. For example, he appeared in a photo posted on Twitter in November 2017, with the banner of the 57th Ottoman Army division in front of him.

In addition, he appeared in more than one official occasion – such as during his reception of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in January 2015- accompanied by contingent dressed in Ottoman warriors’ attires and carrying flags of 16 countries founded by the Ottomans. This component was added to the formal parades on a permanent basis. MP of Balikesir city from the Justice and Development Party posted a photo in which Erdogan was surrounded by soldiers and commented by saying: “The 90-year-long Ottoman caliphate’s advertising break is over”.

Further to say is that Erdogan authorized the teaching of the Ottoman language in schools, announcing in December 2014 that “Teaching of the Ottoman language will inevitably be implemented…whether they like it or not.” He also slammed those who oppose the move, describing them as the greatest danger, believing that that move will protect the identity of the state till the day of resurrection.

Moreover, on advice of Erdogan, In January 2015, AKP members of parliament put forward a bill calling for the adoption of the Ottoman Empire “tughra” as the official emblem of the Turkish nation, which had been abolished in 1922 after the fall of the Ottoman caliphate. The Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Turkish National Assembly agreed on this proposal notwithstanding the opposition of the MPs. This too corroborates the fact that Erdogan is aggressively pursuing his latent agenda of ottomanization.

To add, the most appalling and terrifying aspect of Erdogan’s scheme   for his  foes  is his move to develop a new army named as “The new Janisaries,” at par with that of  “old Janisaries” under ottoman rule, exclusively tailored to effect the idea of neo-ottoman empire.  For example, leaks reported by the Turkish media and published by Fouad Avni, known as the “Snowden of Turkey” in January 2017, said that the SADAT International Defense Consultancy Inc, founded by Adnan Tanriverdi, Erdogan’s advisor, is training young men from the Justice and Development Party on fighting.

 As mentioned earlier, Erdogan also encourages Turkish series and movies that show events dating back to the Ottoman era, one manifestation of this support was his visit, in November 2016, to the locations of the scenes of the “Diriliş: Ertugrul,” a series about the historical founders of the Ottoman state.

By resorting to such moves, Erdogan is playing very smartly. By adhering to the Ottoman principles and fanaticism of the Ottoman State, its history and symbols, Erdogan wants to send an implicit message that he is the legitimate heir of the Ottoman caliphate; a matter has been repeatedly highlighted by the AKP’s media. For example, pro-Erdogan newspapers put his portrait next to the image of Sultan Abdulhamid II, one of the strongest Ottoman sultans.

Externally, Erdogan thinks that the Ottoman legacy gives the Turkish nation a historic right to regional hegemony and to represent the Muslim world. Thus, Erdogan sees his meddling in the Arab countries, deploying military forces in Syria and Iraq, his support of extremist religious organizations in the Arab states as part of the “imperial policy” that reinforce his colonial vision of the Turkish role in the Middle East.

Erdogan has pursued regional expansion through constant interference in the affairs of other countries. His speeches reveal his attempts to interfere in the sovereignty of neighboring countries. He tends to use an aggressive tone towards those whom he deems as “regional adversaries” of Turkey’s hegemony.

To add, regional expansionism is not limited to only fiery rhetoric, as Turkey has backed extremist religious movements in several regional states and has provided them shelter , sums and media platforms to promote their ideas.

In the same regard, Turkey has engaged in direct military interventions in Syria and Iraq. It maintains a number of military bases in various countries, including: Qatar, Northern Cyprus, Syria, and Azerbaijan, where it built its first military base in the latter in November 2017, and plans to build another eight military bases. All these factors clearly insinuate that Turkey is re-asserting herself as emerging regional hegemonic power.

To sum it up, in the light of preceding discussion, it can safely be concluded that Erdogan is aggressively pursuing his mission to re-install Ottoman Empire. He would, for sure, re-double his efforts to this end after the expiration of treaty of Lausanne by 2023. If the things go as planned, the world is likely to face a novel geopolitical reality that warrants pro-active measures to be taken not only by international organizations for peace and security but also by the countries which are going to bear the burnt of this formidable geopolitical metamorphosis .

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Middle East

Saudi Arabia and Iran cold war

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After almost seven decades, the cold war has reached the middle east, turning into a religious war of words and diplomacy. As Winston Churchill says that “diplomacy is an art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they ask for the direction”. So, both the regional powers are trying to pursue a policy of subduing the adversary in a diplomatic manner. The root of the conflict lies in the 1979, Iranian revolution, which saw the toppling of the pro-western monarch shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi and replaced by the so-called supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. From a Yemini missile attack to the assassination of the supreme commander QassimSoleimani, the political, ideological and religious differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia are taking the path of confrontation. The perennial rivalry between the two dominant Shiite and Sunni power house ins an ideological and religious one rather than being geo strategic or geo political. Back to the time when Saudi Arabia supported Saddam Hussain against the united states of Americathe decline of Saddam and his authoritarian regime was made inevitable and with this, Iran and Saudi Arabia rosed as the powerful, strategic and dominant political forces in the middle east.it was from here that the quest for supremacy to be the prepotent and commanding political powercommenced. The tensions escalated or in other words almost tended to turn into scuffles when in 2016, the Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy as a demonstration of the killing of a Shia cleric. The diplomatic ties were broken and chaos and uncertainty prevailed.

This cold war also resembles the original one., because it is also fueled by a blend of ideological conviction and brute power politics but at the same time unlike the original cold war, the middle eastern cold war is multi-dimensional and is more likely to escalate .it is more volatile and thus more prone to transformation. This followed by several incidents with each trying to isolate the other in international relations. The Saudis and Iranians have been waging proxy wars for regional dominance for decades. Yemen and Syria are the two battlegrounds, fueling the Iran-Saudi tensions. Iran has been accused of providing military assistance to the rebel Houthis, which targets the Saudi territory. It is also accused of attacking the world naval ships in the strait of Hormoz, something Iran strongly denies.  This rivalry has dragged the region into chaos and ignited Shia-Sunni conflict across the middle east. The violence in the middle east due to this perennial hostility has also dire consequences for the economy of the war-torn nations. In the midst of the global pandemic, when all the economic activities are at halt, the tensions between the two arch rivals will prove hazardous and will yield catastrophic results. The blockade of the shipping and navigation in the Gulf, attacks on international ships, and the rising concerns of the western powers regarding this issue has left Iran as an isolated country with only Russia supporting her.

A direct military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran will have dire consequences for the neighboringcountries. A direct military confrontation might not be a planned one, but it will be fueled due to the intervention of the other key partners, who seek to sought and serve their personal and national intrigues. Most importantly middle east cannot afford a conflict as it is a commercial hub for the world. The recent skirmishes in Iraq sparked fears of wider war when Iraq retaliated for killings of QassimSoleimani. If the US president had not extended an olive branch, the situation might have worsened. The OIC, which is a coalition of 57 Muslim countries has also failed in bringing measures to deescalate the growing tensions. The OIC, where the Saudi Arabia enjoys an authoritarian style of dominance has always tried to empower her own ideology while rising the catch cry of being a sacred country to all the Muslims. Taking in account, the high tensions and ideological and the quest for religious dominance, the international communities such as UN and neighboring countries should play a positiveand vital role in deescalating these tensions. Bilateral trade, communications between the two adversaries with a regional power playing the role of mediator and extending an olive branch to each other will yield better results and will prove fruitful in mitigating the conflict if not totally subverting it.

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First Aid: How Russia and the West Can Help Syrians in Idlib

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Authors: Andrey Kortunov and Julien Barnes-Dacey*

The next international showdown on Syria is quickly coming into view. After ten years of conflict, Bashar al-Assad may have won the war, but much is left to be done to win the peace. This is nowhere more so than in the province of Idlib, which is home to nearly 3 million people who now live under the control of extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) with external Turkish protection and humanitarian assistance from the United Nations.

The question of humanitarian access into Idlib is now emerging as a central focus of new international politicking. In so doing, this small province could be pivotal to the future of the larger stalemate that has left the United States, Europe, and Russia locked in an unwinnable status quo.

Russia has said that it plans to veto an extension of cross-border UN aid delivered from Turkey, authorised under UN Security Council resolution 2533, which is up for renewal in July, potentially depriving the population of a vital lifeline amid desperate conditions. Moscow says that all aid should be channelled from Damascus via three new government-controlled crossing points to the northern province. Western governments, to say nothing of the local population, are sceptical, given the Syrian government’s hostility towards the province’s inhabitants. For its part, the UN says that cross-lines aid cannot compensate for a closure of cross-border access.

As ever, the two dominant players—the US and Russia—are talking past each other and are focused on countering each other’s moves—to their mutual failure. It is evident that US condemnation and pressure on Russia will not deliver the necessary aid, and also evident that Russia will not get its wish for the international recognition of the legitimacy of the Syrian government by vetoing cross-border access. While these will only be diplomatic failures for the US and Russia, it is the Syrian people who will, as ever, pay the highest price.

But a mutually beneficial solution to Idlib is still possible. Russia and the US, backed by European states, should agree to a new formula whereby Moscow greenlights a final one-year extension of cross-border aid in exchange for a Western agreement to increase aid flows via Damascus, including through Russia’s proposed cross-lines channels into Idlib. This would meet the interests of both sides, allowing immediate humanitarian needs to be met on the ground as desired by the West, while also paving the way for a transition towards the Damascus-centred international aid operation sought by Moscow.

This imperfect but practical compromise would mean more than a positive change in the humanitarian situation in Idlib. It would demonstrate the ability of Russian and Western actors to work together to reach specific agreements in Syria even if their respective approaches to the wider conflict differ significantly. This could serve to reactivate the UN Security Council mechanism, which has been paralysed and absent from the Syrian track for too long.

To be sure the Syrian government will also need to be incentivised to comply. Western governments will need to be willing to increase humanitarian and early recovery support to other parts of government-controlled Syria even as they channel aid to Idlib. With the country now experiencing a dramatic economic implosion, this could serve as a welcome reprieve to Damascus. It would also meet Western interests in not seeing a full state collapse and worsening humanitarian tragedy.

The underlying condition for this increased aid will need to be transparency and access to ensure that assistance is actually delivered to those in need. The West and Russia will need to work on implementing a viable monitoring mechanism for aid flows channelled via Damascus. This will give Moscow an opportunity to push the Syrian regime harder on matters of corruption and mismanagement.

For its part, the West will need to work with Moscow to exercise pressure on Ankara to use its military presence in Idlib to more comprehensively confront radical Islamists and ensure that aid flows do not empower HTS. A ‘deradicalisation’ of Idlib will need to take the form of a detailed roadmap, including that HTS comply with specific behaviour related to humanitarian deliveries.

Ultimately this proposal will not be wholly satisfactory to either Moscow or the West. The West will not like that it is only a one-year extension and will not like the shift towards Damascus. Russia will not like that it is an extension at all. But for all sides the benefits should outweigh the downsides.

Russia will know that Western actors will respond to failure by unilaterally channelling non-UN legitimised aid into the country via Turkey. Russia will lose the opportunity to slowly move Idlib back into Damascus’s orbit and the country’s de facto partition will be entrenched. This outcome is also likely to lead to increased instability as aid flows decrease, with subsequent tensions between Moscow’s allies, Damascus and Ankara.

The West will need to acknowledge that this approach offers the best way of delivering ongoing aid into Idlib and securing greater transparency on wider support across Syria. The alternative—bilateral cross-border support—will not sufficiently meet needs on the ground, will place even greater responsibility on Turkey, and will increase the prospect of Western confrontation with Russia and the Syrian regime.

Importantly, this proposal could also create space for wider political talks on Idlib’s fate. It could lead to a renewed track between Russia, the US, Turkey and Europeans to address the province’s fate in a way that accounts for Syria’s territorial integrity and state sovereignty on the one hand and the needs and security of the local population on the other hand. After ten years of devastating conflict, a humanitarian compromise in Idlib will not represent a huge victory. But a limited agreement could still go a long way to positively changing the momentum in Syria and opening up a pathway for much-needed international cooperation.

* Julien Barnes-Dacey, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)

From our partner RIAC

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Iran’s Impunity Will Grow if Evidence of Past Crimes is Fully Destroyed

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No reasonable person would deny the importance of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. But that issue must not be allowed to continue overshadowing Iran’s responsibility for terrorism and systematic human rights violations. These matters represent a much more imminent threat to human life, as well as longstanding denials of justice for those who have suffered from the Iranian regime’s actions in the past.

The Iranian people have risen multiple times in recent years to call for democratic change. In 2017, major uprisings broke out against the regime’s disastrous policies. Although the ruling clerics suppressed those protests, public unrest soon resumed in November 2019. That uprising was even broader in scope and intensity. The regime responded by opening fire on crowds, murdering at least 1,500. Amnesty International has reported on the torture that is still being meted out to participants in the uprising.

Meanwhile, the United Nations and human rights organizations have continued to repeat longstanding calls for increased attention to some of the worst crimes perpetrated by the regime in previous years.

Last year, Amnesty International praised a “momentous breakthrough” when seven UN human rights experts demanded an end to the ongoing cover-up of a massacre of political prisoners in the summer of 1988.

The killings were ordered by the regime’s previous supreme leader Khomeini, who declared that opponents of the theocracy were “enemies of God” and thus subject to summary executions. In response, prisons throughout Iran convened “death commissions” that were tasked with interrogating political prisoners over their views. Those who rejected the regime’s fundamentalist interpretation of Islam were hanged, often in groups, and their bodies were dumped mostly in mass graves, the locations of which were held secret.

In the end, at least 30,000 political prisoners were massacred. The regime has been trying hard to erase the record of its crimes, including the mass graves. Its cover-up has unfortunately been enabled to some degree by the persistent lack of a coordinated international response to the situation – a failure that was acknowledged in the UN experts’ letter.

The letter noted that although the systematic executions had been referenced in a 1988 UN resolution on Iran’s human rights record, none of the relevant entities within that international body followed up on the case, and the massacre went unpunished and underreported.

For nearly three decades, the regime enforced silence regarding any public discussion of the killings, before this was challenged in 2016 by the leak of an audio recording that featured contemporary officials discussing the 1988 massacre. Regime officials, like then-Minister of Justice Mostafa Pourmohammadi, told state media that they were proud of committing the killings.

Today, the main victims of that massacre, the principal opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), are still targets of terrorist plots on Western soil, instigated by the Iranian regime. The most significant of these in recent years was the plot to bomb a gathering organized near Paris in 2018 by the MEK’s parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The Free Iran rally was attended by tens of thousands of Iranian expatriates from throughout the world, as well as hundreds of political dignitaries, and if the attack had not been prevented by law enforcement, it would have no doubt been among the worst terrorist attacks in recent European history.

The mastermind of that attack was a high-ranking Iranian diplomat named Assadollah Assadi. He was convicted in a Belgian court alongside three co-conspirators in February. But serious critics of the Iranian regime have insisted that accountability must not stop here.

If Tehran believes it has gotten away with the 1988 massacre, one of the worst crimes against humanity from the late 20th century, it can also get away with threatening the West and killing protesters by the hundreds. The ongoing destruction of mass graves demonstrates the regime’s understanding that it has not truly gotten away with the massacre as long as evidence remains to be exposed.

The evidence of mass graves has been tentatively identified in at least 36 different cities, but a number of those sites have since been covered by pavement and large structures. There are also signs that this development has accelerated in recent years as awareness of the massacre has gradually expanded. Unfortunately, the destruction currently threatens to outpace the campaign for accountability, and it is up to the United Nations and its leading member states to accelerate that campaign and halt the regime’s destruction of evidence.

If this does not happen and the 1988 massacre is consigned to history before anyone has been brought to justice, it will be difficult to compel Tehran into taking its critics seriously about anything, be it more recent human rights violations, ongoing terrorist threats, or even the nuclear program that authorities have been advancing in spite of the Western conciliation that underlay 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

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