The Return of the Ottoman EmpireOctober 9, 2012
The continuing rise of Turkey as a major economic, political and military power in the Middle East is catching many by surprise. Long called “the sick man of Europe,” Turkey today has the fastest growing economy in the Mediterranean region and, with Israel, is the regions dominant power. After years of getting the high hat as it attempted to join the European Union, Turkey today holds the whip hand.
In the last week, two articles in the Israeli press have provided insight into Turkey’s growth and how it sees its position both regionally and globally. First, from the Jewish Review of Near East Affairs, Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak presents a profile of Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Davutoglu has been foreign minister since 2009, but as an adviser, he has been the architect of Turkish foreign policy since 2006 and, as a scholar, he laid the foundation for Turkey’s current neo-Ottomanism with his influential 2001 book Strategic Depth. There is no English translation of Strategic Depth, but the Jewish Review article gives a good background, as does this Turkish working paper from 2010. In a nutshell, Davutoglu’s formulation is one of classical geopolitics; he argues that Turkey’s geographic position (at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East, her control of passage to the Black Sea, her position near the transits of the Eastern Mediterranean, all buttressed by the large numbers of ethnic Turks throughout the Balkans, Caucasus, and Central Asia) plus her status as the heir to the once powerful Ottoman Empire, argues that Turkey should not be a secondary player to the EU or NATO, but that she should be the dominant regional power in the Middle East in the near term and a world power of the first class in the middle term. He also argues that Turkey should end her close relationship with Israel in favor of developing stronger ties with the rest of the Muslim world – an argument that has been coming to fruition of late.
A second article, in the Jerusalem Post, traces the rise of neo-Ottomanism back further than the influence of Dayutoglu. The same author of the Jewish Review piece, Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak, traces the birth of a growing Islamic power bloc in Turkey to the military coup of 1980. Curiously, many in the West have considered the Turkish military to be the ultimate safeguard against Islamic rule, but Yaharocak shows that the military’s secularism may have been overstated. In any case, the current government has purged many secularist officers and replaced them with more reliable Islamist or Islamist-friendly types.