The failure of a neo-Ottoman foreign policy

Behlul Ozkan writes: Almost a century after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his supporters believe that they can restore the empire’s former glory. Stroll through the streets of any Turkish city and you will see car windows emblazoned with the imperial seals of Ottoman sultans, who are also commemorated in the names of new multibillion-dollar building projects.

Mr. Erdogan, the country’s leader for 14 years, is the one chiefly responsible for putting the Ottoman Empire at the center of Turkey’s collective imagination. The Ottoman sultans doubled as the caliphs of the Muslim world, which is not lost on the supporters of Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P. The chairman of the A.K.P.’s youth wing recently declared Mr. Erdogan “president of all the world’s Muslims.” Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a prominent Qatar-based cleric associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, similarly regards Turkey’s president as “the hope of all Muslims and of Islam.”

These ambitions seem to have an especially pronounced effect on Turkey’s Middle East policy. After Syria’s civil war began in 2011, Ankara sought to replace the regime of President Bashar al-Assad with Islamist allies. To that end, it sponsored armed groups that would do its bidding in Syria, groups named for Ottoman rulers like the Sultan Murad Brigade and the Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror Brigade.

In recent months, Mr. Erdogan has lamented that Mosul, a major hub in Ottoman times and now one of Iraq’s most important cities, was left outside Turkey’s borders when the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923.

But the reality on the ground may not comport with Mr. Erdogan’s visions. There is little reason to believe that he can recreate the prestige and the expanse of the Ottoman Empire in a 21st-century world. [Continue reading…]

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