The Arabs have long been indoctrinated that the Ottomans were foreign invaders who occupied Arab lands, while Turks were taught that “Arabs betrayed our ancestors”. Were our history lessons merely propaganda to distort history or an irrefutable truth?
“I wonder why someone would feel offended when I say that both Aleppo and Mosul used to be ours,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday. “I’m just trying to give you a lesson in history.” On other occasions, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has reiterated relentlessly that, “We have never fixed our eyes on anyone’s land, we’ve no ambitions to annex any neighbouring territories.”
If taken out context, Erdogan’s words will definitely offend the governments and people across the region. They have already offended Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Hezbollah, who expressed his resentment at Erdogan’s remarks, claiming that he repeats such controversial claims deliberately.
As long as Nasrallah is infuriated, then by default Assad’s regime in Syria, Iraq’s central government and Iran will be rather more furious. Recently, Ankara has been locked in a row with Baghdad over the former’s participation in retaking the Daesh-held city of Mosul.
Earlier this month, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi warned Turkey of “regional war” if it doesn’t withdraw its troops deployed in Bashiqa Camp. Erdogan rebuked Al-Abadi, telling him that he should “know his limits” and affirming, “Turkey doesn’t follow the orders of others. Turkey’s troops will keep their positions until Mosul is recaptured from Daesh.”
However, during his recent shuttle visit to Turkey, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter declared that Turkey and Iraq have reached an agreement in principle on this issue. By virtue of this agreement, Turkey will be able to take part in the ongoing battle to liberate Mosul from Daesh. Understanding Ankara’s perspectives and motivation will help to remove the ambiguity of Erdogan’s remarks.
Every cloud has a silver lining
It seems that the massive purge in the wake of the thwarted 15 July coup unleashed Turkey’s offensive policy to supersede its tendency to react tentatively. The radical changes in the trajectory of Turkey’s foreign policy is no more an assumption that necessitates intensive extrapolation.
During the coup attempt, over 300 Turks were killed, the parliament and the presidential palace were partially damaged and the sovereignty of the state was shaken. Turkey was meant to be a country tottering down the path of anarchy. However, the Turkish people rather impressively managed to get through the threatening period by protecting their democracy and defending their electoral choices and rights. One might plausibly claim that the radical changes in Turkey’s interventionist policy is a direct ramification of the post-coup phase.
The Turkish government received some impetus from the epic battle of its citizens and immediately embarked on a purge in which it detained top military commanders, including the head of the Second Army, Adem Hududi. He was in charge of protecting Turkey’s borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran.
By foiling the coup attempt, Turkey’s democracy emerged not only intact but also with more leverage to stabilise its turbulent surroundings. In his historic speech after the coup, Erdogan stated vehemently, “We’ve obstructed the brutal putschists and Turkey will not hesitate to impede all conspiracies in Syria, Libya and Iraq.”
His country has taken tangible measures to protect its national security and boost its regional influence. It is seeking new regional and international alliances, engaging in bold offensive battles and participating in military operations to block any imminent conspiracies.
Turkey’s interventionism is audacious
Turkey chose to intervene militarily in Syria and Iraq to reserve its seat at the negotiation table once the dust settles and the war is over. Conventional wisdom states that if Turkey doesn’t have a foothold on the battlefield, the repercussions of any post-conflict settlement will not be in its favour.
It’s no secret that at the outset of the Syrian war President Erdogan was pushing for a swift, decisive military operation to impose a no-fly zone and protect civilians who were forced to flee from their homes. However, for more than five years, Turkey failed to take any concrete or practical steps to impose its agenda and protect innocent civilians.
This inaction was due mainly to the overwhelmingly complicated intricacies of its orientations to maintain its regional and international balances. Some believe that Turkey’s dithering was a natural upshot of the less than firm strategy of Barack Obama, Turkey’s primary ally, who has proven to be feeble and ineffective in handling the menace of Assad’s state terror as well as the threat of other bloodthirsty, radical cults.
I’m not a big fan of conspiracy theories, but it’s still entirely valid to question the credibility of the US narrative and Obama’s paralysis to counter Middle East challenges. One assumes ostensibly that Obama’s think-tanks and strategists are not so naïve that they would stand by powerless vis-à-vis a genuine threat. The only explanation could be that they were deliberately and cunningly brewing another Sykes–Picot agreement for the whole region which depended on the Turkish coup attempt succeeding. That’s why the role of the coup plotters in the Turkish military decision-making hierarchy, believed to have been misleading the government deliberately and hindering previous attempts at limited incursions, shouldn’t be overlooked.
Is Turkey really fixing its eyes on Mosul and Aleppo?
Turkey cannot stand by helplessly while watching the hornet’s nest of terrorism expanding to establish strongholds that would undoubtedly constitute an existential threat to its national security. The outlawed terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has recently expressed its keenness to participate in the battle for Mosul, principally because its involvement would be the gambit that would legitimise its political presence in Iraq after its overwhelming political and military defeat in Turkey.
The Obama administration apparently opposes any PKK participation in the battle. However, it remains somewhat uncertain if its proxy, the central government in Baghdad, pushed by Iran, would endorse the Kurds’ participation enthusiastically given its current disagreement with Turkey over Erdogan’s insistence that Ankara should play a major role in determining Mosul’s future and preserving its Sunni Arab, Kurdish and Turkman demographics.
The US perceives the Kurds as a regional actor and effective alternative to combat Daesh. The Iraqi Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), Washington’s ally, has set up a de facto statelet in northern Iraq. However, the Kurds are not one political colour and this sometimes leads to heated rivalry between the leaders of the PKK and their counterparts in the KDP. That explains the PKK’s eagerness to take part at Mosul so that it could attain a more competitive advantage against the KDP.
In his controversial speech, Erdogan compared the way that the Syrians and Iraqis are being uprooted from their lands to how Turkish people were once forced out from the same cities. Turkey is in Mosul only to protect its borders as well as displaced civilians from deadly terror threats, not for imperial purposes.
At the time of the Ottomans, Arabs were ruled by their own leaders and Turkey didn’t impose dictators. The Arabs never regarded the Ottomans as foreign aggressors; that’s why they lived peacefully and brotherly for centuries, until western intervention came along.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.