In many authoritarian governments around the world, appealing to a glorious past of the collective imagination is a common political tool. We see it in Mongolia, with the constant memory of the figure of Genghis Khan1, or in the nostalgic memories of the British imperial past by the conservative politicians of that country2. In few places, however, does it take on the appearance of such a warmongering political ideology as with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Neo-Ottomanism: the dream of resurrecting the former Ottoman Empire that once stretched from Libya to the Caspian Sea and lasted until 19223. This desire has served Erdoğan to turn the Turkish parliamentary regime into one of a presidential and authoritarian nature and to initiate an expansive policy at the international level.
This change in Turkish policy is partly explained by the failure of Turkey’s entry into the European Union, after more than 50 years of unsuccessful attempts4, and partly by the coup attempt of July 20165, which led Erdoğan to design a new autocratic way of ruling. Since then, institutional purges have been carried out under the accusation of “conspiring in favor of the uprising”, persecution of political parties and civil society organizations considered contrary to their interests, and the generation of a social climate of intense political polarization and of suppression of civil liberties.
Neo-Ottomanism links Turkish nationalism (which excludes Armenians, Kurds and other non-Turkic social groups) with the re-Islamization of society. Turkey, a secular state since 19246, is now undergoing a strong Islamist drift, as shown, for example, by the conversion of the Basilica of Santa Sofia into a mosque7. This triple link between nationalism, religion and government has allowed Erdoğan both the authoritarian drift of Turkish institutional policy as well as the implementation of an expansive, aggressive foreign policy focused on Turkey’s struggle for regional hegemony, generating tensions with Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
This aggressive foreign policy is reflected in the multiple open fronts of Erdoğan: in his role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, supporting a humanitarian flotilla for Gaza that was attacked by Israel in 20108; in his intervention in the “Arab Spring”, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Islamist militias against Bashar al-Assad in Syria9; increasing tension with Greece in Cyprus, with its gas prospecting in the Mediterranean10 or supporting Azerbaiyan in its confrontation with Armenia and indirectly confronting Russia for it, to obtain from the fragile Libyan government an exclusive maritime zone in the Mediterranean in order to compete with the Greece and Cyprus projects11.
Erdoğan therefore seems to bring Turkey into a situation of tension with its neighbors that can have serious implications for the country, both internally and externally. Internally, the country’s institutions have been eroded through disruptive strategies typical of populism. Externally, its expansion into the Middle East increases conflict in an already unstable region, adding one more actor to the confrontation between Washington, Moscow and Beijing. Thus, Erdogan’s policies lead the nation towards isolation and the suppression of civil liberties. It is in the hands of the Turkish people to expel him from the government and force him to reverse the nationalist and Islamist drift. Only by doing so will the Turks be able to regain their civil liberties and normalize their relationship with the countries in the area.
1 https://www.kuriositas.com/2013/04/genghis-khan-rides-again-huge-statue-of.html 2 https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/19/end-myths-britains-imperial-past 3 https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=6231871 4 https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/ES/TXT/?uri=LEGISSUM%3Ae40113 5 http://cnn.it/29Ejkw0 6 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3225651.stm 7 https://es.euronews.com/2020/07/24/santa-sofia-vuelve-a-ser-mezquita-y-celebra-su-primer-rezo-del-viernes 8 https://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/05/31/gaza.flotilla.israeli.raid/ 9 https://eeradicalization.com/es/la-turquia-de-erdogan-y-la-hermandad-musulmana-en-africa/ 10 https://www.europapress.es/internacional/noticia-turquia-vuelve-desplegar-buque-prospeccion-mediterraneo-oriental-pese-disputas-grecia-20200810131817.html 11 https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-internacional-54913027