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Turkey’s Neo-Ottomanism: A Clash of Civilizations or a New Model for the Future?

  Tensions are simmering in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Ramadan for Muslims comes at the same time as Passover for Jews. Recently, 280,000 Muslims entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem controlled by Israel. Two months ago, hundreds of people were attacked here. The holy land of Jerusalem, where the three major religions once coexisted harmoniously, is now increasingly tense with disputes.
  The G7 summit ended not long ago in Hiroshima, Japan. Time complimented Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for bringing Japan back to the international stage as a decision maker in resolving conflicts around the world. Fumio Kishida recently took the initiative to reveal that he is negotiating with NATO to set up a liaison office in Japan. The ancient Japanese civilization has unexpectedly become the Asia-Pacific outpost of the Western containment strategy, and it is still complacent.
  On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic, Erdogan, nicknamed “Esultan” won the presidential election for the third time. He even sang a song “To Those Who Can’t Hear”: “Sing, my dear, for all to hear… I love you! I love you!” Turkey has deviated from pro-Western secularism in recent years, but in diplomatic On the “both left and right”, it has attracted much attention on the international stage.
  The above-mentioned non-Western axis civilization countries and regions each have their own bright moments of modernization transformation and lonely moments with piles of problems. Compared with measuring with temporary economic development indicators, the historical experience of civilization transformation may have a more transcendent perspective.
  Located at the intersection of Eastern and Western civilizations, Turkey was once ruled by the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Ottoman Empire in history. It has the historical heritage of 13 different civilizations. It has a more historical sense than Jerusalem and Japan, which also layered Eastern and Western civilizations. .
  Today, Turkey, which bid farewell to the political legacy of the Ottoman Empire and chose the position of “hub country”, can it inherit human civilization like the “Hundred Years of Translation Movement” in Arabia in history integrated the cultures of ancient Greece, Rome and India and laid the foundation for the Western European Renaissance? Innovation has a greater contribution?
The Turkish model of the “national card”

  Erdogan won 52% of the vote in Turkey’s second round of general elections at the end of May, and then served as president for the third time. Erdogan, who has been in charge of the Middle East for 20 years, has accelerated the creation of an ambitious Turkey. Will the “Neo-Ottomanism” he favors continue to thrive, or will it provoke a new “clash of civilizations”?
  The answer to the question has to be found from the “national identity” of the Turks.
  The “People’s League” led by Erdogan won the election just as the “team song” “Dombra” sang, “Your strength comes from the country and the nation”! The opposition “National Alliance” originally played the economic card, but after the first round of elections, they were passive and had to turn to the “national card”.
  Even if he is re-elected, Erdogan’s “Turkish model” will gradually lose its aura.
  Turkey is now the 19th largest economy in the world, with a per capita GDP of about 10,000 US dollars, which is equivalent to standing still for more than ten years, but its external debt exceeds half of its GDP. After 2018, the price of the lira plunged, and the inflation rate once rose to 85%, and it is still around 50% so far. This year’s major earthquakes and floods have made economic recovery even more difficult.
  The exchange rate has plummeted and prices have skyrocketed, mainly due to “Erdogan economics”. Erdogan successively dismissed the central bank governor, strictly implemented the low interest rate policy, and increased the money supply, so as to promote the development of low-end manufacturing and attract foreign exchange. The opposition made a big criticism that young people “can’t afford meat and can’t find good jobs.”
  But the latest general election proves that Turkish voters value sovereignty and security more than economic issues.
  Founded in the late 1970s, the PKK has launched attacks on the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria since 1984, seeking to establish an independent state. Although Erdogan has lifted the restrictions on the status of Kurds and started negotiations with the PKK armed forces, he has successfully mobilized supporters by amplifying the “terror” of “terrorist organizations” and “packaging” the connivance of the opposition The same hatred and hatred have consolidated the control of the Turkish-Syrian border area.
Turkey’s high-profile intervention in Libya’s internal conflicts, as a member of NATO, seeks to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and is also actively investing in Africa, China, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Caucasus, showing an eclectic attitude of a regional power.

  ”Leaving the EU gradually” also has nationalist elements. The Kurdish issue, the Syrian refugee issue, and Turkey’s historical disputes with EU member states Greece and Cyprus are all factors in the EU’s rejection of Turkey. Twelve years ago, the tide of change in the Arab world was overwhelming, and many Arab strongmen fell. Since then, many young people in Arab countries have regarded Erdogan as the ideal leader of the Islamic world, and more than half of Turks have a bad impression of the European Union.
  ”Looking east” in geopolitics is also a major shift in Turkey’s foreign policy. Turkey is known as NATO’s second-ranked army power, and its naval power is also growing rapidly. Ships frequently appear in the Eastern Mediterranean to explore oil and gas resources. Turkey’s high-profile intervention in Libya’s internal conflicts, as a member of NATO, seeks to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and is also actively investing in Africa, China, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Caucasus, showing an eclectic attitude of a regional power.
  Especially since the war between Russia and Ukraine, Turkey has “both sides”: providing Ukraine with drones, cluster munitions and electronic warfare systems, while refusing to participate in Western sanctions against Russia. Erdogan has hosted Russian-Ukrainian peace talks representatives in Istanbul many times, and even facilitated the “Black Sea Grain Agreement”, allowing grain trapped in Ukrainian ports to be shipped overseas.
  To sum up, the “Turkish model” is nothing more than that in an Islamic country, a moderate conservative party has been in power for a long time, attaches great importance to people’s livelihood, adheres to democratization, and actively integrates into globalization. Religious needs, diplomatic independence, especially emphasizing historical identity political symbols.
The Controversy over the Direction of Civilization Inheritance

  The “Turkish model” has another name: Neo-Ottomanism.
  In the first half of 2020, the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, was converted back to a mosque, which not only sparked public criticism again, but also spawned a controversy surrounding the “memory and forgetting” of the Ottoman Empire behind “Hagia Sophia”.

Istanbul, Hagia Sophia

  Memories of the glory of the Ottoman Empire never faded away. Ever since the Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum, there have been calls for it to be restored as a mosque. At some special junctures, such as the 500th anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1953, the voices were most loud.

  The reason for restoring the mosque does not come from religion itself. There is no shortage of mosques in Istanbul. The Blue Mosque opposite the Hagia Sophia Museum has not had many people praying. The reason for this incident is political, and it can also be said to be a “propaganda operation” using religious emotions and historical memory-historically, Fatih, the “conqueror” Mehmet II, held Friday prayers in this mosque to commemorate the conquest of the West and the West. Victory in the battle of Christian civilization, the ceremony lasted for 5 centuries.
  Erdogan is good at “grafting” his own political behavior into the history of the empire. The restoration of religious holy places is itself the core of the glorious revival emphasized by “Neo-Ottomanism”. In his “Conquest Day” speech on May 29, 2020, he specifically mentioned: “We want to leave a Turkey that satisfies our ancestor Fatih.”
“Neo-Ottomanism” is hardly a retrogression of secularism. It is more Erdogan’s mobilization and manipulation of the historical memory of the empire in order to serve the current political atmosphere. Likewise, it does not fall under the “clash of civilizations” category.

  In the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey also pays great attention to evoking the historical memory of the Ottoman Empire’s long-term domination of the region. Among its naval ships, there is an exploration ship called “Orucci Reis”, apparently in memory of Orucci, the first generation of “Barbarossa” pirates in the 16th century. In addition, the Turkish Navy has three submarines named after Orucci Reis.
  In the 16th century, the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Great appointed the North African pirate king “Barbarossa” as the “Commander-in-Chief of the Navy”. For decades, the Ottoman navy led by several generations of “Barbarossa” dominated the Mediterranean, and the Europeans were willing to bow down, and the Ottomans also gained long-term control of North Africa.
  ”Neo-Ottomanism” is always seen as the opposite of “Kemalism”.
  Kemal Kemal, the founding leader of the Republic of Turkey, created a secular, progressive and enlightened Turkey. The essence of “Kemalism” is to separate the original traditions of the Turkic nation from Islamic law, and then cut it off from the Ottomanism of the entire empire, emphasizing the uniqueness of the main nation, and transforming grassland customs into Turkish nationalism. The founding elite created new scripts using the Latin alphabet, completely learning from Western systems. Under the pressure of nationalism, Islamic law began to withdraw from the national political and economic fields, and “modern” Turkey was established.
  On the contrary, “Neo-Ottomanism” is regarded by the West as religious, retrogressive, and conservative, and has more negative evaluations.
  In fact, since the 1980s, many problems in the Third Republic of Turkey have contributed to the rise of “Neo-Ottomanism”. Neoliberal economic policies have led to an increase in the gap between the rich and the poor, and urbanization has created a large number of slums, providing the soil for populism, conservatism, and political Islam; the Justice and Development Party led by Erdogan is dominant; the parliamentary system has become Presidential system; increasing Islamic and ethnic elements in education; Kurdish issues, religious and secular disputes have become the focus of identity politics; relations with the West have fallen into a bottleneck period.
  In a country and society where 99% of the population is Muslim, how to place the spiritual world related to religion and belief is obviously not a complete solution for Kemal’s radical secularism.
  The conservative group behind the “Neo-Ottomanism” mainly comes from the “Anatolian Tigers” middle class that has risen through globalization and the private economy since the 1980s. This generation grew up in a society based on Kemalism. Their advocacy is still framed by Kemalism. At the same time, Turkey’s political Islamic forces are generally moderate and practical, which is different from the path of the Islamic clerical country.
  ”Neo-Ottomanism” is hardly a retrogression of secularism. It is more Erdogan’s mobilization of the historical memory of the empire in order to serve the current political atmosphere. Likewise, it does not belong to the category of “clash of civilizations”, like temporarily preventing Sweden from joining NATO, which is more of a geopolitical trick.
  However, people, including Pamuk, the Nobel Prize winner in Turkey who opposed “Neo-Ottomanism”, are sensitive to the label “Ottoman Empire” that has long been wiped out, which is enough to explain the richness of the empire’s lingering cultural heritage.
What kind of political influence is exported?

  Turkey’s “Neo-Ottomanism” turn is closely related to Ahmed Davutoglu, the foreign policy “chief architect” of the Erdogan government. Only by understanding its strategic thinking can we understand Turkey’s “dream of a great power” and its road to transformation.
  As a “Kissingerian diplomat”, Davutoglu laid out a new roadmap for Turkey in the 21st century with his book “Strategic Depth” (2001). The Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002, and carried forward the essence of “strategic depth”—strengthening the relationship between Turkey and Islamic countries.
  Davutoglu believes that Turkey in the 21st century has become a regional “hub country”. During the Cold War, Turkey was only a border member of NATO, serving as the southern gate for the West to contain the Soviet Union; after the end of the Cold War, Turkey was regarded as a bridge country between the East and the West. However, Turkey should have the ability to exert influence in multiple regions at the same time. It cannot be satisfied with being a bridge, but more importantly, it should be a “hub country” to provide security, order and stability for neighboring regions.
  And “the cultural and historical heritage of the Ottoman Empire also makes Turkey a hub country.”
  The characteristic of a “hub country” is to export “political influence”.
The question today is, where will Turkey go once the strength of nationalism recedes? If an Islamic political party wins the general election, will Sharia law return to the political and economic fields?

  Since the end of 2010, political turmoil occurred one after another in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. The authoritarian secular regimes in some Arab countries have been overthrown, and various Islamist political forces have emerged, and they are scrambling to follow the example of the Turkish Justice and Development Party: the Islamic Baath Party in Tunisia came to power, the Libyan “Transitional Council” used Sharia law as its legal basis, and the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria also supported the “Turkish model”.
  Türkiye itself also intends to expand its influence. In the Naka conflict, Turkey actively supported Azerbaijan, a brotherly country in the sense of “one nation, two countries”.
  In fact, since the beginning of the 20th century, Turkey has been an emulation target for Asian countries. Following Japan’s “Reformation”, Lenin called the Young Turkish Revolution of 1908 an important part of the “Awakening of Asia”, and its modernization achievements had also attracted the hearts of Chinese intellectual elites.
  Turkey’s modernization achievements are often summarized into three points: nation-state, constitutional government-representative system, and industrialization. Among them, “nationalism” is the most important driving force for Türkiye’s transformation.
  In the 1930s, an important part of the construction of the Turkish nation was the “Turkish view of history”: the short-headed peoples who lived in Central Asia thousands of years ago created a splendid civilization in the inland sea of ​​Central Asia. When the inland sea dried up, They left Central Asia and migrated, east to China, south to India, west to Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, Anatolia, Greece and Italy.
  Under the continuous promotion of this historical view, Turkey has gone through the radical secular nation-state construction period of Kemalism, and unity (nationalism) and progress (secularism) have become social consensus. With this consensus, Turkey’s multi-party democracy can operate, and radical Islamism can be disciplined. Under compromise and pragmatism, Islamist political parties have grown into mature political forces, and then formed the basic form of the current Turkish nation-state.
  In the final analysis, Turkey’s transformation model relies on strong nationalism to “anti-tradition”. In contrast, Iran does not have a strong nationalism. Once it introduces a modern system and separates from Islamic law, it will immediately lose the legitimacy of its regime. This is why the “Khomeini Revolution” broke out in 1979.
  The question today is, where will Turkey go once the power of nationalism declines? If an Islamic political party wins the general election, will Sharia law return to the political and economic fields? How should those Islamic societies that take Turkey as a “model” choose at the crossroads of modern transformation?

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