Several writers and critics are of the opinion that the shift in the Turkish foreign policy in favor of Islam and Ottoman glory is actually ‘neo-Ottomanism’
The Turkey of today is very assertive. The country has sent its thousands of troops across north Syria while over the last two years, its troops have engaged in four military clashes in war-torn Syria. Turkey’s troops have also moved up to fourty kilometers inside north Iraq with their aircrafts targetting the positions where Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK is thought to have positioned its armed cadres for several years.
Ankara began with its involvement in the civil war in 2011 in Syria along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar to effect a regime change and put an Islamist government in place in Demascus. In 2015, however, Turkey found the government forces falling weak and retreating to leave Syria’s northern border with Turkey controlled by Syrian Kurds; these Kurds are believed to be linked with the PKK, involved in a conflict with the republic of Turkey, in Turkey which saw the development as a security challenges to it. Thus Ankara moved its troops to fight the Kurds. Turkey now has a vast territory of Syria along the border in north and northeast Syria under its control.
Meanwhile, Turkey seeks to give no opportunity to the Kurds to gain an independent homeland for themselves; it also seeks to keep deployed its troops for a long time in northern Syria to ensure that the Kurds do not gain dominance in the region while it's presence in Iraq is aimed at getting rid of the PKK cadres in the north through air attacks to ensure its military presence in the region.
Turkish forces last year went across the Mediterranean Sea into Libya and in November Turkey signed two agreements with the Government of National Accord (GNA). The first agreement included sending Turkish troops to back the Tripoli based GNA government against attacks from the rival political party led by Khalifa Haftar. Haftar is backed by Egypt, the UAE and Russia. Under the second agreement, the waters of the East Mediterranean were divided into a Libya—Turkey economic zone, challenging Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt. These all states lay claim to the waters resulting into a confrontation in the sea. Further, the “Blue Homeland” strategy or Mavi Vatan in Turkish is the main motivation behind Erdogan and his forces to shape Turkey’s foreign policy. Today Mavi Vatan is Ankara’s naval doctrine, political agenda and aspiration and it is mostly visible in Libya and Mediterranean Sea.
Things worsened when some members of the Gulf Cooperation Council – the UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia with Egypt’s backing included—raised a land, sea and air blockade on Qatar in June 2017. The member states also threatened to take military action against Qatar for a regime change there. This prompted Turkey and it deployed its troops in the kingdom; this swift action by the president Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Government proved instrumental in preventing the ruler from being dethroned.
What can be seen as a strong proof of Turkey’s active and assertive behavior is its pledge of full support to Azerbaijan (the former republic of the Soviet Union), which is involved, in a fierce battle with Armenia, another former republic of the Soviet Union. Both these countries are claiming the same territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, a part of Azerbaijan but inhabited mostly by the Armenian population and controlled by Armenia since 1991 war. For supporting Azerbaijan, Turkey has sent in its weaponry and advisers.
This support to Azerbaijan is rooted in Turkey's ethnic /Turkic and linguistic sentiment with Azeris. Additionally, Turkey does not have good ties with Armenia, which accuses the Ottomans of carrying out genocide on the Armenians during the First World War.
Seeking to make Turkey a self-reliant state and the region's central power in all the major regional issues, Mr. Erdogan looks determined to realise his vision of making Turkey the seat of Ottoman revival. He has taken a number of steps to take Turkey back to its past traditions: Islam and the Ottoman glory. These two traditions were the hallmarks of Turkey’s ethos for thousands of years. This vision by Erdogan seeks to project Turkish Islam as moderate and accommodative founded on the country’s Hanafi school of thought and the sofi traditions. In the recent years, Turkey has been leading from the front to construct mosques in Europe, the US and Latin America; it has provided religious education and revived Ottoman heritage sites.
Most recently, Ankara restored Hagia Sofia as a mosque after converting it from a museum. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I constructed Hagia Sofia in AD 537; it had functioned as a key center of Christianity before the Ottoman ruler Mehmet II took Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453 and converted Hagia Sofia into a mosque. He declared it the symbol of the victory of Islam over Christianity. And when the former president of Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk took Istanbul back after handing a defeat to the British and Greek forces, he converted the mosque of Hagia Sofia into a museum in 1934 to make it a symbol of secularism in Turkey.
Now by reconverting Hagia Sofia into a mosque this year in July, Erdogan appears to proclaim the victory of Islam over Christianity again; this message is sent around the country, to the Muslim world and to the West. Point to note is that the message was conveyed in many languages: Turkish, Arabic, Bosnian, Bengali and Swahili. Most importantly, the message was sent around on 24 July when first Friday prayers were held in the mosque since 1934. It is on 24 July that the Treaty of Lausanne was agreed upon between the Western powers and Turkey.
Several writers and critics are of the opinion that the shift in the Turkish foreign policy in favor of Islam and Ottoman glory is actually ‘neo-Ottomanism’. They believe that Erdogan's vision of reviving the Ottoman glory is likely to reshape Eurasia—particularly with Ankara's growing closeness to China and Russia.