Analysis: The Effects of a Possible Neo-Ottoman Agenda

A recent article featured in the New York Times explains Turkish influence on Iraq.

Accordingly, Turk’s cultural influence in the region is explained to be more effective, than what was achieved through US invasion.

*“Turkey’s influence is greater in northern Iraq and broader, though not deeper, than Iran’s in the rest of the country. While the United States invaded and occupied Iraq, losing more than 4,400 troops there, Turkey now exerts what may prove a more lasting legacy — so-called soft power, the assertion of influence through culture, education and business.

While some Turkish officials recoil at the notion of neo-Ottomanism — an orientation of Turkey away from Europe and toward an empire that once included parts of three continents — the country’s process of globalization and attention to the markets of the Middle East is upsetting assumptions that only American power is decisive. Turkey has committed itself here to economic integration, seeing its future in at least an echo of its past. “

A few months ago, in another article featured by the New York Times, it was mentioned that Turks need to be kept in their lane. 

*“Turkey is seen increasingly in Washington as “running around the region doing things that are at cross-purposes to what the big powers in the region want,” said Steven A. Cook, a scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations. The question being asked, he said, is “How do we keep the Turks in their lane?”

Clearly the perception of Turkey’s effect over the region has changed within the last few months. The fact of the matter is that, a possible “Neo Ottoman” strategy seems to be taken more seriously than before. Turks had been a regional power in the area for centuries, so undermining the possibility, based on the country’s situation for the last few decades could be misleading.

 Turkish History Goes a Long Way

The first known mention of the term Turk applied to a Turkic group was in reference to the Göktürks in the sixth century. A letter by the Chinese Emperor written to a Göktürk Khan named Ishbara in 585 BC described him as “the Great Turk Khan.” The Orhun inscriptions (735 CE) use the terms Turk and Turuk. At the time they were in central Asia,

Turks have been ruling over the territory that we call Turkey now, for about a thousand years.

Following the 1071 Seljuk Turks victory over the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Manzikert and the subsequent conquest of AnatoliaOghuz clans began settling in present-day Turkey. By 1300, Turks had reached the Aegean coastline.

The Ottoman Empire was founded about 1307 by a Turk named Osman I.

It spread from Asia Minor beginning about 1300, eventually encompassing most of the Middle East, most of North Africa, and parts of Europe, including modern Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Rumania and Yugoslavia. In the Middle East, the Ottomans ruled Syria, Palestine, Egypt, parts of Arabia and Iraq. The empire reached around the Black sea and into the Caucasus in Central Asia, including Armenia. The Ottoman armies reached as far as the gates of Vienna, where they were repulsed for a second time in 1683, the height of their expansion on land. The map below shows the extent of the Ottoman Empire in 1683.


So Turks have been ruling over the above mentioned regions for centuries. They operated as a federal Emporium, where they allowed regions to hold on to their languages, religions and cultural practices. Some Turks were moved into a newly invaded territory, to establish Turkish Authority. Former leaders of regions were respected. Sometimes they even remained as leaders but had to pay taxes to the Emporium.

During the same era, the English or French were forcing their language and traditions upon invaded regions, whereas Turks did not. This helped subcultures to live on. Even after centuries under Turkish ruling, cultures were not getting lost.

After 1683 there was a gradual decline of the Empire. They were losing territory over a period of three hundred years. Some regions got autonomy first, then independence. Other regions went into French or English ruling. The loss of territory happened in chronological order as stated below.

1798-1801 Napoleon was in Egypt and Palestine.

1829: Greece ceded autonomy

1830: Serbia ceded autonomy; Northern Algeria is taken by France.

1832: Greece becomes independent.

1862: United Romania established.

1877: Second Russo-Turkish war (1877- 1878); Romania, Serbia, Montenegro and part of Bulgaria become independent by the Treaty of San Stefano.

1881: The Ottoman Empire accepts European financial control; Tunisia is taken by the French.

1882: Egypt is occupied by Britain.

1908: Bosnia occupied by Austro-Hungary, without a fight; Bulgarian independence.
1912: Libya is annexed by Italy.

1914: The Ottoman Empire enters the World War 1 in alliance with Germany,

1915-16: Between 600,000 and perhaps 1.4 million Armenians died during deportation.
1917: Beginning of British campaigns in Iraq, Palestine and Syria. This leads to several Ottoman defeats, and the following year the loss of the Middle Eastern territories.
1919:  Greece attacks Anatolia at Smyrna, conquers part of Western Anatolia.  
1920: The Ottoman Empire is forced to sign the Treaty of Sèvres, losing all Middle Eastern territories and part of Anatolia.
1922: Turks drive the Greeks out of western Anatolia under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk; The Ottoman Empire is abolished;

1923: Turkish Republic declared. 

1924: March 3: Caliphate abolished.

After many regions were lost and the Ottoman Empire almost completely fell apart, modern Turkey was formed in the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Pasha. He was an eminent General of the empire and as a great leader managed to get the people to fight as soldiers. Old and young people, men and women the whole nation was fiercely fighting off, foreign invasion.

Although the Ottoman Empire was giving opportunities and high ranking positions to members of different nations, the Ottoman Empire was a Turkish Empire. Therefore modern Turkey was formed by the Turks. Others were taking advantage of the weakness and fighting Turks, to break off and get their freedom.

As can be seen above many regions did break off. Others such as Egypt, Bosnia or Tunisia had been invaded by the English, Hungarian or French, by which they were forced to accept superiority of invaders’ cultures and accept their languages.

Formation of Modern Turkey


Turkey was formed as a Turkish state just like the Ottoman Empire, except that tolerance for different cultural values was less. The idea of being a Turk was based on a principle, similar to the principle of being an American, in today’s world.

Anyone who was a citizen of Turkey had equal rights with the rest of the nation and their ethnical background was completely irrelevant. There were no ranks among ethnical backgrounds. The Ottoman Empire had expanded over so many regions, for so many centuries that to be a Turk had not much to do with ethnicity, race or color. The whole nation had been mixed. This was partially because racism was not part of the Empire’s culture. No region’s people were too good, or too bad not to mix through marriage.

Citizens of Modern Turkey have a variety of ethnical backgrounds. The Black Sea region has many Laz, Circassian and Georgian. The Aegean Region has many Bosnian and Albanian. The Southeast has Arabs, Kurds, Assyrian, and Armenian. Uzbek or Kazakh originated Turks are also part of the nation.

Being a Turk of different origin is something very common, embedded into the culture, the way it is very natural to be an Italian American or Irish American. The ethnical origin has secondary importance, if any.

Leaders of Modern Turkey


Many leaders that belong to different ethnical backgrounds have been elected by the majority, as not paying attention to ethnicity has been part of the culture for centuries. Turgut Özal served as a Prime Minister, later as a President of Turkey until 1993. He is known to be of Kurdish origin, and was very much loved by the whole nation as a leader of the nation.

CHP is currently the leading opposing party. The party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, belongs to a Kurdish ethnical background. He is the leader of a political party that is called the most elitist party of the nation.

In short, members of any subculture are not treated as a minority, for they can easily be embraced by the people and elected to run the country.



The Kurdish illegal Terrorist group PKK has been attacking Turkey for thirty years now. The PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan had been apprehended a decade ago and has been detained ever since. Terrorism has continued though.

Kurds want autonomy and they are bombing their way to freedom. The fact that PKK has been attacking city centers and thereby civilians for three decades, has not created a dislike of Kurds among the rest of the nation. The common idea among the people was that Kurds and PKK are different things, not every Kurd is a terrorist.

However during the last five years, things have changed. Kurds in general have started calling Abdullah Öcalan their leader. The fact that he has been detained for a decade, does not change the fact that, he is the leader of a terrorist organization that is acknowledged to be *illegal by the US and the EU. Bombings under his command have attacked all kinds of regions, including Istanbul and killed many innocent people.

The polarization between Turks and Kurds has been growing stronger on the Kurdish side. *Last month a Turkish singer has been shot to death, at a bar in Mersin (Turkey) by a Kurd, for not knowing Kurdish, therefore not being able to sing in Kurdish.

Lately, Kurds have been asking for Kurdish to become the official language of the whole nation. They want autonomy; at the same time they want the whole nation to acknowledge Kurdish as an official language.

It is very much disturbing for the rest of the country to accept Kurds’ desires, pushed by an act of terrorism, to be rewarded.

It is hard to imagine how this will unfold. History proves that autonomy is a pit stop before breaking away, from the nation.

Kurds want independence.

A recent article published by the Economist features the fierce attitude of Kurds in the region. According to the article:

“IT IS well known that Kurdish tribes took part in the mass slaughter by the Ottomans of around 1m Armenians in 1915. “Collaborating Kurdish clerics pledged that anyone who killed an infidel would be rewarded in heaven with 700 mansions containing 700 rooms, and that in each of these rooms there would be 700 houris to give them pleasure,” says Mala Hadi, an Islamic sheikh in Diyarbakir.

The neighbouring province of Mardin, Kurdish tribes continue to harass the handful of Christians who remain. Their main target is the Mor Gabriel Syrian Orthodox monastery. Perched on a remote hilltop, this is a 1,600-year-old monastery.”

The rest of the population was convinced that Kurds had been victimized in the region, through many stories told by them lately. I personally was sympathizing, trying to understand how oppressed they had been. It is more difficult to empathize lately as they are openly threatening to attack via PKK. They say, “Meet our demands while we have seized fire or else, PKK will go on attacking” during news channel forums.

Every American movie says “Never negotiate with a terrorist”

If Kurds get Independence through terrorism, it will probably not be a good example for the terrorist organizations of the rest of the world. *Especially at a time that EU is busy passing laws, where they can strip off citizenships of French or Italian citizens with foreign origin when they commit a crime. The law in the EU is justified due to threat of terrorism.

Kurds have announced that they want their own army, flag, parliament, official language in the South East of Turkey. As they comfortably threaten to continue terrorist attacks, should their desires not be fulfilled, the intention to reason with them becomes tricky.

It offends the rest of the nation, to imagine to be bullied into giving up territory.

Imagine Al Qaida openly asking for land and threatening to continue bombing should their desire not be fulfilled.

Kurds have been making it sound like there are only Kurds and Turks in this nation. As explained above there are so many different ethnical backgrounds, all of which have the same opportunity, to claim that one is oppressed for their ethnical background, when members of that ethnicity have in fact run the whole country, is just not right.  The rest of the nation is almost portrayed as racist, which is absurd as there is no pure race or ethnicity, the whole nation consists of mixed backgrounds.

Kurds have made it very clear what they want. They are absolutely right, wanting to hold on to their native language and traditions, but taking a road towards separation or refusing to learn Turkish seems a bit too much.

Going to the army is mandatory in Turkey, so every Turkish man has to serve. Many have died, (aprox. 40.000 troops) fighting off PKK (the illegal Kurdish terrorist organization). After so much blood has been shed to defend the country, to be bullied by the PKK, naturally offends the rest of the nation. They make it sound like the Kurdish situation is a concern of the southeast of Turkey only. However men from all over Turkey have been drafted to fight in the region for decades.

It needs a lot of diplomatic tact, to find a solution to the problem that appears to be in a dead end. A solution that makes Kurds and Turks equally comfortable has seemed impossible due to, what seems like a conflict of interest.

One cannot ask men to die in this fight and then simply hand over the territory, without offending the families of those who died defending it. On the other hand, peace needs to be brought into the territory and Kurds have demands.

It was not until I read the New York Times piece that I mentioned in the beginning of this article that a third option occurred to me.

As the article clearly states, Turks and Kurds get along  very well in Iraq. One of the most famous singers of Turkey has Kurdish origin and is very much loved in the Middle East. The “Neo-Ottoman” formation would naturally cover a much larger area than modern Turkey. This is not the era of invasion anymore, but the era of forming Unions. EU is a clear example to that.

EU’s plans over the Balkans have been clearer, through some of the information that we have been exposed to, by the leaked US Diplomatic cables.

 “Levitte noted that of the five major conditions required to transfer authority in Bosnia from the UN High Representative to an EU High Representative, four have been fulfilled, and only the question of division of state property remains. This final condition should not alone “block all progress,” especially as the current UN team in Bosnia is no longer effective. France wants to see the transfer of authority to a new EU team in November, as the rapprochement to Europe is an effective “carrot” to encourage the Bosniaks to continue progress in necessary reforms.


Levitte expressed optimism that a new Greek government would be “more solid” and allow greater flexibility for progress in the Greek-Macedonian name dispute. A/S Gordon agreed that either a more solid Conservative government or a Socialist government would be a stronger, more flexible partner in the negotiations. He expressed hope that if the international community could convince Macedonia to abandon the idea of a referendum and get Greece to abandon the necessity of changing passports, then progress could be made.”

When we check the above Historical Ottoman Map, combined with current information, it becomes clear that, as the new map of the world is being formed, every party is trying to gain strength as ever. EU wants to have power over Bosnia and ensure Greek –Macedonian power formulation.

US seems to be the only party who is still using invasion as a tool to control regions, whereas the rest is looking to include regions into the Unions, which they have power over. Nobody can deny that French and German influence over the EU is stronger than the rest of the members.

England’s long standing experience in handling situations and gaining the upper hand without getting their hands dirty, but through diplomacy is very well known. The fact that they managed to easily position themselves, as the decision maker of Julian Assange’s future, who is important to the US, is a clear example to that.

Assuming that a “Neo-Ottoman” agenda is set into motion, Turkey would be forming a Union that possibly extends from the Middle-East to the Balkans. The cultural and religious commonalities would make things easy, as can also be understood from the NYT article.

Should Turkey aim for power of such vast territory, Kurds having autonomy would be viewed, in a totally different context. It would not be about giving land, from existing territory but allowing autonomy to create harmony, while establishing leadership over a much larger region that extends over many different countries.

What is one more separate nation, if you intend to have power over all?

This of course would not be an intended oppressive power, but as the example of the EU, a regional Union based on religious and cultural similarities.

It is possible for such a Union to be formed. After all it has not even been a century since Turks lost the territory that they ruled over in the Middle-East.  Yet to lead it, positioning Turkey as an Islamist nation would be absolutely necessary. It is called mildly Islam in the West, but I am not sure that “mild” is a concept that truly exists among Islamists.

Turkey is rapidly becoming more and more conservative. Alcohol bans are being enforced with certain excuses. There are efforts to send little kids to school with headscarves which is against the current law. The police are entering public steakhouses and giving families who are having Sunday dinner a hard time, for consuming a glass of wine with dinner, in front of their kids, which could never be an issue ten years ago.

Art galleries, in downtown Istanbul have been attacked by radically religious neighbors, for serving wine during receptions. The police simply did not arrive, leaving the art crowd terrified under attack. Visitors of the gallery were hospitalized, yet nobody was charged, which could be perceived as a message to stick with the religiously accepted behavior or you are on your own.

Every news channel is featuring a guest who preaches the ways of Islam almost thrice a week. Although the system is still secular, Diyanet which is the religious ministry is getting more say on people’s lives, frowning upon the idea of celebrating New Years Eve, as it is a Christian tradition. Those who guard secularism and modernism are mostly behind bars with allegations of crimes without any proof.

*A new law just passed, ensuring that the accused can be held behind bars with no proof of guilt, for ten years. They call it holding in content while the trial is ongoing. This enables to practically put anyone away that has been accused of a crime with no evidence, for ten years. That is a long way from democracy or human rights.

EU has rejected Turkey for a long time. Eventually, Turkey has turned towards the east. A Neo-Ottoman formation that ensures Turkey to become a regional power could surely, seem  much more beneficial for the country, as opposed to being part of the EU.

Having, better human right conditions, was one of the major requirements for entering the EU. The motive, to create that environment seems to have eroded which is sad for the people.

42% of the nation had said “No” to the latest referendum, where the leading party had asked the people’s permission, for change. In other words, 42 % are keen on holding on to the western outlook of the civilization, as well as secularism.

That is a high number to completely disregard. The tactic applied in Iraq which is expressed in the above mentioned NYT article, is no different that the tactic applied within the nation.

Imposing change through, changing cultural values.

The law does not say you cannot consume alcohol, but you can be beaten up by narrow minded people while doing so and not be protected by the state, is the feeling that people have although nobody says so. Recently, a woman’s house was robbed while she was out at night, when she reported it, the police asked her, “What were you doing out so late?” People are getting used to the idea of the possibility of being neglected if attacked, while not abiding by religious rules.

What next?

Turkey will possibly never become as strict as Iran, as being the bridge between the east and the west is one of the strong suits that are needed to be accepted as a power figure by others in the region. Still, the absolute freedom of a secular state will probably not be seen anytime soon.

Kurds will possibly get the autonomy that they desire, if a “Neo-Ottoman” formation should take place. The way they play until such a date, will most likely, still have a determining effect.

Members of the illegal Kurdish terrorist organization Hizbullah (no ties with Lebanon) have suddenly been released out of jail this week, including those who were meant to be kept there for life. Now there are two illegal players, who have great influence over Kurds, PKK who is majorly playing the ethnical root solidarity card and Hizbullah which is playing the religious Islamist brotherhood among Kurds card.

Allowing the Hizbullah to get back into the game, by setting them free would be a smart way to tone down the ethnical agenda and help Unite under the religious agenda, which would not appear far from the possible plans of the rest of Turkey, (in the case of a Neo-Ottoman agenda) while still giving some freedom on national Kurdish rights.

Possible Obstacles?

There is an upcoming election in 2011. The 42% that said “No” to the referendum last year, could support the leading opposing parties CHP and MHP. Should AKP lose their sole spot after the election and end up in a possible coalition, with one of the leading opposing parties, secular values would possibly be pushed back into the culture.

Part of Turkey seems to be leaning towards the East while another part is leaning towards the West. The part that is leaning towards the west, wants to live by western values, even if Turkey does not become part of the EU. Time will show the turn out, but for now the assumed “Neo-Ottoman” agenda seems to have no apparent set backs.

It is hard to tell if Europe would have been better off, befriending the old enemy in an attempt to keep them close, or keep pushing away thereby giving an incentive to formulate other Unions, that might grow strong.

America’s policy in the region will possibly have a determining effect, on which way things will lean.

Follow me on Twitter@banugokyar




Filed under Christianity, History, Islam, Politics, Religion, Society, Uncategorized

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