By Claude Salhani
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to rewrite history to suit his expansionist visions of reviving the Ottoman Empire, with — naturally — himself as the supreme sultan.
While many may laugh and shrug off Erdogan’s illusions of grandeur, the Ankara strongman is taking his role very seriously.
Erdogan, after intervening militarily in Syria, has been itching to send Turkish troops to Libya for no reason other than to fulfil his ideology-driven vision of control of the region and boost his stature at home.
He is saying he believes there are Libyan-Turks or Libyans of Ottoman descent who deserve to be protected by Ankara. “It is our duty to protect our kin in Libya,” Erdogan declared January 14, adding that Turkey had “deep historical and social ties with Libya.”
Such statements claiming a mandate to protect Libyans of Turkish ancestry have fuelled the wariness of Libyans towards him and Turkey. It also added a new dimension to the dangerously growing polarisation in the war-torn North African country with many Libyans blaming the Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) camp for failing to reject Erdogan’s claims. Erdogan’s claim is likely to inflame Libya where the flames of war need no fanning.
This incredibly arrogant and expansionist mindset ignores the sensitivity of Libyans to the Ottomans’ abusive rule in Libya.
Erdogan should have avoided the trap of seeing his militaristic drive being compared to that of other unfortunate precedents in history. In 1938, Adolf Hitler’s excuse for invading and annexing Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland was the region’s German majority. The invasion and annexation of the Czech region set the ground for what was to come — the invasion and occupation of Europe and the horrors that came with it.
Strangely enough, this mindset borrows a page, not only from Nazi Germany, but the complete opposite political spectrum — Zionist agencies’ claim to having a mandate to save Jews anywhere in the world.
Erdogan’s attempt to establish a protectorate over “Ottoman ancestors” in Libya is a dangerous and flammable move reminiscent of actions by colonial powers using protections of nationals to invade other countries but these are not Turkish nationals and evidence of their ancestry is disputed.
Erdogan’s bellicose rhetoric after the failure of the Moscow talks to reach an agreement on a ceasefire in Libya added to the resurgence of tensions and could ignite the zero-sum confrontation between the Libyan National Army, led by Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and the internationally recognised GNA.
“We will not hesitate to teach a deserved lesson to the putschist Haftar if he continues his attacks on the country’s legitimate administration and our brothers in Libya,” Erdogan said at a Justice and Development Party meeting January 14 in Ankara.
Haftar walked out of the Moscow’s talks January 13, refusing to sign a ceasefire accord.
The “threat of Ottoman colonisation,” as described by the enemies of Turkey in Libya, is further exacerbated by reports of jihadists and soldiers of fortune making their way from Syria to the shores of Tripoli.
These mercenaries give Erdogan room to appease his own public opinion, which is reluctant to support a far-away war threatening the lives of Turkish soldiers and bound to make the miserable lives of Libyans even more miserable.
The recourse to mercenaries is reminiscent of the chapter of janissaries in Turkish history. The Ottomans used slaves and prisoners to unleash a cruel army on the empire’s minorities in the 19th century. The janissaries eventually became a threat to the sultans to the extent that Ottoman ruler Sultan Mahmoud II killed 7,000 janissaries in Istanbul and 120,000 in other parts of the empire.
Erdogan should be pickier about the chapters of Ottoman history he wants to reenact. Less militaristic and bellicose episodes could do the region more good than those of mercenaries and Ottoman wars.