Influence of the Ottoman Empire continues To be felt in one way or another in Turkey
This year marks the 100th centenary of both the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the birth of the state of modern Turkey, officially the Republic of Türkiye now. The fall of the Ottoman Empire is probably the greatest catastrophe that befell the Islamic world since the Mongol and Crusade invasions. It shattered the unity of Muslims. Borders were drawn and the current Middle East countries, driven by violence ever since, were created.
Founded in 1299, the Ottoman Empire over course of the next six centuries expanded across a vast realm encompassing southeastern Europe, North and East Africa, Western Asia, and the Caucasus. At its height, the empire included the areas of Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Hungary, Palestine (including occupied lands), Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and parts of the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa. It eventually became one of the largest, most powerful and longest-lasting empires in the history of the world. The Ottoman Empire began to decline in the 18th century, and after World War I, it collapsed, leading to the establishment of the modern Republic of Turkey in October of 1923 and to the creation of other new states in the Middle East.
Aforementioned snippet of the historic Ottoman Empire and the last Muslim Caliphate does not even come close to even insinuating justice to the 600 years of history. There are a plethora of reasons and influences that began the decline of the empire in the 18th century. Significance and impact of all these are debated and interpreted in ways more than we would like to think about. However, the overarching reasons for its decline include the empire's inability to compete with the industrial revolution in the 17th and 18th century in Europe and the resulting economic difficulties distorting the empire's cohesion. By the 1870s, the empire had to allow Bulgaria and other countries to become independent ceding more and more territory. Lack of education compared to European competitors was another adverse influencer. Added to that was the ambition of European powers hastening the empire's demise. Finally, empire's bitter rivalry with the Czarist Russia resulting in a war, preceded by the Austro-Turkish war, causing it to lose its economic prowess; and on top of that a few other wars i.e. Crimean and the Balkan wars crippled its economy. The main catalyst for the empire's expiry was that the Ottoman's joining the wrong side (Germany) in the First World War; whereas, the consensus among historians and analysts is that the empire did not really need to intervene in the conflict at all.
The key influencer for the empire's demise was none other than the Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who crafted the funeral of the empire. He signed a "Treaty of Lausanne" with the Western powers in 1923.
Considered a national hero by secular Turks, others revile him as the man who attempted to permanently erase the nation's Islamic orientation. One of Ataturk's first moves as leader was to strip the Sultan of his powers and he expelled the last Ottoman Caliph or Sultan in 1924. Looking West for his inspiration, mainly France and its political structure detached fully from religion, Kemal shut religious courts and schools and stripped religious leaders of their authority. He also banned the wearing of the fez and the Arabic script, and discouraged the hijab. From a Western perspective Ataturk made Turkey a successful, modern, peaceful state where the political system was founded upon nationalism, embodied by the military, became the dominant ideology. From a Muslim perspective he was undoubtedly the man who helped end the glorious Ottoman Caliphate and secularise the Turkish nation. The demise of the Ottoman Empire had a lasting impact to the Muslim world. Britain and France carved up the Middle East through Sykes-Picot Agreement and gave birth to a new Middle East where political-economy is shaped with oil and petrodollar. It also germinated many other regional tensions. Prime example is that the agreement initiated the conflict between the native Palestinians and Jewish settlers from Europe in the occupied territories.
The Treaty of Laussane was a punitive treaty in the guise of a peace treaty. In addition to forcing Turkey in seceding territories, confirming its borders and political outlook, the treaty crippled the country on various fronts. The Turkish straits (Bosphorous) between the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea were declared open to all shipping and unrestricted civilian passage through Turkish straits. The purpose was to limit Turkey's resources from the International passage. More restrictions on Turkey prevented from drilling for oil and gas. It should be noted that the Bosphorus is a link between the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and the Mediterranean Sea. And its importance can be gauged from the fact that it is considered to be the key to the canal service, which is the backbone of world trade.
As the agreement will expire in 2023 and become ineffective, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to be referring to 2023 in his speeches more than often, claiming that after 2023, Turkey will not be the same. Turkey is will be going to polls in June of this year, many terming it as the most important polls of the decade. President Tayyip Erdogan is aiming to extend his 20-year rule in elections and post 2023 vision of Turkey is his key narrative. Turkey's latest diplomatic and political moves prove the state's will for re-gaining the long-gone Ottoman Empire sphere of influence, if not the same ownership of territory. Turkey's movements to pave the way to its mythical "New-Turkey 2023" contained: Expanding Turkey's lands to include the northern part of Syria, Iraq, and preventing the Kurds from having a unified state. Under Erdogan, Turkey has flexed military power in the Middle East and beyond - launching four incursions into Syria, waging an offensive against Kurdish militants inside Iraq and sending military support to Libya and Azerbaijan. Turkey also saw a series of diplomatic clashes with regional powers Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel, as well as a standoff with Greece and Cyprus over eastern Mediterranean maritime boundaries.
Erdogan lifted the ban on headscarves in universities, and women who work in state offices and policewomen are now able to wear headscarves, along with women who serve in the military. The once-stigmatised veil has become socially acceptable. He re-introduce Islamic teaching and images into the public consciousness, as well as build religious institutions, to indoctrinate the population with religious precepts. Conversion of the monumental Haghia Sophia to a mosque; conversion of another former Byzantine church, the fourth-century Chora church shows his commitment to realigning Turkey with its Muslim heritage.
Some media reports even claim that there are people who believe that the current problems of Turkey, which include high unemployment, low industrial investments, lack of proper urban planning etc, are the result of a hidden annex of the treaty of Laussane - termed a conspiracy theory by most. They also believe that it can't have geological exploration, drilling technologies, transportation, international marketing and feasible amount of oil to start an oil business but just simple expiration of an agreement.
Erdogan announced discovery of the largest natural gas depository in the Black Sea. This followed another discovery of natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean. Both of these areas are hotly contested zones of international competition between the powers around these seas. He also welcomed a delegation of Hamas to Ankara, where he expressed support for Palestinians in the wake of the recent announcement of an agreement between Israel and the UAE.
All of these moves project Erdogan's vision of Islamist strength into the world. "Turkey will exercise its rights under international law and international maritime law until the end, when it comes to the Eastern Mediterranean," Erdogan told members of his party in Istanbul in December 2019. As the centenary of Ottoman Empire's demise highlights its many impacts across the globe, we come to realise that positive or negative, normative or positive, strategic or figurative, the Ottoman Empire's influence, even if residual, prevails. Erdogan's statement underscores the same.