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Erdogan channels his inner sultan with UNGA words on Crimea, but his Turkey is no Ottoman Empire

Nebojsa Malic
Nebojsa Malic

is a Serbian-American journalist, blogger and translator, who wrote a regular column for Antiwar.com from 2000 to 2015, and is now senior writer at RT. Follow him on Telegram @TheNebulator and on Twitter @NebojsaMalic

is a Serbian-American journalist, blogger and translator, who wrote a regular column for Antiwar.com from 2000 to 2015, and is now senior writer at RT. Follow him on Telegram @TheNebulator and on Twitter @NebojsaMalic

Erdogan channels his inner sultan with UNGA words on Crimea, but his Turkey is no Ottoman Empire
To understand why Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan would insult Moscow by declaring that Crimea is Ukrainian just ahead of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, one has to understand his obsession with the Ottoman Empire.

“We believe it is important to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, including the territory of Crimea, whose annexation we do not recognize,” Erdogan told the world leaders gathered in New York at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. Later in the day, he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and accepted an invitation to visit Kiev.

Also on rt.com Turkey’s Erdogan pledges support for Ukrainian ‘territorial integrity,’ telling UN that Ankara will not recognize Crimea as Russia

Erdogan said something similar last year, too. However, this year’s UNGA remarks come just a week before he’s due to meet with Putin in Sochi. The summit, he reportedly said, would be of “great importance” and reach “an important decision on Turkey-Russia relations.” 

The Turkish leader’s position on Crimea mirrors that of Kiev and NATO, which claim the region was illegally “annexed” by Russia in March 2014. Moscow maintains that the Crimeans freely and overwhelmingly voted in a referendum to secede from Ukraine – to which they had been forcibly attached by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev 60 years prior – and rejoin Russia, in response to the US-backed ‘Maidan’ coup in Kiev the month before.

The thing is, Turkey has no moral high ground to stand on.

Almost in the same breath as refusing to recognize Crimea’s “annexation,” Erdogan called on the UNGA to recognize the ‘Turkish Republic’ of Northern Cyprus – a territory Ankara has occupied since 1974, having invaded in response to a pro-Greek coup.

There are more examples. In 2008, it was among the first to recognize the secession of Kosovo, a Serbian province occupied by NATO in 1999 in violation of UN resolutions guaranteeing Serbia’s territorial integrity. More recently, Turkey literally invaded Syria and Iraq, occupying territories in the north of both countries, ostensibly to fight Kurdish “terrorists” – meaning militias armed by the US to fight Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS).

So, Erdogan doesn’t ever get to lecture anyone anywhere on “territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

The only reason he gets away with it is Turkey’s geopolitical position. On the one hand, Erdogan is a key NATO ally, but on the other, he’s denied the Americans the use of key bases, been kicked out of the F-35 program for buying Russian air defense missiles, and got France hopping mad by intervening in Syria and Libya. 

Also on rt.com Turkey trying to ‘CONQUER’ Libya, not to bring peace, says top Tripoli govt diplomat visiting Moscow

Ankara is also playing games with Russia, striking deals for S-400 missiles and gas pipelines one day, then shooting down Russian jets and frustrating attempts to defeat jihadists in northern Syria the next.

Just last year, Ankara took credit for arming and training the Azerbaijani military after it dealt a crushing defeat to the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

From Libya to Syria, from Cyprus to Azerbaijan, Erdogan seems to be positioning himself as a new sultan and Turkey as the second coming of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled over these lands at one point or another in its centuries-long history. 

While he became more brazen about these foreign adventures after the failed coup of 2016 enabled him to purge the Turkish military – traditionally the bulwark of the republic against an Islamist revival – his party had advocated a “neo-Ottoman” policy long before that. Back in 2009, his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, infamously declared the Balkans Ankara’s sphere of influence, based on the Ottoman past.

Also on rt.com Turkey supports ISIS, wants to revive Ottoman Empire – Syria’s UN envoy

The Muslims of Bosnia, whose political leadership never got over the Ottoman withdrawal in 1878, have cheered on this notion. Most recently, the Turkish president was a guest of honor at the wedding of President Bakir Izetbegovic’s daughter to a “respected German businessman”.

Izetbegovic’s father Alija wrote the ‘Islamic Declaration’ back in the 1970s, advocating for abandoning secular nationalism in favor of religious Islamism in politics. Sound familiar?

Ironically, the modern Turkish republic was established in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal ‘Atatürk’ as an explicit repudiation of the Ottoman Empire and the peace treaty it signed as the losing side in the First World War.

Imperial overreach is a thing, especially when one lacks real power to back it up and relies on intrigue and perception management. Once someone calls his bluff, instead of a new Osman or Suleiman I, Erdogan may well end up like Mehmet VI – and deliver Turkey to the fate Atatürk managed to successfully avoid.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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