John R. Houk
© June 27, 2014
Caroline Glick has written a very interesting editorial: “Turkey’s high-risk power play”. Glick’s observations are about Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdogan seems to be a mystery to Washington DC. For years the PM’s Radical Islamic beliefs seemed to be second to governing a secular pseudo-democratic Muslim State. His initial actions appeared supportive to the Ataturk vision for Turkey but with only a slight reform of bringing Islam to the fore of Turkish society. HOWEVER, in recent years, Erdogan’s governing actions have begun to match his Radical Muslim beliefs. Thus Glick posits in no uncertain terms that Erdogan is trying to revive Turkey’s Muslim domination a la Ottoman style of the old empire days prior to WWI.
Erdogan has moved Turkey away from being a rare Muslim friend of Israel to joining the rest of the Muslim world in Jew-hatred. Erdogan is openly supporting Hamas that has the agenda of destroying Israel, killing Jews and establishing a Radical Muslim State called Palestine. The interesting point that Glick brings up is that Erdogan has reversed decades of a policy of Turkification (ok, I don’t know if this is an actual word but you get the idea) of Turkish society to encouraging non-Turkish yet Muslim ethnic groups to seek the historical identity. One stunning example is Turkey’s treatment of an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq.
After the U.S. finished liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s Baathist Party oppression of Iraq a debate began on how Iraq should exist politically. Saddam always favored Iraqi Sunni Muslims over the majority Shia Muslims and the ethnic Kurdish Muslims. Saddam retained power via extreme repression of Shias and Kurds. There was talk of dividing Iraq into three independent nations controlled by the three major players of Iraq; viz. the Kurds in the north, the Sunni minority that gravitated toward the west and the Shias that gravitated toward the eastern part of Iraq bordering Iran.
American conventional wisdom quickly abandoned the three State scenario due American National Interests of the location of oil fields and the legitimate concern that the Arab Shia population of Iraq would be absorbed into Iran which are ethnically Persian yet also are Shias. So the Bush Administration tried to build a new Iraq nation under the auspices of shared governance by the three Iraqi groups. Unfortunately for the shared governance concept the Western concept of democratic elections placed a Shi’ite as the governing Prime Minister. PM Maliki slowly moved away from shared governance to Shia domination by the purging of Sunni political leaders. It may be a bit more complicated but you get the idea.
Enter Erdogan’s Turkey agenda change toward non-Turks. She believes Erdogan is taking a page from the old Ottoman playbook of divide and conquer to maintain political power via the unifying effects of Sunni Islam.
Glick paints a picture of Turkey under Erdogan reasserting Islamic rule under Turkish power to rival the Islamic rule agenda of Shia Iran.
For U.S. National Interests this provides a scenario that has definite pluses and minuses. In the short run letting Sunnis under the aegis of Turkey duking it out with Iran over who controls the Islamic world probably benefits the U.S. by staying out of it. The U.S. would be in an ironic Byzantine situation of throwing support back and forth to keep the violent Muslims in one area more than islamifying the West. The Byzantine factor is the long run. If one group Muslims gains the ascendancy over their the West again could face crazy Muslims trying to conquer the world forcing an Islamized civilization as the Christian Middle East experienced under early Arab conquests and Europe faced from the Ottomans right up to the 17th century (See Also HERE).
Before proceeding to Caroline Glick’s essay I thought you might benefit from a snapshot of how the Ottoman’s maintained a huge Islamic empire for some time. If find that tiresome feel free to skip it, but you really should read Glick.
In addition to their traditions of family sovereignty, the Ottomans drew strength from their origins as ghazis. The ghazi principle fueled their urge for conquest and then helped them to structure their developing society. The social structure of settled, urban Islamic society consisted of four social groupings: 1) the men of the pen, that is, judges, imams (prayer leaders), and other intellectuals; 2) the men of the sword, meaning the military; 3) the men of negotiations, such as merchants; and 4) the men of husbandry, meaning farmers and livestock raisers. Life on the frontier was far less structured; society there was divided into two groups, the askeri (the military) and the raya (the subjects). Besides protecting the realm and the raya, the askeri conquered new territories, thus bringing more raya and wealth into the empire.
… By late in the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the men of the pen were the bureaucrats of the empire, while the judges and imams made up a separate group called the men of religion. The men of the pen, the men of religion, and the men of the sword all were classified as askeri. As such, they were exempt from taxes and lived off of the wealth produced by the raya. Each of the three groups had its own educational system, its own internal practices, and its own values. In Ottoman society there was a place for everyone, but one of the functions of the sultan was to keep everyone in their place.
There was even a place for the non-Muslim. In classical Islamic tradition, non-Muslim religious communities that possessed an accepted, written holy book were granted a covenant of protection, the dhimma, and were considered to be protected people, the dhimmis. In return for this status they paid a special poll tax, the cizye. The Ottomans continued this tradition during the reign of Muhammad the Conqueror (reigned 1451-1481). The three leading non-Muslim religious communities—the Jews, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Armenian Church—were established as recognized dhimmi communities known as millets. Each millet was headed by its own religious dignitary: a chief rabbi in the case of the Jews, and patriarchs in the case of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian communities. In the millet system, each community was responsible for the allocation and collection of its taxes, its educational arrangements, and internal legal matters pertaining especially to personal status issues such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. In the pre-modern Middle East, identity was largely based on religion. This system functioned well until the European concepts of nationalism and ethnicity filtered into the Ottoman Empire in the second half of the 19th century.
…The Ottomans modified the ghulam system by instituting the infamous devshirme, in which young Christian males between the ages of 8 and 15 were removed from their villages in the Balkans to be trained for state service. The youths were brought before the sultan, and the best of them—in terms of physique, intelligence, and other qualities—were selected for education in the palace school. There they converted to Islam, became versed in the Islamic religion and its culture, learned Ottoman Turkish, Persian, and Arabic, and were trained in the military and social arts. They owed absolute allegiance to the sultan and were destined for the highest offices in the empire as they rose through the ranks of the school. When members of this select group graduated at about the age of 25, they assumed positions in the provincial military structure or took up service in the palace guards regiments. They could then work their way up the system and become its military-administrative head, the grand vizier. Those not selected for the palace school converted to Islam, worked for rural Turkish farmers, learned vernacular Turkish and folk Islamic culture, and became members of the sultan’s elite military infantry, the Janissaries.
This division in the devshirme, between those who received the best available education in the high Islamic tradition and those who followed the folk tradition and served as Janissaries, reflected a significant development within the society as a whole: the definition of the Ottoman identity. By the early 16th century the term Ottoman, which had first indicated the men around Osman and then the dynasty itself, had become a cultural-political-sociological term. Only a minority of the askeri class could be called “true” Ottomans. To be an Ottoman one had to serve the state and the religion and know the “Ottoman way.” Serving the state meant having a position within the military, the bureaucracy, or the religious establishment that carried with it the coveted askeri status and tax exemption. Serving the religion meant being a Muslim. Knowing the “Ottoman way” meant being completely at home in the high Islamic tradition. It also meant being fully trained in Arabic and Persian—languages that were, along with Turkish, the constituent elements of Ottoman Turkish, the language vehicle of all Ottomans. By this definition, the bulk of the Janissary corps—made up of devshirme youths who were not trained in the palace school but rather in the traditions of folk Islam—could not be considered Ottomans. … (The Ottomans: From Frontier Warriors To Empire Builders: Ottoman Society – Part 4; By Robert Guisepi; International World History Project – About IWHP; 1992 [Bold text is author’s])
Turkey’s high-risk power play
By Caroline Glick
June 24th, 2014
For most Westerners, Turkey is a hard nut to crack.
How can you understand a state sponsor of terrorism that is also a member of NATO?
How can you explain Turkey’s facilitation of Kurdish independence in Iraq in light of Turkey’s hundred-year opposition to Kurdish independence?
What is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyep Erdogan trying to accomplish here?
Is he nuts?
On the terrorism support front, today Turkey vies with Iran for the title of leading state sponsor of terrorism.
First there is Hamas.
Last week an Israeli security official told the media that the abduction of Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah was organized and directed by Saleh al-Arouri, a Hamas commander operating out of Turkey.
Turkey has welcomed Hamas to its territory and served as its chief booster to the West since the jihadist terror group won the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006. Erdogan has played a key role in getting the EU to view Hamas as a legitimate actor, despite its avowedly genocidal goals.
Then there is al-Qaida. As Daniel Pipes documented in The Washington Times last week, Turkey has been the largest supporter and enabler of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
Erdogan’s government has allowed ISIS fighters to train in Turkey and cross the border between Turkey and Syria at will to participate in the fighting. Moreover, according to Pipes, Turkey “provided the bulk of ISIS’s funds, logistics, training and arms.”
Similarly, Turkey has sponsored the al-Nusra Front, ISIS’s al-Qaida counterpart and ally in Syria.
The Assad regime is not the Turkish- sponsored al-Qaida-aligned forces’ only target in Syria. They have also been engaged in heavy fighting against Rojava, the emerging Kurdish state in northwest Syria. Yet the same Turkey that is sponsoring al-Qaida’s assault on Syrian Kurdistan is facilitating the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan.
In breach of Iraqi law that requires the Kurds to sell their oil through the central government and share oil revenues with the central government, earlier this month Turkey signed a 50-year deal allowing the Kurds to export oil to the world market through a Turkish pipeline. The Kurds are currently pumping around 120,000 barrels of oil a day to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.
Top Turkish officials have in recent weeks come out openly in support for Iraqi Kurdish independence from Baghdad.
Following ISIS’s takeover of Mosul, Huseyin Celik, the spokesman for Erdogan’s ruling AKP party told the Kurdish Rudaw news service, “It has become clear for us that Iraq has practically become divided into three parts.”
Blaming Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for Iraq’s instability Celik said, “The Kurds of Iraq can decide where to live and under what title they want to live. Turkey does not decide for them.”
To date, most Western analyses of the Erdogan regime’s behavior have come up short because their authors ignore its strategic goal. In this failing, analyses of Turkey are similar to those of its Shi’ite counterpart in Iran. And both regimes’ goals are wished away for the same reason: Western observers can’t identify with them.
Iran is not a status quo power. It is a revolutionary power. Iran’s goal is not regional hegemony per se, but global supremacy.
As Lee Smith recently noted, two decades before al-Qaida and its goal of establishing a global Islamic caliphate burst onto the scene, Ayatollah Khomeini had already made the Islamic division of the world into the House of Islam and the House of War the basis for Iran’s foreign policy. He viewed his Shi’ite theocracy as the rightful leader of the Islamic empire that would destroy all non-believers and their civilization.
Iran’s first act of foreign policy – the takeover of the US Embassy in Teheran – was a declaration of war not only against the US, but against the nation-state system as a whole.
Iran uses terror, irregular warfare and subversion to achieve its ends because such tactics induce chaos.
As Iran expert Michael Ledeen wrote last week, to defeat the US in Iraq, “the Iranian regime provoked all manner of violence, from tribal to ethnic, because they believed they were better able to operate in chaos.”
The US failed to understand Iran’s strategy because the US was unable to reconcile itself with the fact that other actors do not seek stability as it does.
Like Iran’s mullahs, Erdogan and his colleagues also reject the nation-state system. In their case, they wish to replace it with a restored Ottoman Empire.
Spelling out his goal in a speech in the spring of 2012, Erdogan described Turkey’s mission thus: “On the historic march of our holy nation, the AK Party signals the birth of a global power and the mission for a new world order. This is the centenary of our exit from the Middle East [following the Ottoman defeat in World War I]. Whatever we lost between 1911 and 1923, whatever lands we withdrew from, from 2011 to 2023 we shall once again meet our brothers in those lands.”
To achieve this goal, like Iran, Turkey seeks to destabilize states and reduce peoples to their ethnic, sub-national identities. The notion is that by dividing societies into their component parts, the various groups will all be weaker than one unified state, and all of them will feel threatened by one another and in need of outside support.
This is the same model Erdogan is following in Turkey itself as he remakes it in his Ottoman mold.
As Amir Taheri explained last October, Erdogan has been encouraging members of ethnic groups that long ago melted into the larger Turkish culture to rediscover their disparate identities, learn their unique languages and so separate out from the majority culture of the country. At the same time he is repressing the Kurds, Alevis and Armenians, minorities that have maintained their identities at great cost.
In parallel to his attempt to subsume the Kurds, Alevis and Armenians into a wider morass of separate sub-Turkish ethnicities, Erdogan has been assiduously cultivating hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood associations to enable their takeover of mosques and other key institutions to build a countrywide support base for Islamic supremacism.
By fragmenting Turkish society into long-forgotten component parts while uniting it under radical Islam, he wishes to unite the country under his Sultanate rule while dividing its various factions against one another to maintain support for the regime over the long haul.
A large part of repressing the Kurds at home involves denying them outside assistance. This is where Iraqi Kurdistan comes into the picture.
By acting like Iraqi Kurdistan’s best friend, Erdogan hopes to attenuate their support for Turkish Kurds.
While Turkey and Iran are rivals in undermining the international system, their goals are the same, and their strategies for achieving their goals are also similar. But while their chaos strategy is brilliant in its way, it is also high risk. By its very nature, chaos is hard, if not impossible to control. Situations often get out of hand. Plans backfire.
What we are seeing today in Syria and Iraq and the wider region demonstrates the chaos strategy’s drawbacks.
As Pinchas Inbari detailed in a recent report for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, the Syrian civil war is causing millions of Syrians to leave the country and their migrations are changing the face of many countries.
For instance, their arrival in Lebanon has transformed the multi-ethnic state into one with a preponderant Sunni majority, thus watering down Hezbollah’s support base.
The Kurds in Iraq may feel they need Turkey today, but there is no reason to assume that this will remain the case for long.
Kurdish unity across Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran will destabilize not only Turkey, but Iran, where Kurds make up around ten percent of the population. Iranian Kurdistan also abuts the Azeri provinces. Azeris comprise nearly half the population of Iran.
As for ISIS, it is scoring victories in Iraq today. But its forces are vastly outnumbered by the Baathists and the Sunni tribesmen that defeated al Qaida in 2006. There is no reason to assume that these disparate groups won’t get tired of their new medieval rulers.
Many commentators claimed that Erdogan’s recent foreign policy setbacks in the Arab world convinced him to abandon neo-Ottomanism in favor of more modest goals. But his cultivation of Iraqi Kurdistan, and his sponsorship of ISIS, al-Nusra, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas tell a different story.
Erdogan remains an Islamic imperialist.
Like Iran he aims to destroy the global order and replace it with an Islamic empire. But like Iran, if his adversaries get wise to what he is doing, it won’t be very difficult to beat him at his own game by using his successes to defeat him.
Is Erdogan Setting Stage for Turkish Caliphate?
John R. Houk
© June 27, 2014
Turkey’s high-risk power play
All right reserved, Caroline Glick. 2013