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January 13, 2015

Abbas Plays Along With Erdogan's Ottoman Fantasies

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Turkish Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won election to another term in August, 2014. Buoyed by his continued domestic popularity, he recently hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in an ostentatious ceremony exhibiting pageantry that recalled the extinguished Ottoman Empire.

The Arab media is somewhat perplexed by Erdogan's idiosyncracies. In reporting on the event, Al Arabiya quoted one commentator as describing the scene with Abbas as a "circus." The article further noted that Erdogan just completed a 1,150 room presidential palace. That is a residence fit for a modern-day Sultan.

The Arabs are not entirely comfortable with Erdogan's theatrics over past Turkish military glories. Ottoman rule in the Middle East lasted for centuries, preceding European domination. But the history of Turkish-Arab relations was not so congenial.

The Ottoman Turks were the last in a series of nomadic invaders originating from what is today western and northern China. The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet documented the sixteen "Turkish" empires. Proudly included in the list was Timur (the lame), known in the west as Tamerlane, who like ISIS today, had no problem slaughtering Muslims who were not to his liking. According to legend, he had a mountain built out of 90,000 skulls of the inhabitants of Baghdad he had ordered slaughtered.

Not explicitly mentioned were the Mongols, a non-Turkic people, who nevertheless incorporated many Turkish soldiers into their armies as they swept across Asia in the 13th century, leaving a trail of devastation where centers of Islamic culture once stood.

It was these waves of Asiatic invaders, not the Christian Crusaders, that sealed the fate of the Arab-dominated Caliphate and irreversibly transformed the Islamic world. The Turks seized Constantinople, the seat of the once dominant Christian state in the Middle East and made it their capital. They adopted Islam and the Turkish Sultan assumed the role of Caliph.

Abbas's visit appears intended to curry favor and legitimacy from the Turkish President as part of the on-going jockeying for regional support between his more secular Fatah party and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip.

Hamas finds itself increasingly isolated from its traditional Arab sponsors. The Egyptian government is locked in a bitter conflict with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas's organizational parent. The Gaza Strip has served as a base for supporting terrorist operations against the Egyptian government. With Hamas increasingly reliant on Shiite and non-Arab Iran, Sunni Turkey is an important and desirable ally. Under these circumstances, Erdogan has emerged as a principal sponsor of Hamas.

Erdogan has pursued an aggressive policy to reassert Turkey's once dominant presence in the region. This has included a repudiation of the once friendly relations between secular-ruled Turkey and Israel. His outreach to Hamas puts him in sharp conflict with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It also demonstrates his ambition to become a power-broker among the Palestinian factions. Further complicating the picture, Turkey is a member of NATO.

What will be next for the grandiose Erdogan? In his zeal to revive the erstwhile Ottoman Empire from its ashes, will he reinstitute the Corps of Janissaries, the Sultan's infamous slave-soldiers whose ranks were replenished by kidnapped Christian boys from the Balkans?

Posted by SS at January 13, 2015 01:26 PM


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