After Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed out of the Chamber during the World Economic Forum in Davos at the end of January, he has become the most talked about Turkish leader since his father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The dramatic march and return trip to Ankara also raises the question of whether Turkey in the future will place more emphasis on its relations with the Middle East and other Muslim countries, at the expense of Europe and Western cooperation.
- Is there any connection between the upcoming municipal elections in Turkey and Erdogan’s march?
- Is relations with Israel ruined after Prime Minister Erdogan’s march in Davos?
- Where is Turkey going – towards Europe or the Middle East?
- Turkey – a regional superpower or bridge builder?
The diplomatic scandal took place during a debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Peres was given by far the most speaking time, and when Erdogan was told in the middle of an attack on Peres and Israel’s war in Gaza that the meeting was over, it exploded for the prime minister. Many have wondered why Erdogan reacted the way he did. Some believe he lost his temper, others that this was a deliberate act. In any case, it is extremely rare to experience episodes of this kind in international politics.
2: Support both at home and abroad
But many Turks appreciated what they saw on the Davos television screen. Thousands of jubilant supporters turned up at the Atatürk airport in Ankara, with Turkish and Palestinian flags, to pay tribute to their returning prime minister. Erdogan was nicknamed the “Conqueror of Davos”. In a poll in Turkey, 80 percent of those polled say they support what the prime minister did in front of a number of the world’s leading politicians and financiers.
In the Arab world, especially at the grassroots, the reaction was the same as in Turkey, which was not so strange, given the recent Gaza war. In a number of cities, people demonstrated in support of the Turkish Prime Minister. Several newspapers have called him “the new Nasser”, referring to Egypt’s former president and the great leader of the Arab world in the 1950s and 1960s. The Lebanese newspaper Al-Hayat went so far as to suggest that Erdogan should restore the Ottoman Empire and become the caliph of the world’s Muslims.
3: Relations with Israel
In Israel, of course, the reaction was different. Both ordinary Israelis and the Israeli media were shocked by the Turkish Prime Minister’s behavior in Davos. The English-language newspaper The Jerusalem Post quoted an Israeli official as saying that the Israeli government would continue to cooperate with Turkey, but that direct communication with Erdogan would be avoided.
According to shoefrantics, Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize Israel – as early as March 28, 1949. Since then, the Israelis have been an important supplier of weapons to the powerful Turkish army, and there has been both political and military cooperation between the two countries, also on the intelligence side. In 1996, Israel and Turkey signed a defense agreement that was heavily criticized in the Arab world. The agreement, which is not known in detail, involves, among other things, the exchange of technology between the two countries and the Israeli upgrade of Turkish fighter jets. After the moderate Islamist party AKP came to power in 2003, this cooperation has continued.
To understand the relatively good relationship between Turkey and Israel, we must go back to the history of the Ottoman Empire. Many of the Jews who had to flee Spain after the fall of the Moors in 1492 and the subsequent Inquisition were allowed to settle in Ottoman areas , especially in Thessaloniki in present-day Greece and in Istanbul. Here they got a freedom they experienced very few elsewhere, and many reached high up in the Ottoman society. In the 1930s and 1940s, Turkey was also a transit country for European Jews fleeing Nazi persecution.
4: The Ottoman Empire
We must also go back to the time of the Ottoman Empire to understand the importance of Turkey’s geopolitical role today. At its largest, this world empire encompasses large parts of southeastern Europe, the Black Sea region, the Middle East and North Africa. And the Ottoman sultan was nobody. The conqueror Mehmet, who took Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) from the Byzantines in 1453, declared himself “Emperor of Rome” and claimed to be the legitimate successor to the Byzantine emperors of the Eastern Roman Empire.
When Sultan Selim I conquered Cairo from the Mamluks in 1517 and thus also gained control of the holy places of Mecca and Medina, he declared himself “the servant and protector of the two holy places”. In reality, the sultan had now become caliph, leader of the Sunni Muslim community (umma). The Ottoman caliphate
lasted until it was abolished by Atatürk in 1924.
The Ottoman Empire thus saw itself as a great power , both in Europe and in Asia . After the fall of the empire and the establishment of the state of Turkey, Father Atatürk led his country in a European direction . But he did not forget that the Turks had their origins in Central Asia.