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Erdogan is no Ertugrul

Erdogan’s attempts to establish himself as the successor to the Ottoman Empire are part of his overall agenda of shifting Turkey towards religious ultra-nationalism

Erdogan is no Ertugrul
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In the popular Turkish television series 'Dirilish: Ertugrul', the protagonist has battled the scheming, conspiring crusaders and defeated the marauding Baycu Noyan, the commander sent forth by the Mongol ruler Ögedei Khan to subjugate the land and its people. Together with his brothers Sugurtekin and Gundogdu, Ertugrul Ghazi holds high the banner of Islam in Turkish tribal lands the last region of resistance to infidel invasions. His labour is due to bear fruit later in the form of an Ottoman empire to be founded by his son Osman Ghazi.

But the current President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is no Ertugrul Ghazi. Whether his decision to claim and convert Hagia Sophia back into a mosque or earlier celebrating the 567th anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople on May 29, 2020, by a recitation of Surah Al-Fateh in Hagia Sophia, which till date was a museum. He is no warrior but a skilled 'career politician'. The key to his success has been to know when to take a transitional leap and constant support of the right and extreme right-wing.

Eroding Ataturk's legacy

Erdogan heads the ruling Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AK Party) or the Justice and Development Party. The AK party has, more or less, been returning to power ever since Erdogan founded it in 2001. The former footballer established himself as an astute politician as soon as he was elected Mayor of Istanbul in 1994 as a candidate of the Welfare Party. The party, with an overtly religious agenda, was banned in 1998 by the Constitutional Court of Turkey for violating the statute of separation of religion and state.

Three years later when Erdogan founded the AK Party, he was also suspected of pursuing the same radical ideology. But he was smart enough to not disturb the equilibrium and continued to pose with the pro-West and pro-US stance introduced by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of Turkey. However, his policy of soft paddling radical agenda within Turkey has constantly been eroding what Ataturk has created. The AK Party retained power in the latest 2018 elections under a larger platform 'People's Alliance'. The alliance consists of most right and extreme right-wing parties in Turkey.

The stated position of Turkey is that of a secular nation but religious symbolism like Hagia Sophia conversion has been a constant process. In fact, Erdogan has consistently acted to move the country away from the legacy of Ataturk. And his biggest tool in this process has been the family that is credited with paving the way for establishing the great Ottoman Empire.

Promoting Islamic Ottoman identity

Back in 2015, over 300 Turkish armed forces crossed into northern Syria to move the remains of the historic tomb of Suleyman Shah to another site. The remains were moved to a site at the village of Esmesi in Syria closer to the border but under Turkish army control. Suleyman Shah was the father of Ertugrul Ghazi.

Turkey undertook this mission in the guise of evacuating its troops that were guarding the tomb. Article 9 of the 'Treaty of Ankara' signed in 1921, states that the tomb of Suleyman Shah "shall remain, with its appurtenances, the property of Turkey, who may appoint guardians for it and may hoist the Turkish flag there". However, the story of shifting is not over as the Turkish Foreign Minister had then stated that the relocation is only a temporary measure. Later on April 2, 2018, Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Fikri Isik reiterated that the tomb would be relocated to its original location in northern Syria at some stage.

Regional international aspirations

Erdogan's aspirations in the region are also not hidden. Turkey has been sending thousands of Syrian mercenaries and advanced weapons to Libya to support the Government of the National Accord (GNA)'s offensive against the Libyan National Army (LNA) and a legitimate Tobruk-based Libyan Parliament. Turkey's relations with Egypt also are strained since Turkey-backed President Mohamed Morsi and his supporters from the Muslim Brotherhood were removed in 2013 by Field Marshal Abdul Fattah Al Sisi.

Also raising concerns are his international alliances. His most recent act of turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque got instant praise from Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Turkey is also developing cooperation with Malaysia. The troika is working on an ambitious International Islamic TV channel. The leaders of the three countries met at the last U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) session in New York in 2019. The three agreed to launch a joint television channel to counter the growing trend of anti-Islam propaganda in the West.

Given the already overt radical bent of Pakistan and Malaysia and the constant shifting of Turkey towards Islamic ultra-nationalism, the concoction could be very strong and destabilising. The combinations strategically cover the entire Muslim world from the edge of Europe to the centre of Asia and the Far-East. Recently, Pakistan's Punjab province passed 'Tahaffuz-i-Bunyad-i-Islam' (protecting the foundation of Islam) Bill 2020. There also reports that Pakistan is allegedly going to convert the historic 'Shahidi Asthan', a Sikh gurudwara, into a mosque at the Naulakha Bazaar in Lahore.

Targeting India on anti-Muslim actions

This is a situation that puts India in a very difficult position. Obviously, Pakistan hopes to receive continued Turkish support of Kashmir. As it is, Erdogan has been more than critical of India not just over Kashmir but also the 'Citizenship Amendment Act' as well as the recent Delhi riots.

Erdogan's handling of the region around him raises suspicion of being an 'expansionist'. Under him, Turkey has not shied away from fishing in troubled waters. He is not pushing for 'Sharia', not just yet but in the garb of a 'Glorious Islamic Ottoman' identity implementing a covert Islamic agenda.

Erdogan's strategy is bound to garner him a lot of attention, particularly in non-Arab countries. Indian needs to ramp up her foreign policy and make serious overtures in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) region. Turkey is already working overtime in the CIS area. The region is the most vulnerable area to the machinations of Erdogan.

Erdogan is no Ertugrul who laid the foundation of the Ottoman Empire from nothing. Nor are the times the same. Ertugrul targeted the Byzantine Empire back then. But today Turkey is surrounded by co-religious Muslim countries. This should explain his constant anti-India campaigns. In the days to come, together with Pakistan, Turkey is likely to try and make India a rallying point for anti-Muslim criticism. It is a potential threat India can ill afford to ignore.

Views expressed are personal

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