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In October last year, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu famously "rode into" Sarajevo and delivered a lecture about the "golden age" of Ottoman rule to an adulating audience. On that occasion, he declared:

"Now is the time for reunification. Then we will rediscover the spirit of the Balkans. We need to create a new feeling of unity in the region. We need to strengthen regional ownership, a common regional conscience… It all depends on which part of history you look to. From the 15th to the 20th century, the history of the Balkans was a history of success. We can have this success again."

Over the past six months, the Turkish government has wasted no time translating Davutoglu’s announced policy into practice. The FM has organized monthly meetings with his colleagues from Bosnia and Serbia. Last weekend, Turkish president Gul, Serbian president Tadic and acting Bosnian president Silajdzic signed a joint declaration on regional policy. Ankara is also claiming credit for Serbia’s parliamentary declaration on Srebrenica and NATO’s recent overtures to Bosnia.

With the EU increasingly busy salvaging its crumbling financial foundations, and the US preoccupied with adventures elsewhere, it appears that Turkey has emerged as the new dominant power in the Balkans.

The Istanbul Summit

One of the first things Davutoglu did following his Sarajevo visit last October was to open a channel to Belgrade. Despite the fact that Turkey had recognized the "independent state of Kosovo," an occupied Serbian province, Belgrade greeted him cordially. Starting in October, Davutoglu has met repeatedly with Serbia’s Vuk Jeremic and Bosnia’s Sven Alkalaj. The end result of this diplomatic merry-go-round was the April 24 presidential summit in Istanbul.

To hear the Turkish media describe it, the Istanbul meeting was this historical peace conference. "While Bosnia has sent an ambassador to Belgrade, Serbia’s parliament has apologized to Bosnia for the Srebrenica massacre," writes the newspaper Zaman. Except that Sarajevo used to have an ambassador in Belgrade for years, until the current chairman of the collective Presidency, Haris Silajdzic, tried to appoint one of his followers to the post only to have him rejected by Belgrade — which is every country’s right — on account of his murky wartime past. In fact, it is Silajdzic who has persistently generated conflict with Serbia over the past several years. The most recent example is the incident at the Mostar Business Fair, when he aimed a vicious diatribe at the guest of honor, Serbian president Tadic.

Just ten days later, Silajdzic and Tadic were in Istanbul, pledging that "regional policy should be based on ensuring security, the permanent political dialogue and the preservation of multiethnic, multicultural and multi-religious characteristics of the region" and basking in the praise of their "determination to overcome historical differences and build a common future based on tolerance and understanding."

Bosnian Serb officials, however, have strongly objected to the Istanbul summit, arguing that Silajdzic was acting on his own and did not have the legal mandate to make any pledges.

Credit Where It’s Due?

One should not underestimate Ankara’s determination to become a patron of the Bosnian Muslims. Visiting the Bosnian capital earlier this month, Erdogan declared, "Turkey will never abandon Bosnia and Herzegovina and considers it a moral and historic responsibility to stand by this Balkan nation." (emphasis added) This "moral and historical" obligation directly applies to that part of the Bosnian population that sees Turkey as its mother country. Davutoglu said as much last October.

Turkish activism goes beyond "mediating" with Serbia. Davutoglu has also been courting support from Croatia, meeting with the Croatian FM, Gordan Jandrokovic, in January and again this week. Turkish Foreign Ministry claimed to have "set the stage" for Serbia’s Srebrenica declaration. And when NATO finally extended an invitation to Bosnia into its Membership Action Plan (MAP), at the Talinn summit last week, the newspaper Hurriyet claimed that it was due to Davutoglu’s confrontation with the reluctant Americans and Europeans back in December:

Recalling the bitter times the Balkan country had endured, which included the killings of nearly 250,000 Bosnians, Davutoglu told the meeting participants: “It is your moral responsibility to approve this. If Bosnia is in this shape today, it is because you turned your back on what happened to this country in the 1990s. Now you should do the right thing.”

If this is true, then NATO was snared in a trap of its own making. Having used hysterical propaganda about "250,000 dead Bosnians" and "genocide" to mobilize the public for intervention in the 1990s, it can hardly say "Oh, well, we made it all up," now — even though the quarter-million casualty count was debunked years ago.

How accurate is this perception, nurtured by Davutoglu and the Turkish media, that a lot of what has been happening in the Balkans lately is Turkey’s doing? Other sources seem to corroborate Hurriyet’s story about the MAP. The notion that it was his tireless mediation that brought Belgrade around is just plain silly, though. Serbian president Tadic isn’t exactly know for his spine, and it wasn’t hard to flatter him into doing just about anything, including making Haris Silajdzic look good in an election year.

The Bubbling Cauldron

General elections in Bosnia are scheduled for October, and tensions are running high. Nearly fifteen years after the end of its (un)civil war, the country remains a bubbling cauldron of discontent. Croats are unhappy that they have very little say in state-level policy, and their numbers are dwindling. The Bosnian Serb Prime Minister, Milorad Dodik, openly says his goal is to make the Serb Republic "self-sufficient" and that he doesn’t care much what happens in Sarajevo, or in the Muslim-Croat Federation. Meanwhile, the Muslims are facing economic collapse. High taxes and corruption have driven many enterprises into the Serb Republic, leaving the bloated Federation government unable to fund itself. Worse yet, it cannot keep up the welfare payments. The IMF is offering generous loans to the country (2/3 of which are earmarked for the Federation), but demands welfare cutbacks in return. Earlier this month, though, angry war veterans rioted in Sarajevo over plans to reduce their pensions.

Stuck between political necessity and economic reality, the Muslim political establishment is playing the only card it has left: blaming the Serbs. Ethnic tensions are being ratcheted up on a daily basis. When the wartime head of the Bosnian (Muslim) Army, General Rasim Delic, passed away in mid-April, he was given a state funeral. Yet the presence of uniformed troops was not sanctioned by the Defense Ministry, and there are laws actually forbidding state funerals for convicted war criminals (Delic was convicted by the ICTY for mistreatment of prisoners). Adding insult to injury was the call by Sarajevo mayor Alija Behmen to ban the planned commemoration of the May 3, 1992 massacre of Yugoslav Army troops. Behmen called the massacre a clash between the "legal forces of the Bosnian state and the Serb aggressors" and that a commemoration would be "revisionism."

The atmosphere in Sarajevo has become so poisonous that even the staunchest sympathizers of the Bosnian Muslims, who continue to believe in the myth of multiethnic Bosnia, have begun to harbor doubts.

So, with Ankara claiming credit for so many recent events in the Balkans, it would not be unreasonable to wonder to what extent is Turkey’s assertive "neo-Ottoman" policy responsible for stirring the volatile Bosnian pot.

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Как раз под тему.

Я не раз говорил, что в мире два государства, с имперским мышлением. Первая, это Россия, а вторая турция.

Менталитет этих двух народов, русских и турок, не даёт покоя другим народам, уже более 500 лет.

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Srdja Trifkovic

Neo-Ottoman Turkey: A Hostile Islamic Power

The fact that Turkey is no longer a U.S. "ally" is still strenuously denied in Washington; but we were reminded of the true score on March 9, when Saudi King Abdullah presented Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with the Wahhabist kingdom's most prestigious prize for his "services to Islam". Erdogan earned the King Faisal Prize for having "rendered outstanding service to Islam by defending the causes of the Islamic nation."

Services to the Ummah - Turkey under Erdogan's neo-Islamist AKP has rendered a host of other services to "the Islamic nation." In August 2008 Ankara welcomed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a formal state visit, and last year it announced that it would not join any sanctions aimed at preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. In the same spirit the AKP government repeatedly played host to Sudan's President Omer Hassan al-Bashir -- a nasty piece of jihadist work if there ever was one -- who stands accused of genocide against non-Muslims. Erdogan has barred Israel from annual military exercises on Turkey's soil, but his government signed a military pact with Syria last October and has been conducting joint military exercises with the regime of Bashir al-Assad. Turkey's strident apologia of Hamas is more vehement than anything coming out of Cairo or Amman. (Talking of terrorists, Erdogan has stated, repeatedly, "I do not want to see the word 'Islam' or 'Islamist' in connection with the word 'terrorism'!") simultaneous pressure to conform to Islam at home has gathered pace over the past seven years, and is now relentless. Turkish businessmen will tell you privately that sipping a glass of raki in public may hurt their chances of landing government contracts; but it helps if their wives and daughters wear the hijab.

(Ankara's continuing bid to join the European Union is running parallel with its openly neo-Ottoman policy of re-establishing an autonomous sphere of influence in the Balkans and in the former Soviet Central Asian republics. Turkey's EU candidacy is still on the agenda, but the character of the issue has evolved since Erdogan's AKP came to power in 2002.)

When the government in Ankara started the process by signing an Association agreement with the EEC (as it was then) in 1963, its goal was to make Turkey more "European." This had been the objective of subsequent attempts at Euro-integration by other neo-Kemalist governments prior to Erdogan's election victory eight years ago, notably those of Turgut Ozal and Tansu Ciller in the 1990s. The secularists hoped to present Turkey's "European vocation" as an attractive domestic alternative to the growing influence of political Islam, and at the same time to use the threat of Islamism as a means of obtaining political and economic concessions and specific timetables from Brussels. Erdogan and his personal friend and political ally Abdullah Gul, Turkey's president, still want the membership, but their motives are vastly different. Far from seeking to make Turkey more European, they want to make Europe more Turkish -- many German cities are well on the way -- and more Islamic, thus reversing the setback of 1683 without firing a shot.

The neo-Ottoman strategy was clearly indicated by the appointment of Ahmet Davutoglu as foreign minister almost a year ago. As Erdogan's long-term foreign policy advisor, he advocated diversifying Turkey's geopolitical options by creating exclusively Turkish zones of influence in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East... including links with Khaled al-Mashal of Hamas. On the day of his appointment in May Davutoglu asserted that Turkey's influence in "its region" will continue to grow: Turkey had an "order-instituting role" in the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasus, he declared, quite apart from its links with the West. In his words, Turkish foreign policy has evolved from being "crisis-oriented" to being based on "vision": "Turkey is no longer a country which only reacts to crises, but notices the crises before their emergence and intervenes in the crises effectively, and gives shape to the order of its surrounding region." He openly asserted that Turkey had a "responsibility to help stability towards the countries and peoples of the regions which once had links with Turkey" -- thus explicitly referring to the Ottoman era, in a manner unimaginable only a decade ago: "Beyond representing the 70 million people of Turkey, we have a historic debt to those lands where there are Turks or which was related to our land in the past. We have to repay this debt in the best way."

This strategy is based on the assumption that growing Turkish clout in the old Ottoman lands -- a region in which the EU has vital energy and political interests -- may prompt President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel to drop their objections to Turkey's EU membership. If on the other hand the EU insists on Turkey's fulfillment of all 35 chapters of the acquis communautaire -- which Turkey cannot and does not want to complete -- then its huge autonomous sphere of influence in the old Ottoman domain can be developed into a major and potentially hostile counter-bloc to Brussels. Obama approved this strategy when he visited Ankara in April of last year, shortly after that notorious address to the Muslim world in Cairo.

Erdogan is no longer eager to minimize or deny his Islamic roots, but his old assurances to the contrary -- long belied by his actions -- are still being recycled in Washington, and treated as reality. This reflects the propensity of this ddministration, just like its predecessors, to cherish illusions about the nature and ambitions of our regional "allies," such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

The implicit assumption in Washington -- that Turkey would remain "secular" and "pro-Western," come what may -- should have been reassessed already after the Army intervened to remove the previous pro-Islamic government in 1997. Since then the Army has been neutered, confirming the top brass old warning that "democratization" would mean Islamization. Dozens of generals and other senior ranks -- traditionally the guardians of Ataturk's legacy -- are being called one by one for questioning in a government-instigated political trial. To the dismay of its small Westernized secular elite, Turkey has reasserted its Asian and Muslim character with a vengeance.


Washington's stubborn denial of Turkey's political, cultural and social reality goes hand in hand with an ongoing Western attempt to rehabilitate the Ottoman Empire, and to present it as almost a precursor of Europe's contemporary multiethnic, multicultural tolerance, diversity, etc, etc.

In reality, four salient features of the Ottoman state were institutionalized discrimination against non-Muslims, total personal insecurity of all its subjects, an unfriendly coexistence of its many races and creeds, and the absence of unifying state ideology. It was a sordid Hobbesian borderland with mosques.

An "Ottoman culture," defined by Constantinople and largely limited to its walls, did eventually emerge through the reluctant mixing of Turkish, Greek, Slavic, Jewish and other Levantine lifestyles and practices, each at its worst. The mix was impermanent, unattractive, and unable to forge identities or to command loyalties.

The Roman Empire could survive a string of cruel, inept or insane emperors because its bureaucratic and military machines were well developed and capable of functioning even when there was confusion at the core. The Ottoman state lacked such mechanisms. Devoid of administrative flair, the Turks used the services of educated Greeks and Jews and awarded them certain privileges. Their safety and long-term status were nevertheless not guaranteed, as witnessed by the hanging of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch on Easter Day 1822.

The Ottoman Empire gave up the ghost right after World War I, but long before that it had little interesting to say, or do, at least measured against the enormous cultural melting pot it had inherited and the splendid opportunities of sitting between the East and West. Not even a prime location at the crossroads of the world could prompt creativity. The degeneracy of the ruling class, blended with Islam's inherent tendency to the closing of the mind, proved insurmountable.

A century later the Turkish Republic is a populous, self-assertive nation-state of over 70 million. Ataturk hoped to impose a strictly secular concept of nationhood, but political Islam has reasserted itself. In any event the Kemalist dream of secularism had never penetrated beyond the military and a narrow stratum of the urban elite.

The near-impossible task facing Turkey's Westernized intelligentsia before Erdogan had been to break away from the lure of irredentism abroad, and at home to reform Islam into a matter of personal choice separated from the State and distinct from the society. Now we know that it could not be done. The Kemalist edifice, uneasily perched atop the simmering Islamic volcano, is by now an empty shell.

A new "Turkish" policy is long overdue in Washington

Turkey is not an "indispensable ally," as Paul Wolfowitz called her shortly before the war in Iraq, and as Obama repeated last April. It is no longer an ally at all. It may have been an ally in the darkest Cold War days, when it accommodated U.S. missiles aimed at Russia's heartland. Today it is just another Islamic country, a regional power of considerable importance to be sure, with interests and aspirations that no longer coincide with those of the United States.

Both Turkey and the rest of the Middle East matter far less to American interests than we are led to believe, and it is high time to demythologize America's special relationships throughout the region. Accepting that Mustafa Kemal's legacy is undone is the long-overdue first step.

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