Thursday, March 14, 2013


The first major victory of the Seljuk Turks over the forces of the declining Byzantine Empire at the battle of Manzikert on 26th August 1071, gave prominence to the Turkic peoples especially those associated with Osman the great Turkish Muslim warrior. These peoples later became known as the Ottoman Turks or Osmanlılar (Turkish for “those associated with Osman”).

Like the battle of Gaugamela in 331BC, in which Alexander ‘the great’‘ dealt a crushing blow to the glorious Persian armies of Darius III, the Seljuk Turks or Ottomans in series of military triumphs, dealt the final blow to what was left of Emperor Constantine’s empire in the levant in the subjugation of Constatinople by Mehmed II in 1453. The conversion of the Hagia Sophia (the capitol of orthodox Christianity and the seat of the Patriach of Constatinople) an architectural master piece of Athemios of Tralles and Isodorus of Miletus by the victorious Ottomans to a mosque emphatically announced the rise of another Islamic power after the decline of the glorious age of the Arab Caliphs and Caliphates

The Ottomans (a non-Arab Muslim people) struck a chord different to the rulership style of their spiritual Arab brethren (the originators of Islam) in that, they sought a blend between the Orient and Occident. This was clearly emphasized in the administration of Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror (1432-1481) to Süleyman I, The Magnificent (1494-1566), Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (1520-1566), during whose reign the empire reached its zenith of power and splendour. During his reign, the Ottomans rocked the gates of Vienna----the seat of the Hapsburgs and lords of the Holy Roman empire.
At a moment when the Arabs lacked natural leadership, the Ottomans (Spiritual Bethren of the majority Arab Muslim middle east), proved a congruous force in bringing the middle east at par with advances of the ever seeking dominant European powers. The Ottomans were able to effectively administer their heterogenous religious and ethnic populations with minimal issues of tensions among the various subjugated peoples.


In signing the treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, the Ottoman Empire began to tread the path of a steady decline and non-relevance in international politics; and by the end the first world war in 1918, the Ottoman empire was in ruins! All subjugated peoples of the empire had gotten their agitation for independence and Constatinople (the Seat of Ottoman power) was under Allied (British, French and U.S) occupation.

At the moment of Ottoman desperation, a vanguard for Turkic liberation arose in Mustafa Kemal who in his nationalistic fervour  revoked the Treaty of Sèvres and pushed the Allied occupation force out of Constatinople. Abolishing what was left in the 623 year rule of the Ottoman Sultanate in deposition of Mehmed IV Vhadettin, Turkey became a republic on November 1, 1922. Mustafa Kemal, later known as Ataturk (Father of the Turks) instituted revolutionary reforms in his new found republic among which are:

  • *    The abolishment of  the Sultanate and Caliphate (making Turkey a republic),
  • *    The ban on the wearing of Islamic dress in public (the fez cap and the hijab)
  • *    The separation of religion from state.
  • *    The Latinization of the alphabetical characters used in writing the Turkish language—a departure from the use of Arabic alphabetical characters. He also de-Arabized the Turkish language.
  • *    The introduction of European styled canonical law for governance.

Ever since then, Turkey began a pro-western path and it was no surprise when Turkey joined the western military alliance (NATO) in 1952; becoming a buffer against Soviet expansion in the Levant during the height of the cold war.
Thus, Turkey has been a darling to both the western powers and its Arab and Muslim neighbours in its unique relationship with both the middle orient and the occident. No wonder Turkey (a Muslim nation) has diplomatic relations with Israel (an unwanted entity to most Arabs) to the tune of joint military cooperations.

From its fall after the second world war, the population of Anatolia has witnessed a steady rise in Muslim population while the traditional Christian population has declined. Persecuted Muslim populations of the Caucasus found a welcoming home in Turkey and thus the Muslim population of Turkey has swelled from over 50% in the early 1900’s to 99%.
Despite Turkish attempts in joining the European Union after series of westernization policies, Turkish membership has been declined in reminisce of  its religious significance as a Muslim majority nation. This may not be seen as a set back for Turkish cause as she needs to identify her role as a bridge between the Levant and the Occident.

Whilst this role was well administered by the defunct Ottoman empire in its glory days, mordern day Turkey can draw an inspiration from its glorious Ottoman past. Her ability to chide Israel and still maintain diplomatic sanity with the Jewish state, walk arm in arms with the Western powers and still maintain spiritual communion with its Arab muslim neigbours most of whom practice Sunni Islam (the orthodox form of Islam) does lends a credence to any purported form of Turkish dominance of levantine politics.

Whilst Egypt, Iraq, and Syria have tried and failed trump the Arab and Muslim cause in the middle east and Iran (a majority Shiite nation) not seen as a credible option by most Sunni Arab Muslims, Turkey provides a worthy leadership.

At a time when western powers are wary of military intervention in the middle east in the face of inconclusive battles and withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s a vacuum for a Muslim leadership in the middle east as the Arab league lacks clear leadership vigour in tackling the unrest in the middle east.

As the Syrian conflict drags unending with countless hundreds of thousands of civilian causalities and the UN security council powers bickering their interests rather than resolve the quagmire, the initiative beckons on Turkey to front the leadership of the Muslim middle east!

Samson Faboye

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