Turkey’s authoritarian trails had always been there – but, Erdoğan’s Turkey is not, in any measure, like Ataturk’s. This does not come as a shocking revelation today. If the latter’s reformism was pro-Europe and secular, the former upholds a revision of the country based on pan-Islamism. It’s also a deviation from the Arab hegemony. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s revisionist policies have driven scholars to coin a new term of description – Neo-Ottomanism. It further came to light when Hagia Sophia was transformed back into a mosque from the museum. This worsened whatever weak link there was between Ankara and Athens. No further reminders are needed about the complementary fuss that developed in the Mediterranean while scouting for energy sources.
Turkey, along with the likes of Pakistan and Malaysia, has been for a while working on a new order of Islamic countries. With Saudis and other Arab countries mellowing down their stands and expanding for greater collaboration with the world, a chance for this new order has opened up. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister even vociferously challenged the Saudis not too long ago – the harm done needed some reversing and therefore, the country’s Army chief even paid a visit to Saudi Arabia. However, the loud statement cannot be quickly forgotten since it lays down some significant diplomatic changes. Erdoğan has voiced his discontentment with the deal that Bahrain and the UAE struck with Israel, deeming it a betrayal of the Palestinian cause. Turkey is spearheading the transitional effort, both diplomatically and militarily – the second form is more prominent in its involvement in Libya and Syria. The latest tug between Azerbaijan and Armenia too saw Turkey step in with additional support from Syrian troops that it backed.
There’s an unlikely tool that Erdoğan and AKP are relying on to gain support within the country for the face of their authoritarianism. Surpassing the incarceration of journalists and restrictions on free speech in Turkey, the popularity for Turkish TV dramas has been on an upward trajectory. It has successfully moulded the nation’s mood and interests under the pretext of reclaiming lost history. On the screen, it rolls out into a war against the colonial representations of the Ottoman empire – Turkish sentiments work to prove that the barbarianism and vulture-ism that was propagated as reflections of the Ottomans were far from true. Starting from The Magnificent Century and extending right till “Dirilis: Ertugrul” (‘Resurrection: Ertugrul), the new nationalism can be seen portrayed on screen.
This is a drastic shift from the earlier phase of Turkish drama which was admired by many across the globe for the romances in particular. A lighter part of the media is being effectively tapped and interpreted to aide the ruling party’s ideology. The Neo-Ottoman spirit that Erdoğan so wishes to instil in the people casually gets imprinted onto the viewer’s conscience. Having said that, a reworking of history to show one’s own people in reality’s light is not bad in any sense. In fact, owing to colonial history and the long sequence of annexations that many countries have had to face, regaining a sense of national identity is a prominent element in the post-colonial era. This must be encouraged and appreciated. However, such appreciation must not keep the critical eye away either.
Turkey’s reliance on media for popularizing the government’s agenda has been continually evolving. There was for a time, a raging conspiracy in the Turkish media about the apparent expiration of the Treaty of Lausanne –the reports claimed that this was to end in 2023 after a 100-year period and there could be a chance for the country to get back the territory that it handed over after the Ottoman Empire’s collapse. This supports the Neo-Ottoman Agenda that Turkey is endorsing and gradually concretizing in the Mediterranean – it cannot be easily calmed. The soft power of the EU is precisely what Turkey is aiming to douse. As earlier mentioned, if Ataturk wanted to pave a way of proximity with Europe and the Western way of life, Erdoğan wants the people to know that the country will no longer be at the mercy of ‘foreign’ powers.
Only time can tell how this progresses or ends. But one thing’s for sure – acts of patronization can very well be locked up in a far-away box. Turkey wants to be seen as an equal. As far as the EU is concerned, it can ponder over a new Mediterranean policy that’s equipped to meet the changing equations here.