In the early 20th Century when Mustafa Kemal-who was given the grand title Ghazi or Fighter of the Islamic Faith, led an uprising and Turkish national army against the Western Powers and Russia’s attempt to dismember the Anatolia Peninsula, he probably never envisioned that someday Turkey would help bridge East and West. Nor did he realize that in creating the nation of Turkey, he was subverting an empire. (1)
Therefore, it was no surprise when Turkey’s Prime Minister (PM) Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the Islamist Justice and Development Party played a pivotal role with negotiations between Israel and Syria over Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights. Neither was the disclosure of Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan’s statement that Turkey would like to bridge the differences between the United States and Iran a major revelation. (Note: Syrian’s president just announced that Israel will return the Golan Heights.)
When Turkey’s PM Erdogan recently walked off the stage at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, he did so to protest and admonish those who applauded Israel’s justification of its invasion of Gaza which killed 1,300 civilians. He said he was very saddened so many people had been killed and thought it was wrong and “not very humanitarian.” In a follow-up interview, PM Erdogan condemned the brutal Israeli invasion and Israel’s punitive economic blockade against Gaza.
While challenging Israel to listen more intently to surrounding Arab nations, he is also working to bring Palestinian’s Hamas’ conditions for a permanent ceasefire to the United Nations. Can Turkey intervene and help free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and hundreds of Palestinians wrongly imprisoned-who have no name? A plan for Turkish peace keeping forces in and along Gaza and the Israeli border is also being considered. Mr. Erdogan too has called on the US and the world to initiate a new round of Middle East peace talks on behalf of Palestinian Statehood.
When President Barack Obama telephoned Turkish President Abdullah Gul and PM Erdogan, both agreed to strengthen US support for Turkish-Iraqi relations and address the Kurdish Question. At the same time, they encouraged the newly elected president to review America’s military policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Western Powers, especially the US, can learn from the Turkish-Ottoman Empire and how armies and massive rearmament programs unfortunately create empires by subverting nations.
While visiting the US, Turkish PM Erdogan cautioned that “All countries are passengers on the same ship” and “if we sink, we will all go down together.” PM Erdogan then challenged US and European leaders to turn their attentions to other “ticking time bombs” like the unsettled border disputes between Turkey’s neighbors Russia and Georgia and Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the hypocrisy of America’s nuclear policies in relation to Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
Turkey’s PM Erdogan warned that “Nuclear weapons are being harbored in many countries” and “Taking a stand against one country and forcing them to disarm is not an honest approach.” He challenged all nations, including the US, to eradicate nuclear weapons once and for all. Back at home, PM Erdogan has called for lifting a ban on Muslim women wearing head scarves in universities. He also plans a future meeting with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan to discuss the Armenian Diaspora.
It appears the “sick man of Europe” (as Britain and Czar Nicholaus I referred to the declining Turkish-Ottoman Empire) is today the “strong man of Eurasia” and is becoming a vital bridge between East and West. Due to disastrous wars in the Middle East and a tarnished human rights record, the US has currently forfeited its bridge in the 21st Century. Russia, Turkey’s powerful neighbor to the north, also too experienced trouble.
This power vacuum has left Turkey as being a vital link between East and West. NATO‘s predominantly secularist and Christian forces could improve its peace keeping operations by using more Turkish Muslim soldiers. Since the European Union (EU) has accepted Turkey as a potential candidate and if admitted, Islamic economic values could help improve wasteful and fledgling Western capitalist societies.
Turkey’s proximity to Europe in the West and Russia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria in the East, makes it an important bridge for peace and understanding. As Turkey revaluates the impact of secular institutions on religion, extreme individualism on the ummah, globalization on economic stability, and modernization on Islam, it would be well to remember the words of Ataturk Mustafa Kemal: “Surviving in the world of modern civilization depends upon changing ourselves.” (2)
This also goes for citizens in other countries around the world and what type of bridges they are encouraging their governments and leaders to build.
*Dallas Darling is the author of The Other Side Of Christianity: Reflections on Faith, Politics, Spirituality, History, and Peace, and is a writer for www.worldnews.com. You can read more of his articles at www.beverlydarling.com.
(1) Archer, Christon I., John R. Feris, Holger H. Herwig, and Timothy H.E. Travers. World History Of Warfare. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2002. p. 475.
(2) Ellis, Elisabeth Gaynor and Anthony Esler. World History Connections To Today. Needham, Massachusetts: Prentice Hall, 1999. p. 745.