The Turkish capture of Constantinople, 1453
Turkey's terrible miscalculation in Syria has pushed its foreign policy rhetoric from "shallow arrogance" to "defensive bewilderment." Over the past five years, Ankara has claimed that "Syria, Palestine and Egypt [and other former Ottoman territories] are Turkey's domestic affairs." It's bizarre, we have not heard Interior Minister Efkan Ala speaking on what has been going on in Syria over the past few months – not even once. Does Kobane not fall under the jurisdiction of his ministry?
Not learning from past mistakes, the Turks and their part-time allies across the Atlantic have now set out to train and equip "moderate" Islamists in Syria: The Americans hope the "moderates" will finish off their less moderate brethren, while the Turks hope that the new fighting will enforce bad Sunnis instead of bad Shiites in Damascus.
Press reports say that thousands of moderates will specialize in ambush, bombing and subversion skills at a military base in Turkey, courtesy of the American taxpayer. Nice plan. A plan that probably needs a back-up plan too: Better if the Turks and their part-time allies start thinking about training and equipping future moderates to fight today's moderates. Be prepared, gentlemen, for the perpetual Frankenstein's monster stories.
Salih Muslim, leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the most powerful Kurdish opposition group in Syria, put it most realistically in an interview with Hurriyet on Oct. 13: "While you [Turkey's leaders] were strolling arm in arm and enjoying kebab in Ankara, Damascus and Aleppo [with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], we [Syrian Kurds] were being tortured in dungeons. We [Syrian Kurds] won't be Turkey's front line soldiers [in its fight against al-Assad]."
"The Turks must now invite the major foreign powers they denounce at every occasion to fight a war that presumably falls under their own domestic affairs."
So Turkey needs non-Kurdish proxy warriors to fight its former ally, regional nemesis and dramatic obsession al-Assad: the moderates! Just like it once thought of, funded and armed what it now feels compelled to fight: the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The perpetual Frankenstein monster story…
Mesopotamia is full of ironies. It always has been. It probably will be in the future too. The Turks must now invite the major foreign powers they denounce at every occasion to fight a war that presumably falls under their own domestic affairs. If Syria is a domestic Turkish affair, why should Ankara make war plans with the Americans and court the Kurds to fight the enemy? Did Ankara invite U.S. troops to defeat the Gezi protesters in 2013?
But the Best Political Irony Award of the year should go jointly to Messrs. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Ahmet Davutoğlu and ISIL's leaders. For several years, the men who made Turkey's foreign policy argued (and still argue) that "when Turks and Muslims capture foreign lands by force, it is a merry thing to celebrate for all because it is 'the conquest of the heart and mind,'" and that when foreign armies take back from the Turks or Muslims what they had lost by force it is a bad thing because it is "invasion of our lands."
Most recently, ISIL's HQ spoke to Ankara in the language Turkey's conquest-fetish leaders should best understand, and thus qualified to join the award nominees when it threatened to "conquer" Turkey and ultimately remove President Erdoğan. ISIL's video, "A Message to Erdoğan," warns that "Turkey shall be conquered with the shouts of 'Allahu Akbar.'"
A narrator in the background is heard saying, addressing Mr. Erdoğan: "Be prepared for the good news, for the time for your rule to end is getting close at the hands of the state of the caliphate [ISIL]." The narrator further says: "Turkey has been spearheading the armies of 'Kufr' [infidelity] in fighting the Mujahedeen. It was the leader of the NATO forces in chasing the Taliban fighters. And today, the people of treachery refuse but to continue in their malicious ways although it is in a 'new and different look.'"
What ISIL men do is no doubt barbaric. But what they say can sometimes be amusing. Especially when one thinks of the same way Turkey's "lighter" Islamists view secular Muslims. Even more amusing is when they resort to the "conquest" rhetoric in the exact same way their "lighter" versions often do.
Burak Bekdil is a columnist for the Istanbul-based daily Hürriyet and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.