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Turkey Flexes Muscles Under Erdogan, but It Won't Get Back Its Lost Glory

Updated on November 11, 2021
MG Singh profile image

MG is a senior service officer and now a senior corporate advisor. A prolific writer with varied interests and hobbies


Turkey is a predominant Muslim state that straddles the narrow straits of Bosphorus and is thus a part of both Europe and Asia, making it a Eurasian power.

After the spread of Islam, Turkey became a sultanate and the Ottoman Empire was established round about the 12th century. This empire was frequently in clash with the Christian Holy Roman Empire, but large tracts of Europe were incorporated in the Ottoman Empire. The most glorious period of the Ottoman Empire was during the 16th and 17th century. This was the period when the Ottoman Empire was ruled by Suleiman the magnificent. The Ottoman Empire is considered one of the great empires of history and at that time Turkish power was at its apex.

Break up of the Ottoman Empire

After the 18th century, the Ottoman Empire began to shrink and the European possessions tried to break away. The Western powers were not the supporters of the Ottoman Empire and thus during World War I, Turkey joined the Central Powers against the Allies. The Central powers were headed by Germany under Wilhelm Kaiser II.

The war had a disastrous effect and Turkey was defeated. At a number of places, the Turkish army was found wanting in morale and training. The British used large numbers of troops of the Indian army and these tilted the scales against Turkey. During the war, there were reports of the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians (Christians) by the Turks. This was denied by Turkey, who claimed that they were only being resettled. The net result was that western opinion against Turkey hardened and a defeated Turkey was made to sign the Treaty of Sevres in 1920. By this treaty, the monolith Ottoman Empire was broken up and Turkey lost its position as a world power.


After the treaty of Sevres, a man named Kemal Mustapha rallied the Turks and launched a war of independence, and was able to establish Turkish rule. But vast lands of the Ottoman Empire were lost forever. Kemal Mustapha is known as the Ataturk (the great Turk) and he abolished the caliphate in 1922. A republic was set up with Kemal Ataturk as the first president.

The rule of Kemal was a godsend for turkey, for he set in motion a string of reforms that modernized Turkey. He established a secular constitution and gave rights to all religions. Turkey is the only secular Muslim state in the entire world.

Kemal did something else also and by force and presidential decrees saw to it that the Turks assimilated western dress and norms. Thus Turkey became more like a European power.

Turkey after World War II

The Second World War saw Turkey remain neutral during the war, but towards the end of the war, it joined the allies more as a token gesture than anything. At the end of the war, Turkey was no longer a world power and was generally considered a 3rd rate power. But the institutions of democracy and secularism survived and these became a part of state policy.

Turkey joined NATO in 1952 and became part of the alliance against the Soviet Union. It also authorized spy flights over the Soviet Union, angering the Russians who warned of a strike. But Turkey strengthened its ties with the USA and the west and applied to join the European Union. The European powers were not keen on a Muslim state being a part of the European Union, as the Pope felt that the ethos of a dominant Christian polity would be disturbed. HenceTurkey, though an associate member has not been given entry into the European Union. There is very little chance that Turkey will ever be made a member of the EU. This of course has angered the leadership, headed presently by President Erdogan who has decided to chart out a different course. He has diluted the relationship with NATO and made overtures to Russia. At the same time, he has tried to shift away from the policies of Ataturk with an aiim to take over the leadership of the Muslim world.

Turkish Policy

Erdogan is not the Caliph and things are not going smoothly for him. Turkey has bad relations with Greece which at one time was part of the Ottoman Empire. The flashpoints were Crete and Cyprus. Much to the chagrin of the United States, the Turks were able to invade Cyprus and set up a puppet Moslem state in the part of cypress where the Muslims were in a majority. The west has not appreciated these acts. Erdogan has also decided to buy the S 400 missile system from Russia thumbing a nose at the United States which had opposed this deal

Turkey had earlier done the unthinkable and annoyed the Arabs by first recognizing Israel in 1948 and then establishing close ties with it. This included military cooperation as well. Erdogan has now tried to backtrack on relations with Israel and has been cultivating the Muslim world, in the hope that they would accept the leadership of turkey.

Turkeys Quest

Turkey is now looking forward to becoming the leader of the Arab Muslim states. There is also a resurgence of Islamic thought inTurkey. As a part of this, the Turks have started fighting for the rights of the Palestinians.


By these actions, Turkey would like to don the mantle of the leader of the Arab world. Turkey has tried to make its presence felt in Syria and Libya much to the chagrin of the United States. In addition, it is backing Qatar and Pakistan. The aim is to try and get back the old glory of Turkey during the time of Suleiman the great.

This task is however easier said than done as the European powers are not keen on Turkey joining the EU and the Arabs also will not countenance the Leadership of Turkey. Not many Arabs have forgotten that Turkish rule over the Arabs during the days of the Ottoman Empire was a cruel rule. In addition, Turkey has no infrastructure to be a world power. Its aircraft industry is a big zero and hardly any weapons are manufactured in Turkey. Its economy under Erdogan is in a nosedive and the Turkish Lire has lost much of its sheen in the world market. There is widespread inflation and the country has a serious balance of payment problem. Turkey is also backing Pakistan against India, which is not good for its own health.

Turkey under Erdogan has stagnated and all his dreams of great power status and restoration of the glory of the Ottoman empire have evaporated like the morning dew. The Muslim world still looks to Saudi Arabia as its leader and Turkey is an outsider. Erdogan has now become a dictator by changing the constitution and trying to give the state an Islamic color but the people are restive and there was an attempted military coup against him. There is no guarantee that something similar may not happen again. The chance that Erdogan can lead Turkey back to the glory of the Ottoman empire is, to say the least very remote.


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