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Turkey Flexes Muscles against Syria, but it won't Get Back its Lost Glory

Updated on October 14, 2012
Kemal Ataturk
Kemal Ataturk

The Downfall of Turkey

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

However after the 18th century theOttoman 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 duringWorld War I,Turkey joined the Central powers against the Allies. The Central powers were headed byGermany under Wilhelm Kaiser II.

The war had a disastrous effect and Turkeywas defeated. At a number of places the Turkish army was found wanting in morale and training. The British used large numbers of troop’s 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 re-settled. However 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.

Kemal Ataturk and Creation of the Turkish Republic

After this treaty 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 theOttoman Empirewere lost for ever. 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. Incidentally 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. Unfortunately 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.

Turkish Policy

Turkey also had bad relations with Greece which at one time was part of the Ottoman Empire. The flash points 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.

Turkey also did the unthinkable and annoyed the Arabs also by first recognizing Israel in 1948 and then establishing close ties with it. This included military cooperation as well.

Turkeys Quest

But things began to change with the victory of the Justice Party. The basic constitution is not changed but,Turkey is now looking forward to become the leader of the Arab Muslim states. There is also resurgence of Islamic thought inTurkey. As a part of this the Turks have started fighting for the rights of the Palestinians. Last year on 31 May 2010 Turkish ships tried to break a blockade of Gaza by Israel resulting in the Turkish ship being boarded by Israeli troops and navy and 9 Turks were killed.Turkey wanted an apology which Israel has not agreed to. The Turkish warships are now patrolling of the coast ofI srael and the atmosphere is tense. Just thus month (Sept 2011) the Israeli ambassador had been expelled.


By all these actions Turkey would like to don the mantle of a leader of the Arab world. At the same keep the line of communication intact with Europe to join the EU. 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 is good, but the where with all to become a world power are lacking.Turkey is also backing Pakistan against India, which is not good for its own health.

The Turkish leadership has now thought of a new way to curry favor with the west and has started a systematic campaign against Assad of Syria. It is actively helping the anti Assad forces and has even threatened an invasion of Syria. However as I have said Turkey is a shadow of what it was and no amount of bombastic rhetoric can help it regain its old glory.


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