It was the glorious “One Minute” reaction of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2009 at World Economic Forum in Davos that triggered the multinational “spirit of Islam” again in the Middle East. He was considered a hero and in his trips to Middle Eastern countries; he was celebrated and people were chanting his name in the Arab streets. But was it really so? The answer lies in “Clash of Civilizations”.
Samuel Huntington’s famous article “The Clash of Civilizations” was basically giving out the signals of the US foreign policy in the new era after Cold War. The most important signal among them was that the “clash” which continued between ideologies during the Cold War would continue among the civilizations that were defined by “the concept of a religion or a sect within those religions.” With the September 11 terrorist attacks, this clash has eventually become more visible. At this specific point Turkey, as a “torn country,” had a great transformation.
First, US President George W. Bush stated that the new “Crusades” had begun against countries that supported terrorism. Then, 14 months later, a pro-Islamic political party won elections in Turkey. For the first time in the history of Turkish Republic, an Islamist political party had the majority in Parliament. A loyal ally of the USA and a strong member of the NATO was now under the control of a political party which had problems with the basic determinants of Western civilization. And that was the time of “the new Crusades”. The American army was in Afghanistan, a year later they were in Iraq. Bush stated that there was an “axis of evil” in the world that was direct threat to the security and order. Some of these “axis of evil” were actual neighbors of Turkey.
The “Westernization goal” of Turkey was the membership to European Union. The new party in the rule, JDP, said that EU membership was very important for the development of Turkey. Or, was it? In 2005, JDP’s efforts to negotiate with the EU started to decrease rapidly and the Prime Minister stated that “it was time to stop crawling at the door of EU”. Westernization goal was outdated.
At that specific time, Turkey turned to the Middle East. According to the Prime Minister, Turkey was one of the “co-chairs” of the Greater Middle East Project, implemented by the USA and the West in general. Now, that was a new goal: Becoming a powerful actor in the region. What Erdogan and the Turkish policy-makers did not foresee or predict was that the Arab countries did not trust Turkey at all. Turkey was one of the first countries that recognized Israel as an independent state; it was the Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister who attended the Bandung Conference in 1955 and threatened the independent countries, many Arab countries included, that they should stay within the Western bloc; it was Turkey that asked Arab countries to recognize Turkish Cypriot state and when they did not it was Turkey again that built closer relations with Israel during Intifada.
Then came the Arab Spring. In 2005, Sarkozy in France had announced that the immigrant laws should change, they changed, and a large group of educated and sophisticated university graduates could no longer immigrate to Europe. They had no jobs, no money. Protests started in early 2007 and then with the help of Wikileaks, they turned into larger mass movements, ended with overthrow of authoritarian regimes in some countries. What Turkey did during this period was try to understand what was really going on in the region.
The common belief was that Wikileaks had been the source of these mass movements. There were some claims in those documents which were about Turkish Prime Minister, Turkish government and other ministers. Erdogan and his ministers have waited until the elections and when Morsi came to government, Erdogan said that “democracy has now won”.
Then came Gezi. The huge mass movements in Turkey were a reaction of the people who have mostly considered or wanted to consider themselves as a part of the Western civilization. They were having problem with the statements, policies and implementations of the JDP government for a long time and Gezi Park was a symbol indicating that 12 year long JDP government could not do anything it wanted anymore. It has turned to be a very important breaking point in terms of the politicization of youth in western parts of Turkey. They wanted to shape a Turkey where people’s life styles were not interrupted. This was a “clash of civilizations” within Turkey.
The biggest mistake of the JDP government in the Arab Spring was to consider those events as the reaction of a “bunch of people” at first; and when the tide turned, Turkey celebrated “democracy” in these countries. Arab people and leaders did not buy that. During Gezi, Erdogan clearly stated that “Turkey was not going to let a group of looters to overthrow the government with the help of interest lobby” – a brand new concept invented by one of the advisors of Erdogan who was lost in translation- and he used that term as in bank interests. Now that was an important turning point. A group of “looters” were on the streets; just like the “looters” in Tahrir, in Tunisia, or in Libya. Erdogan had the second strike; to himself.
Turkish foreign policy did not foresee the coming of a military coup in Egypt when Sisi took over power. Erdogan, once again, was dealing with the protests within Turkey at that time and said that “We are next to those men and women in Rabia”-another important square where supporters of Morsi gathered to protest the military coup-; but ironically, there were protests going on in Turkey at that time. The white and blue collars of Turkey were protesting the policies of the government, just like those people who have protested the economic policies and corruption in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
To summarize, what Huntington named as “clash of civilizations” is being witnessed both in domestic and foreign policies of Turkey. Turkey, as a torn country, is experiencing the clash and keeps on staying on the West of the East and East of the West. Whatever a Western country has in the minds of Turks as a series of images, Turkey has those images in the minds of Arabs. This historical fact has not helped Erdogan to “carry the burden of Arabs and Islam” during his 12 years of reign, and resulted with a “valuable loneliness” within the region.