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Turkey: Searching for a Role - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Turkey topped the news stories once again after the agreement that was signed in Tehran that Iran would send some of its uranium to Turkey. This agreement is considered an Iranian ploy to delay the development of new sanctions. As a result, the question that is being repeated is: what does Turkey want?

Most answers refer to the return of Ottomanism, or what Wall Street Journal writer Bret Stephens said some Turks call “neo-Ottomanism.” If it is neo-Ottomanism then how can one comprehend Turkey’s understanding of Iran’s position towards the nuclear file, as the return of Ottomanism would mean weakening Persian influence, and [it would mean] strong Turkish-Western relations, especially with the US! Of course, Turkey’s image today, on the Western and Arab levels, is becoming more complex.

In his article entitled ‘What is Happening to Turkey’ published on May 11, 2010, Bret Stephens quoted Bernard Lewis who said that Ataturk’s Turkey has come closer to resembling Islamic Iran. This also contradicts the idea of Ottomanism returning, especially considering Turkey’s ambitions to join the EU. An Arab official familiar with the Turkish file told me that Turkey “is the opposition bloc to Iran and Iranian expansion in the region,” and that it “does not have ambitions for geographical expansion but rather is looking for an influential role.” This is true.

All the signs indicate that Turkey is searching for a role more than it is seeking to bring back the Islamic Caliphate. The clearest example of that is what Turkish writer Semih Idiz wrote in the Turkish Hurriyet newspaper. He explained [Turkish President] Erdogan’s angry position towards Iran before changing [his position] and traveling to Tehran in order to sign the agreement. Idiz wrote, “There was some disappointment when Tehran made it known recently that it would accept Brazilian mediation, after having said for months that it did not need any mediators following overt signals from Turkey that it wanted to play such a role.” The Arab official agreed with this as he said that Erdogan does not want the Brazilian president who is far away from the region to come along and steal Turkey’s role.

Therefore it is the complex (which is plaguing our region) over playing a role that is pushing Turkey more than the return of Ottaminism. Turkey wants to mediate between Syria and Israel whilst at the same time there are tense relations with Israel, and it wants to join the EU but it is playing a role in blocking the imposing of new sanctions on Iran; moreover, it embarrassed the US President. All of that shows that the Turks are victims of a complex regarding their role rather than operating with a clear vision, especially as Turkey believes in what its Foreign Minister calls “zero problems” [with its neighbours] and this is political oversimplification.

The Arab official says that Turkey “rushed into the Iran agreement and it might pay a price for that.” This is a fact. However, there are people who wonder why some Arabs endorse the Turkish role in the region even when it has taken on a role of justifying the Iranian project? The answer is, “we trust Sunni Turkey more than Shia Iran.” This answer might not be politically convincing. Who knows if some Arabs want to cleverly teach the Turks a lesson; if they open the door to them then they will drown in all the regional issues via the strategy of “come in and show us how clever you are!” Waging on the credibility of Iran is considered political adventurism, the consequences of which are undesirable. But, as mentioned above, there is a complex regarding searching for a role.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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