Ottoman Empire 2.0

The Turkish President Recep Erdogan has made the international news again, this time for a bizarre case of psychological child abuse:

The Turkish president has appeared in a bizarre video in which he assures a sobbing child in military uniform that she would get state honours if killed while fighting.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan was heard commenting: ‘If she’s martyred, they’ll lay a flag on her,’ at a televised congress of his AK party.

He made the comment – on live television – in front of cheering supporters who urged him to carry on with the military offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria’s northern Afrin region…

In the event the young girl – estimated to be about five years old – dressed as a soldier seems to catch the attention of Mr Erdogan, who then invites her to the stage, the BBC reported.

‘Look what you see here! Girl, what are you doing here? We have our maroon berets here, but maroon berets never cry,’ he told her, referring to the beret worn by the Turkish Special Operations Forces.

‘She has a Turkish flag in her pocket too… If she’s martyred, they’ll lay a flag on her, God willing,’ he said during the congress in the southern town of Kahramanmaras on Saturday.

‘She is ready for everything, isn’t she?’ The girl replied: ‘Yes.’

Mr Erdogan then kissed her face and let her go.

The whole thing is sad, bizarre, disturbing and sickening, particularly coming from a supposedly democratically elected head of a state that ostensibly continues to be considered for membership of the European Union. But it’s not particularly surprising, coming from a Hitler-inspired Islamist who is taking his country back decades if not centuries by erasing the secular-modernist legacy of Ataturk.

What’s more disturbing – but without the illustrative benefit or a crying girl – are Erdogan’s other recent remarks, which like the child martyrdom praise also relate to the direction of Turkey’s new aggressive foreign policy:

“Those who think that we have erased from our hearts the lands from which we withdrew in tears a hundred years ago are wrong.

“We say at every opportunity we have that Syria, Iraq and other places in the geography [map] in our hearts are no different from our own homeland. We are struggling so that a foreign flag will not be waved anywhere where adhan [Islamic call to prayer in mosques] is recited.

“The things we have done so far [pale in comparison to the] even greater attempts and attacks [we are planning for] the coming days, inshallah [Allah willing].”

“The lands from which we withdraw in tears a hundred years ago” refer to the territory that the then Ottoman Empire had lost as a result of the defeat in the Balkan Wars and then the First World War from 1912 to 1918. This includes pretty much all of the Middle East (Israel, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia) as well as large chunks of the Balkans (currently belonging to Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania). Erogan still, after more than a century, considers them akin to “our homeland”, even though none of them are in any significant numbers inhabited by the ethnic Turks, but instead by the Kurds, Arabs, Jews, Greeks, Slavs, and Balkan Muslims; ethnically varied communities professing all three Abrahamic religions, and all united by virtually only one thing – the lack of desire to be again part of the Turkish empire.


Not only should this sort of rhetoric worry all of Turkey’s neighbours, but it particularly should worry those who don’t share Erdogan’s religion. The reference to foreign flags not being allowed to fly where the Islamic call to prayer is recited can be logically construed to refer to Israel, and to a lesser extent to the Middle East’s already rapidly disappearing Christian minority (as well as other minorities, like Yezidis), particularly in the circumstances where they find themselves in conflict with the dominant Muslim majority (like they did in Syria and Iraq during the struggle against ISIS). The no-foreign-flags doctrine also conceivably refers to places like Syria, where the Turkish military is currently fighting against the Syrian Kurds, who through their connections with the Turkish Kurds are seen as the existential threat to Turkey’s territorial integrity, but who are also perceived as being too alien, or too Western, through their occasional association (of necessity, if anything else) with the United States and sometimes even Israel. What Erdogan is offering is a recipe for ethnic and religious cleansing – something that Turkey has extensive experience of, including the Armenian genocide and the Greek expulsions, all crimes that the modern Turkey neither acknowledges nor has come to reckoning with.

The President of Turkey appears to be having territorial designs on and threatening the territorial integrity of his fellow NATO members (Turkey, Bulgaria, Albania), as well as the Western allies like Israel, and countries, territories, and groups with strong links to the United States and the West more broadly (Kosovo, Iraq, the Kurds). The last thing that the Middle East and the south-east Europe need is Turkey trying to relive its past emperial glories. But at the very least, Erodgan’s posturing and actions (such as his invasion of northern Syria, which the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs has already officially designated as “jihad”) are destroying any residual illusions that the new Islamist Turkey is in any way pro-Western, a friend or an ally. That’s not much, but it’s a start.