Who Will “Rise Again”?

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Growing up in the State of South Carolina, at an early age, I became aware that the Civil War (called the War Between the States or War of Northern Aggression, depending on where in the Old South, one comes from) and the Confederate States of America left an indelible mark on the modern identity and culture of not just the State of South Carolina but the whole of the region that made up the Confederacy.

There still exists in this region a palpable sense of pride and identification with the Confederacy. For example, 70,000 people showed up for the procession of the remains of the crew of a Confederate submarine that, the year before, had been recovered from the Charleston, South Carolina harbor.

Over the years, from all the corners of the region that was the Confederacy, I had heard over and over that the “South will rise again”. I never put much thought into what was being said; rather, I dismissed this talk as uneducated gibberish of an identity that had, for some reason, remained attached to that regional culture.

When asked to write an article about the Turkish expansion and the possibility of some sort of neo-Ottoman empire, I kept thinking about all those times I had heard that the “South would rise again”, and the remnants of the identity of the defeated Confederacy. Thinking about it made me realize that, under the right circumstances; the Confederate’s shared identity (or any other historically shared identity) can be the catalyst for expansion under the guise of reuniting an extended family whose members have been separated for too long.

An historical shared identity is not, in and of itself, enough to reanimate the corpse of a dead empire. As discovered by Dr. Frankenstein, reanimation requires not only a corpse but also the right circumstances and conditions. Only then does reanimation of what once was become possible. However, whether or not the resurrected version is anything like the original always “remains to be seen.”

The corpse of the Ottoman Empire and its identity are on the laboratory table. With the right conditions and circumstances, in the near future, Turkey could attempt the reanimation of an Ottoman identified expansionist family reunion into Central Asia. This identity could be open to anybody who identifies historically, linguistically, religiously or culturally. It could be open to anybody to whom the notion of this neo-Ottomanistic identity offers more than their present national identity.

The conditions that place Turkey in a position to attempt a reanimation are:

1. They have the corpse of the Ottoman Empire and the historical Ottoman identity;

2. Turkey holds a geographically strategic piece of land in that it straddles East and West, separating Europe from Asia and the Middle East; and

3. Turkey controls the waters of both the Tigris and the Euphrates, with almost all of the waters of the Euphrates and a large portion of the Tigris originating within Turkey’s borders.

To get an idea of how and why Turkey will start to shed, not only its traditional nation state borders but also its Turkish identity, consider the circumstances of world affairs today and the path for the foreseeable future, including the state of the environment, resource depletion and the geopolitical power structure of the international community and its interconnected trajectory. And one should further consider the Turkish evolution of western stylized progress following the defeat and breakup of the Ottoman Empire following WWI, on through the restructuring of the global power structure post WWII, to the Cold War and into the post 9/11 globalized world. Understanding these elements makes clear how the conditions and circumstances have come together, in the last couple of years, to create an opportunity for Turkey to embark on a neo-Ottomanistic identity driven expansion into Central Asia.

According to Yavuz, national identities do not directly shape international relations and foreign policies, but determine the “self” in relation to perceived “others” constituting friend and enemy. It is the determination of friend and enemy that then shapes foreign policies. An exemplary example of this can be seen in the Ottoman/Turkish identity dichotomy that was a result of the defeat of the Ottomans in WWI, the ensuing three year civil war and the birth of the Turkish Republic and a newly formulated Turkish identity.

The Turkish Republican elite shaped this new Turkish identity, “self” and their institutions, to be fundamentally different from those of the Ottoman identity in two ways. First, the Ottoman identity was indelibly intertwined with Islam, while the Turkish identity was secular. Second, static national state borders territorially defined the Turkish identity, while the Ottoman identity transcended borders. One has only to look at the state of affairs of the European continent to understand how, why and to what ends these differences were woven into the Turkish identity.

Europe had just been through the “war to end all wars”, in which the outcome was the defeat of the German, Austria-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. The victorious European Allies came out of the war in a mindset to quash the possibility of recurring imperialist expansionist policies and empires in the European backyard.

Europe offered Turkey quick and easy cultural and social solutions to the economic problems of the country, while at the same time constructing a Turkish identity that was inherently contained in defined national borders, setting aside the historical, cultural and religious links to the Ottoman populations living outside these borders. The Turkish elite and institutions were quick to shift away from an Imperial/Islamic identity to a secular western stylized, national Turkish identity that was defined by national state borders and the aim of modernity through Europeanization.

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is a graduate student of International Relations at the University of Life Sciences in As, Norway. He has just finished 9 months of research in Lebanon and was previously living and working in Kyrgyzstan for three years. You can contact Michael at mishkastan@gmail.com

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