by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 10, Muharram, 1435)
After experiencing repeated failures in its policies, especially in Syria, Iraq and Egypt, Turkey has embarked on a course correction in foreign policy. One hopes these are sincere and that Ankara would work for peace and justice rather than disunity in the region.
Turkey is an important player in the Muslim world. Its policies affect developments in the entire region, indeed even beyond. With the ascension to power of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, great hopes were aroused among Muslims worldwide that Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan would help promote unity in the Ummah. This is what is desperately needed today.
These hopes were strengthened when Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu outlined his policy of “zero problem” with neighbours. His call was welcomed by Muslims worldwide. The policy immediately paid dividends in the form of increased trade between regional countries and much easier travel by their citizens. After decades of remaining in the wilderness (following Mustafa Kemal’s imposition of secularism), Muslims felt Turkey was re-entering the Islamic fold.
Then Turkey lost its way, first in Libya and then in Syria. The Libyan fiasco was short-lived even if no less traumatic for the Libyan people. Syria has been an unmitigated disaster. The Turkish government joined the imperialist-Zionist-Wahhabi crusade against the government of Bashar al-Asad. From “zero problem,” Turkey ended with a “zero friendship” situation. Turkish policy also contributed to increased sectarian tensions with its attendant negative repercussions. Recent developments, however, indicate that Turkey has realized the negative consequences of its policy and that a course correction is finally underway.
This is welcome news. Three moves by Turkey in recent days indicate this change of direction. First, Turkey declared Jubhat al-Nusrah in Syria a terrorist organization. Second, on November 1, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif of Iran met Davutoglu in Ankara. The meeting was hailed as creating a positive atmosphere and overcoming some of the bitterness that had resulted from their divergent policies over Syria. Both foreign ministers also condemned terrorism.
The third and perhaps most significant development was Davutoglu’s visit to Iraq on November 10 and 11 that was capped by his visit to the Shi‘i holy cities of al-Najaf and Karbala’ on November 11. The visit was historic as it marked the first time in modern Turkish history that a senior Turkish official had visited the two holy cities.
Davutoglu made other symbolic gestures. Since it was the month of al-Muharram that is marked by Shi‘i Muslims commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (ra) in Karbala’ in 61ah (680ce), Davutoglu wore a black shirt as a sign of respect. Many Sunnis also observe this day with reverence although in slightly different ways.
While in al-Najaf, his gesture could not have gone unnoticed where he met Ayatullah Sayyid ‘Ali al-Sistani and praised him for his wisdom and sagacity. In referring to the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (ra) and al-Muharram commemoration ceremonies, Davutoglu said that al-Najaf and Karbala’ were in the hearts of all Turkish Muslims and that the principles espoused by the Imam for which he offered the supreme sacrifice of his life and that of his entire family belonged not only to all Muslims but to all humanity.
He also expressed hope that such a tragedy as the one that occurred in Karbala’ would never be repeated. Ayatullah Sistani appreciated Davutoglu’s sentiments. The Turkish foreign minister also visited the shrine of Imam ‘Ali (ra) and Imam Husayn (ra) in al-Najaf before heading to Karbala’.
During his two-day visit, Davutoglu met a number of Iraqi officials in Baghdad as well as Sayyid Ammar al-Hakim and Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr. This has important resonance even though neither Sayyid holds an official position but both play an important role in Iraqi society.
With Sayyid Muqtada, Davutoglu discussed the sectarian crisis afflicting the region and stressed that both countries must work together to confront terrorism. Sectarianism is deliberately stoked by such regimes as Saudi Arabia. This has become especially serious in Syria where Turkey’s position is closer to the Saudis’ but due to recent developments, Ankara is gradually moving away from this policy.
How Davutoglu’s visit to Iraq would be viewed in Riyadh is not difficult to imagine. Ankara and Riyadh have fallen out over the military coup in Egypt. Erdogan continues to support ousted President Mohamed Mursi while the Saudis are fully behind the military junta led by the Zionist, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Turkey and Egypt also expelled each other’s ambassadors on November 23.
Turkey has embarked on policy changes after its previous anti-Asad stance ran aground and Ankara ended up antagonizing almost all of its neighbours. Ankara’s change of policy is good news and if it stays on this course, it would lead to a positive outcome frustrating the plots of those that want to divide the Muslims.