There are clear signs that Turkey is making important changes in its policies that had led to serious disagreements with many of its neighbours. These primarily related to its policy on Syria where the AKP government had made the overthrow of Bashar al-Asad a central plank of its policy. This has failed and Turkey is changing course. It is also taking steps to reduce sectarian tensions. These are welcome developments.
November 14, 2013, 20:27 DST
Recent moves by Turkey indicate that the AKP government is taking steps to reduce sectarian tensions in the region. This is welcome development since Turkey is an important regional player that had unfortunately adopted policies that were exacerbating an already volatile situation in the region.
Three moves by Turkey in recent days indicate this change of direction. First, Turkey declared Jubhat al-Nusra operating in Syria as terrorist organization. Second, on November 5, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif of Iran met his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu in Ankara. The meeting was hailed as creating a positive atmosphere and overcoming some of the bitterness that had resulted from the divergent policies of the two countries over Syria.
The third and perhaps most important step was Foreign Minister Davutoglu’s visit to the Shi‘i holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in Iraq on November 10 and 11. The visit was historic since this was 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 is the month of Muharram that is marked by Shi‘i Muslims worldwide to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussain in Karbala in 61 AH (680 CE), Davutoglu wore a black shirt as a sign of respect for the martyred Imam. Many Sunnis also observe this day with reverence.
While in Najaf, his gesture could not have gone unnoticed where he met Ayatullah Seyyed Ali al-Sistani and praised him for his wisdom and sagacity.
In referring to the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and the Muharram commemoration ceremonies, Davutoglu said that 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 at Karbala (where Imam Hussain was martyred) would never be repeated. Ayatullah Sistani appreciated Davutoglu’s sentiments. The Turkish foreign minister also visited the shrine of Imam Ali and Imam Hussain in Najaf before heading to Karbala.
During his two-day visit, Davutoglu met a number of Iraqi officials in Baghdad as well as Ammar al-Hakim and Muqtada Sadr. This was an important symbolic gesture even though Seyyed Muqtada holds no official position but has a very important role in Iraqi society.
The two discussed the sectarian crisis afflicting the region and stressed that both countries must work together to confront terrorism. Sectarianism is deliberately stoked by regimes like those in Saudi Arabia. This has become especially virulent in Syria where Turkey’s position is closer to that of Saudi Arabia but due to recent developments, this may be changing.
How Davutoglu’s visit to Iraq would be viewed in Riyadh is not difficult to gauge. Turkey and Saudi Arabia have fallen out over the military coup in Egypt. Turkey continues to support ousted President Mohamed Mursi while the Saudis are fully behind the military junta led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the arch Zionist.
Turkey has clearly embarked on a policy to make changes since its previous anti-Asad policies have run aground and Ankara had antagonized a large number of its neighbours.
Ankara’s change of policy is good development and if it stays on this course, it would lead to positive outcomes frustrating the plots of those that want to divide Muslims.