World War I radically changed the political geography of the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire, which dominated Europe for hundreds of years, had gained the name "the sick man of Europe" and lost control of its possessions in Europe prior to the war and lost its Middle Eastern territories afterward. Beginning from the late 18th century, the Ottoman Empire faced challenges defending itself against foreign invasion and occupation. Unfortunately, it couldn't make crucial reforms and changes. The empire collapsed, and the Allies transformed the Middle East into its current form, with its European-designed names, flags and borders.
The borders of the Middle East were drawn during the war by Mark Sykes of England and a Frenchman, François Georges-Picot, who led the negotiations between Great Britain and Ireland and the Third French Republic with the assent of the Russian Empire. The two diplomats' pencils divided the map of the region into states that cut through ethnic and religious communities. Later dubbed the Sykes-Picot treaty, the secret agreement, which was signed by Paris and London on May 16, 1916, drew the lines along the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, leading to many of the conflicts that continue today. A century on, the Middle East continues to bear the consequences of the treaty in question.
When a revolutionary wave started and spread throughout the Arab world in 2011, the so-called Arab Spring became a source of hope for Middle Easterners to demolish the Sykes-Picot order. Until that spring turned into the Arab Winter, protesters were saying that they had to go after the dictators to get rid of the Sykes-Picot agreement. However, the revolts turned into a civil war in Syria, which brought a whole new level of regional chaos when the U.S.-led Western world changed its policy against the Arab streets' demands since the uprisings were not about liberal democracy.
When people who asked for political reform and social justice went to the polls, they didn't elect leaders who would secure the interests of Western countries. That's why they were abandoned by Westerners who supported their uprisings in the first place. Dreams for a better life for Middle Easterners started to fade after revolutionary days were replaced by counterrevolutionary strikes. The U.S.-led Western world came back to bring democracy when Daesh, the brutal terrorist organization, found an opportunity to rise and grow in this mess, dashing the hopes for major change for the people of the Middle East.
The West kept suggesting solutions to put out the fire in the Middle East, alleging that it was looking at history books and drawing similarities between religious conflicts in Europe 400 years ago and the new sectarian conflicts in the region. Instead of facing the fact that the leading role they played in the Middle East in the past was the first in a series of Western missteps that eventually caused this mess, they started to talk about reshaping the region, offering new borders, new nation-states and new maps. They argued that the Westphalian framework, which concluded the Thirty Years' War, could help bring an end to the Middle East's deep-rooted conflicts.
There is no doubt today that they want to redesign the region in line with their interests again, and they have caused a huge humanitarian crisis, much as they did before.
Looking at the problems Turkey has had to face over the last couple of years, we can see that the West's new desires have a heavy cost not just for the Arab world but also for Turkey. The majority of people in Turkey know that the matters of the country's inner politics were not just domestic issues; they were linked to an agenda followed by the West to reshape the region. For instance, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has never hesitated to speak up against the new design for the Middle East and to raise his voice for people in need of humanitarian help, has been suddenly depicted as the latest authoritarian leader. There were two options for Erdoğan: To bow down to intimidation and threats from the West or to act without fear, knowing his historical responsibilities. If he chose the first and turned a blind eye to what is happening in the region, he would probably be portrayed as the most democratic leader in the Muslim world. Instead he picked the hard but noble way. As Erdoğan resisted, attacks targeting Turkey increased.
Just like Erdoğan, Turkey also had two options: To gain more strength and become united to survive the attacks or become divided and weak and lose in the end. That's why a critical constitutional referendum was held on April 16 to make Turkey's governance more efficient via a systemic change to presidentialism. The change was popularly approved by the electorate.
As part of the transition period, the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) on Sunday welcomed Erdoğan back to the chairman post in an emergency congress. Marking the beginning of a new era for Turkey, Erdoğan has started a reform process in Turkey. The slogan adopted by the ruling party for the congress was clue: "Democracy, Transformation, Reform."
The old parliamentarian system of Turkey, which could have turned the country back into "the sick man of Europe" once again amidst the regional chaos if it wasn't left behind, is history now. As they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Surely, Turkey is now getting back its strength and getting ready for a transformation process that will include social and economical reforms and start with institutional and structural ones. The struggle is not over for Turkey, as the map drawers haven't given up their decision to reshape the region yet.
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