For the Ottoman Empire and then the Turkish republic, World War I lasted more than four years. Starting even before the beginning of the 20th century, internal conflicts fueled by Western countries led by Britain and France were the leading reasons that collapsed the state. The war from 1914-1918 actually ended for the Ottoman Empire with the War of Independence, after of which the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923.
If we claim the internal unrest started when Sultan Abdülhamid II was deposed in 1908, after 33 years of rule and sent to Thessaloniki, we would not be far off.
Today, some historians say that the crises in the Middle East, where the chaos never ends, also started after that. As for me, the fall of the empire is the root of all problems in today's Middle East as well. And for many journalists, there is no doubt World War I and its aftermath led to trauma in the region that is still felt today.
Many people in the Middle East also say the void in the region that surfaced after the collapse of the empire and the abolition of the caliphate was never filled, and that is the reason behind all the problems.
Abdülhamid II is often depicted as an authoritarian sultan by many; however, the Young Turks, the restless military officials, who came to power after Sultan Abdülhamid II was dethroned, were even more autocratic. The rise of nationalism affected not only the people who followed the Young Turks, but also the people living under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. They were from a variety of religions and ethnicities, but the demography of the Ottoman Empire started to change as the Ottoman grip on its territory weakened. For instance, hundreds of thousands of Muslims, the refugees of those days, had to flee to Anatolia after the massacres in the Balkans. The people of Turkey did try to overcome the wounds of those days, and they still are.
That said, the reasons and results of the fall of the Ottoman Empire led to different views and according to some, the Ottoman era deserves resentment, and even loathing and curses.
The hatred toward the Ottomans has risen recently along with hostility for the republic in Turkey. Not only in the West but also countries in the Middle East, which became mandates of Britain and France after the war and gained their independence years later, have started to resent the Ottomans and Turks.
For example, a diplomatic dispute occurred between Turkey and Lebanon for the first time after Lebanese President Michel Aoun described the centuries during which his country was under the Ottoman Empire unfairly and irrelevantly. Aoun first accused the Ottoman Empire of state terror.
"All attempts at liberation from the Ottoman yoke were met with violence, killings and the sowing of sectarian discord," he said last week on the centenary of the declaration of Greater Lebanon.
"From 1516 through 1918, that is, four centuries and two years, Lebanon lived under Ottoman occupation. The people of Lebanon suffered a lot. The Ottomans' state terror against the Lebanese, especially during the years of World War I, caused hundreds of thousands of victims between famine, conscription and forced labor," Aoun added.
A few days later, a group of people unfurled a banner on which there was a Turkish flag with a skull placed on it in front of the Turkish Embassy in Beirut.
Releasing a statement on Sunday, Turkey condemned Aoun's baseless and biased claims about the Ottoman Empire. The statement said Aoun's comments had unfortunate and irresponsible tones that did not align with the friendship between the two countries.
"In the history of the Ottoman Empire, there was no 'state terror.' In contrast to the allegations, there was long-lasting stability in the Middle East during the Ottoman era. This period was a time when people from different religions and languages lived together in peace and mutual tolerance," the statement added.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry also summoned the Lebanese ambassador and denounced "the provocative acts in question" and called for quick action to protect Turkish interests in Lebanon, according to reports.
This incident reveals the grudge toward Turkey held by Lebanon's president, whom many in Lebanon believe takes his orders from Iran and the Lebanese Shiite militia, Hezbollah, even though he is a Christian and depicted as a nationalist. In addition, it is also known that other political parties in Lebanon get inspiration from the United Arab Emirates' (UAE) and Saudi Arabia's recent enmity toward Turkey.
The people who hung the banner are members of a group known as the "Omega Team," which supports the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). The FPM was founded by Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
So, this raises the question of whether supporters of Aoun put the banner on the Turkish Embassy because Hezbollah ordered it or if they were inspired by the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
On the other hand, many people in Lebanon protested Aoun's remarks to support Turkey and asked for respect for the Ottoman heritage. In Tripoli, people gathered, carrying Turkish flags, posters of Sultan Abdülhamid II and Ottoman symbols.
When you visit Lebanon, you can see that Beirut, which was once known as the Paris of the Middle East, is now totally under the control of Hezbollah and the influence of Iran. It is still getting the investments even though Lebanon's economy is in shambles, while the Lebanese state holds Tripoli as less valuable and it ignores that city's needs. Is it because the city and its people still respect the Ottoman Empire and protect its cultural heritage?
I assume that Aoun's remarks and the provocation in front of the Turkish Embassy will not affect the relations between the two countries for now. Turkey will not punish Lebanon because of its president's reckless and disrespectful remarks unless he and his supporters, controlled by Hezbollah and inspired by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, continue such provocations. Otherwise, it will be Lebanon's president who will be blamed for what he started.
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