How yesterday's history feeds today's Turkey in Asia

MUHAMMET ALI GÜLER
Published 28.03.2019 22:21

The Ottoman State (1299-1922) is one of the most recognized examples of Islamic empires in the world. While respected historians Ataullah Bogdan Kopański and Elmira Akhmetova prefer using "Ottoman State," I prefer it too instead of "Ottoman Empire." According to Akhmetova, "Empire has negative meaning as it colonizes. As Muslims, we also say Ottoman, as it was Ottoman, and Ottoman, also has negative connotations such as piracy, criminal in the Russian language." Even now, despite many irreplaceable relics destroyed in wars or conflicts such as World War I, Ottoman architecture can be seen in the Balkans, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

For hundreds of years, the Ottomans expanded over three continents and ruled 72 different nations under an Islamic umbrella. In addition, there were also states that religiously adhered to the Ottoman Caliphate. The Ottoman Caliphate lasted from 1517 to 1924. The first and last Ottoman Caliphs were Yavuz Sultan Selim and Abdulmecid II. Thus, these different nations directly and indirectly shared traditions and cultures that affected each other throughout the Ottoman period. Recent history has seen common ground shared among Muslim nations despite the decline of the Ottomans. Currently, these nations constitute more than 50 states spread over three continents.

The regions ruled

Some of these nations were either ruled by the Ottoman State, or religiously connected to the Ottoman Caliphate. These nations have shared social and cultural relations with Turkey due to similar historical and religious backgrounds. Some of these nations included Albania (435 years), Bosnia-Herzegovina (539 years), Macedonia (539 years) and Kosovo (539 years) from Europe. From Africa, the countries included Algeria (313 years), Egypt (397 years), Eritrea (350 years), Somalia (350 years), Sudan (397 years) and Libya (394 years). From Asia, there was Palestine (402 years), Saudi Arabia (399 years), Iraq (402 years), Syria (402 years), Qatar (400 years) and the United Arab Emirates (400 years), which were under the rule of the Ottoman State. However, Muslims in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and some Turkic Khanates were also attached to the Ottoman Caliphate. Indian Muslims, including Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims, were under the Ottoman Caliphate.

As a result of common Islamic history during the Ottoman State, Turkey's historical and religious background provides fabulous cultural and social connections with more than 50 countries. Furthermore, sharing these common grounds helps modern Turkey expand by increasing its cultural, social and economic ties with these nations. In addition, sharing common ground with so many nations helps Turkey find its roots.

No doubt Turkey's Ottoman State heritage plays a crucial role in connecting Muslim nations with Turkish people in the world. Due to the Ottomans, at one time deemed the protector of Muslims and the strongest Muslim state, it is no secret that the people of modern Turkey are perceived as the grandsons of the Ottoman State by many other nations. Additionally, many people in Muslim nations like to mention their kinship with Turkish people due to the Ottoman State. Following the collapse of the Ottoman State, and around one hundred years of isolation, this kinship paves the way for Turkey to reconnect with these nations socially and culturally.

Over the last decade, Turkey has revitalized itself with multidirectional policies toward countries that were once Ottoman or close allies of the Ottomans. These include countries in Africa and the Middle East; even some countries in Asia such as Indonesia and Malaysia. These policies have repaired, established or improved relations with these nations.

Additionally, this commonality with Muslim nations through the legacy of the Ottomans may facilitate establishing and improving ties with Muslim nations in many fields, including the strategic and defense sectors. For example, Turkey and Indonesia began collaborating in the military and defense industry, while ties between Turkey and Malaysia are on the increase; the International Islamic University of Malaysia and Fatih Sultan Mehmet Vakif University in Turkey collaborated to create a Center for Malay World and Ottoman studies in Turkey and Malaysia, to cite just one further example.

Footprints in Asia

Turkey's presence in the Asia-Pacific region begins with the footprints of the Ottoman State traveling through nations such as the Mughal Empire, the Bahmani Sultanate and the Sultanate of Aceh. The Ottomans had warm relations with these countries since they were perceived as protectors of Muslims; for example, the Ottoman presence in Asia was in reaction to the request of aid from the Sultanate of Aceh to deal with colonizers. Additionally, the loyalty and help of Indian Muslims (India-Pakistan-Bangladesh) during the Ottoman State are legendary and subject to many movies and serials in modern Turkish history. Through religious commonality, the Ottomans improved economic and cultural relations in Asia and had significant influence on Muslims in the region. Therefore, there is still sympathy and love for the Ottoman State among Asian Muslim societies due to Ottoman services to Islam.

Turkey's recognition as the cultural and social inheritor of the Ottoman State has been felt positively among Asian Muslim nations following Turkey's long period of passiveness. This is based on my observations, talks and discussions with many Turkish and non-Turkish people living in Malaysia. This is in addition to talking with Muslims from Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Myanmar. As a result, I can say that the best, effective and efficient years in modern day Turkey's growing relations with the region are roughly between 2002 and 2018. There are a couple of reasons for specifying 2002 and 2018 such as the continued political and economic stability of Turkey.

It is worth noting that there should be a greater focus on Turkey's social and cultural harmony with the region in the near future.

During my conversations, I asked several questions that included "How do you know Turkey?" and "What do you know about Turkey?

Many times, the conversations began with the Ottoman State and ended up with Turkey's return to the world stage with the ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Other top topics of conversations included Fatih Sultan Mehmed, Istanbul, the Blue Mosque, Mevlana, Konya, the Hagia Sophia, Cappadocia, Sufism, and two Turkish television series: "Resurrection: Ertuğrul" and "Payitaht Abdulhamid." These conversations with diverse people help me learn and understand their opinions about the Ottoman State and Turkey.

Examples from the Turkish side

Some time ago I spoke with a couple of Turkish businessmen whom I met in Malaysia. They told me that they were now deemed to be respected clients and businessmen who can afford to buy items from Malaysia. They went on to say that there was a time when they were seen as low-class businessmen. It can be inferred that with the increasing interaction between Turkish and Asian businessmen, recognition of Turkey has seen positive growth across Asia.

In addition, I have met a few Turkish lecturers who have lived in Malaysia for a long time. During one of their speeches, one lecturer said that Turkey was not a renowned name in Malaysia until a couple of years ago. I would note that this would be during my first or second year in Malaysia.

My final example is based on my own personal experiences in Malaysia. From my first year in English classes to the years spent earning my doctorate, I have felt special respect, love and friendship from Asian Muslims. I do not believe this is because I am wise, hardworking or rich. I absolutely believe this is the case due to being Turkish, one who is descended from the Ottoman State, which invested sincerity, friendship, fidelity and love between Muslim nations.

Not Turkish, but still Muslims

I have met thousands of people in Malaysia from different countries. I have come across many Malaysians who are big fans of Ottoman archery. Some have fallen in love with Ottoman and Seljuk architecture in Turkey. I have friends and lecturers who say I am the grandson of the Ottoman State; thus, I have to be more hardworking.

I have Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian and Pakistani friends who try to attend every activity in regards to the Ottoman State and Turkey. For instance, I came across hundreds of attendees at the conference World Civilization Convention 3: Turks and The Malay World on Nov. 16-18 2018, in Kuala Lumpur, organized by Grup Penjejak Tamadun Dunia (GPTD).

There are many others: Indonesian, Cambodian and Bangladeshi Muslims who want better relations between Turkey and their beloved countries.

During my visit to the Philippines a few years ago, I had talks with my host family about relations between Turkey and the Philippines. It was then that my host family and I wished for better relations between the two nations.

During my journey through Thailand, I was hosted by a Muslim family in the Patani region. And on the way back to Malaysia, I met with another Muslim family in Satun, Thailand. We spoke about the Ottoman State and Turkey both times.

Consequently, a country that has grown out of the Ottoman State, which had been centuries-old authorities for the Muslim world, is still remembered by Muslim communities from Africa to Europe and to Asia. Therefore, it is not abnormal to encounter people across Asia who are aware of the Ottoman heritage. Two important topics among the many issues discussed in Muslim gatherings are the increasing social and cultural influence of Turkey since 2002.

* Ph.D. candidate in international relations at the University of Malaya, Malaysia

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