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February 25, 2011, Friday

The Ottoman model and its critique

The “Ottoman model” stands out as a new framework of political organization as the regimes in the Middle East are being challenged one by one. Today, I will look at the Ottoman model from a critical point of view.

The Ottoman history is our heritage. And we cannot renounce this heritage. History does not repeat itself; it is rights or wrongs that repeat themselves. It is impossible to repeat the Ottoman case, but it is possible to repeat its rights or wrongs. In a world with changing objects and historical and political parameters, the Ottoman case alone cannot be taken as a reference for a new union. With its administrative and legal structure, the Ottoman Empire was admirable, of course. But it did not have a good intellectual reserve. Just as the Roman Empire consumed Greek thought, the Ottoman Empire exhausted what the Umayyads, the Abbasids and the Seljuks philosophized. The Ottoman Empire exaggerated the separation between the religion and the world, and removed philosophy and natural sciences from the curricula of madrasas, but this led only to the drying out of thought and meditation. If we are seeking for a model for revival in reflection, learning and sciences, only the Abbasids can serve as such a model. The Abbasids did not feel admiration toward anyone and borrowed the sciences and philosophy from the Greeks and other ancient cultures, and they left literature, arts, poetry and drama to their real owners.

The coming battles for hegemony will be fought in the Middle East, Eurasia and the Far East, where the Ottoman Empire did not have much experience. Instead of spreading and establishing a global hegemony, Europe’s reflexive tendency will be to maintain its existing borders and attempting to protect its existing welfare. Europe attaches some value to Turkey only because it has a certain strategic importance, and because of the pressures from the US to do so and the likelihood of Turkey’s establishing an alliance with the Muslim world. The EU’s view of Turkey is purely instrumental and strategic. Therefore, we have to turn our eyes along with the world toward the East.

Epistemologically, the Muslim world is going through a deep crisis, and there must be a concrete historical experience to which we can refer, and it is the Abbasid model. Second, in designing a new Muslim union, the Seljuk model is more functional than the Ottoman model.

The Seljuk Empire was geographically monolithic: It spread from Afghanistan to Konya, from Iran to Egypt, and from Baku to Bilad-i Sham -- modern Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon. Compared to the Ottoman model, the Abbasid/Seljuk model offers much more authentic and more comprehensive cultural grounds that are more applicable to the current conjuncture developments. The parameters that must be underlined here are related to how we see the world:

(1) As the world is being reshaped again, the interests of individual nation-states, as well as the strategies centered on ethnic groups or regions, are outdated. A new regional integration model should be designed by taking into consideration the interests of Muslim populations -- states and regions, ethnic groups and sects -- as well as non-Muslim populations. (2) With the bankruptcy of Arab nationalism, the Arabs can only exist together with Turkey and Iran. However, Arabs, Turks and Iranians cannot build a regional integration framework based on, Sunnism, secularism and Shiism respectively.(3) Turkey and Iran cannot have initiatives in the Middle East, Eurasia or the Far East either by “clashing” with each other as they did until the Kasr-ı Şirin treaty of 1639 or by “freezing the relations” as they did after the treaty was signed. The only possible way for them is to act together. (4) As was the case with the Ottomans, we cannot be disconnected from Asian Muslims, nor from the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, and the Turkic republics. We must reinforce our relations with these regions and in doing so we must “cooperate” with Iran instead of “compete” with it. Historically, when Iran and Russia severed ties with the Ottoman Empire, this put an end to the Samarkand- and Herat-centered Muslim Asian Renaissance. Therefore, cooperation with Iran is a must for Turkey to be able to resist Russian and Chinese pressures and overcome any obstacles in its efforts to establish relations with the Turkic republics. (5) After the nation-state phase, we are now entering the period of regional integration. Kurds are a natural part of this integration. They cannot exist in a buffer zone or by being excluded from the region. 6) Africa and the Balkans as well as Indonesia and Malaysia should be connected to the main body like two big wings of the big integration so that they can give it to strong spiritual and material push. 7) How will we address the world? Using which values? This is the ideal of the “ummah” that is beneficial to the entire humanity and its concrete expression is the set of rights, high moral life, freedoms and justice.

Previous articles of the columnist