As demonstrated by the annual International Islamic Union Congress, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems determined to bring back the Ottoman Empire and a Sharia-governed caliphate. Pictured: Erdogan addresses the Turkish parliament on October 23, 2018 in Ankara. (Photo by Getty Images)
Turkey appears to be accelerating its endeavor to establish an Ottoman-style Islamic government encompassing several Muslim nations. One such effort was apparent in early November at the second "International Islamic Union Congress," in Istanbul. The conference is sponsored mainly by the Strategic Research Center for Defenders of Justice (ASSAM), headed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's chief military advisor, Adnan Tanrıverdi, a retired Islamist lieutenant general.
Other organizers of the congress -- the next one of which is to be held in December 2019 -- include the Association of Justice Defenders (ASDER), Istanbul's Üsküdar University (ÜÜ), the Union of NGOs of the Islamic World (UNIW), the International Muslim Scholars Association (UMAD) and the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS).
The self-described aim of the congress is "to make determinations on an academic and political ground with regard to current problems in world politics, particularly in Islamic world geography, and to offer solutions to decision-makers."
At the November event, Tanrıverdi and other prominent supporters of Erdoğan promoted the creation of a common Muslim economic market. Participants declared their aim to create an Islamic "superpower of the future on Islamic lands owned by 60 Islamic countries, inhabited by 1,6 billion Muslims, on 19 million km2," constituting "55.5% of world oil reserves and 45.6% of its production, 64.1% of natural gas reserves, and 33% of its production."
Bemoaning the fact that the "Muslim world is in disarray," Turkish Deputy Finance Minister Nurettin Nebati suggested in his address to the conferences that Erdoğan -- to whom he referred as the "leading imam to the ummah [Islamic nation]" -- would preside over this planned Islamic confederation.
"Is there anyone whose power would be enough to defeat the one who relies on Allah?" he asked rhetorically.
The Egyptian theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi, chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked International Union of Muslim Scholars -- known for his advocacy of suicide-bombings -- expressed similar sentiments at the IUMS's general assembly in Istanbul last month:
"Turkey is facing plots by those who don't like to see this nation [rising] and by the West. They would have succeeded [in their plots] but for Allah's support for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his brothers. Allah will help Erdoğan to emerge victorious as long as true Muslims are standing by him."
At the first ASSAM conference in November 2017, participants endorsed the aim of "unity of Islam" through establishing the "Confederation of Islamic Countries." Its declaration was approved by ASSAM and 109 NGOs – seventy of which were from Turkey – from 29 countries.
The declaration reads, in part:
"Islamic countries have to unite under one common will and an 'Islamic Countries Parliament' which will conduct permanent activities has to be established urgently. [The confederation aims to include] sixty-one Islamic countries... in the Unity of Islam provided they decide in free will and accept the unity terms and conditions."
In addition, a model constitution was drafted, according to which the capital of the Islamic confederation is Istanbul; sovereignty "belongs to Shariah [Islamic law]"; and four of the member states -- mainly Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia -- are expected to be European Muslim-majority countries.
The first congress also concluded that "each Islamic country should create a 'Ministry of Islamic Union' within its Council of Ministers."
ASSAM is planning to organize an "International Islamic Union Congress" every year until 2023, to address the "Islamic confederal state" it aims to establish across the Muslim world. Next year, participants will discuss "defense industry cooperation"; in 2020, they aim to determine a "common defense system"; in 2021, they will focus on a "joint foreign policy"; in 2022, the agenda is a "joint justice system"; and in 2023, the plan is to determine "common assistance and security" for the Islamic Union.
Ironically, 2023 will be the centennial of the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Given Erdoğan's past statements in praise of the Ottoman Empire, it appears that the goals of the ASSAM congresses are perfectly in line with his vision of the future.
At a public speech in 2016, for instance, Erdoğan made a distinction between Turkey's "physical borders" and the "borders of our [Turkish] heart":
"Our ancestors made wherever they went thrive and prosperous. We have a state tradition that established an environment of safety and peace in a wide geography, ranging from central Europe to Africa for centuries.
"The efforts of those trying to portray this body of knowledge as Western-style invasion are futile. Go to Syria, Iraq, North Africa, the Middle East or the Balkans, and ask the people there what they think of Turkey and Turks. You will never hear words such as colonialism, invasion, persecution or massacre. Instead, you will hear expressions of thanks that have become a symbol, such as, 'The loyal Turk was here.'
"Let me tell you a true story. A team of TIKA [Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency] goes to a mountainous village in Macedonia after long efforts and challenges. A very old person with a walking stick approaches the team. When he sees the Turkish flag on the vehicle, he pokes the TIKA official with his walking stick and asks: 'Why are you so late?... We have been waiting for you for 100 years."
Referring to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the withdrawal of Turkish forces from other nations, Erdoğan said:
"Yes, it has been a century since we left those lands but the waiting and the hope of the people there has never ended. Yesterday, we were there as a state. Today, we are there with our charitable, educational and health organizations as well as our projects of development. You know I say, 'The world is bigger than five' [referring to the veto power of the five permanent member states of the United Nations Security Council]. And Turkey is bigger than Turkey; just know this. We cannot be trapped inside 780,000 kilometers [Turkey's total area]. For our physical borders are different from the borders of our heart. Our brothers in Mosul, Kirkuk [in Iraq], in Al-Hasakah, Aleppo, Homs [in Syria], Misrata [in Libya], Skopje [in the Republic of Macedonia], Crimea [in the Russian Federation] and the Caucasus might be outside our physical borders, but they are all inside the borders of our heart. They are right inside our heart."
In short, as the ASSAM congresses demonstrate, Erdoğan seems determined to bring back the Ottoman Empire and a Sharia-governed caliphate.
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist born and raised a Muslim, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute and currently based in Washington D.C.