“The Turks are Coming!!”: The Ignorance behind Nationalist criticisms of Turkish military intervention in Syria and Iraq

I’m writing this to comment on the supposedly ‘scary’ claims drummed up by Western pundits, Liberals and nationalists, that Turkey wants to re-establish control over north Syria and north Iraq, violating Iraqi and Syrian ‘sovereignty’, to incorporate these lands into itself harkening back to the days of the Ottoman Caliphate.

So what?

Firstly, I don’t think Turkey is seriously attempting to do this, it has always had interests in removing terror groups from its borders. However, to the claim that we should be concerned that Turkey is attempting to expand and (re)incorporate Muslim lands into itself, Muslims should ask a more important question – so what?

The nation states of Iraq and Syria are artificial and foreign creations, cut out of the Muslim Ummah after the British took the Middle East BY FORCE from the Ottoman Caliphate. The Ottoman armies, I might add, were composed not only of Turks, but significant portions of Arab, Turkmen and Kurdish troops who attempted to defend the lands against British military expeditions. Why are Muslims today even defending such constructions?

What we call ‘Iraq’ today, was actually back then (parts of) three different Ottoman Wilayat (districts); the Wilayah of Mosul, the Wilayah of Basra, and the Wilayah of Baghdad. ‘Syria’ now rests over the (parts of the) Ottoman Wilayat of Aleppo, Beirut and Damascus.

Nationalists may argue: “Surely, the nation states of Iraq, Syria and Turkey are just the grouping of previous Wilayahs together?”

Actually no

The ‘nation-states’ of Iraq and Syria aren’t simply just groupings of Wilayah; the territories in the region were completely redefined. Each ‘nation state’ was carved up into its current shape to fulfil the interests of the colonial powers France and Britain.

187391-004-f45d75c6While the treaty of Lausanne (1923) defined the modern borders, the cutting out of the Middle-East is rooted in the Sykes-Picot agreement between France and Britain, to divide the Middle east between their spheres of influence.

The original Sykes-Picot agreement was enforced upon a defeated Ottoman Caliphate in the treaty of Sevres (1920), which completely dismembered the Caliphate into pieces.


However, a Turkish uprising against the treaty was steered by Turkish nationalists, which meant that the treaty had to be renegotiated at Lausanne, and a new one drafted that ceded most of Anatolia to a new (and Secular) nation-state of Turkey. Some historians theorised that the British, French (and Russians) conceded allowing control of most of Anatolia to the Turks, on the condition that the Ottoman Caliphate would be demolished by them and replaced with a secular nation-state.

These events meant that the new divisions in the Middle East were created completely out of British and French interests, and not respecting any ethnic, geographic, religious, or historical aspects of the region.

Syria, for example, was formed from Ottoman wilayahs been cut in pieces. Parts of north-eastern Syria, like Nusaybin and even Raqqa(!), actually belonged to the Wilayah of Diyarbakir – which is centred on the now Turkish city of Diyarbakir. The entire top half of the former Ottoman Wilayah of Aleppo is actually in modern day (Anatolia) Turkey, and extended to Elbestan, just north of the Zagros mountain range.

The Ottoman Wilayah of Beirut was divided between three areas, north part going to newly created ‘Syria’, the south going to newly created ‘Palestine’, and the centre would go to forming another new nation-state, where France expanded the Christian mutasharifah (autonomous region) of mount Lebanon over the adjacent Muslim regions to dilute their power, intending a new ‘Greater Lebanon’ to act as a proxy for French interests in the region. With the newly named region of ‘Palestine’, the British intended, would become a proxy for British interests, and too weak to resist British imposed changes. Of course, this region was ‘lost’ to the British Empire when it became the focus of the interest of the newly powerful U.S.

The Wilayah of Damascus, which extended all the way south to Tafi’lah (in modern Jordan) was cut in half, the north half with heavy Druze concentrations, would go toward the new ‘Syria’, while the south would go to make the new kingdom of ‘Transjordan’.

As for ‘Iraq’, the Ottoman Wilayah of Mosul stretched so far west, it covered land that the British would later call eastern ‘Syria’. Mosul was originally going to go to France’s sphere of influence, until oil was discovered around it, and the British negotiated heavily with France to move it over to its side’. Under this pretext, the Wilayah of Mosul was cut with most of it joined to the new ‘Iraq’. That’s right, the reason Mosul is part of Iraq and not Syria, is Oil. All Iraqi nationalists take note. Your ‘country’ is created because of oil (which has pretty much determined what happened to it ever since).

The other argument I hear from nationalists, is one which argues that the U.S. are attempting to divide up Syria and Iraq to weaken them. While this argument may have some merit, the point at hand is it is either not sincere, or selectively ignorant. The Middle East has already been divided and weakened. If nationalists truly cared about that, they wouldn’t be defending the cut-out nation states they were born into (and now ignorantly defend), but advocate for repealing colonialism, and a reunification of the Muslim world. The fact that many of them don’t, only demonstrates the reactionary nature of their motives. It’s not division they object to, but division different from the ones they already know – and accept.

Muslims are commanded by the Prophet Muhammed (saaw), and Allah (swt) in the Quran, to ‘not be divided amongst ourselves’. The Muslims of Yathrib, didn’t complain that their city (now called Madinah, or ‘the City’), was being ‘dominated’ by Makkans, nor did they object when the Prophet Muhammed (saaw) molded all the previously divided tribes of the Aws and Khazraj and later Muslim Makkans, into one new and unified ‘tribe’, the Ummah, with one political authority.

While Turkey isn’t an Islamic government, Islamic groups in Turkey are free to advocate for Islam and Islamic government, and the mood in Turkey is turning to a positive nostalgia to their Islamic past (as opposed to the militant Secular hatred of their past that used to predominate). Islamic groups are freer to flourish in Turkey than they are under the oppressive secular regime of Assad, or the sectarian strife ridden regime of Iraq. Considering that Iraq is dominated by a government dependent on US power, and Syria on Russian power, Turkey is strong enough to at least depend on itself (despite some of its policies and diplomatic relations being pragmatic and not always in line with Islam).

However, considering Islamic imperatives, it could still be strongly argued that it is better for Muslim lands to be joined together as much as possible until an Islamic government returns, rather than remain divided by the Sykes-Picot agreement and the treaty of Lausanne.

Pro-Assad nationalists, and pro-Abadi nationalists usually argue that ‘Turkey are foreigners coming to our land!’. Firstly, Turks are predominately Muslim, so not foreigners to other Muslims. Secondly, why don’t they say that to the Americans and Russian MILITARY who are on the ground in their ‘countries’, supplying them with weapons and propping up their puppet regimes?

There doesn’t remain any legitimate objection by nationalists and liberals to Turkish military moving into Syria and Iraq even if it was merely just to (re)take land lost to it by the treaty of Sevres. Of course, there are other arguments, such as the need to defeat Iraqi Baathists (ISIS) and Communists (PKK) terror groups, as well as protecting civilians from sectarian genocide.

In conclusion, while Turkey isn’t an Islamic government or country, it may be better for Muslims in north Syria and Iraq to live under Erdogan and their Turkish brothers and sisters in Islam, and contribute their combined strength (like their ancestors did), than live under the continued oppression of secular Syrian Baathists, or Iraqi Sectarians – both of whom are propped up by foreign powers.


4 replies

  1. Yes, much of the cry “Turks are coming!” is rooted in ignorance if not ill-willed colonialism, but not all of it. There are a couple of reasons for that and these are enough to invalidate the thesis defended above.

    First, Turks who are coming are not the same Turks who were there a century ago: they were Ottomans back then, but they have been “nationalized” by Ataturk’s Republic. I think the bulk of the Turks who desire to capture the old Ottoman lands are motivated not by the Islamic precept that Muslims should not be divided but by their simple nationalist pride. If asked to be governed by, say, the Iraqis, they will not consent and fight if necessary no matter how peaceful the Iraqi government will be. So, the impetus is domination, not unity, and “Al-a’malu bi’n-niyyat (Deeds are judged according to their motivations.)”

    Second, I do not think that a government can rule according to Islamic values unless it gets the consent of the ruled, but a good portion (maybe most) of the Muslims in the Middle East do not consent to Turkish rule. Unity is much better than separation; however, as the Turkish proverb goes, no beauty is created by compulsion. Turks cannot go into Iraq and Syria and say “I will rule you from now on and re-establish the caliphate, which is Islamic.” That will not create something Islamic but will engender a sectarian war. Trust, good-will and integrity should be restored among the Muslims before attempting any unity. None of the parties can impose unilateral unity without bloodshed, which is un-Islamic. So, I do not think that unity of the Muslims is not feasible now.

    That said, I do not think that Turkey is implementing a truly irrendentist foreign policy. The purpose of the ostensible irredentism of the current government is to consolidate power at home, push back PKK and ISIS terrorists, prevent a sectarian genocide and forestall yet another influx of refugees into Turkey. But that does not mean that this irredentism is not dangerous — any irredentism has the dangers of inciting a conflict. This irredentist discourse is also perilous for the minorities inside; we do hear news about members of underrepresented groups who are harassed or attacked in various Turkish provinces. So it has unintended consequences and no one can know where it may end up.

    That is why the current irredentist discourse is opposed by many Muslim intellectuals in Turkey.


    • Thank you for your comment.

      The irony is, the Ottomans first came to power in the middle east by conquest of the neighbouring Muslim Amirs – so I don’t think that has ever the issue. However, the only point behind the article is, there would be no reason from a Muslim to oppose Turkey undertaking its operations in Syria and Iraq (whether Turkey was sincerely motivated by Islam or not). The article did not comment on whether the nationalists of any of the countries involve would accept this or not (it is assumed they do not accept it). The article therefore is not political analysis, nor political predictions, but rather a statement of an Islamic based critique to a nationalist argument.


      • I already do not endorse Ottoman conquests. To put it more correctly, I do not endorse the idealization of the act of “conquest.” Ottomans had the ideology of conquering although they did not force the inhabitants of the lands they conquered to become Muslims; however, please look at the ex-Ottoman territories now: Serbs, Hungarians, Greeks etc. They all do hate Ottomans and, alas, they hate Islam too due to the fact that they match the image of an Ottoman with that of Islam. But please look at Indonesia whose inhabitants converted voluntarily to Islam while making trade with Muslim Arabs and they are still Muslims. This is the real “conquest.” The meaning of the word “al-fath,” the Arabic term for conquest, has changed over time and it should urgently be deconstructed. The real “fath” is the “opening” of a person’s heart to Allah, God, or a scientific discovery (“opening” of a previously dim subject), not seizure of land. That is why Ibn-i Arabi named one of his books “Futuhat-i Makkiyya”. The word conquest is itself state-centric and never gets mentioned in Muallaq-at es-Seb’a that was written before the advent of Islam. So, good-willed though, Ottoman’s founding ideology was somewhat problematic and should not be emulated as an Islamic foreign policy according to Islamic precepts.

        What we as Muslims should do is, I do humbly think, that we should not take the short-cut to reach the “ideal Islamic state.” I doubt whether Muslims are better off with a state. Because truth does not need any force in order to enter into the hearts of fellow human beings; it should only be reflected on our actions and words. Depending on this basic idea have I criticize the writing above. I think we should find another counter-argument against ignorant arguments of the nationalists about this subject.



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