Let’s make no mistake about it:
The evacuation of the Turkish military unit from the tiny piece of land — the Süleyman Şah tomb complex — is nothing more than a long overdue precaution.
The risk of an attack led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) — or the Syrian regime — at the spot had been hanging over Ankara, and had risen, particularly after the takeover of Kobani by local Kurdish forces.
At the same time, the mass unrest in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish towns during the siege of Kobani had already shown what sort of a powder keg the region had become and signs indicate that it led to a new sort of political balance between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and the top command. The military evaluation had long been clear that the tomb was a ticking time bomb and, one could argue, the AKP policies that one way or another helped strengthen ISIS had been an element of unease for the generals.
The escalation of ISIS’s unspeakable barbarism, which triggered military action from Jordan and Egypt, also lurks in the background as to why Ankara chose to act. The generals obviously do not wish to be dragged closer to an open war with Syria, as they would be if a provocation were to happen. There is no sign that they agree with the ongoing rhetoric of the AKP’s de facto and de jure leadership which is pushing regime change by any means necessary in Syria.
So, while the military will now feel a little more secure in the face of the unpredictabilities that the Syrian swamp offers with this successful action, what the evacuation means for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on the political level is yet another serious — if not the most serious so far — dent in the AKP’s regional aspirations and dreams.
The downing of the Turkish plane off the Syrian coast, the lengthy hostage crisis in Mosul and the battle for Kobani, all of which left the AKP government paralyzed, is now followed by the evacuation drama, perceived largely by the opposition camps as Turkey losing territory.
There are periods in history where reality “tames” leadership and political classes dazzled by their own illusions and images. Such is the case of Greece on the financial level, and such seems to be the case with Turkey on the regional policy level.
The question, then, focuses on how quick one is to realize the destructive consequences of erratic approaches and settle on corrections and adjustments.
So, what’s next for the AKP government? Now that a new position seems in the making, is there any new, coherent policy vis-à-vis the Syrian chaos? Who will deal with Turkey’s — what has now become a term of ridicule -– “precious loneliness” and how? What about Rojava; where does the domestic settlement process fit in?
What does Ankara and Washington signing a train-and-equip deal for the Syrian opposition really mean? Déjà vu? Another phase of folly, insisting on regime change, for which there remains a huge gap between capacities and empty talk? Why is the White House ambiguous in its comments on the deal?
Certainly the “political retreat” the evacuation means for the AKP will be a new ingredient in the political pot of Turkey, boiling at full scale for far too long. But, only time will tell whether or not it will come to symbolize a “wake up to reality” moment for the ruling AKP, understanding that insisting on a pipe dream of reconstructing Ottomanism will only mean insisting on losing more.
“Turks are increasingly dreaming Ottoman dreams. They do not see the reality behind the Karagöz puppet play projected onto the media screen, that in fact the boundaries of nations have eroded and that the Turkish nation itself is in danger of losing the characteristics that, since 1923, have made it Turkish,” wrote Jenny White in her powerful essay for the National Interest recently.
Creating equality between the eventual success of the Arab Awakening and that of the (exclusively Sunni) Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movement was another “grand illusion” of the AKP. The awakening turned into a nightmare, causing a new dynamic of tension between the armies of the region and the hordes of ISIS.
We will see if this new reality means anything for the Ottomanists.