Is Erdogan an Extension of the Ottoman Empire Research Paper

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The Turkic tribes transformed themselves from a disparate, fragmented state into a hegemonic and organized empire. Lasting for centuries and making a profound impact on global politics, the Ottoman Empire built its status and power on bureaucratic authoritarianism, and also on fusing the power of religion and politics. The bastion of Sunni Islam, the Ottoman Empire colonized regions far beyond what are now the borders of the modern nation-state of Turkey. Moreover, the Ottoman Empire encompassed a wide range of linguistically and ethnically diverse people, capitalizing on access to global trade routes to bolster power and influence in and beyond Eurasia. The use of military might, of economic influence, and also of religious and cultural tools for social control and hegemony all characterized the Ottoman Empire in its heyday.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, shifting balances of power, modernization, and the dismantling of authoritarian regimes trended worldwide and facilitated the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire. A new identity for the modern nation-state of Turkey emerged under the secular leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Atatürk transformed many of the Ottoman political, social, and economic institutions under the rubric of nationalism and republicanism. Yet at its best, Turkey could only be called “semi-democratic,” due to the persistence of authoritarian elements within the regimes of the last century (Somer, 2016, p. 481). Turkey even prior to the ascendance to power of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was a “flexible authoritarian regime,” with a hegemony described as “fragile,” (Metinsoy, 2011, p. 1). The nature of its authoritarianism and hegemony may have shifted between the early Ottoman Empire to the current Erdogan regime, but the core features remain the same.

Both as the Ottoman Empire and as Turkey, the prevailing model is that of the “strong state,” in which “the state is always prioritized at the expense of individual freedoms and civil society,” (Gardels, 2018, p. 1). The Ottomans recognized the importance of military prowess in suppressing revolts and dissent, while also perpetuating patriarchal norms too. Erdogan’s tactics have been the same: using force to suppress dissent and preventing the emergence of pluralism or alternative voices that would threaten the fragile hegemony (Gardels, 2018). Erdogan has to consider social media and other technological advancements that enhance the flow of information and potentially empower the people, but in general has used the same tactics of authoritarian rule to ensure the stability of the regime.

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Religion has been a fundamental tool of social control among the Turks, during the Ottoman Empire and also now as Erdogan panders to religious conservatives for their ongoing support for the regime. Religion is what unified the Turkic tribes during the birth of the Ottoman Empire, helping to distinguish them from their Shi’a counterparts in Central Asia and the Arab world. Of course, religion also differentiated the Ottomans from their Christian neighbors in Europe. Hegemony has been perpetuated through religion and cultural identity.

The Erdogan approach to Turkish governance has been remarkably similar to that used during Ottoman times. In fact, Erdogan has invoked Ottoman history and identity to call attention to his grand vision for Turkey’s role in the new world order. The president has “called Turkey’s identity essentially Ottoman,” in order to stimulate the ethnic pride in the once-great empire, and “Turkish society is being recreated in his vision of the Ottoman past,” (Yavuz, 2018). When Christian Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in the fifteenth century, the establishment of an Islamic cultural hub in Eurasia helped to create a new balance of power in the region. Now, Turkey serves in a similar role, being perched as it always was between Christian Europe and the Shi’a Middle East. Economics and trade might have prevented the Ottomans from making unnecessary encroachments into Europe, and the same may be true of Erdogan’s postmodern Ottoman nation-state. While it is unlikely that Erdogan will spearhead the level and type of grandiose urban planning projects that Suleiman did, certainly the current president seeks to re-establish Turkey’s hegemonic power in opposition to the globalizing forces of secularism and free market capitalism. The Ottoman Empire once extended into regions that Erdogan would be hard-pressed to win back; and yet the cultural traces linger in the Levant and the Maghreb as well as into Balkan Europe.

Nostalgia may indeed be what drives Erdogan’s supporters to embracing authoritarianism over the promises of democratic republicanism. Yet any cursory glance at Turkish history shows that at no time was there any tendency towards Western-style individualism. Even when secularism was the fundamental tenet of modern Turkish identity, the conservative religiosity and Turkic ethnic identity consumed….....

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Ergul, F. A. (2012). The Ottoman Identity: Turkish, Muslim orRum? Middle Eastern Studies, 48(4), 629–645. doi:10.1080/00263206.2012.683337

Gardels, N. (2018). Authoritarianism is changing the very fabric of society. The Washington Post,

Metinsoy, M. (2011). Fragile hegemony, flexible authoritarianism, and governing from below: Politicians\' reports in early republican Turkey. International Journal of Middle East Studies 43(4): 699-719.

Somer, M. (2016). Understanding Turkey’s democratic breakdown: old vs. new and indigenous vs. global authoritarianism. Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 16(4): 481-503.

Yavuz, M.H. (2018). Erdogan’s Ottomania. Boston Review. 8 Aug, 2018.

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