In what can only be termed an incoherent or entirely manipulative response to President Trump’s weightless decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and sovereignty over the Golan Heights, head of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to ‘challenge’ Trump by changing the ‘neutral’ status of the museum of the Hagia Sophia, formerly a Christian Church, into a mosque.
“We will change the status of [the cathedral] from the museum to the mosque. Trump now announces that Jerusalem is the capital of [Israel]. Is that not it? Assigns the Golan Heights to the occupier of Israel. You will receive a response from Turkey, ”the Turkish leader said at a rally in Trabzon. His words are quoted by the Anadolu Agency.
Yet this announcement is entirely incoherent, and places strain or punishment on entirely the wrong parties: Erdogan wants to make his moves based upon Israel claiming Jerusalem, which is Palestine not Turkey, and Israel claiming the Golan Heights, which is Syria, again not Turkey. He claims to do this in response to Trump, who is secular and American, and not Orthodox nor Greek or Slavic, which this announcement would have the effect of aggravating or provoking the most.
In fact the announcement appears more as a manipulative move seeking to further capitalize on the NZ terrorist attack in Christchurch. Numerous analysts believe the Christchurch attacks to have been intended to drive a wedge between Central and Eastern European and Balkan Christian communities, and the Islamic Ummah. Furthering divisions between Islam and Christianity serves neither Islam nor Christianity, but further empowers Zionism, according to critics of the mainstream narrative regarding the terrorist attack.
Thus, following this logic, if Trump’s moves on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights empower Zionism, so to does Erdogan’s intentionally inflammatory statements. What Erdogan weakly attempts to position as a response against Israel and U.S moves, are the opposite – they are a dovetailing component of them.
What Trump has to do with the status of the Hagia Sophia is entirely unclear, to the point that it is not unreasonable to determine that these are unrelated in any way.
On March 24th, Erdogan announced that the Turkish authorities could change the status of the Hagia Sophia so that it could be visited for free. According to him, “tourists of all religions can now go to the Blue Mosque, which is located next door, free of charge”, so “you can do the same with Hagia Sophia” if it is a mosque. But there is nothing barring the public authorities from making the Hagia Sophia a free museum; likewise if it were to be restored to its proper condition as an Orthodox Church, it would also be free and open to the public of all faiths.
On March 25, Trump signed a declaration recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The signing of the document took place during a meeting of Trump with the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Washington.
The Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was the largest Christian church in the world. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in the mid-15th century, the cathedral was turned into a mosque. In 1934, Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, ordered the temple be converted into a museum, even while the symbols of Ottoman Islamic conquest remain in full view, as a mark of shame and vanquish upon the Orthodox Christian world. The cathedral was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Taken together, it would appear that Erdogan is once again working to curry favor with Israel. His ‘response’ to the U.S and Israel’s moves are not directed at either the U.S or Israel, but upon the Orthodox world, generally associated with Russia, Armenia, the Balkans, and Greece. Rather than weakening the American or Israeli position, they strengthen them. It is the Orthodox world, not the U.S or Israel, whom have faced conflict, persecution, and genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.
Problematically, Erdogan’s decision comes right during a concerted campaign by western intelligence agencies working with Facebook and Twitter, to censor pro-Orthodox criticism of Ottoman and Islamic conquests in the Balkans, a large region of south-eastern Europe. Therefore, public criticisms of Erdogan’s extremist discourse on the Hagia Sophia can conveniently fall under the western intelligence and social media ‘ban’ on criticism of Islam during its imperialist epoch as the dominating ideology/religion of the Ottoman Empire.
The aim here appears to increase pressure upon the secular leaders of predominantly Orthodox countries, like Russia, Greece, and Serbia, for example, to focus away from trans-Atlantic dominance, and towards the Islamic world. Therefore, such a tactic must be exposed for what it is, and rejected as a cynical ploy orchestrated between Ankara and Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv along with the Washington has been supporting Kurdish separatism in Syria, which Turkey ostensibly opposes. Kurdish and Turkish forces have clashed countless times during the conflict. At the same time, if there were to be an establishment of a Kurdish state which was inevitable today, Turkey would prefer it start in a divided Syria and not in a divided Turkey. While in the longer term, a Kurdish state would then take on the features of a state-power capable of turning its attention towards an irredentist campaign in Kurdish parts of Turkey – Ankara’s greatest concern – any moves which can satiate Tel Aviv’s ambitions, would be profitable for Turkey.
At the same time, there is a considerable ‘loyal’ Kurdish segment of the Turkish elites, which can be operationalized through cultural, personal relations, as well as access to Turkish capital, to ensure that a Kurdish state carved out of Syria had, on the balance, good relations with Turkey rather than hostile or indifferent.
While Erdogan likes to promote himself conversely as opposed to ISIS or supportive of it, or supportive of the Turkish-backed FSA (T-FSA) yet also ostensibly policing it (with Russia) in Idlib, he initially entered the Syrian conflict with the immediate aims aligned with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the US. It was only through a series of defeats handed to the anti-Syria coalition, that the inherent divisions and contradictions in the alliance began to intensify and more clearly appear.
Russia is presently satisfied with the effective neutrality of Turkey regarding its control of the Bosphorus strait. Both Russian and NATO ships can enter and exit the Black Sea at the present time, with notice to Ankara. The historic center and main part of Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, is on the European side of the Bosphorus, and has been a part of the Ottoman Empire and its Turkish successor state since 1453.
The loss of Montenegro from Serbia, and its orientation towards NATO, meant that the centuries long British objective of cutting off Russia from a potential stable access to the Mediterranean via the Adriatic Sea, a feature of the ‘Great Game’ was finally successful for the Anglo-Atlanticists. This brought the issue of the port of Tartus in Syria to the forefront, and meant a necessary defense of Damascus from the war of invasion, now in its final stages wherein the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance is closing in on final victory.
Still, access to the Bosphorus is critical, and Turkey could find itself having provoked a scenario where it must choose between NATO or Russian access through the Bosphorus. Moves which could significantly increase tensions between Russia and Turkey, a public outcry that would direct Russian efforts against Turkey with the final aim of restoring Constantinople, would be a part of a strategy aimed at wearing down both states, leaving external parties stronger in relative terms.