TURKISH-ARAB RELATIONS FROM PAST TO TODAY
The long-rooted relations between Turks and Arabs go back to the eighth century, notably after the Battle of Talas in 705. The ties between Arabs and Turks strengthened over the years, yet confronted difficult times when the Party of Union and Progress took power from the Ottoman government and instilled nationalist sentiments in the public
The relations between Turks and Arabs go back centuries. Muslim Arabs began to conquer Turkic regions starting in 705 and Turks fought on the side of Arabs against the Chinese in the Battle of Talas in 751. This alliance developed a connection between Turks and Arabs. Turkic princes in Turkistan adopted Islam, and later, the people adopted Islam en masse.
Abbasids formed military units comprised of Turks and established cities like Samarra, where these units settled. Due to their advanced war skills, Turks moved to high positions in the army. They were also assigned to state positions. Indeed, this practice helped them warm up to Islam and all Turks adopted Islam in the 10th century.
Upon the Shiite invasion of Baghdad in the 11th century, the Abbasid caliph asked for the help of Seljuk Sultan Tuğrul Bey. The sultan went to Baghdad and saved the caliph from the Shiites and married the caliph's daughter. Turks gained a place in history as the new leader of the Muslims. The Seljuk Empire conquered all Arab regions except North Africa. Following the fall of the Seljuk Empire, Egypt and Arabic regions were ruled by Turks again.
The Ottomans, as heir to the Seljuk Empire, began to conquer Arab territories from 1516. Sultan Selim I, the ninth Ottoman sultan, took Syria, Egypt and Yemen. In the same century, Iraq and North Africa came under the domination of the Ottomans. The sultanate gained considerable prestige in the Islamic world. Other Muslim societies felt gratitude toward the Ottomans for their service to Islam.
Egyptian scholar Abd al-Wahhab al-Sharani, who died in 1565, praised the religious devotion and justice of Ottoman sultans. He once said: "Today, Ottomans and their soldiers were the only protectors of Islam and made it proud." The Damascus-born scholar Abd al-Ghani al-Nablusi, who passed away in 1731, also said that the Quran's 105th chapter, al-Anbiya, praised Ottoman sultans saying: "My righteous servants shall inherit the earth." Mecca mufti Sayyid Ahmed al-Dahlan, who died in 1886, wrote a piece solely dedicated to explain the Ottomans' service to Islam.
The Ottomans also paid esteem to Arabs, as they came from Prophet Muhammad's tribe and spoke the Quran's language. They called Arabs "Qavm najib al-Arab" - the noble Arab tribe. The Ottomans recognized Arabs as 'brothers in religion,' beyond any citizenship. They accepted Arab territories not as colonies but as their homeland.
For the Arab world, there are two Ottoman sultans with high reputations in particular. The first one is Mehmed the Conqueror, who conquered Constantinople and realized the Prophet Muhammad's hadith that says: "Verily you shall conquer Constantinople. What a wonderful leader will he be, and what a wonderful army will that army be." The latter was Sultan Abdülhamid II, who did not hand over Palestine to Zionists at all costs. The Palestinian issue has always been present. There is not a single day during Friday sermons in the Middle East when Palestine is not mentioned, and Sultan Abdulhamid is not remembered with gratitude.
Arabs lived in peace under Ottoman rule for four centuries. When the Young Turks grabbed power, non-Turkish communities in Ottoman society got worried. Taking advantage of the situation, imperialist powers triggered nationalist sentiments in the public. Arabs also got their share. The Party of Union and Progress (CUP) prohibited speaking and writing in Arabic. The party forced Arab children to study at Turkish schools. Similar negative practices fostered Arab nationalism.
During World War I, the Governor of Syria, Cemal Pasha, who was a member of the CUP, executed Arab nationalists in Lebanon whether they were guilty or not for their previous nationalist activities, despite the general amnesty. Upon this incident, the autonomous Sharif of Mecca of the Ottoman Empire, Hussein bin Ali, sent a diplomatic note to the central government. The CUP considered this a rebellion and sent troops to the region. Arabs were at the point of no return. As the phrase, "a drowning man will clutch straws" suggests, Arabs looked to the British for their struggle for independence and the British took advantage of the situation. The sharif was promised a large Arab empire on the lands of Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen and Arabia. However, in reality the lands of Syria, Iraq and Palestine were promised to France, the U.K. and the Jews, respectively, through secret treaties.
When the war was over, the promise given to the sharif was not kept and he was exiled to Cyprus. Only Iraq was given to Faysal, one of Sharif's sons, and Jordan to Abdullah, another son. Arabia and Hijaz were given to Abdulaziz ibn Saud, the newest ally of the British. Hence, all Arab towns in the region became the colonies of the British and the French. When these countries withdrew from the region following World War II, they left socialist dictators or needy and powerless statelets which depended on them. Similar to the slogan: "Filthy Arabs! They shot us in the back," which has been said since the 1920s in Turkey, the dictators who took over power in Arab countries asserted that "Turks colonialized Arabs."
Although rational people did not believe such propaganda, the ideal of Islamic unity was damaged through these politics. The leader of the Shammar tribe in Syria, Sadun Ujaymi Pasha, was one of the brave commanders of the Ottoman army. Most of the Arab tribes were still loyal to the Ottoman Empire. Today, Turkish and Arab affairs are slowly normalizing. The statement of an Egyptian foreign minister who said: "We dissolved like a string of prayer beads when the Ottoman Empire fell," is quite meaningful.
Turks are valued and respected in the Arab world because of the loyalty and services of the Ottomans to Islam. There are many people in Egypt, Syria and Iraq who boast of having a Turkish mother, grandmother or grandfather, although they do not know any word of Turkish. From Aleppo to Yemen, Morocco and Basra, it is possible to run into Turkish descendants whose ancestors had moved to Arab regions due to civil service along with other reasons and stayed there when the Ottoman Empire was dissolved. There are also a considerable number of people in Anatolia who have Arab roots.
Today, Arabs yearn for the days when there were no borders, passports or customs and people took their hats off to the Ottoman passport featuring the star and crescent. During French hegemony, old Algerians wore old Ottoman coins on their necks as amulets. Many years ago, the Sudanese mufti said he was praying for Turkey, and added: "The hope is in Turkey." Most Arabs believe that the overwhelmed and intimidated state of the Arab world will disappear with Turkey, so to speak, they believe the valiant will be reborn from his ashes.
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