From Baghdad Railway to Istanbul Airport

A century has passed since the Ottoman Empire became history. During this period, our region has been the scene of great transformations and changes. States were established and states collapsed then a Second World War took place, but World War I continues to cast a shadow. The cause of the majority of today’s problems in the Middle East and North Africa, including Turkey, is that sinister Great War.

The Republic of Turkey, which was founded as a result of the War of Independence that was discussed in Istanbul and initiated in Anatolia after the Armistice of Mudros that ended the war for the Ottoman Empire, overcame the trauma of the Great War relatively quickly. As a result, Turkey became the sole country in the former Ottoman region to achieve stability. Of course, Turkey's infrastructure, opportunities and advantages compared to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa contributed greatly to the formation of this process.

Major rivalry in the Ottoman region

However, the war was sparked more so because of the territories under Ottoman control, spanning from the Taurus Mountains to the Persian Gulf and from there to Yemen, and the Egyptian and Libyan regions, which were virtually no longer under Ottoman control but legally still considered Ottoman territory, rather than Anatolia.

In the century prior to the war, this vast region was the target of the West and was their playing field. Western states were in cutthroat competition in this region. The Ottoman Empire tried to negate the consequences that this competition would lead to, sometimes by battling with its limited means and sometimes through diplomacy, but it could not achieve the desired result. In the end, the Ottoman Empire had no choice but to join the Great War that led to significant casualties and exposed treacheries on one side and heroes on the other.

Discussions asking, "What would have happened if the Ottoman Empire had not joined the war, if it had not taken a side?" seem senseless to me. That Great War that redesigned the world did not break out overnight and neither did the Ottoman general staff decide to join the war in a few minutes, as some believe.

We must re-read history and take lessons from it. We need to do this more than ever as the shadow of that war still lingers over us a century later. What's more is that the responsibility of the decision taken when entering the war that ended a century ago is still on Turkey's shoulders. That is why every development in the Middle East and North Africa concern Turkey - just like the states that still have interests in this region are concerned with every development in Turkey. Therefore, Turkey must observe history more and at a deeper level than other nations.

New international competition: Istanbul Airport

Five years after the Armistice of Mudros, on Oct. 29, the Republic of Turkey was founded and the determination and will to live "forever" with the Republic, without any disruptions of the "everlasting state," was put forth. A century later, one day before the anniversary of that armistice, Istanbul Airport, which will redesign the world’s transport traffic, was inaugurated with the same spirit.

The economic results of the opening of Istanbul Airport aside, it was obvious from the very first day of its construction that it would have great political outcomes. The lobbying during the construction stage and operations in Middle Eastern and North African countries to damage Turkey's image occurred in front of our very eyes. However, before the inauguration of the airport, Germany - which opposed this project - posing alongside Turkey with France and Russia - even if the topic is Syria - drew attention. Similar to the polarization in the period leading up to the Great War, the world has once again divided in to blocs through Turkey.

The low profile statements issued by the United Sates regarding the quartet summit attended by Turkey, Germany, Russia and France in Istanbul is the most obvious sign of its alarm. The U.S. feels like it is in the same position that Germany was in before the Great War. It is even deprived of the support of its biggest ally, the U.K. The U.S. is realizing that the power it has is no longer effective, and experiencing the pains of transforming the favor it gained using the Wilson Principles post-World War I to actual hegemony in the Middle East after World War II.

All these indicators obligate us to re-evaluate the history of the last century, but very carefully. The final quarter of the 19th century, which is the period in which World War I erupted, and the early 20th century need to be discussed prudently all over again.

The Baghdad Railway project, which was the most significant outcome of Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II's alliance with the Germans and, as a matter of fact, the cause of World War I, must be recalled. It is impossible to comprehend the political impact Istanbul Airport will have in the near future before interpreting the role of the Baghdad Railway project in international competition and its effects in the period leading to war. Similarly, it is impossible to cognize the last century before studying the agreements the Reformists had to make with the British in 1913 and 1914 and their diplomacy struggle as a result of the British and French, as well as Russian competition triggered by the Baghdad Railway project.

Without a doubt, the guide to understanding the political results of the Istanbul Airport, which was opened on Oct. 29, a day before the centenary of the Armistice of Mudros, is the history of the Baghdad Railway project.


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