How should Turkey interpret what is going on in Algeria?

Tensions rose after Abdelaziz Bouteflika who is supported by the West and the military oligarchy in the country, announced his candidacy or more correctly was nominated by them as a candidate. In Algeria, which has largely remained untouched by the Arab Spring, thanks to some internal reforms that went into effect in the 1990s. However, thousands are mobilized now. In the capital Algiers and other big cities like Wahran and Constantine, people took to the streets and they are protesting against the candidacy of ailing 82-year-old Bouteflika. In order to prevent any further escalation, the government temporarily shut down universities.

Algeria, a country which gained its independence after paying dearly with over one million lives lost in 1962 after its decades-long colonization by France, has always been vulnerable to foreign interventions because of its vast resources and geopolitical importance. In fact, the colonizers have been able to determine the fate of Algeria even after its independence. By designing their governments behind the scenes, they punished the Algerian people who emerged victorious against them in their struggle for independence. The demands of the people have been ignored, oil and natural gas reserves of the country have not been used efficiently. Moreover, they were even plundered. Bouteflika who has been ruling the country for the last 20 years too did not meet the expectations of the Algerian people and followed in the footsteps of his predecessors.

The people want change

The Algerian people want to see their country making big strides forward and achieving the things it deserves for a better future. The people of Algeria who took to the streets are objecting to the use of Bouteflika who has not been able to rule over the country directly because of his health issues as a puppet and wants to elect a real leader. Algeria is on the brink of an important turning point and it has been going through difficult times. Despite its vast geography and natural resources, the people of Algeria had to live under such unjust conditions and now they have to get out of these hardships by by applying the lessons learned from the Arab Spring. The international order and of course France, are attributing such great importance to Algeria making them unwilling to let Algerians determine its future. The bad experiences of the Arab spring showed once again that what the West cares about in this geography is not the peoples’ demand for freedom and/or their welfare but their own interests. That is why Libya, which had a similar social structure to Algeria, was turned into a sort of hell. That is why they only watched the death of hundreds of thousands of people and they have done nothing when millions of people turned into refugees in Syria. Similarly, the West, the defenders of democracy, welcomed the putschists who toppled the democratically elected government in Egypt.

The Turkish public opinion is obviously not paying too much attention to the developments taking place in Algeria right now because of certain problems in neighboring countries and especially because of the upcoming local elections. Even though nobody except a few people who are familiar with the region and specialists who are interested in Turkey’s policies in Africa; Algeria is one of the geographies which Turkey cannot give up.

When Algeria beganits fight for independence after its invasion by the French during the Ottoman era, it received moral support from the Menderes Government, who also provided arms. However, as a paradox, Turkey was forced to stay neutral during the voting for Algeria’s independence in the UN. Turkey and Algeria have a common past which spans over 300 years. Among the furthest regions ever reached by the Ottomans, Algeria was easily one of the most accommodated geography. That is why both people have common heroes such as Oruç Reis, Hızır Reis, Barbarossa and many other names throughout their shared history. Let’s leave the Ottoman-Algerian relations to another column and talk about a group which symbolizes the bond between the two peoples and their common representatives.

The poets of the Western Hearths

The troops comprised of young Turkish soldiers recruited from Anatolia and sent to North Africa were called Western Hearths. These Levantines became a legend with their unprecedented battles in the Mediterranean against the European privateers. These young men who were selected mostly from Western Anatolia and transferred to the hearths in Algeria were made to feel at home; and they benefited from the hospitality and tolerance of the Algerian people. The fact that they belonged to the same religion also allowed them to be absorbed into the social structure. This coherence is reflected in the words of a Turkish poet who felt like an Algerian: “A youngster who comes to Algeria, stays put and never goes back”. Hence, there is a considerable population in Algeria who has Turkish origins.

The ones who actually carried Algeria to Turkey are the people who are known as poets and who also served in the Western Hearths at the same time. For ages, they carried Algeria to Anatolia with the poems they wrote and sang. These names, who are known as the “Poets of the Western Hearths,” unfortunately did not get the attention they deserved in our literature. Geda Muslu in 16th, Kuloglu in 17th, Enderunlu Fazil in 18th and many others wrote poems about Algeria. While these poets who described Algeria, their experiences in the Mediterranean Sea and their loves were providing an insightful source for the Ottoman-Algerian social structures, they were also giving one of the best examples of the Turkish Folk-Literature. Some of the lines of these poets turned into “Algerian Folk Songs” still sung by the local people. Unfortunately, there are no studies and works done on this topic except Şükrü Elçin’s Akdeniz’de ve Cezayir’de Türk Halk Şairleri (Ankara, 1988).

Now we must ask: Should Turkey with its common history or France, with its colonial relationship with Algeria be more interested in the country? The answer to this question will actually reveal whether the stance of the monsieurs in Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to “steer clear from regions proclaimed by the French” has become a thing of the past.

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