How the Ottoman Empire, Turks protected Libya from foreign threats - ZEKERIYA KURŞUN

How the Ottoman Empire, Turks protected Libya from foreign threats

Silent affairs are taking place in Libya. The operations conducted by forces affiliated with Libya’s legitimate Government of National Accord (GNA) on al-Watiya and Tarhuna bases, which are currently under Khalifa Haftar’s control, are ongoing. The inadequacy of the 9th Brigade, which Haftar established in 2019 as an attack base in the strategic Tarhuna region, has started to shift the balances on the ground with the latest efforts of the GNA thanks to technical support from Turkey. The 9th Brigade, which failed despite support from foreign countries,, particularly that from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has now turned the matter into a propaganda war. To put it more precisely, Haftar’s men have started to whistle in the dark.

In an interview with the brigade commander that was published on their own news website on April 18, 2020, the response to the question, “How do you evaluate Turkey’s intervention in Libya?” was exactly as follows:

“Our brigade’s view of Turkey’s intervention is no different from that of other Libyans. It considers it as the Turkish government’s efforts to establish and expand its influence in the region. This attempt is a Turkish invasion; it is the return of the Ottoman Empire to take control of Libya’s resources. The 9th Brigade and the other factions of the military will not allow the Ottoman invasion to return once again. Our brigade is fighting in the same way as the other units of the military to prevent the revival of the Ottoman project.”

These words, which reek of propaganda but, most importantly, are the reflection of a mentality that developed in the region in the last century, have no plausibility. However, they are highly effective. For example, the education experts that were appointed by mandates have been feeding the same claims to the Arab world for generations. The trainers they deployed as a means to veil their own exploitation orders identify the Ottoman era as an “invasion.” Yet, historical documents and resources show that – following the entirety of the Abbasid and Umayyad dynasties – the Arab world experienced the longest political stability during the Ottoman rule. The Arab public is very well aware of this fact, at least due to past experience. However, they are afraid to voice the truth due to the regimes that are haunting them, and their administrators who love their executioners.

Let us take a brief look at Libya’s history. The Ottoman Empire did not set out from Istanbul to Libya with a religious ruling to launch a holy war. On the contrary, all sources document that it went there upon the Libyan public’s call to help it overcome Spanish oppression. Hence, this call protected them against foreign threats for centuries and provided Turks and Libyans the opportunity to bond like family. Libyans who are aware of this were never disturbed by the Turkish presence or even the Turkish dynasties established in history. When the Italians emerged as a new foreign threat in 1911, Libyans were supported by two young Ottoman commissioned officers: Enver and Mustafa Kemal pashas. Both figures remain the subject of legendary narrations and poetry in Libyan deserts today – very much like Ahmad Senussi coming from Libya to support the Turkish War of Independence. Not to mention, Gen. İhsan Aksoley who ran to Libya’s defense while he was a young military student and said, “Tripoli is my second homeland,” or Shahzade Osman Fuad, who was commander of the Libyan front at the time the empire was collapsing, among many others.

When the Italians let Libya be and the Senussi Kingdom was founded, the first country that King Idris turned to was the Republic of Turkey. So much so that he requested that someone be appointed from Turkey to serve as prime minister. The story of Koloğlu Sadullah (the Arab district governor), who was the first prime minister of the Kingdom of Libya, has been told many times to date. Hence, there is no need to repeat it. However, the seeds he sowed in relations between the two countries influenced even Muammar Gaddafi, who collapsed the kingdom in a different state of mind. As a matter of fact, those seeds bore fruits during the 1974 Cyprus Peace Operation, and Gaddafi sent aid to Turkey.

At one point, Gaddafi had banned all nongovernmental organizations and prohibited new ones from being established – with one exception. The sole organization that was excluded from this ban was the Turkish-Libyan Friendship Association. Not only was this association allowed to carry out its activities in Libya, but a section of the School of Art in Tripoli, which was built during the time of Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, was also allocated to the association, consequently reviving relations. Though at times Gaddafi’s philosophical view of the Ottoman rule resembled that of other Arab nationalists, I am a direct witness that he was never disturbed by the Koloğlu family or the development of Turkey-Libya relations.

Do you know who was the most beloved person in Libya during Gaddafi’s term and was constantly called upon, with even top executives attending his conferences?

Orhan Koloğlu was the last representative of the Koloğlu family, as well as a renowned journalist-historian, the Arab district governor of Sürmene who married into a family from Turkey’s Black Sea region, the son of Libya’s first prime minister Sadullah Koloğlu, and my dear friend, who passed away last week.

Orhan Koloğlu not only contributed to the popularization of history in Turkey but he also taught that recent history can be discussed within reason. Though it is not widely known, he is also the one who paved the way for the institutionalization of Libyan historiography as well as Libyans’ discovery of Ottoman history – especially after a very long time. During the years he was in Libya as Turkey’s press representative, Koloğlu greatly contributed to the current Libyan Archive and History Council, formerly Markaz al-Jihad al-Libyin (Libyan Studies Center), with his studies and by drawing attention to Ottoman documents.

In brief, Turkey-Libya relations are not what those in Turkey who have their heads buried in the sand or the narrow-minded Haftar crowd perceive it to be. These relations are much deeper.

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