1071 is a very special year for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- and his Islamist ideologues. Erdogan often speaksabout his "2071 targets," a reference to his vision of "Great Turkey," on the 1000thanniversary of a battle that paved the Turks' way into where they still live.
In 1071, the Seljuk Turks did not arrive in Anatolia from their native Central Asian steppes with flowers in their hands. Instead they were in full combat gear, fighting a series of wars against the Christian Byzantine [Eastern Roman] Empire and featuring a newfound Islamic zeal. The Battle of Manzikert in 1071 is widely seen as the moment when the Byzantines lost the war against the Turks: before the end of the century, the Turks were in control of the entire Anatolian peninsula.
Another divine date for Erdogan is May 29, 1453. That day saw the fall of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, after an Ottoman army invaded what is today Istanbul, modern Turkey's biggest city. The conquest of Constantinople was not a peaceful event either. The city's siege lasted for 53 days and cost thousands of lives. The Byzantine defeat left the Ottoman armies unchecked, clearing the way for their advance into Christian Europe in the centuries to come. The long and violent Ottoman march into Europe came to a halt in 1683, when the Ottomans were defeated during the siege of Vienna. By then the Ottomans were in control of north Africa, most parts of the Middle East and central and eastern Europe, totaling 5.2 million square kilometers of land.
There is more than enough evidence about the Turkish Islamists' "conquest-fetish." Turkey's leaders have too often spoken of "liberating Jerusalem and making the city the capital of an independent Palestine."On every May 29, the Turks, proud of being -- possibly -- the world's only nation that celebrates the capture by the sword of their biggest city from another civilization, take to the streets for grand ceremonies. The 563th anniversary of the conquest was celebrated with a major event created by a team of 1,200 people. It saw a 563-man Mehter concert [an Ottoman military band], a show by the Turkish Air Force aerobatics team, special conquest celebrations, a fireworks display, live broadcasts in six different languages and the world's largest 3D mapping stage used to reenact the conquest.
In September, then prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, another Islamist, said:
By Allah's will, Jerusalem belongs to the Kurds, the Turks, the Arabs, and to all Muslims. And as our forefathers fought side by side at Gallipoli, and just as our forefathers went together to liberate Jerusalem with Saladin, we will march together on the same path [to liberate Jerusalem].
Erdogan and his fellow Islamists are keen admirers of the idea that Muslim Turks capture lands belonging to other civilizations because, in this mindset, "conquest" means the spread of Islam. That is hardly surprising: political Islam typically features a tendency to spread to non-Islamist or non-Muslim parts of the world. But the way Erdogan defends "conquest," even in the year 2016, looks just too ridiculous.
On June 4 Erdogan was addressing students at a theology faculty. In his speech he said:
When we look at the way Islam has spread to the world we see that it rather features the conquest of 'hearts' rather than conquest by the 'sword'... Look, now there is the Islamophobia malady in the West ... [Its] aim is to stop [the further spread of Islam]. But they will not be able to succeed.
Then he advised the students:
Just like our [Turkish] arrival into Anatolia, just like the conquest of Istanbul ... I know you will be behaving with the same consciousness ... A 'New Turkey' will rise on your shoulders ... [to succeed] you must reproduce. God [commands] you to have at least three children.
It is amazing that Erdogan still has the power to shock -- in absurdity -- even the most seasoned Erdogan observers. In his narrative, Muslim Turks have never invaded foreign lands by the force of the sword. What they did was just conquering hearts. This is not even funny.
Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based columnist for the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet Daily News and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.