Last month Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shocked the world by turning the famous Byzantine Christian landmark Hagia Sophia back into a mosque after it had been a museum since 1935. This past week he announced he would do the same to the famous 6th-century Chora Church as well. For many people, this came as an utter shock, but for anyone paying close attention to Middle Eat politics for the past two decades, this should have come as no surprise.
He has used the crises in Iraq and Syria to invade their land and has even created maps including those areas in Turkey (as well as areas of Greece and Bulgaria). With Lebanon now in its own crisis, Turkey is also trying to make inroads in that country as well. They are now heavily involved in the civil wars in Yemen and Libya and have military bases in Qatar and Somalia (not to mention Northern Cyprus). This is yet another reason why the Gulf Arab countries are also looking towards Israel, as they see a distinct threat not only from the Shiite Persians of Iran but also from the Sunni Turks.
Israel's relationship with Turkey, meanwhile, began to sour in 2009 during Israel's first war with Hamas in Gaza. The next year, a flotilla from Turkey left to try and break Israel's legal blockade on Gaza, which included armed terrorists on board one ship, the Mavi Marmara, who were killed by Israeli commandos. Since then, Erdogan has become increasingly anti-Israel, trying to stop the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline to Greece, calling to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and just recently, hosting Hamas members and reportedly giving them Turkish passports.
All of this is a shame, as Israel used to have good relations with Turkey back in the 1990's and early 2000's, so much so that I studied abroad there in university and was preparing a thesis on the history of Israeli-Turkish relations (before both Middle Eastern history professors at my university went on sabbatical my senior year). Who knows, maybe if my advisors hadn't abandoned me, I would have become an academic and not a tour guide of Israel with a background in Middle Eastern geopolitics (and a love of food, tech, religion, outdoor adventure and more). Either way, of the 37 countries I've traveled to, Turkey was far and away my favorite, probably because it reminded me so much of Israel with its mix of East and West, modern and traditional, and its attempt to find balance between them. Now, however, it seems to have lost its way.
For more on what's going on with Turkey check out the articles below the photos. For the map, note, Turkey also has a military presence in Somalia, the Balkans, Libya and apparently now Lebanon as well.
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