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Turkey, the Rohingya crisis and Erdoan’s ambitions to become a global Muslim leader

The emerging humanitarian crisis that is rocking Myanmar – where around 370,000 Rohingya have already been forced from the country has prompted broad international condemnation. But up to now it has translated into little concrete action.

US (UN) human rights chief Zeid Raad Al Hussein has called the Rohingyas plight a textbook exemplory case of ethnic cleansing carrying out a similar statement from UN Secretary General Antnio Guterres. While Western countries have already been slow and hesitant to respond, leaders of Muslim-majority countries particularly Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan have sought to put just as much international pressure as you possibly can on the Myanmar government.

The strongest & most vocal response of most has result from Turkey. Indeed the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, seems to have appointed himself because the international voice of the Rohingya Muslims.

Turkeys aid response

In accordance with a Turkish government statement, Erdoan may be the first one which got permission for humanitarian aid to enter Myanmar. The Burmese government had, at the peak of the violence, blocked all UN aid towards the Rohingyas.

Therefore, on September 7, Turkeys foreign aid agency, TIKA, became the initial foreign outfit to provide a short shipment of 1000 a great deal of basic foodstuffs and medicine to the conflict zone in Rakhine state, where in fact the most Rohingyas live.

Turkey simultaneously announced plans to distribute humanitarian aid to the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh. The move was widely publicised as Emine Erdoan, the Turkish presidents wife visited the camps simultaneously.

Public denunciation

Meanwhile, throughout a meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, Erdoan because the current chief of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) formally condemned Myanmars attitude towards Rohingyas, taking the lead on this issue with respect to the organisation. He previously previously called the ongoing violence a genocide.

Because the crisis broke on August 25, the Turkish president has had several actions to assemble Muslim leaders around the world to put strain on the Myanmar government. On August 31, he spoke with the leaders of Mauritania, Pakistan, Iran and Qatar urging them to become listed on forces to discover a way to avoid the violence contrary to the Rohingyas.

Alongside Erdoan, other Turkish politicians have addressed the problem. Remarks by Mevlt avuolu, the foreign minister, garnered global attention. Mehmet imek, deputy prime minister, even tweeted unrelated images to improve the point, developing a little bit of an embarassment.

Just how are we to describe Turkeys ambition to take the lead in this current crisis?

Global ambitions

The political vacuum prompted by the Trump administrations retreat from global leadership has surely played a component. But, more evidently, Turkeys longstanding pro-Western approach has shifted. Turkey is really a NATO member and aspired to become listed on the EU for a long time, but under President Erdoans lead and the existing AKP government, the countrys foreign policy has shifted towards the global south, seeking new opportunities.

Turkeys foreign policy doctrine now promotes what Bilkent University academics Pinar Bilgen and Ali Bilgi label civilisational geopolitics, a knowledge of culture and civilisation as preordained determinants of international behaviour.

As Bilgin and Bilgi argue, this new doctrine is aimed at placing Turkey at the core of geopolitical issues between your West and the others of Asia, justifying this global engagement by its political heritage mainly predicated on its Central Asian and Ottoman history.

Rakhine State Chief Minister Nyi Pu receives bags of rice from Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in 2016. EPA/NYUNT WIN

The shift became most apparent by the end of the 2000s. It’s been identified most closely with Ahmet Davutolu, a scholar of geopolitics and Turkeys foreign minister from 200914. In 2010 Foreign Policy called him the brains of Turkeys global reawakening.

Under Davutolus watch, Turkeys global diplomatic footprint expanded dramatically, especially in Asia and Africa. He opened Turkeys first embassy in Myanmar in 2012 both to make use of the potential trade opportunities from the countrys post-2008 liberalisation and due to the Rohingya issue.

A subsequent trip in 2013 saw him tour refugee camps and ask the Burmese government to increase citizenship rights to the Rohingya people. This new foreign policy coincides with Turkeys decade-long ambition to become global humanitarian power or what Turkish scholars E. Fuat Keyman and Onur Zakak call a humanitarian state.

The Turkish humanitarian approach has been cast by journalist and former Somali Minister of Planning, Abdirahman Ali, as a middle way between your Western aid model and its own Chinese counterpart. Whereas the former is highly conditional, bureaucratic and frequently security-focused and the latter will bolster corrupt ,authoritarian regimes, the Turkish approach – Ali claims – typically bypasses bureaucracy and emphasises a moral standard anchored in protecting human rights and helping the weak.

Turkey has backed this ambition with an increase of funding for humanitarian assistance during the last five years. Development Initiatives a UK based NGO recently reported that now Turkey ranks second on the planet for humanitarian aid, having spent around US$6 billion in 2016 (the top-ranked US spent $6.3 billion).

The champion of Muslims rights

Among the other factors is domestic politics. Indeed, a lot of Erdoans public posturing on the Rohingya issue is entirely self-serving. The image of a solid Turkey calling Muslims all around the world plays very well in the home. During his 15-year tenure as Turkeys leader, the countrys once-marginalised pious Muslim citizens have grown to be increasingly prominent in media, business and politics.

Ardent supporters in Turkey not forgetting large segments of public opinion across the Muslim world thus see him as a champion of Muslim rights everywhere.

Erdoan has studiously crafted this image throughout other crisis, such as for example in Egypts through the 2011-12 Morsi regime or in Palestine.His very public spats with Israel and the West have led some pro-Palestinian columnists in Arabic newspapers to call him the brand new Nasser.

Competition ahead

Nevertheless, in recent days there’s been a modest rebel from Saudi Arabia, which is apparently chaffing at Turkeys leadership on the crisis. Saudi Arabias ambassador to Turkey released a statement emphasising the Kingdoms strong, decades-long support for the Rohingyas. Iran has followed too, promising shipments to attain Myanmar soon.

Erdoan has promised to improve the Rohingya issue on September 19, at the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly which Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi is avoiding.

His calls to safeguard Muslims worldwide is actually a key moment for Turkeys diplomatic leadership but whether other Muslim countries would follow or not will tell the limits of Turkeys so-called humanitarian politics.

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