Lebanon Target of Ottomanist Ambitions of Turkey

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While Armenia is concerned with Turkish expansion in the Caucasus through its regional satellite, Azerbaijan, and the Europeans are alarmed by Turkey’s mischief in Greek and Cypriot waters, Ankara is extending its tentacles to Lebanon, where a thriving Armenian community has existed for almost a full century.

Armenians found a safe haven in Lebanon after the Genocide and through the network of schools, churches, cultural centers, newspapers and sports groups, developed a fully-realized community, which also enhanced its political clout, landing Armenians in state leadership posts.

The Lebanese Armenians have also exported their cultural and educational strength to other Armenian communities in Western countries.

Now, all that is coming to a grinding halt, first because of the destruction of that once-prosperous country and also because of the ominous shadow that Turkey is casting.

To demonstrate how political life has changed in Lebanon, it is sufficient to remember that in earlier years, when the Armenians commemorated the anniversary of the Genocide every April 24, the entire country joined them, shutting down businesses and government offices.

Earlier this summer, however, when an Armenian television anchor, Neshan Der Haroutiounian, criticized President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s nefarious policies in the region, he landed in a courtroom. Even more ominously, immediately after making his comments, his television station offices were surrounded by an angry throng waving Turkish flags and threatening Armenians. They called themselves Mardillis and pledged allegiance to Turkey.

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In addition, the Turkish government reacted angrily when the Lebanese President Michel Aoun said that in 1915 the Ottoman rulers had created an artificial famine in Lebanon to kill its citizens.

For a long time, Turkey has been infiltrating Lebanon through trade, television programs and so-called charitable activities.

Lebanon has always served as an open forum to all Middle Eastern rivalries and political conflicts but the major players had been the Arab countries and since 1982, when Israel occupied southern Lebanon.

One of the major conflicts has been between the Sunni Muslims and the Shiites; it is a dispute the flames of which were particularly fanned by the West to divert the Arab Street’s anger from Israel to Iran. The Western media tried to convince the Arabs that Iran was the enemy and not Israel, though the latter occupied the West Bank and Gaza.

It was an ironic turnaround when Yossi Cohen, the head of the Israeli secret service, Mossad, according to the Times of London, stated to spymasters from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, that “Iranian power is fragile but the real threat is from Turkey.”

Turkey thus far has benefitted from the religious divide between the Sunnis and Shiites, vying for the leadership of the former, which in turn has alarmed Saudi Arabia and Egypt, who seek the same plum prize. Iran, of course, through Hezbollah, has the control of the Shiites.

Since the August 4 explosion at the Beirut harbor, aid flights are arriving from around the world — from Egypt, Morocco, Russia, Saudi Arabia and 30 other countries.

French President Emmanuel Macron was the first head of state to arrive, walking the streets of the city surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd. The scene apparently frustrated President Erdogan, who that day sent his undersecretary, Fuat Oktay, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu, who vowed to rebuild the port and issue citizenship to anyone who has claims to Turkish or Turkoman ancestry.

All the aid flowing in is not without strings attached, particularly for parties which pledge to participate in the post-explosion reconstruction projects, estimated to hit the $100-billion mark.

The Saudis, who had withdrawn their financial support for Lebanon after a fallout with former Lebanese Premier Saad Hariri, have joined the recovery effort in a grand way, to counter Turkey’s ascent in Lebanon.

The Turkish government’s religious arm, the Diyanet, has distributed cash in envelopes among the Sunni community. As we can see, the parties have been trying to exploit the misery of the Lebanese people.

Turkey has also resorted to all-too-familiar methods to gain influence, ones that it first used in Iraq and to better effect in Syria. It is arming its murderers and mercenaries who have wreaked havoc on Syria and today in Libya. Turkey has built a solid political base in the northern Lebanese cities of Tripoli and Akkar.

Recent photos show that Turkey’s “charitable” hand has been creeping further down all the way to Junieh, where Turkish barges have docked to help with the neglected electricity sector. Junieh is mostly Christian, located just north of Antelias, where the Armenian Catholicosate is located. Somehow, that help involves the dissemination of weapons.

The news broadcast by Al Arabiya English reveals a familiar pattern of Turkish behavior.

“We are pretty worried about what’s going on. The Turks are sending an incredible amount of weapons to the north,” a Lebanese army intelligence sources is quoted in the report, following a surveillance operation.

This is exactly how Turkey started the war in Syria, by infiltrating that country through its mercenaries and supplying them with weapons. That was a blatant foreign aggression, which the Western media, in collusion with Turkey, branded a “civil war.”

It looks like a similar scenario is being drawn up in Lebanon. It does not take too much to ignite a civil war in Lebanon. This has been done time and again, in 1958 and later in the 1970s; the latter lasted for 15 years, to be concluded by the Taif Agreements in 1989 in Saudi Arabia. Any faction in or out of Lebanon can explode a bomb at a church or mosque through its intelligence services and blame the opposite community. Next thing you know, everyone is at each other’s throats. The army, in its turn, will split along religious lines and then you have a perfect storm on your hands.

A commentary in the Jerusalem Post this week states: “A man who inherited a promising economy that was built with American and European support is now leading a country to the brink of bankruptcy. In his quest to revive the ‘Ottoman Legacy,’ he has brought blood and destruction not only to his own people but also on hundreds of innocent civilians throughout the Arab world. Erdogan, the leader who promised to promote democratic reforms in his country, turned his back on Turkey’s democratic institutions and placed them under the tight grip of organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The pursuit of that Ottoman legacy has threatened Armenia and Armenians on all fronts; yesterday, in neighboring Karabakh and today in Lebanon.

Arab public opinion believes that Erdogan’s drive is to extend his rule’s influence over Lebanon and beyond. But in the meantime, the Armenians community will sustain the collateral damage.

During the war in Syria, Erdogan’s target was Bashar Assad’s regime, but his proxy mercenaries took special pains to bomb the Armenian neighborhoods in Aleppo and completely destroy Der Zor and the Armenian town of Kessab.

Since Erdogan is in pursuit of the Ottoman dream, he must also have in mind the goals of the Ottoman rulers. For example, when US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau asked Talaat Pasha why innocent Armenian children were also being massacred, his cynical answer was, “Because they may grow up and seek the revenge of their fathers.”

That message continues to ring in his mind as the Sévres Syndrome. Any Armenian who in his description is “the sword’s remnant,” will remind him of the revenge which Talaat had feared.

In Lebanon, Erdogan is betting on two political scenarios.

If Lebanon survives this crisis and continues to be ruled by the coalition of 18 confessional groups, he can seek power-sharing through his Ottomanist surrogates.

If Lebanon plunges into a civil war and eventually is partitioned, which some of the neighbors are pondering, he has mercenaries ready in the north to implement his plans.

During the last Lebanese Civil war, Armenians had the wisdom to stay away from the warring factions and adhere to a policy of “positive neutrality.” This time around, they have no alternative other than to continue that policy.

 

 

 

 

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