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Turkey takes another turn eastward

The one-time Western wannabe gives its strongest signals yet that it's willing to go its own way.

He could not forget how the Allies prompted the Greek invasion of 1919, hoping for the dismemberment of the tottering Ottoman state. He was similarly aware that, at the end of World War I, the British and French navies moved to within striking distance of the metropolis in the Bosphorus Strait. With this in mind, he created the new capital, Ankara, in the epicenter of the Anatolian land mass, safe from seaborne intervention.

“Turkey is coming full circle after 150 years or so, and looking beyond even the confines of the Ottoman state,” said Fuller. 

As a former mayor of Istanbul who hails from a hardscrabble Istanbul neighborhood, Erdogan has recently deployed his combative personal style on the international stage. Last year, he walked out of a debate at the Davos Conference after a public disagreement with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, over his country’s conduct in the 2008 Gaza conflict. Military collaboration between the Turkish and Israeli armies has been scaled back and fewer Israeli tourists now visit Turkey.

Erdogan’s sharp criticism of Israel has arguably made him more popular than Iranian president, Ahmadinejad, across the Middle East. Turkish serials are the most watched in the Middle East and Arab investment in Turkey has skyrocketed.

“The Turkish president or the 'Ottoman Sultan' … is like the famous Turkish sweet, Turkish Delight,” Saudi journalist Hamad al-Majid wrote in a recent paean to Erdogan titled "Ottoman Sultan Erdogan the First" in the Saudi-owned newspaper As-Sharq al-Awsat. “For the first time, the nations of the Islamic world tasted the special and unique taste of the Turkish confectionery and wished these kinds of sweets would spread all over the Islamic and Arab world.”

“The region’s leaders are a bit deluded about Erdogan and view him as an Islamist like themselves,” said Hugh Pope, the International Crisis Group’s Turkey expert and author of "The Rise of the Turkic World."

"And he might play to that to ensure the open doors but he’s a pragmatist above all.”

“Till now he’s maintained a good balance,” Javedanfar said. “He’s a long player so for now I don’t see him abandoning the West but if he does it’ll be a huge tactical mistake and he’ll regret it.”