Speaking recently about his military’s ongoing invasion of the Kurdish-ruled Afrin region in northern Syria, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan taught much of the world a rather bizarre term.
“It is clear that those who say ‘we will respond aggressively if you hit us’ have never experienced an Ottoman slap.”
He was referring to Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk, commander of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS.
The pro-government news website Hur Haber describes an “Ottoman slap” as “a type of strike used by Ottoman soldiers during unarmed defense or attack. It could be done with both sides of the hand and could muddle, strike unconscious or even kill the one on its receiving end. Only specialized persons could give this slap and it could only be learned after having undergone years-long training.”
The Ottoman slap has also come to mean a violent, national action by Turks to someone they consider their enemy. The slap is so powerful and effective it provides Turks with absolute victory and the enemy with utter defeat and shame.
The term is commonly used in Turkey. From 2013 to 2014, the government-funded TRT channel aired a TV series titled “The Ottoman Slap,” glorifying the Turkish invasion of the Christian Byzantine Empire in the 1300s.
Mr. Erdogan also threatened the Republic of Cyprus and eastern Mediterranean companies that are exploring for energy resources, forbidding them to “engage in activities that exceed their limits and powers” and warning them to avoid “trusting the Greek side in Cyprus,” adding that Cyprus’ courage will only last “until they see our army, our ships and our planes.”
The Ottoman Empire’s occupation of vast lands and Islam’s flag of conquest still influence Turkey’s foreign policy, including its invasions and ethnic cleansings. Cyprus was occupied by the Ottoman Empire from 1571 to 1878. And the northern part of the island has been illegally occupied by Turkey since 1974.
Even today, Turkey continues to target the Republic of Cyprus. Most recently, in a string of aggressions in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkish warships blocked a rig belonging to the Italian energy firm ENI from reaching Cypriot waters to start exploring for gas.
The American Hellenic Institute has condemned Turkish aggression in the eastern Mediterranean, saying, in part: “The Republic of Cyprus has the sovereign right under international law to explore and exploit its natural resources within its exclusive economic zone. The United States has stated repeatedly it supports Cyprus’ sovereign right to explore energy in its offshore areas.”
Mr. Erdogan seems to disagree. “Whatever Afrin is to us, our rights in the Aegean and Cyprus are the same. Do not ever think that the natural gas exploration in the waters of Cyprus and the opportunistic attempts in the Aegean Sea drop off from our radar,” he said, and then threatened Cyprus with yet another military invasion:
“Just as we disrupt the plots [in the region] through Operation Euphrates Shield [in Syria] and Operation Olive Branch [in Syria], and soon in Manbij and other regions, we can and we will disrupt the plots of those who engage in miscalculations on our southern border. Our warships and air force are keeping an eye on the area in order to intervene in any way whenever required.”
Since 1974, Turkey has refused to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding the immediate withdrawal of its troops from Cypriot soil. The global inaction in response to Turkish aggression encourages Mr. Erdogan, the president of a so-called “ally” of the West, to threaten Cyprus with yet another military assault.
Mr. Erdogan dreams of giving Americans the Ottoman slap, for he is a proud Ottomanist. The pro-government news website A Haber posted a photo of Erdogan giving U.S. President Donald Trump the Ottoman slap.
“Those who think that we’ve erased from our hearts the lands from which we withdrew in tears a hundred years ago are wrong,” he declared, referring to the Ottoman-occupied lands that Turks lost with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1922.
There is nothing shocking in Mr. Erdogan’s words: He is a consistently honest jihadist who speaks and acts according to his beliefs. What enables him get away with his intimidating rhetoric and ongoing hostility is the apparent weakness and confusion of the West in the face of violent Turkish supremacism.
• Uzay Bulut is a journalist and political analyst from Turkey and a fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center.
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