Somalia-Turkey Relations: Insights from the Past to Enlighten the Future
Turkey and Somalia have had historic connections with relics of the past visible in some Somali cities such as Zayla’ and Berbera.
In light of that historic connection and the present friendship of the two countries, the Islamic Civic Society of America hosted an evening of education and inspiration for the Twin Cities community. Prof. Abdi Samatar, Dept. of Geography, University of Minnesota and Prof. Hasan Karatas, Dept. of History, University of St. Thomas, provided insights on the significance of the renewed relationship between Somalia and Turkey.
Prof. Abdi Samatar traced the modern history of Somalia through many stages:
1. 1. 1960-1967, a multi-party democratic period of unity and civic leadership. He spoke highly of the contributions First President Aden Abdulle Osman and Prime Minister Abdirazak Haji-Hussein
2. 2. 1967-1969, a period in which the sectarian agenda derailed the nascent nation and planted seeds of discord based on clan and narrow interests. The military took over the country in 1969 under Dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre.
3. 3. 1969-1977, was a time of strong military dictatorship that ruled by the barrel of the gun.
4. 4. 1977-1991, disintegration of authority and clan-based opposition movements.
5. 5. 1991-2006, total anarchy and ruthless warlords that caused so much havoc.
6. 6. 1996 with the short rule of the Union of Islamic courts that did a great job of eliminating the hated warlords but failed to understand the significance of their role. They lacked governance mechanism in a multi-faceted dangerous neighborhood. The UIC’s leadership was toppled by the infamous Ethiopian invasion of December, 2006.
Prof. Samatar then analyzed the London and Istanbul conferences of 2012. He described the British interest as focused on safety of the London Olympics and concern about the effect of piracy on the cost of commodities in Europe. However, Prof. Samatar praised the Turkish effort and Istanbul conference as genuine attempts to rebuild Somali institutions. This is what Somalia needs but he warned that there must be sincere partners from the Somalis themselves.
The second speaker, Prof. Hasan Karatas of the University of St. Thomas traced the Turkish history and influence as a global power. He mentioned that the first significant contact of the Turks in Somalia was during the 16th Century to help the movement of Imam Ahmed Guray against the Portuguese and the Ethiopians.
The second point of Turkish involvement was during the Ottoman reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II, who tried to defend Muslim interests against the European colonial powers.
Prof. Karatas pointed out that the Ottoman Empire was heavily defeated in World War I by the European powers. This caused a deep sense of humiliation in the Turkish ego such that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk lead the establishment of the Turkish Republic modeled after the Western European agenda. The Islamic identity of Turkey was obliterated when an extreme type of secularism emerged.
Under these difficult circumstances, non-governmental organizations dedicated to social services and humanitarian work began to help the poor Turks with education and grass roots services. Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was a beneficiary of the scholarships provided by these NGO’s. He therefore strongly remembered his humble upbringing, which in turn made him sensitive to the plight of people in hardship.
Prof. Karatas summarized the modern Turkey is primarily motivated by these factors:
1. The Turkish people are rediscovering their identity
2. There is greater awareness of the plight of Muslims
3. The Turks are expanding their world vision
4. Turkey is re-emerging as a Muslim global player
Overall, the event was very informative and attendees truly appreciated the insights of the distinguished professors.