The Ottoman Empire Strikes Back

Turks gave their voice this May—and they voted for a sultan.

Its ruler claimed succession from Mohammed and the Roman emperors. It ruled a territory stretching from Hungary to Yemen. The holiest cities of several major religions were under its control. This was the Ottoman Empire, an Islamic caliphate (meaning it claimed leadership over the Muslim world) that politically and culturally shook the Middle East and Europe from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Its heartland was in what is today Turkey, and its capital was Istanbul.

Turkey’s Ottoman legacy was wiped out after its loss in World War i. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s inaugural president and republican “founding father,” sought to break Turkey away from the past and modernize it. He dissolved the office of the caliphate, banned traditional Muslim clothing, and replaced Turkish Arabic script with the Latin alphabet. Atatürk’s Turkey looked westward for inspiration as a secular and “European” democracy.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Turkey declaring itself a republic. But a century on, Atatürk’s legacy has been almost completely undone by a man bent on reviving the Ottoman Empire in spirit if not in name. This man is Turkey’s current president: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Turkey held its presidential elections on May 28, giving Erdoğan five more years in power. Turkey is technically getting “more of the same.” But when “more of the same” means keeping in power the region’s arguably most unpredictable and even disruptive leader, you know the world is in for a wild ride.

From Istanbul to Ankara

Erdoğan first came to prominence as mayor of Istanbul in 1994. The first Islamist elected as mayor, he attempted to build a mosque on the city’s main square and banned alcoholic drinks from city-run cafés. In 1998, he recited a provocative poem that got him convicted and imprisoned for inciting religious hatred. After several months in prison, he was released early in 1999.

Meanwhile, Turkey in the 1990s was in a hard place. The economy was slumping and Turks were getting fed up with government corruption. The Turkish government enforced secularism by taking steps that included banning women’s headscarves at universities. The decade ended with an earthquake near Istanbul that killed over 17,000 people. The devastation and the government’s slow response inspired the desire for change on the part of ordinary Turks.

Erdoğan, still in his 40s, was a fresh face and a political outsider who promised to bring change. Carrying the mantle of the upstart conservative Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish acronym, akp), he became prime minister in 2003. What he had instituted in Istanbul he would now institute nationwide—for the next two decades.

New Sultan in Town

Erdoğan initially gave his voters the fresh start they were looking for. He removed the university headscarf ban in 2008, allowing conservative religious women to attend higher education. He also did a lot to portray Turkey in a positive light on the world stage by attempting to settle the country’s various conflicts. In 2004, he unsuccessfully tried to end the conflict between Greeks and Turks in Cyprus. In 2013, he started a peace process between the Turkish government and Kurdish rebels that unfortunately collapsed a few years later.

As the years went on, and as Erdoğan remained in power, it became apparent that he was much more than just a “fresh face to shake things up.” He was creating a “new old regime.”

In 2013, akp rules barred Erdoğan from seeking a fourth term as party leader. So he successfully ran for president, which was a ceremonial role in Turkey. In 2017—after a failed coup by disgruntled officers nervous of the direction of the country—Erdoğan changed Turkey’s government from a parliamentary democracy to an executive presidency. This meant that, instead of parliament being the government (with the prime minister as the leader), the president of Turkey—one man—is the government. The government is now no longer akp but Erdoğan personally.

What has he done since consolidating power? Among other things, he turned Turkey into one of the worst environments for journalists. When Erdoğan gained power in 2003, the Press Freedom Index ranked Turkey 115th out of 163 countries and territories surveyed. In 2023, Turkey was ranked 165th out of 180, behind Russia, Afghanistan, Mexico, Hong Kong and many other notorious journalist “danger zones.” Reporters Without Borders currently lists 30 media workers who are under Turkish detention, more than in any other democracy on the list, and more than in several dictatorships.

Erdoğan also has gone out of his way to help other autocratic regimes hang onto power. Most notoriously, he has helped the Islamist terrorist group Hamas cling to its de facto regime over the Gaza Strip next to Israel. He has led significant investment in Gazan infrastructure and “education” (which includes brainwashing Arab youths to fight against Israel). After the Muslim Brotherhood took over the government of Egypt and then rapidly lost its power in 2013, Turkey under Erdoğan has hosted exiled members of the Islamist terrorist group in Turkey. He has also given military assistance to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the nation’s civil war. Ahmed has been accused of ethnic cleansing and even genocide.

Erdoğan is also exerting considerable religious power. Buildings that ancient Christians constructed to be churches, Ottomans turned into mosques and secularists turned into museums, Erdoğan is now turning back into mosques.

In 2020, Erdoğan ordered the Hagia Sophia—the Byzantine cathedral that at one point was the largest church in the world—to be reconsecrated back into a mosque, along with the Chora Church. Erdoğan in a commemorative speech said the transformation of the Hagia Sophia honored “the spirit of conquest.” It is a symbol that Islamic Turkey won’t allow to be stuck in the history books. It is back and here to stay. And the rest of the world better get used to it.

Reviving the Ottoman Empire

Erdoğan faced perhaps the most serious challenge to his power and his Islamic agenda during recent presidential elections. Multiple candidates ran in the first round held on May 14. Erdoğan won that round with 49.5 percent of the vote, sending him into a runoff election against his rival, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, on May 28. Kılıçdaroğlu leads the Republican People’s Party, a secular Kemalist party hoping to return Turkey to its republican roots. Thanks in part to his intimidation and detention of journalists, Erdoğan won the second round with just over 52 percent of the vote. Election observers complained of biased media coverage and electronic vote irregularities. But if Erdoğan planned to cheat his way to victory, it wouldn’t have taken much for his people to engineer the last 0.6 percent to win. Even if vote rigging or some other fraud stole the election from Kılıçdaroğlu, there are still millions of Turks who voted for Erdoğan and want his vision of Turkey made a reality. In so many ways, it already is.

That doesn’t mean that Erdoğan now has smooth sailing, however. Turkey’s economy is quite shaky. Erdoğan is nearing 70 years old, and many people are tiring of him. The Turkish military is notorious for staging coups against leaders they dislike; they tried once in 2016 and could try again. Or his own party could replace him at the midterms.

There are plenty of reasons why Erdoğan himself may not run Turkey for the next five years. But this doesn’t matter. Turks have had 20 years of a top-heavy, autocratic, Islamist regime—and millions of them like it that way.

Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It was the first Muslim country to recognize Israel as a sovereign nation. After a century of outreach to Europe, it retains a number of secular traits. Some may think that Turkey is a natural partner for the West. Current events suggest otherwise. Bible prophecy confirms it.

Historical evidence shows the Turks to be the descendants of the ancient people of Edom, who descended from the patriarch Esau. The book of Obadiah prophesies that the modern Edomites will be led by pride “exalt[ed] as the eagle” (verses 3-4). This prophecy forecasts Turkey’s leader’s ambition to bring his nation to new heights of power. Verses 10-12 show that the Turks will go to war against Judah (the modern Jewish state of Israel) and Jacob (the United States and Britain). (Request your free copy of The United States and Britain in Prophecy, by Herbert W. Armstrong).

Verse 11 specifies that “strangers” and “foreigners” would fire the first shots in this war against America, Britain and Israel. Other prophecies show this to be a united European power forming in the European Union right now. Verse 14 shows those attacked will flee “in the crossways” for protection.

“These panic-stricken Israelitish refugees [which include America and Britain],” Trumpet managing editor, Joel Hilliker, wrote in December 1997, “by running to Turkey, will think they are entering friendly territory. … Not only does Turkey possess the Cilicia Gate, the escape route by land, she controls the major sea route that may provide an outlet: the Bosporus-Dardanelles.” Turkey also controls Thrace—the main land bridge between Europe and the Middle East. Turkey truly controls the crossways of the world.

But what happens when these refugees want Turkey’s help?

Obadiah 13-14: “[N]ever should you have entered the gates of my people on the day of their calamity, never have gloated over their agony on the day of their calamity … never have stood at the passes to cut off their fugitives, never betrayed their survivors, on the day of distress” (Moffatt translation).

“There were refugees from Jacob,” Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry said in a 2013 Key of David episode, “and he [Turkey] killed them as they came through those sea gates.” Mr. Flurry also pointed to the Ottoman Empire’s alliance with Germany in World War i as a harbinger of things to come. Mr. Flurry said the Turks would “ally themselves with Germany again against America and Britain.” These refugees could include American and British soldiers stationed in the Middle East, as well as Israelis.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may or may not be the Turkish leader to carry out this betrayal. A lot could happen between now and the fulfillment of Obadiah’s prophecy. The Israelitish nations have dealt with Erdoğan for years now and don’t regard him as particularly trustworthy. But either way, millions of his voters love the new anti-Western Turkey that Erdoğan has created. And we can expect Turkey to continue to “exalt itself as the eagle”—at Britain’s, America’s and the Jewish state’s expense—in the years to come.