According to a recent study, Recep Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey, is now the world’s second most influential Muslim, ranking just below the king of Saudi Arabia.
During his time as Prime Minister, Turkey has become the leading Islamic power in the world once again. It’s military rivals even the strongest nations in Europe and its economy is one of the world’s most dynamic, ranking 16th in the world’s strongest economies.
One of the Islamic world’s few secular states, the Democratic Republic of Turkey is seen as a shining example of the moderate Muslim nation. So how did this influential leader of Turkey respond to the Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli civilians? Without batting an eye, he walked right up to the podium and asserted, “Israel is a terrorist state.”
Hamas shoots thousands of rockets into busy civilian Israeli areas.
Hamas stores their rocket launchers and military hardware near Gaza’s schools and hospitals – sometimes inside of them for use as human shields.
Hamas has repeatedly refused a two state solution citing their ultimate goal, the destruction of the Jewish State in Palestine.
Hamas was responsible for blowing up an Israeli passenger bus – just hours before the ceasefire.
But in Erdogan’s mind Israel is the terrorist state because of their blockade of the Gaza Strip and other ambiguous “war crimes” committed against the Palestinians.
Erdogan’s historical stance against Israel became evident during the flotilla movements in 2010-2011. The flotilla movement's effort to run the Gaza blockade left nine activists dead after they attacked the Israeli troops boarding the ship. Erdogan was practically frothing at the mouth to see Israel punished.
Erdogan is not the moderately peaceful Muslim hippie the West believes him to be. But since he was democratically elected he is a byproduct of a changing culture. Fierce criticism of Israel is merely a symptom of an underlying change in Turkey’s political and cultural structure. Turkey is undergoing an identity struggle between secularism and traditional Islamism – and the secularists are losing.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was first elected from the conservative Islamist Justice and Development Party in 2003. The AKP Party, known for its traditional Islamic views, has increased the role of Islam in governance. This counters the historical Turkish approach of secularism which has dominated Turkey for the past century. With this shift comes new goals for the Turkish people. What plans does Erdogan have for Turkey? Below are four, at least.
1. The New Russo-Turkish Alliance
As discussed in previous articles, the Russo-Turkish alliance should alarm Western leaders. Geopolitically and prophetically, this alliance should come as no surprise.
Turkey’s history as a cold war ally to the West has greatly diminished. Beginning as early as the 2003 Iraq War, Turkey opposed American plans in the Middle East. Ironically, Erdogan and President Obama are close. Like much of the world’s infatuation with our president, this friendship may simply be a fad – a mere infatuation that will blow away with the slightest misstep.
Try as he may, Obama will never be on Erdogan’s speed-dial for golf, drinking beer, or watching football. Erdogan’s real man-crush, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, will have no competition. When Putin calls, Erdogan comes running.
“Sorry Barry, I’ve got Vlad on the other line, mind if I call you back?” “No, I’m sorry I can’t this weekend, I’m going to be busy.” "Vlad is taking me bow-hunting for wild boar, maybe next weekend Barry?”
Ok maybe the dialogue was a bit much, but the idea remains -- Putin's Russia has replaced the United States as Turkey's closer ally.
The two nations have much in common. Both are Eurasian powers, straddling the East and the West. Both have grown distant from the West and closer to nations such as China and Iran.
Both Russia and Turkey have grandiose schemes for the Middle East. Russia wants Arab allies, more energy, and a nuclear pact with Iran, while Turkey wants a re-boot of the Ottoman Empire and their clout with the Arab world restored.
2. Leader of the Sunni-Arab World – at the Jew’s expense
Israel has found itself on the defensive against Turkish criticism, but there is a general dislike emanating particularly from Erdogan towards the Jewish State.
Some of this stems from his geopolitical goals of becoming a leader in the Arab world. Hoping to curry favor with the Palestinians, and therefore the broader Arab Middle East, Erdogan will appear hostile towards Israel. Turks are not Arabs, but they have a history of leadership amongst them. The Ottoman Empire dominated Arab lands for the better part of 300 years.
3. The Neo-Ottoman Empire
Erdogan wants Turkey to become the premier Middle Eastern power again. In order to meet this end, he must befriend the growing radicalism of the Arab “Spring.” Only Turkey could organize a caliphate across the Middle East. Only Turkey could unite the belligerent Arab states under a broad coalition of Sunni Muslim states. If insulting Israel gives Erdogan more clout in the Arab world, he will use this weapon to full effect.
4. An Authoritarian Turkey?
Unlike Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, Turkey has shown a greater degree of tolerance and freedom towards its citizens and minorities (such as Christians). This toleration will inevitably diminish under a more traditionally Islamic government. In fact, the fall of Turkish freedoms has already begun.
Erdogan tore a page out of Putin’s playbook with the large-scale arrest of opposition journalists. According to a recent National Post article, Turkey has detained more journalists than China, Russia, and Eritrea. That Turkey’s human rights record is beginning to sink to the level of China and Russia should be alarming to the West.
Turkey’s potential future in Ezekiel 38
We have examined Turkey’s geopolitical goals, but what does scripture say about Turkey’s future? Ezekiel 38 may shed more light on their actions. As discussed in previous articles, the Gog and Magog invasion of Israel will take place in the future. Russia, alongside Iran and other allies will invade Israel for plunder.
A mysterious people group referred to as “Gomer with all his troops” in Ezekiel 38:6 may be a reference to the nation of Turkey. Although the Talmud translates Gomerians as hailing from Germany, many Bible scholars and historians have traced the descendants of Gomer to the present day nation of Turkey.
The Gomerians of Ezekiel’s day were also known as the Cimmerians who lived in present-day Turkey along the Black Sea.1 Their descendants were also called Galatians, of which a region in Asia Minor was named (also located in present-day Turkey).2
While “Beth-Togarmah” (Ezekiel 38:6b) is generally considered a future reference to Armenia, Josephus calls Beth-Togarmah the land of the Thrugrammeans.3 “Thrugrammeans” is a fancy way of saying “Phrygians.” The Phrygians were a powerful contemporary tribe of Ezekiel’s day who lived in central Turkey during the time this prophecy was written.
Although there is not as much clear-cut historical evidence for Turkey’s involvement in this prophecy as Russia or Iran, there is enough to consider Turkey's future participation.
Could God be preparing Turkey for their eventual invasion of Israel alongside Russia and Iran? We have no idea, but I'd say it's a good idea to keep an eye on the Middle East and this blossoming relationship between Russia and Turkey.
1 John Phillips, Exploring the Future: (Commentary Series) A Comprehensive Guide to Bible Prophecy. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Pub., 2003), 311.
2 Joel Rosenberg, Epicenter: (2.0 Version Updated and Expanded) Why the Current Rumblings in the Middle East Will Change Your Future. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Pub., 2008), 129.
3 Rosenberg, Epicenter, 129.
Jeremy Stevens is a historian, author, and teacher. His latest book, "So What Happens Next? Exploring Biblical Prophecies to Make Sense of Today's Chaos" is available at all participating bookstores.