The political and military friendship between Qatar and Turkey dates back more than a century when Ottoman troops set foot on Qatari lands to protect them from the fierce claws of British colonization. Now 150 years later, Turkish troops are once again welcomed by the Qataris, who see them as a source of force for stability and security.
It was around some 150 years ago, in the late 1860s and towards the early 1870s, that Qatar was engulfed by the notorious threat of British colonization. Once a piece of land came to the attention of the British at the time, that was it. The colonialists would do their very best to blend the prey into the pot of the great empire.
Shaikh Mohammed bin Thani had already been forced to pay tremendous amounts of money to Bahrain in 1868, and Qatar was being weakened day by day through the strategy of the British. According to historians, Shaikh Mohammed bin Thani repeatedly expressed the necessity of letting the Ottoman Empire dispatch troops to Qatar to prevent an intervention in his country.
Finally in December 1871, the Ottoman administration sent as many as 100 troops and several field guns to Qatar at the invitation of the Qataris. Though looking small in number, the presence of the Ottoman troops led to a twist of fate for the country. The presence of the Ottoman soldiers would delay the British occupation in Qatar for some decades.
Fast forward to the present and Qatar faced another traumatizing incident. This time, it was one of the most astonishing challenges in its recent history. The tiny peninsula, surrounded by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), woke up to a life-changing shock on June 5, 2017.
Unexpectedly and oddly put on trial for allegedly helping extremist groups and terrorists, Qatar found itself in the middle of a blockade. Sanctions imposed by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt included a ban on Qatar using the bloc’s ports and airspace. No way in, no way out.
Qatar is an oil and gas-rich country. With its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) around $150 billion and $130,000 GDP per capita, it is by far one of the wealthiest in the region. Until that day, the Qataris did not need to worry about their daily life for a second. Yet, things were about to change.
In the wake of the blockade, Qataris rushed to supermarkets only to find out that shelves were emptied out in a day as the ban on the country led to the shortage of basic products.
The four blockade-imposing countries wanted to dictate a 13-article list of demands to Qatar. One of the demands on the list, though, was truly bizarre. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt urged Qatar to kick the soldiers of a country out, which was thoroughly out of context.
RE-ARRIVAL OF TURKS
The story begins in late 2014. Turkish and Qatari authorities inked a deal on Dec. 19, 2014 for the deployment of thye Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) to Qatar. The first batch of Turkish troops arrived in the capital city of Doha on Oct. 4, 2015 and the Turkish flag was hoisted at the military base four days later.
Today, a remarkable number of Qataris believe that the 2017 blockade was indeed a coup attempt against their sovereignty. History has a tendency to repeat itself. In fact, many of them feel that the presence of the Turkish military played a key role in scaring the evil away.
Turkey was the only country to lend an unbelievably swift helping hand to Qatar at the time of the blockade. Furthermore, the Turkish government quickly sent a couple dozen more soldiers and armored vehicles to Qatar. It sent a very bold statement to the entire world. What prevented the British colonization in Qatar in 1871 was repeated in 2017, many Qataris underline.
According to the head of the Qatar-Turkey Combined Joint Force Command (QTCJFC), Colonel Osman İlercil, the presence of the Turkish military on Qatari soil aims to boost Doha’s defense capabilities.
“I can express (that) our mission is to support the enhancement of defense capabilities of Qatar through joint and combined exercises and training, and subject to approval by both parties, execute training and exercises with other nations’ armed forces and contribute to counter-terrorism and international peace support operations and any other missions mutually agreed upon by written consent of both parties,” Colonel İlercil said.
Unlike Turkey’s military training base in the capital city of Mogadishu in the African country of Somalia, the situation in Qatar is slightly different. Whereas Turkey runs its own base in Mogadishu, built from scratch, the Turkish military is hosted at a Qatari base in Doha. Moreover, the Turkish and Qatari forces operate equally on a mutual level while the training base in Mogadishu is simply aimed at helping the Somali army rise from the ashes by bringing up new troops.
“When performing our duty, QTCJFC is always ready to fulfill all tasks with an outstanding understanding of duty, bearing in mind the responsibility of hoisting the Turkish flag in the region after a 100 years,” the colonel said, summarizing Ankara’s mindset.
For some, the Turkish state seeks to exert its influence in several parts of the world by setting up military bases and dispatching troops. The mission in Qatar, especially after the feud between Qatar and the aforementioned countries, is one of the most speculated-upon issues. Colonel İlercil stressed that the Turkish military is actively engaged in military drills and the presence of the troops helps both sides gain experience from one another.
“We are making efforts to ensure unit and personnel participation at the highest level in the exercises and similar activities planned by the Qatari Armed Forces (QAF). I can also say that the two sides have a common approach to conduct all exercises in a combined and coordinated manner,” he said, adding: “So far we have participated in four exercises at unit level and as observers. Furthermore as TSK units and personnel we take part in activities like sports, shooting and ceremonial events too.”
Turkish Military in Qatar: Bonds of mutual trust
Turkish soldiers of the Qatar-Turkey Combined Joint Force Command attend their daily training.
Turkish military officers believe that their presence in Qatar and interaction with Qatari peers are a beneficial way of enhancing their own military experience as well. The colonel underscored that the army has been able to promote its indigenous defense industry and culture here in Doha, too.
“We believe that, in addition to sharing of knowledge and experience in military terms, these activities serve as an introduction of TSK, Turkish national defense industry and Turkish culture. With this in mind, TSK personnel in Qatar are well aware of the fact that they represent the Turkish nation in every activity and at every step, and act accordingly in a way that is committed to strengthening bonds of friendship and brotherhood between the two countries,” İlercil said.
The aforementioned Turkish backing to Qatar last year during the blockade and extraordinarily warm ties between the heads of the two states are indeed solid reasons for the people of two countries to build up a reliable bond. İlercil agrees. “As QTCJFC, we are not only participating in military events. We are trying to share our Qatari brothers’ emotions by being with them on national and other special days.”
As the Turkish military shares the same base with Qatari troops, the Turkish soldiers, several hundred in numbers, live in fairly good conditions in a building allocated to the TSK.
The colonel sounded quite thankful in regard to the living conditions. “Currently we are deployed in two different military bases of QAF in scope of the agreements. Our Qatari colleagues’ hospitality and shared feelings of friendship and brotherhood make us feel at home. In addition, I can express that we really are in good conditions in the sense of daily life and of performing our duty thanks to the special attention of our statesmen and senior commanders, especially the Dear President of the Republic of Turkey [Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] and Chief of General Staff [Gen. Hulusi Akar], as well as our Qatari friend’s sincere efforts to provide us anything needed,” İlercil said.
NO DATE SET FOR WITHDRAWAL
The Turkish military was invited, the deal was inked and the deployment of the troops was successful. Furthermore, the mood between the two militaries has been exceptionally phenomenal. Yet, the question of how long the Turkish army looks to stay here looms. Colonel İlercil refuses to set a date. As a military man himself, he says it is up to politics and diplomacy.
“The matter of the deployment of Naval Component Command and Air Component Command will be formed depending on the future decisions of the two countries, in scope of the Cooperation Agreement dated Dec. 19, 2014. Our coordination and preparations for the completion of the structure of Combined Headquarters with the participation of QAF personnel continue in cooperation with our Qatari colleagues, he said.
For the time being, the Turkish forces stand firm in the Qatari capital. Neither Ankara nor Doha, indeed, has any intention to call off the agreement in anyway. For many Qataris the Turkish military is a source of relief after all: Never again when the Turks are here.