At the turn of the 1940s my maternal grandfather had to immediately repatriate me so that he could retain custodianship of chieftain forests entrusted to him. What did I do to warrant being declared persona non grata at an innocent age? It was all about respect (or lack of) in all its manifestations.
Put briefly, my episode’s narrative is that I failed to show any sign of respect when men and women elders in their ceremonial white robes and garments, went down (on their knees) at the arrival of the chief, prompting him to ask whose child I was. The answer had very serious implications on the status for my grandfather at the king’s court.
Chief’s representatives came home that evening. After establishing that I was an outsider in the family (according to our traditional customs), they advised him to send me back home; short of which the chief’s order was to repossess his forests. My grandfather chose to send me back to my parents, allowing me a visit once a month to wash and iron his white robes.
When I saw the ‘respect’ photograph of usually very confident Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had left Ankara for the Belgian capital Brussels to meet his U.S. counterpart, Joe Biden, on the sidelines of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit, I remembered my episode.
The point at issue for me at that time was: “Who is this man, who does not recognize the status of my all-defender, food, clothing and shelter provider, my surety, to the extent of making him come down on his knees?” Automatically, I feared, or rather, did envy him. He was a real threat and a power to reckon with.
I don’t know how the common Turk felt about the photograph or incident. But it went viral on mainstream and social media channels across the world. The gesture gave rise, in me, all sorts of scenarios besides what I had experienced in my early years of life. For, besides the repatriation, I still quietly visited my grandfather and performed comfortably all that he expected of me. So, in this aspect could Turkey still conduct itself in the way it chooses irrespective of the NATO prefect reactions?
Scenario One: I went back to school in our literature Latin lessons regarding that Roman’s dead language which has equally weathered the storm of time to remain in some appreciable level of irreplaceable global use until today. The operative concept here lies in respect. Respect originates from two Latin root foundations. “Re” literally connotes “back” and “specere” — to look at. Their combination leads to a verb “respicere”—from which was coned the English verb “to respect” or the noun “respect”.
In life there is nothing more important for one than being respected. Receiving respect helps us to feel safe and express ourselves. It is unfortunate that normally we don’t come to grips with what respect demands when we don’t accept other people for who they are even if they are different from us. In this way we fail to build feelings of trust, safety and wellbeing.
With due appreciation of the respect that Erdogan ostensibly gives to Biden in the photograph, does the Turkish president give his people – the young, age mates and the older – even a grain of it? He doesn’t. How can he give to a foreigner what he does not offer at home? And what impression of his seriousness does the foreigner who knows him perfectly well, get? Could it be a confirmation of some level hypocrisy?
Scenario Two: If the gesture was along the popular COVID-19 greeting, that must have been mere of pretense because he didn’t wear the complementary or supplementary mask. Then he went down, kissing the fist of Biden, prompting him to sort of prop him up. And this is where the nosy cameramen got with an image that said more than whatever story could be written about their meeting.
That kiss must have been a trend setter – sending a message that the differing stands over pertinent issues between the U.S. and Turkey were mutually understood and that, for the world, to see them face to face for the first time in their tense moments was already enough whatever the outcome.
Scenario Three: The outcome was as expected. Biden arrived as an “interventionist” in the eyes of Erdogan, who arrived as an “autocrat” in the opinion of Biden and both left Brussels with their identities and pertinent differences unchanged. Why? Where could Biden and Erdogan establish a concentric relationship area in the background of Russian S-400 missile on the one hand and support for Kurdish operations on the other and complicated by hosting Fethullah Gulen in the U.S.?
On this premise alone, one can argue that if the talks made some progress as claimed by both parties, it must have been in the physical meeting, whereby they had a chance to at least read what is on each other’s face but not in the heart. What did the Presidents fail to resolve that was left to U.S. and Turkish defense ministers to achieve? Reading between the lines, their meeting ended sine die – making any kind of follow-up difficult.
Generally, the major issues remained untouched, prompting President Erdogan to sigh with relief that very touchy areas like the 1915 Armenian genocide recognition by the U.S. and the abandoning of S-400 air Russian defense missiles and human rights issues such as repressing members of the Gulen Movement went unmentioned. Mention of Gulen could have drawn in the current abductions crime being perpetrated by Turkish intelligence outside the country under the co-ordination of Erdogan himself.
Scenario Four: Going by the current circumstances within NATO, the Afghan foreign troops withdrawal cannot be left out in the context of the Brussels Summit and Biden-Erdogan meeting. In as much as Turkey would like, and actually has offered, to remain behind and guard Kabul Airport security, the plan has all the chances of busting. The departure of NATO troops will largely leave Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban. Erdogan, though sometimes in disguise, is against terrorist organizations, which include the Taliban. Can they come to terms with the Erdogan offer? Not likely. The plan is withdrawal of all foreign troops. These include those of Turkey.
Scenario Five is just the conclusion. With due consideration, if the Biden-Erdogan sidelines NATO Summit meeting did anything much to facelift the U.S.-Turkey relations, it enabled the two leaders to see each other face by face and sideline major differences between their countries. The day is long and yet to dawn while the future remains still uncertain. And day by day, Turkey is feeling the crunch almost in every aspect of a socially, economically and politically well governed state.