I went to Qatar last week to address a few conferences. This gave me a chance to make certain observations in the country, which I visited for the first time since the political and economic blockade Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Egypt imposed on Qatar in June 2017. I thought I would have no trouble noticing the innovations and changes in Qatar, which I have been interested in and paid several visits to since the 1990s. But that was not the case. Life in Qatar, a small but strategic dot, was continuing as it has been in the past - without showing any indication of the changes.
The unnecessary and surplus construction of buildings that started in the 2000s were ongoing.
There was no pause in the preparations for the 2022 World Cup and the construction of sports facilities. On the contrary, with the new connecting roads being built around Doha, everything was almost flowing toward 2022.
The traffic congestion in Doha, which is established in a tight space, was as it has been in the past. Almost all foreign employees in a haste between the skyscrapers, were continuing their lives, strictly focused on their work and nothing else.
It was possible to see the interest of foreigners which has been observed since Turkish Airlines launched direct flights from Istanbul to Qatar. Hundreds of foreign, mostly European businesspeople were chasing jobs in hotel lobbies, restaurants, and of course offices which I did not enter.
Qatar’s future lies in its history
It was with this view that I gave the first conference organized by the Doha Yunus Emre Institute at Qatar University. The conference held at the university was hosted by the Ibn Khaldun Research Center; and the dean and his assistant had both accepted the invitation. Even though the title of the speech was, "Turkey-Qatar relations from Qatar's founder Kassim bin Mohammed to the present," it was clear that some of the people attending the conference were interested - or rather concerned - about what I was going to say about the alliances made post-Ottoman era. It was a sensitive period, and they did not want this alliance to be damaged even if with a talk. However, a large portion of the mass was focused on the Ottoman centuries and the Turkey-Qatar relations developed in recent years.
For Qatar, the world's richest welfare country in terms of gross national product and history hold far greater significance than everyone thinks. For Qatar, whose presence is not embraced by its neighbors, which is both beaten by its Western allies and loved for the resources it possesses, history is an island of refuge. The formation of Qatar's political history, its relations with the other powers in the region, and the stance of leaders particularly since Mohammed bin Thani, are as much the source of the problems today as they are the fundamental motivation for Qatar to continue its sovereignty as an independent country. Thus, the Ottoman Empire, which has been interested in the Qatari region since 1555, and history hold a special place for Qatar. The 1872-1913 period leading up to the establishment of modern Qatar, is of critical significance for Qatar's present and future existence. However, through the questions I was asked at the conference, despite the high-quality audience, it is clear that Qatar is yet to gain sufficient historical background necessary for this significance.
The fundamental reason behind this of course, similar to other Gulf countries, is largely the influence of Egyptians on Qatar's education curriculums and other historical curriculums. The history concept developed in Egypt, particularly during the Gamal Abdel Nasser period, had a serious impact on the east Arab world's education programs, and despite changes and renewals made at various times, no Gulf country could escape this influence. The presence of Egyptian teachers and teaching staff in both primary and higher education levels in the majority of Gulf countries makes it easier to continue this concept. Qatar is also lacking a national archive and a higher institution that will determine its history policies.
Our lack of discourse about Ottoman history and the process through which the present Turkey emerged, existing resources and studies not being translated into Arabic, without a doubt, also allow the perceptions that have become cliché in the region to take root. Most of the time, we cannot go beyond accusing our Arab addressees in this regard, and there is no contribution made to teaching the common history with a joint mind. Despite the naturally developing relations, the history concept expected to configure the future remains fixed.
Turkish mission in Qatar
Let alone the Gulf community, it is clear that the Turks and the Turkish mission in Qatar are deprived of materials that they can read on the history of the region. The Turkish civilian-military mission that became concentrated in the region especially after the Turkey-Qatar military deal made in 2016, is active 24 hours of the day. Everyone is on the ground, chiefly, our ambassador, Fikri Özer. Despite being only a year since its founding, the Yunus Emre Institute is quite active and sees great interest through the Turkish courses it offers. More than 200 students at Qatar University are taking Turkish lessons as an elective subject. Our Turkish school, which has about 200 registered students, forms an important Turkish community with its teachers, students and their parents. However, none of them have Arabic sources that answer the questions they have on Ottoman history and the history of the Republic of Turkey, and which they can recommend to their circles.
International relations is not something those engaging in foreign politics alone can carry on. The other factions of society possessing the vast means and sources of the country must also support them. The Turkish History Institute and State Archives, which has been taking Turkey alone as its addressee to date, has great responsibilities in this regard. States that emerged post-Ottoman Empire need to remember their responsibility of writing history in different languages based on Ottoman sources - or have them written - and undertake serious projects in accordance with this.