I was a child during the 1970s. Like many of my peers, even though I did not know what they meant, I learned some words from the TRT news bulletin, like anarchist, Marxist-Leninist, clashes and so on.
Regarding the foreign news, these words were mostly from a place called Lebanon. Every person who was a child in this country during the 1970s is familiar with words like Lebanon, Phalanges, Gemayel and Palestinians. A childhood friend of mine recently asked me something that made me smile. The question was, “Hey, look, I remember the word ‘Phalanges’ from my childhood but what does it mean, really?”
During those days, when I was misbehaving and creating problems at home, my father used to tell me, “You turned the house into Lebanon.” I did not understand what he meant, but I knew that I did something wrong.
During the 1990s, the image of Lebanon in the eyes of Turkish society was not very positive, either. This time the words were changed and we started to hear about “Beqa’a” being the safe haven of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). In those days, relations between Lebanon and Turkey were almost nonexistent.
When I went to Lebanon for first time in my life, it was right after the first Qana massacre in 1996. The Israeli army bombed a UN refugee camp, where 106 people, mostly children, were killed.
While I was visiting Qana, a UN soldier, after learning my nationality, told me something that really hurt me.
“Look, there was a newborn baby here. We witnessed its birth, but it died in the shelling. Do you know how it was possible for Israeli planes to come to here and do that? It is thanks to Turkey. You are training them for those kinds of flights.”
Well, to tell him that Israeli warplanes would be able to fly anyway, even if they were not given a place in Turkey, would not mean anything. He was so sad, even giving the impression that he was under the heavy effects of the trauma that he witnessed.
But the story started to change in the second half of the 2000s. Turkey started to improve its relations with its neighbors, first Syria, but it also treated Lebanon as an immediate neighbor.
Bilateral relations, once upon a time next to nothing, started to improve very rapidly. Turkey, which had been just “observing” the developments on the ground and trying to stay away from all parties in Lebanon, started to get actively involved in the issues. It established relations with all parties and sects in Lebanon to the extent that Ankara was very active in the establishment of the current government.
After the abolishment of visa requirements, relations between people started to improve rapidly. I was recently in Lebanon and when I was returning to Turkey, there were two newlywed couples on our plane with their wedding dresses. I have been told that it was almost a tradition to spend their honeymoon in Turkey. Turks are also interested in Lebanon, and Turkish is one of the languages that you hear in the streets. I have to add that my daughter, who is just 16 years old, is living and studying in Beirut. I would never have sent her there if the relations had not reached this level.
On the political level, all indications of the approaching governmental crisis were there and anyone who learned that I am from Turkey asked me if there was a formula that Turkey could provide in order to solve the crisis. Expectations from Turkey are extremely high and, interestingly, from all the parties and sects in Lebanon. All of them thought that Ankara was actually siding with them against their rivals. When I saw this huge appreciation and love, I was unable to prevent myself from thinking that in the past Arabs misunderstood Turkey in a negative way, but now they misunderstand Turkey in a very positive way and Lebanon is the place where this misunderstanding is the strongest.
For example, I even heard that the Lebanese Air Force, which actually cannot be considered to exist, has been trained in Turkey and that there were many Lebanese pilots and planes in Turkey, which is just a dream because when this rumor started, the military cooperation agreement between Turkey and Lebanon had not been ratified yet.
However, I do believe in ethics and responsibility in international relations. It is Turkey’s responsibility and duty to get involved in the current crisis in Lebanon. Also, Turkey knows very well that that this recent crisis will have many repercussions in the Middle East, which is our home.