For the second time in history, Turkey sends troops to Tripoli to save Libya from violent forces, reminding many historians of the time when it supported the Senussi Sufi resistance against occupying colonial powers.
The ties between Turkey and Libya are historically deep and the main thread that connected the two sides during the 1910s, when Tripoli was invaded by Italy, was the Senussi Sufi order.
The Ottoman Empire wrestled with Italy's invading forces and in its time of need, the Senussi order declared support for the Ottoman army, dispatching thousands of men to fight alongside its soldiers, who were led by towering figures such as the founding father of modern day Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
It appears that the history of World War I has repeated itself, although in a different form. This time the invader is not a foriegn entity but warlord general Khalifa Haftar, who's trying to toppled a UN-backed government in Tripoli using brute military force.
Turkey has maintained that it will not allow any external force to destabilise Libya's UN-recognised government, which was formed with the aim of building peace in the country. Ankara recently deployed its troops in Tripoli to aid the embattled government against the assault of Haftar's forces.
“The European countries have tried to create trouble between Libyans and the Ottoman Empire several times. Excluding a few, the Libyans and the Senussi order never betrayed the empire," Ahmet Kavas, Africa Expert and Professor at Istanbul Medeniyet University, said while speaking with TRT World.
Kavas, the historian, said the fostering of ties between Ankara and Tripoli have their origin in a time when Tripoli faced Italian invasion and the Ottoman Turkey came to the rescue of the Libyan people, supporting them until the time when the country achieved independence in 1947.
“When Idris Senussi came into power in Libya and appeared as the president of the country, he demanded all qualified staff from Turkey and founded modern Libya with the support of Turkey,” Kavas said.
The Senussi Sufi order started from Hejaz, a region located in western Saudi Arabia. It quickly spread across North Africa, gaining supporters even from other parts of the world, including Turkey.
A well-connected Sufi community, the Senussi were quick to relay the news of Italian invasion to the Ottoman state in Istanbul. Ahmad Sharif, the leader of the order, planned a resistance in Banino, hosting many Ottoman troops, who had left their posts in Tobruk, Derna and Benghazi. The Sheikh of Benghazi Ahmad al Isevi was named as the commander of resistance forces. After recruiting a large number of people from the region, the forces of Senussi order were trained for over two months by the renowned Ottoman military general Enver Pasha, who had come from Egypt, and Ataturk, who was with volunteer Ottoman army officers.
In 1912, the Senussi order attacked Benghazi, putting up a tough resistance to Italian troops. On the other hand, the forces under Pasha’s command organised a massive attack in Derna. But as the Balkan War broke out on the western flank of the empire, the Senussi resistance faced a major blow, pushing the Ottomans to come to the negotiation table with Italy in September 1912.
The Ouchy Agreement was signed by the two sides and the Ottoman state left Tripoli to the Italians. But the Senussi order did not give up the fight and they eventually fought against three major colonial powers, Italy, France and Britain, with the support of a limited Ottoman rearguard troops left behind by the Ottoman state.
The Senussi forces led by Sharif eventually weakened the Italian occupation, forcing them to pull back between September 1914 and April 1915. The same year they simultaneously clashed with the British army, which was advancing towards Egypt, and also recaptured Canet Town from French forces who were advancing towards the northern Sahara.
Europeans and Christian missionaries avoided travelling through the places that were controlled by the Senussi order. In 1916, a French cavalry officer Charles de Foucauld, who was also a famous priest, was killed by the Senussi forces. Their resistance was so effective during that time that they even regained control of many sultanates, including Agadez, which were occupied by the French forces between 1916 and 1917.
The Senussi leader Sharif was the grandson of Muhammad as-Senussi, the founding father of the Sufi ordder. Sharif's uncle Muhammad Mahdi was the leader of the order until he died fighting against France in Sahara. After Mahdi's death, Sharif became the third Sheikh of Senussi order.
As the Ottoman Empire officially withdrew from Tripoli in 1914, handing over the city to the occupying forces of Italy, the Ottoman state stayed in touch with Sharif.
“In 1918, Ahmed Sharif came to Anatolia and supported the Ottoman Empire in World War I,” Kavas said.
Sharif's successor Idris Senussi took back Libya from Egypt in 1951 and founded Libya.
As president of Libya, Senussi came to Turkish province of Bursa in 1969 to enjoy the comforts of its thermal springs. In Senussi's absence, Libya's military general Muammar Gaddafi staged a coup against him, removing him from power.