Exploring Turkey’s Geopolitics and Economy: A Personal Journey
“Turkey is a European country, an Asian country, a Middle Eastern country, Balkan country, Caucasian country, neighbor to Africa, Black Sea country, Caspian Sea, all these.” – Ahmet Davutoglu
I traveled to Turkey in the winter of 2014 to see Tomer, who was spending the semester at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University. Growing up in Israel, where remnants of the Ottoman Empire, which governed the Middle East for centuries, could be found everywhere, I found it fascinating to travel to the majestic location where it all began.
I sensed a “whiff” of angry energy in the air in Istanbul. Now that I think about it, the feeling I had makes sense in light of the relevant historical backdrop. Many enthusiastic devotees of Islam from all over the world joined ISIS in 2014, and many traveled via Istanbul on their way into ISIS-controlled territory.
The most memorable part of the trip was staying a few days in Konya, where Rumi wrote, taught, and lived. Watching the Dervish dancers spin during the Mevlana Festival was enchanting; Konya is still the hub of the mystic Sufi Muslims today.
Turkey: Geopolitics and Economy
Turkey is a country located in Western Asia and Southeastern Europe. It has a long coastline along the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey is a major player in the region and has a complex geopolitical situation. It is bordered by eight countries: Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Turkey is a member of NATO, the Council of Europe, and the G20. It has a population of over 84 million people, making it the world’s 18th most populous country. The official language is Turkish, and the currency is the Turkish lira. The government is a presidential representative democratic republic. Turkey has a diverse economy, with a strong manufacturing sector and a significant agricultural sector. It is also a major transit point for oil and natural gas from the Middle East and the Caspian Sea region.
The Debate Over Turkey’s EU Membership
Since Turkey joined the European Community as an associate member in 1963, raising the possibility of a later full membership, the issue of Turkey’s European credentials has gotten more and more attention. Turkey has lobbied for membership in the EU since 1987 and has been a member of NATO since 1952. Despite being acknowledged as a candidate nation, opinions on its future are still sharply divided and unanswered.
There are arguments in favor and against Turkey’s EU membership, and in the last ten years, the likelihood of Turkey joining has decreased. One reason is that less than 5% of Turkey’s area is in Europe; the remainder, which includes everything east and southeast of the Bosporus straits, is in the Middle East. Another aspect is how it has handled human rights, particularly concerning the Kurds. Another is economics, where there is concern that a widening gap in living standards may lead to a massive influx of workers. And the fact that Turkey is a majority Muslim nation (98 percent) may also play a role.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk: The Man Who Changed Turkey
For one man, at least, there was no other option in the 1920s. Mustafa Kemal was the only Turkish general to come out of the First World War with a better reputation. He rose to become president on a platform of opposition to the terms imposed by the Allies after the victorious countries divided Turkey. Atatürk also advocated for Turkey’s modernization and integration with Europe at the same time. He introduced the Gregorian calendar and Western legal systems; Islamic public institutions were outlawed. He prohibited wearing a fez (hat), switched to the Latin alphabet from the Arabic script, and even gave women the right to vote (two years ahead of Spain and fifteen years ahead of France). When Turkish citizens adopted legally binding surnames in 1934, Kemal was granted the title Atatürk, which means “Father of the Turks.” He died in 1938, but subsequent Turkish leaders continued working to bring Turkey into the West European fold, determined to complete Atatürk’s legacy.
Turkey’s Plan B: Embracing its Strategic Location
“Many analysts compare Turkey with countries in the Middle East, but I think we need to compare it with Russia. Both countries come from a tradition of empire, and also from a tradition of the strong state.” – Elif Shafak
By the late 1980s, a generation of leaders started to consider the improbable: that perhaps Turkey needed a backup plan because of Europe’s ongoing rejection and the stubborn refusal of many Turks to become less religious. When president Turgut Ozal, a devout man, took office in 1989, he began the transformation. He urged Turks to view their country as a major land route connecting Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, a nation that has the potential to, once again, dominate all three continents. Similar, and possibly even more ambitious, goals exist for the current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
My reading recommendation
Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernieres
Snow, A Novel, by Orhan Pamuk
My Name Is Red, by Orhan Pamuk
Istanbul, Memories and the City, by Orhan Pamuk
The Forty Rules of Love, A Novel of Rumi, By Elif Shafak
The Bastard of Istanbul, By Elif Shafak
Istanbul Passage, A Novel, by Joseph Kanon
Midnight at the Pera Palace, The Birth of Modern Istanbul, by Charles King
Erdogan Rising, The Battle for the Soul of Turkey, by Hannah Lucinda Smith
The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, by Eugene Rogan
What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam, by John L. Esposito
Rumi: Voice of Longing, by Coleman Barks
Pure Water: Poetry of Rumi, by Coleman Barks and Jalaluddin Rumi