Monday, June 18, 2012



Crescent and Star: Turkey between Two Worlds

My parents asked me to embark on Mission Impossible: obtain a fully-cooked whole turkey in time for Thanksgiving dinner (which would occur in two days time). The location was Barcelona, Spain. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed by this. Not only was I a full-time student running between classes in several different locations, but new challenges also seemed to keep arising. For example, I found a raw turkey only to discover the apartment’s oven was too small to cook a raw turkey.

Enter the hero: El Corte Ingles – the granddaddy of department stores. To me, El Corte Ingles is a magical place where you can merely whisper what you need and it will appear before you, including groceries, translation services, musical instruments, and cell phones. (My most magical El Corte Ingles moment came when my friends and I posed for some photographs in the fragrance section as a part of a marketing campaign. After returning to the United States, I discovered my image was chosen to be printed and plastered up on posters throughout Spain.) When I explained my dilemma to a representative from El Corte Ingles, they immediately recognized my plight and provided my family with a beautiful, delicious turkey.

My El Corte Ingle "magical" photograph.
The reason why I am mentioning Thanksgiving dinners is because of the subject of this blog: Turkey, the country. When I was a kid, my boy crush drew a picture of a greasy hamburger and a Thanksgiving turkey on the Mediterranean Sea – “Greece” and “Turkey,” respectively. Needless to say, I thought it was the cleverest thing I had ever seen.

Studying the economics of Europe while in Barcelona, the question of Turkey invariably came up. It was a similar question to that posed in the book I read about Georgia: “What is Europe and how large should Europe grow?” Turkey has aspirations to join in the European Union, and for a while, the aspirations were viewed as a reality (at least by many in the Turkish population.) Unlike Georgia, however, Turkey already benefits from NATO membership. Thus, I wanted to find a book which would not only delve into the recent history of Turkey, but also focus on the modern developments of the country. I found this book in Stephen Kinzer’s “Crescent and Star: Turkey between Two Worlds.”

(As a classical music lover, I must digress to express my elation when within the first few pages, the author notes Mozart's opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail and how it affected the European's mindset regarding the Turkish people. For classical music buffs, this opera was highlighted in the film Amadeus.) 

So, should Turkey be a part of Europe? As I am neither Turkish nor European, I do not feel like I can really offer an answer to this question. However my opinion as an American is “Grow. Expand. The more, the merrier.” According to the book, the reforms implemented by the Turkish government in order to be eligible for EU membership had a deep impact on its people, particularly its minorities. Turkey created a strong nation based on solidarity, nationalism, progress, and secularism – mantras of Kemalism – based on the rule and legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk after World War I. It was this nationalism and emphasis in a Turkish identity which further separated many ethnic groups living in Turkey from the mainstream. Perhaps the two main ethnic groups in Turkey which receive the most media attention are the Armenians and the Kurds.

While the author briefly mentions the Armenians (for those more interested, please go to my book review about the country of Armenia), most emphasis is placed on the Kurds. The Armenian genocide was conducted by the Ottoman Empire, before the modern state of Turkey existed. However, this atrocity has never been formally acknowledged by the modern Turkish state. The author’s opinion is that Turkey must recognize this in order for reconciliation to take place. The Kurds, however, are a much more pressing issue, brought to light during the Iraq War. The Kurdish people are without a homeland, dispersed between Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Since 1978, many Kurds have been using the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers Party) as a means to demand rights by conducting attacks. The author brings this conflict to life, detailing his own experience being interrogated by the Turkish police by being suspected to be involved in Kurdish unrest. Having spent much time in Turkey, he also details the change in attitudes and expectations, most notably during a visit to the Kurdish region in 2005. On page 139 the power of “Europe” and the security that “being European” provided the Kurdish people are described.

This has recently changed. In 2006, Turkey received several blows in regards to the status of their application to the European Union. According to the author, “Europe had fallen into an identity crisis of its own. By falling victim to insecurities, its fear of the changing words and its perception of being threatened politically, economically and above all culturally, Europe seemed to say that, at least for the moment, geography mattered more than ideals. “ (page 225.) This was a change from the past, which hoped that by offering membership to Turkey, better relations with the Islamic world might be established in the future. For those from Europe and/or Turkey, what do you feel about the expansion of Europe?

Two other interesting topics included in this book that I would like to mention are: 1.) the power of the military and 2.) secularism and its relationship with women’s rights.

The power of the military was key to the Ottoman Empire, which had at one point, expanded into Europe. (The Ottoman Empire nearly took Vienna in 1521.) The military has continued to play a key role, and its relationship with Turkey’s modern-day democracy seems to be in the process of being defined. The author noted that “between 1960 and 1980 they [the military] toppled four governments, each time with considerable popular support.” (page 177.) I would love to know from the Turkish people, how they feel the power of the military has affected them (if any.) What does conscription entail? Does the military have a strong presence?

Another topic which interested me was that of the relationship between secularism and women’s rights. When Atatürk came to power, he implemented many reforms, including replacing Turkey’s Arabic script with Latin script. He also banned the veil worn by women for religious purposes. Today, although the veil is allowed, it is still a contentious issue. Many women believe that the reappearance of the veil is a threat to their personal identity. Others feel as if they were not given their rights when the veil was banned. Interestingly, if a politician’s wife wears a veil in Turkey’s relatively-secularized society, there is often controversy.  For women who wear this veil, why have you chosen to do so? Where do you stand on this argument?

Please feel free to comment on these topics or note something interesting from the book. I look forward to hearing your opinions! 

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