The New Turkey: Quiet Revolution on the Edge of Europe by Chris Morris
The New Turkey: Quiet Revolution on the Edge of Europe. By Chris Morris. Granta Book, London, 2005. ISBN 13: 978-1-86207-865-9. 258 pages.
Chris Morris, BBC correspondent, took me to a long “journey” with his short, but fair and comprehensive book, The New Turkey: The Quiet Revolution on the Edge of Europe. Throughout his acknowledgeable study, the author sets out a broad image of the entire country. It is noteworthy to look at his experience in Turkey [in order to understand his sources of information]. He worked as a BBC’s Turkey correspondent from 1997 to 2001, first in Ankara and then in the new BBC’s bureau of Istanbul. “The stories he covered included the two massive earthquakes which hit north-western Turkey in 1999, and the arrest and trial of the Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan. As a BBC Europe correspondent Chris covers European politics and diplomacy, including EU enlargement and the debate about the proposed European constitution.” (BBC News).
This is why Chris Morris acquired a very relevant involvement and experience with Turkey on different topics: Turkish history, politics, culture, society and so forth. Instead of narrowing the broad scope of the book to one particular aspect, he strives to embrace history, politics, economy, culture, society, long-lasting and current concerns, minority issues in particular, geopolitical significance and challenges of contemporary Turkey. To this end, Morris accordingly splits up his masterpiece into respective sections that cogently provides smooth flow for its readers.
The introduction of the book starts with the talks on Turkey joining the European Union. Here the author briefly presents pros and cons of EU’s eastward enlargement with particular focus on Turkey’s entrance. He sheds light on the successful reforms implemented by the Erdogan government that are major assets of new Turkey’s thrive. The book is debating different issues at the core of these efforts: the controversial domestic situation, the prejudices of a big part of the opinion against the adhesion (?), and the nevertheless vigorous endeavors of the ruling elite for the accession to the EU as well as range of external factors.
With the very onset of the book, the author launches an expedition in Turkish history by going back to the early establishment of the Ottoman Empire. The chapter called They’ve Got a Bit of a History sets out precisely the development of the empire throughout the centuries – its glories and conquests that have been significant to world history, domestic and external policies run by the empire, and its enduring influence on the rest of the world. Through this historical overview, the author does not only aim at swaggering the enormous past of the Turks, he also underlines the contribution of the Muslim world – particularly of the Ottomans – in the development of the West. He argues that the Christian Europe was lagging behind the Muslim East in terms of technology and civilization up to the 16th century. Ottoman conquests urged interaction of Christians and Muslims, herein “the Islamic world became Europe’s link with more advanced civilizations to the east. Knowledge of medicine and mathematics, astronomy and the arts, hygiene and new agricultural techniques all flooded in with the invading armies of soldiers, sailors and merchants” (pp. 15-16). On the other hand, Ottoman was a big challenge to Europe. Its trade routes to the east were blocked by the empire and Europe was kept at bay from the hinterlands of Asia. Consequently, it led the Europeans to explore the New World, get more organized and make an unanticipated leap towards industrialization and further prosperity. Chris Morris links this argument with the current perception of Europeans that hesitate about Turkey’s membership in the EU. In spite of this history of vainglorious Ottoman conquests and worldwide imperial centuries -long preeminence of Turks, the EU unfairly keeps Turkey waiting on the adhesion process.
Subsequently the book switches to a completely different era of Turkish history – the period of Ataturk and his legacy. The cornerstone of contemporary Turkey dates back to Mustafa Kemal’s reign . Undoubtedly, Chris Morris has a high opinion of Ataturk’s period , and he describes “the revolutionary miracles” that Turkey underwent thanks to his founder . Ataturk eliminated the Islamic Caliphate, declared religious brotherhoods illegal, changed the alphabet from Arab to Latin, pushed the society toward modernization, integration and adoption of Western/European values and standards. His efforts aimed at setting up a secular and democratic “devlet” – state. Ataturk afforded to bring a notion of Turkish patriotism to the mentality. Unsurprisingly people called him “Ataturk” –father of the Turks. Furthermore, the author draws attention to the legacy of Ataturk preserved in an evangelical way by his followers. The respect for this man overwhelmingly covers every aspect of modern Turkey’s life from regular social to governmental structures. “Every official foreign visitor is expected to begin a visit to Ankara with a pilgrimage to the great man’s tomb. […] In fact, you can’t escape Ataturk anywhere in modern Turkey. His statue stands at the centre of every town and village square. Schoolchildren pledge their allegiance every morning.” (p. 33). Morris also relevantly mentions wrongoings of Ataturk’s legacy. Military led secular state afterwards has suffered from clashes of ideologies. Over-prioritization of military and imposition of force over politics and society created ultimate respect to military. Nevertheless, regarding perspectives of EU-Turkey relations, the author considers Turkey’s military as the “main asset it can offer Europe”, though, this is also dubious (p. 39). As a NATO country, possessing massive military capacity, Turkey “could give EU defence plans muscle, and provide much-needed ‘boots on the ground’ for peacekeeping missions around the globe. The Turks wouldn’t solve all Europe’s defence dilemmas (…) they lack many of the things the EU really needs: high tech communications and the massive transport planes (…).” (pp.39-40). Later, Chris Morris sheds light on Islam as an important matter of the country. He soundly underlines the maintenance of Islam and Islamic traditions throughout the history, particularly noticeable “after eighty years of Ataturk’s secular system” (p. 86). Moreover, he also discusses Islam’s penetration into politics with the image of pious Muslim prime-minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party – the AKP (Justice and Development Party),. BBC journalists, the author, however, referring to an interview, he took from the minister – “’When I’m at home, I’m a Muslim; when I’m in the office, I work for democracy’” – regards him as a tangible reformist “pushing his country down the path of greater democratic freedoms, the path which leads towards the EU.” (pp. 62-86). Subsequently, the book covers one of the most delicate and sensitive topics of modern Turkey – minorities, and the Kurdish issue in particular. He expresses concerns about the recognition of the Kurdish identity, as well as the Kurdish social problems, Kurdish struggles in fragile and conflict-torn zones of south-eastern Turkey. Morris scrutinizes various periods, assessing ups and downs of minority issues within EU-Turkey dialogues. He particularly emphasizes recent progresses as the fruit of reforms that substantially stand for preservation of minority rights and equal prosperities. However, this is not a completed process and the issue still remains sensitive for the country since violent Kurdish rebels, PKK regularly come to the fore with terrifying hazards.
Moreover, the author talks about the Greeks and the Armenians as “open wounds:” with a focus on the genocide question (pp. 111-132). Although the government provides equal opportunities and guard of human rights for local Armenians, they stubbornly insist on recognition of 1915 slaughter as genocide. The book also gives insights on international attitudes towards the Armenian slaughter. Chris Morris impartially does not accept that it was a genocide, nor justifies Turkish arguments. He rather boils down his personal observations and objective findings to the conclusion that the reconciliation – “the core idea of the European project” – must be achieved, otherwise that will stay the hindering factor against adhesion.
Furthermore, concerning human right issues, Morris dissects basic problems of the society covering tortures, women and children’s rights, death fasts, and conditions in prisons. He runs systematic comparisons referring to drastically different portraits of two phases – pre-and-post-reforms periods. Constructive changes in tolerance accountability of the government, revised and improved prosecution systems, independent and democratic jurisdiction, adopted new laws and codes reducing the number of “honor” killings, well-functioning watchdogs for women and child rights are the feasible achievements of the efforts dragging Turkey closer to the European Union. Nevertheless, the gap within the entire society, deep inequality, illiteracy are still barriers for modern Turkey on the path leading to the EU.
While talking about the Turkish society, Chris Morris also adds some respective passages about the Turkish communities in Europe. He analyzes the historical background of Turkish migration to Europe, dating back to the 1960s as West Germany summoned gastarbeiter (guest workers) from Turkey. The author analyzes every strata of the Turkish community living in Germany: challenges of being Muslim, survival strategies of unemployed migrants, well-off businessmen, students and middle class. Moreover, he questions the self-identification of “Euro-Turks”. Some of them completely belong to Europe, while others rather insist on their Turkish identity. However, lots of them are in-between and suffer from this position thereof. One of the interviewees puts: “…They still regard us as foreigners here, and when we go back to Turkey they call us Germans. But I’m optimistic; I think things will get better here if we give it a few more years.” (p.188).
Nonetheless, it was hard to be as optimistic concerning the economic performance, especially because of the economic crisis in 2001. Corruption, high rate of inflation, bankruptcy of state-owned banks shook the country with serious jeopardy. Morris describes those days of economic turmoil in the country and appreciatively ranges attempts, goodwill of the people, as well as of the government that decisively protected the country against the traps of the crisis. Along with stories such as flourishing economic growth, reduction of inflation, the book sorts out deepening economic inequality between the west and the east of the country, and the impacts of military, Islamist and foreign capital on the national economy.
Turkey, the country lying from the west to the east, linking two continents – Europe and Asia, and containing features of western/European and eastern/Islamic civilizations, holds a geopolitical situation of vital importance. The author posits Turkey’s situation very critical along with its significance not only for Turkey but also for the EU. He draws Turkey’s geopolitical picture like a transit space of huge smugglings, illegal migration, and a potential accommodation for radical Islamists because of the close neighborhood with Iran and Iraq. However, Turkey considerably contributes to the diversification of energy routes and reduction of EU’s dependence on Russian energy monopoly.
A closing chapter covers what Chris Morris calls “the cultural revolution of Turkey.” It touches on transformations and catalyst changes in Turkish art and literature, cinematography and the increasing number of independent TV channels. Morris argues that changes were not only technological, but also concern the themes and concepts. However, Moris does not either analyze or depict the significant link between the cultural revolution and reforms of New Turkey. Concerning the concept changes, he mentions that movies and TV programmes have started to cover issues such as human rights, rule of law, social and minority concerns, migration and so forth. Moreover, the quality of new Turkish movies allow them to “compete with the very best, such as the extraordinary work of Nuri Bilge Ceylan”(p. 235). His movie Uzak (Distant) won the Grand Prize at Cannes in 2003.
Chris Morris designed his book in a way to integrate his observations and findings from the interviews he conducted with very different people: high-ranked public officials, businessmen, street-sellers, peasants, political and civil society activists. Although the book is not academically acknowledged, nor has got scholarly proven references, it is intelligently and correctly written. Objective narratives and analyses of the author do not make room for any severe critiques. The book can be strongly recommended to researchers, politicians, students and also travelers who are interested in getting broad knowledge on Turkey, and its recent achievements and transformations as the country is today able to meet most of the world-wide contemporary standards. I hope that New Turkey’s successes will be sustainable and will endure further progress for all strata of society and regions of the country.
Ismayil Isayev is a graduate student of global studies at Vienna University, firstname.lastname@example.org
BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/aboutbbcnews/hi/profiles/newsid_3660000/3660911.stm , accessed in July 15, 2010.