Books on Turkey
Update No: 154 -
Turkey is a uniquely ambivalent country.
It is the only Islamic country with a
firmly secular state, inherited from the
great moderniser, Ataturk. It has a
genuine democracy, unique in the Moslem
world. It straddles three vital
geopolitical zones of the world, Europe,
the Middle East and Asia.
It has a profound identity crisis. It is
applying to join the European Union (EU),
whose two most crucial powers, France and
Germany, do not want it in. It is
naturally very assertive in the Middle
East, its own main habitat, yet it aspires
to be the arbiter of East-West relations.
Turkey's strategic and economic
significance to the West is massive—and
American-Turkish relations took a turn for
the worse earlier in March when a U.S.
congressional committee recommended the
full House of Representatives take up a
vote on a resolution condemning the
slaughter of Armenians in the Ottoman
Empire as genocide.
Turkey is a rarity in the Middle East, a
democracy with a secular constitution. It
has the second-largest army in NATO; it
provides a crucial energy route to Europe.
The Encircle air base is a crucial staging
point for the US military. Turkey has made
a sizable contribution to the coalition
forces in Afghanistan. It has a
non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security
Council, and could be a vital diplomatic
partner—or a vexed antagonist—to America
throughout the Middle East and Islamic
Trouble at home
There is a very prominent role of
conspiracies and paranoia in Turkish
social and political life. In February,
more than five dozen military officers
were arrested and charged with plotting a
coup. The detained stand accused of
planning to bomb mosques and down Greek
fighter jets as a pretext for toppling the
The West, understandably, is concerned
about the trouble in Turkey. Particularly
disturbing is the growing anti-Israel
animus of Turkey's foreign policy and its
growing intimacy with the most extremist
regimes and parties of the Islamic world.
Turkey's trade with Iran is galloping.
Turkey's Prime Minister Recap Tanya
Endogen was the first international figure
to host Hamas. He has called for the
expulsion of Israel from the U.N. while
offering diplomatic support for the denial
of genocide in Darfur.
Turkey has seen three military coups in
the past half century—by definition, you
can't have a coup without a conspiracy.
The military, which conceives itself as
the guardian of Turkish democracy and
secularism, has intervened, most recently
in 1997, to unseat prime ministers who
have veered too far off the secular rails.
The AKP in power
The ruling Justice and Development Party,
known as the AKP, came to power in 2002.
Its senior figures rose from the ranks of
virulent—and banned—Islamist parties, but
the AKP claims to be moderate.
Almost everyone in Turkey subscribes to
one of two conspiracy narratives about
this party or its antagonists. In the
first, the AKP is a party of religious
deception that seeks to bring all elements
of the government under its control. Its
hidden goal is the eradication of the
secular state, the wrenching of Turkey
from the West, and, ultimately, the
imposition of Islamic law. In this
narrative, the specter of the sect leader
Fethullah Gülen, who has undefined ties to
the party and has taken exile in Utah,
arouses particular dread. His critics fear
he is the Turkish Ayatollah Khomenei; they
say that his acolytes have seeped into the
organs of the Turkish body politic, where
they lie poised, like a zombie army, to be
awakened by his signal.
The second version holds that the AKP is
exactly what it purports to be: a modern
and democratic party with which the West
can and should do business. Mr. Gülen's
followers say the real conspirators are
instead members of the so-called Deep
State—what they call a demented, multi-tentacled
secret alliance of high-level figures in
the military, the intelligence services,
the judiciary and organized crime.
Neither theory has irrefragable proof
behind it. Both are worryingly plausible
and supported by some evidence. But most
significantly, one or the other story is
believed by virtually everyone here. It is
the paranoid style of Turkish politics
itself that should alarm the West.
Turkey's underlying disease is not so much
Islamism or a military gone rogue, but
corruption and authoritarianism over which
a veneer of voter participation has been
The system does not look undemocratic on
paper. Turkish political parties are
structured, in principle, around district
and provincial organizations. There is
universal suffrage, but a party must
receive 10% of the vote to be represented
in Parliament. Party members elect
district delegates, district presidents
and board members. Yet Turkish prime
ministers have near-dictatorial powers
over their political parties and are not
embarrassed to use them.
It is the party members, not voters, who
pick the party leader. Members of
Parliament enjoy unlimited political
immunity, as do the bureaucrats they
appoint. The resulting license to steal
money and votes is accepted with alacrity
and used with impunity. Corruption and
influence peddling are the inevitable
consequence. Business leaders are afraid
to object for fear of being shut out.
Conspiracies flourish when citizens fear
punishment for open political expression,
when power is seen as illegitimate, and
when people have no access to healthy
channels of influence. They give rise
inevitably to counter-conspiracies that
fuel the paranoia and enmity, a
Throughout Turkey is the pervasive feeling
that no one beyond family can be trusted.
The common charge that the AKP is
progressively weakening the judiciary and
the military is objectively correct, as is
the claim that this concentrates an
unhealthy amount of power in the hands of
the executive branch. Yet the prime
minister and his intimates insist that
their actions are defensive. "For 40
years, they have kept files on us. Now, it
is our turn to keep files on them," AKP
deputy Avni Doğan has said.
Their enemies voice the same worldview.
"When you look at Turkey today, it is as
if the country has ... fallen under
foreign occupation," the leader of the
opposition CHP party Deniz Baykal has
Paranoia is inevitably also grandiose.
When the U.S. House Committee on Foreign
Affairs passed up the recent resolution to
describe the massacre of Armenians in the
First World War era as a genocide, Suat
Kiniklioglu, the spokesman of the Foreign
Affairs Committee of the Turkish
Parliament, explained Turkey's outrage
thus: "I think the Americans would feel
the same if we were to pass a resolution
in our parliament talking about the
treatment of [native] Indians in their
country." Mr. Kiniklioglu speaks fluent
English; he has spent years in the West.
Yet he is blind to the most obvious of
facts about American culture:- No one in
America would give a damn!
Meanwhile, discussion of Turkey's most
serious social and economic
unemployment, and a legal system held in
contempt even by its attorneys—has been
eclipsed. Reports of economic miracles
under the AKP have, as everyone now
understands, been exaggerated by
statistical legerdemain. This is all too
easy to do, because Turkey has one of the
largest underground economies in the
world, worth somewhere between one-third
and two-thirds of the country's GDP. Every
major economic sector in Turkey is largely
off-the-record. No one can say confidently
whether these sectors are growing or
shrinking, and even officially, Turkey now
has the second-highest rate of
unemployment in Europe. This is hardly the
mark of an expanding middle class.
Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan recently said
that the West "must understand that in
this region, two plus two doesn't always
equal four. Sometimes it equals six,
sometimes 10. You cannot hope to
understand this region unless you grasp
Psychiatrists are typically advised to
attempt to form a "working alliance" with
the paranoid patient, avoid becoming the
object of projection, and provide a model
of non-paranoid behavior. This is also
sound advice in diplomacy.
But paranoia is known to be a particularly
intractable disorder. Those who experience
it do not trust those trying to help them.
The West should keep this too, in mind,
for the paranoid spiral here could easily
do what spirals are known to do: spin out