Erdogan’s Big Fat Turkish Idea
Published on: August 17, 2011
show comments
  • joe

    Nice article, Professor Mead. For Turkey to make firm inroads into Syria, their first step must be unrolling some development plan for the Kurds there, lest Iraqi and Turkish Kurds engage in a full-on insurrection. I don’t think that as Ankara is currently populated they are willing to make that leap and break with Ataturk’s traditions of a single, legal polity (whatever pesky reality may say). Turkishness as enforced by their courts and police does seem to be limited to Sunni Turks and no one else. Moreover in contrast to the cosmopolitan Ottomans, the leadership of the AKP is fairly rustic and underdeveloped; think of Erdogan’s hissy-fit at Davos a few years ago. That needless display started the West’s re-evaluation of the AKP a year or two early.

    From the Phanariotes to the Sephardic Jews and heretical Christians in the Balkans, the Ottomans did not care how prosperous you became in the service of the Sublime Porte, as long as you were faithful. Like Yankees, they didn’t care how high you got, just how close. The AKP discriminate against the Alevis, Christians and Sufi’s solely on the basis of the 19th century nationalistic principle of one nation, one state.

    Another thing, Russia is in the midst of a muted religious revival and it is the part of the Putin platform to re-insert Orthodox Christianity into Russian life. A resurgent Turkey is going to be troublesome for the Russian political machine, especially one meddling in Syria which has long ties to the USSR and houses their major Mediterrean naval base at Lattakia.

  • Pete Dellas

    It amazes me how things that I didn’t much care about when I was young now have great importance in our world. Being raised Greek, all I knew was that the Turks were evil and my enemy. It wasn’t until I was in college that I began to understand the history behind those assertions. But, even then, I didn’t much care. I was an American and Turkey, Iraq, Iran, etc. were “has beens” of little consequence to our American life. Ottomans, Persians, Assyrians, Babylonians–all were as faded as the Greeks in ancient times.

    Today, we live in a world where just about all peoples and all nations have an affect on us, like it or not. Preferring a Libertarian approach to our politics–both domestically and at the state department–I find that might be too simplistic for the US in terms of how we respond to world events. I believe our involvement can be curtailed, but it cannot cease. It seems that, one way or another, the USA will (of necessity) continue to be involved in places around the globe, even if we prefer to not be engaged.

    As always, a very fascinating post, Prof. Mead.

  • Jim.

    “The Balkan Wars of the 1990s and the struggle over Kosovo between Serbs and Albanians were one (one hopes) among the last European flare ups of the long wars of the nations which gradually forged modern nation states out of the ethnic and religious hodgepodge of Europe 150 years ago. Tens of millions died and tens of millions more were driven from their homes, but except for some occasional belches and booms, the volcano has finished exploding.”

    But the magma chambers are re-filling.

    Europe’s WWII deaths, then their dismal birthrate has meant that they “needed” workers; a combination of residual racism that first declared the Gastarbeiter not worth assimilating, replaced by a Politically Correct worldview that declared the dominant culture not worth assimilating to, means the “ethnic and religious hodgepodge of Europe 150 years ago” is back.

    Is it going to be back with a vengeance? Only time will tell.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I’m afraid that Erdogan look’s like just another power hungry Islamic Tyrant to me. He has now broken the successful model Ataturk built, and will squander all that Turkey has gain from it. He will soon become leader for life as he consolidates power, and the waste and corruption of Islamic Tyrannies will quickly follow. Turkey will turn it’s back on modernization, democracy, free-enterprise, and the rule of law, in favor of religious dogma and the politically connected. Turkey will become just another failed Islamic state. This is known as “Bad Luck”.

  • Carol Herman

    Jimmy Rogers, in his second book Adventure Capitalist. Made the rounds of the countries he visited in a Mercedes Benz. (He said the car could be fixed anywhere. Because it was the favorite among despots.)

    His car door’s mirror broke in Instanbul. So, he got to spend a few more weeks in Turkey. He pointed out that Turkey was rich in under-25-year olds. But it was so corrupt, it took thousands of stamps … from “middle-men” … for his mirror to move through customs.

    And, he wrote that was going to kill it for Turkey. No global company would invest money to build a factory anywhere in Turkey, due to this common flaw, of greasy palms.

    And, that Mubarak fell? What if that’s gonna be seen as the last of the good days for Egypt? The muslem brotherhood isn’t gonna get seated at the West’s diplomatic table. And, famine grips nations that are overpopulated.

    Made worse by what happened in Iran, after the Shah fell. And, religion not only took over; women were shamed out of their skirts. And, out of their college educations.

    In Syria? Seems like Assad is holding on.

    Same too in Libya.

    Perhaps, when things settle down, Assad will be offering jobs out, to rebuild? Not so much in Libya. But Libya’s a small nation. Low in population. And, only about ten miles deep from its coast land, inland. They never even built up Starbucks.

    Why assume you can change intercene stuff ahead, if its led where you see it now?

    Steps of Vienna? Hardly.

  • The Turks are going to expand first not into the Arab world ( too many mouths to feed, potential conflict with Iran or the US and not enough payoff)but into energy rich Central Asia and the ‘stans, where there are already Turkic peoples living. The single exception may be Kurdistan in Iraq, because they’ll try to snatch the oil in places like Kirkuk once we leave.

    In the future, our placating the Turks to [abandon] the Kurds over in Iraq is going to be seen as a huge strategic blunder.

    Also expect Turkey to try to extend their influence northwards via their fellow Muslims in Albania,Bulgaria and Kossovo.

    Nor is this going to be ‘partnership’ with the US. Turkey has made that clear ona number of occasions, if you’re paying attention.

    What we have here is an Islamist state with the largest conventional military in NATO, an overextended economy and a surplus of unemployed in what I call the cannon fodder age bracket.They will need to expand or decay.

  • D Yigit US (from Turkiye)

    Nice Article, there are lots of historical and politic information. I’m writing as a Turkish person who is Muslim, sympathizer of Ottoman Empire and also Modern and Kemalist. Politicians of foreign countries are thinking that there are 2 main politic groups in Turkey (Islamist & Modernist) and the groups are separeted very sharp, can never be agree on anything. Yes, situation looks like this for the political parties but not same for the citizens. If the subject is Independence of Turkey, Unity of Turkey, killing of a soldier by terrorists, these two groups can come together. If you come to Turkey, you can see easily the name of Allah (with arabic letters) and a picture of Ataturk in every workshops, stores, cafes, markets, many houses… If we accept that Modernists and Islamists are rival two groups, they are accusing eachother being USA’s agent / spy or USA lover or Israel’s agent / spy. People love Americans, people love asking them about USA and telling history of Turks. Many of people have iphone, blackberry (me), wears Tomy (me), US POLO (me), listen all of american mtv stars and some of them dreaming going and sitting at USA . But the problem about politics. Do you remember the earthquake of Marmara in 1999 ? Bill Clinton came to visit. People were saying “USA made the earthquake by magnetic or phsyical technology. Think about this paranoia. When people see a mendicant on the street they think that he can be a spy of USA or Israel.

    To summarise

    In this area (middle east) USA needs Turkey because of their politic aims which like taking the control of petrol and whole world. Everybody agrees this. And also Turkey needs USA for the many politic aims which like ending kurdish terrorism, joining to EU. I suggest to USA to show their friendship to Turkey about kurdish terrorism, stop giving guns to PKK and solve Israel problem about the ship of blue marmara.

    Apologise for my bad English

  • Sal

    the above person who introduces himself as a Turkish and Kemalist person is talking [ed — obscene reference to animal waste removed],saying that one is wearing American brands and using Canadian cell-phone(Blackberry) does not make anyone west-lover or modernist. that only makes you more americanized fake capitalist. Turkey has an increasing role in Arab’s world, and an image that could revoluate the whole arabic world. what Turkey did achieved is what all they talk about in daily life, the turkish movies and tv-shows we have recently done are what they watch every night. We might have a negative image in Arab world during 20th century due to a corruption of the Ottoman empire, and lately we may seem like we again try to rebuild the whole corrupted relationship with the arabic world. But no, the ruling party, AKP, Justice and Development Party, as a first job after the 2002 election, to get the EU job done, and this was the most successful process throughout the Turkish history in terms of joining the EU since 1960. As a new foreign policy of Turkey, has been introduced “zero problem” to resolve the conflicts and problems with the neighbours, if having a zero problem with the East since it was a region where the whole middle eastian people suffering from the dictorial regimes,then we cannot say Turkey is moving fast to the East, We only say the East will move to the model of what Turkey has achieved as a muslim and europian country at most, we have nothing to get from the east but sharing the modernist and democratic experiments of Turkey with them. We are Turks but we are united with all fellow citizens (Kurds, Arabs and other nations)

  • Anthony

    “Nevertheless, it looks as if their shared interests lead the US and Turkey to update and renegotiate their sixty year old partnership in a changing region.” Let us hope so WRM as regional interests and Turkish wariness vis-a-vis U.S. balance of power motives among both AKP and Kemalist provide ongoing areas for contention while historical change takes place.

  • Andrew

    I am in constant awe of Prof. Mead’s magisterial grasp of the underpinnings of the world as we know it. His students are incredibly fortunate, as are we.

  • Clearthinker

    Expect our new ‘rational’ Turkish friends to flail out at Israel when the Gazastan bomb explodes. Since Erdogan proved to be limp vis-a-vis his threats to Assad, he will have to puff up and act when the Gaza war explodes. The US is betting on the wrong horse here, This Erdogan is a softer Islamic fascist, that’s all.

  • john

    I think Turkey is going to be a rogue state, more than it is already. They are not credible (enough) allies, having superiority complex.

  • Allan

    Erdoğan’s name is pronounced air-doe-ahn
    (not air-doe-wan)

  • Jack Kalpakian

    Erdogan has some good ideas. The crux of the problem is not the power or lack thereof of his neighbors. The primary flaw of Erdogan’s ideas is that he wants an Ottomanism under Turkish nationalism. It is like wanting a Socialist economy under Walmart, there is no possibility of the two ideas co-existing. Davutoglu and Erdogan need to understand the universalist pragmatism that made the Ottoman Empire function so well for so long. They also need to liberate themselves from the view that it was somehow the fault of subject populations that that universalism was abandoned. As long as their project is premised on Turkish Nationalist primacy, it will sail as far as an 18-wheeler in Lake Van.

  • Mehmet

    Thanks to Prof. Mead for nicely written and informative article… It presents the difficulties of achieving Erdogan’s “Turkish Idea” nicely. and yes it seems close to impossible to achieve that ideal. However my ‘but’ comes to ‘Washington’s tacit support to Turkey’. Even a very educated person like Prof. Mead couldn’t give up the supervision role to which the western societies appoint themselves. I have hard time to understand why any country from “the rest” cannot achieve anything positive on their own. I see this is spreading like a plague in western intellect. This is saying like: “the US couldn’t manage to bring peace to that region, how dare you even try… you cannot do it without our support” If there are still fellow US citizens think like that, here comes a phrase you are most familiar with nowadays: “Yes We Can!”

  • Murat

    Yet Turkey is ruled by democracy. It’s not going to be only Erdogan’s decision. Citing him like a dictator, does not make him dictator.

  • Ahmet

    Not so easy to construct symmetries…
    The difference between Italians, Greeks and Turks is that, Turks enjoyed their golden age in the same religion they are currently worshipping. So while there is little relation between human sacrificing ancient greeks that attend olympics naked etc., and todays modern christian Greek, Turks have no problem with breathing the same air with their ancestors.
    Despite the difference in religion and language, Modern Greeks and modern Turks are culturally more or less the same and if things like true secularism really existed, the political border in between would just melt down. So culturally Greeks are in fact closer to Turks than to their ancient ancestors. The problems between the two countries (and an invented Turkish military threat and invented hope to overcome it) serves to keep the Greek nation solid.

    Another misconception is to think that democracy is brought to Turkey by Kemal Ataturk. In fact the declining Ottoman empire was already more democratic than most of its European rivals that attacked and colonized its territories. All minorities were represented in the parliament. There were multiple political parties and even free press.
    Therefore ideas like “freedom” and “democracy” have old and strong roots in Turkish culture. Except a few extremists, these concepts are never regarded as oppositions to Islam.
    What is also missing is that acording to OECD figures Turkey is the second fastest growing economy in the world (after China of course) and projections show that this trend is not temporary.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.