Turkey: A Torn Country (and why it matters)

Turkey: A Torn Country (and why it matters)

Turkey is a country, the land and its people, that has played an important role, at various times, in Western (and world) history; and likely will do so again in time.  (Dear readers, we have included a few helpful links at the bottom of the essay for further reading on this topic.)

Here is the flag of Turkey courtesy of highwaygold.co.uk.



Here is a car decal for the windshield courtesy of flagline.com.



Modern day Turkey (land of whirling and howling dervishes) is a land with a long human history reaching back even into pre-history.  Catal Huyuk is a famous Neolithic archaeological site in southern Turkey, and some believe it may have been the world’s first true city.  Also known as Anatolia and Asia Minor, this land has been witness to many important events through the millenia.  The not so mythical Troy lay on its Aegean shore.  The Persians, under first Darius and then his son Xerxes, attacked Greece by first marching through Asia Minor.  A little more than 150 years later, Alexander, believing that turnabout is fair play, marched from Macedonia through this land on his way to conquer northern Egypt, Babylon (Iraq), and Persia (Iran), and continued on to India.

Some of the Apostles and St. Paul spread the Christian gospel in this land of Anatolia on their way to Greece and on to Rome.  Constantine established his capital, Constantinople, for the eastern Roman Empire across the narrow Bosporus from this land in 330 A.D.  Justinian and Theodora ruled the Byzantine (or surviving eastern Roman) Empire in the sixth century from Constantinople.  The 4th Crusade sacked Constantinople (Orthodox churches were desecrated) in 1204, and greatly aggravated existing tensions between the Greek Orthodox Church and the western Catholic Church.  Even the Mongols, under Genghis’ grandson, Hulegu (and his successors), controlled portions of eastern Asia Minor in the late 1200s and early 1300s.  Constantinople survived until 1453 when the Ottomans finally took it (with a little helpful sabotage from the Genoese or the Venetians).  This ancient imperial city has since been known as Istanbul.

The Ottoman Turks were at the gates of Vienna twice.  In 1529, they were turned back by bad weather.  In 1683, it was the modern warfare abilities of the Austrians and their allies that prevented the Turks from seizing this long coveted prize.  (The croissant (crescent) pastry is not originally Parisian, but rather (likely) Viennese.  And may have been baked in celebration of the defeat of the Turks.  See linked article below.)  The Turks remained in the Balkans, albeit being slowly pushed out, until World War I put an end to the Ottoman Empire (1918).

After the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, sought to forge a nation that would be ruled by a secular government.  It was clear from the events of the war that Turkey was far behind the western European nations in many ways.  Ataturk was adamant that the new Turkey (now stripped of its non Turkish imperial provinces) must be ruled by a secular government as he saw Islam (and its conservative religious clerics) as a powerful force that would retard and impede progress and modernization.  Ataturk was successful in giving Turkey a western type of secular republican government that did not answer to the religious clerics.  Among Ataturk’s many reforms, he also gave the country a reformed educational system, and a legal system based on Western civil law and abolished the Islamic religious courts.

At the end of World War II in 1945, Europe lay in ruins.  In order to contain Soviet military power and prevent the expansion of communism into western Europe and into nearby Greece and Turkey, NATO was formed in 1949.  (No doubt the Berlin blockade by the Soviets in 1948 contributed to the formation of NATO.)  Turkey became a member in early 1952, and played a key strategic role in containing communism as it lay so close to the USSR.

After the Cold War ended, Turkey hoped to finally be admitted to the European Union (EU).  Turkey’s application for membership was not approved and some Europeans admit that it was due in no small part to fears of large numbers of Turks immigrating into Europe.  The failure to obtain membership in the EU caused much disappointment and disenchantment with Europe, and many Turks looked to Islam and their past in search of an identity.

The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, by Samuel P. Huntington (copyright 1996) is the book that raises and addresses this concept of a “torn” country.  With notes, this book is over 300 pages in paperback form, and is a challenging, yet rewarding and thought provoking read.  The scope of the book’s treatment of the entire subject area is very broad and comprehensive.  (An in-depth discussion of this concept of a torn country is beyond the scope of this essay.  The book discusses it at some length.)

We provide 2 quotes from the book here to tell how and why Turkey is a torn country.  This first quote is from page 147.

While Turkey worked to develop its links with the Turkic former Soviet republics, its own Kemalist secular identity was under challenge at home.  First, for Turkey, as for so many other countries, the end of the Cold War, together with the dislocations generated by social and economic development, raised major issues of “national identity and ethnic identification,” and religion was there to provide an answer.  The secular heritage of Ataturk and of the Turkish elite for two-thirds of a century came increasingly under fire.

And from page 149:

….. While the issue hung in the balance, the resurgence of Islam within Turkey activated anti-Western sentiments among the public and began to undermine the secularist, pro-Western orientation of Turkish elites.  The obstacles to Turkey’s becoming fully European, the limits on its ability to play a dominant role with respect to the Turkic former Soviet republics, and the rise of Islamic tendencies eroding the Ataturk inheritance, all seemed to insure that Turkey will remain a torn country.

Currently, the Justice and Development party (AKP) holds the sizeable majority in the country’s parliament and the prime minister, Erdogan, is also of this party.  The AKP has some affinities with the Islamists and has Islamists among its leading party members, but has, thus far, not gravitated to the extremes of aggressive Islamic fundamentalism.  In such a torn country, there is this persistent and enduring tug of war between the secular, modernist and forward looking viewpoint (or paradigm) and the traditional, religiously dominated paradigm with its strong resistance to (almost any) change and to modernity.  How this ongoing tug of war plays out in Turkey is of concern to its neighbors and to all of Europe as well.

A secular governed, forward thinking, modern Turkey enhances Europe’s security, and helps to stabilize the eastern Mediterranean area.  Whereas an Islamist Turkey, with a priority of spreading Islam, through the possible support of terror, would be a major security threat to its neighbors and to Europe as a whole.  Turkey is therefore a key variable in regional peace and security.


Here is a link to some good info (and a map) about Turkey.  http://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/asia/tr.htm

For a quick summary of some of the legends on the origin of the croissant pastry, click this link:



Here are some helpful links if you are interested in reading more.


We are having trouble getting this next link (below) to work so you will have to enter the closing parenthesis “)” after “Turkey” and hit enter or refresh your browser to see this page on Wikipedia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justice_and_Development_Party_(Turkey)    for the Justice and Development party (AKP)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13740147   (June, 2011 election victory of the AKP)

Thanks for reading!



    1. Thanks Crimson for your comment. This post was written some years back, and since then Erdogan has taken the country in the direction of reviving the old Ottoman Empire.

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