June 27, 2015
A couple of months ago I visited the Armenian side of the border with Turkey – specifically the Akhuryan train station, 2 km from the border and just outside Armenia’s second biggest city Gyumri.
The station has been closed since 1993, when Turkey sealed the border amid the Nagorno-Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Ever since, former station conductor Hagop Kevorkian has stayed on as a guard, forlornly waiting for services to restart.
When we visited, Hagop was just sitting alone in the dark station office wearing his fading old Soviet-era uniform, midway through his 12-hour shift doing nothing. Another guard waits at the station on rotating days, but they have not seen trains for over two decades. The Akhuryan Station is thus a sad symbol of the human cost of the diplomatic impasse between Ankara and Yerevan.
Below are some of the photos I took of Hagop and the station.
My Q&A this week was with Mustafa Gürbüz, a policy fellow at the Center for Global Policy of George Mason University, who contributed an essay on the history of Hizbullah (the Kurdish Islamist group, unrelated to the Lebanese Shiite militants) to the volume “Understanding Turkey’s Kurdish Question.”
The subject is particularly topical at such a delicate time, amid sporadic violence and rising tension between secular and Islamist groups in Turkey’s southeast – a reflection of the meltdown across the border in Syria and Iraq.
And here’s my review of “Understanding Turkey’s Kurdish Question” from earlier this week.
I’ve written a piece for Politico about Turkey’s critical general election. Specifically, the article looks at the shift by President Erdoğan and the government in recent months from emphasising economic competence to peddling bombastic conspiracy theories:
“While signs of this paranoiac shift have long been evident, the AKP’s earlier years in power mostly focused on making an economy-based pitch to voters. Economic competence and extending services to the poorer sections of society – along with an appeal to the conservative religious values held by many Turkish citizens – proved a winning combination for a string of crushing election victories. But while the party still pledges to spur development, its rhetoric leading up to Sunday’s election has tilted decisively in favor of a combination of conspiracy theories laced with historic posturing about reconnecting Turkey with the glory of the Ottoman Empire. When you’re on a glorious path, the AKP’s leaders suggest, you will inevitably have enemies.”
Read the whole thing over at Politico.
May 30, 2015
This week I spoke to Alexandros Lamprou, discussing his new book “Nation-Building in Modern Turkey: The People’s Houses, the State and the Citizen.”
The People’s Houses (Halkevleri) were established in 1932 by Turkey’s single-party regime to plant roots for modernising and secularising reforms in towns across the country. Almost 500 Houses were opened until their closure in 1951, and the traditional view has tended to see them as homogeneous institutions propagating reforms strictly according to Kemalist state ideals. Lamprou’s research showed a far more ambiguous picture, with diverse local conditions across Turkey profoundly altering the work of the People’s Houses.
Here’s the interview with Lamprou in the Hürriyet Daily News.
And here’s my review of the book, in which I explore the limits of such social engineering campaigns – from the early Turkish Republic to today.
For those interested in these things, here’s a link to my interview from last year with Mahmut Makal in Bülent Journal. Makal worked as a teacher in a central Anatolian Village Institute, which like the People’s Houses were opened to accelerate the modernization of traditional society. Makal’s books on life as a village teacher describe the uphill struggle to spread reforms in the harsh conditions of rural Turkey in the 1950s, and he was actually jailed by the authorities at the time for painting too bleak a picture.
As a final note, the publisher I.B. Tauris have provided a discount code for online purchases of Lamprou’s book. Details are at the bottom of the review and the interview.
May 9, 2015
This week I interviewed Zeynel Abidin Besleney, the author of a new book on the history of Circassian political activism in Turkey. The book is probably the most detailed available title on what is a pretty obscure subject, and I learnt plenty from it.
Here’s a link to the interview with Besleney at the Hürriyet Daily News.
Ahead of next week’s commemoration of the centenary of the Armenian genocide, I spoke to Carnegie Endowment scholar Thomas de Waal about his new book exploring relations between Turks and Armenians in the years since 1915.
And here’s my review of de Waal’s “Great Catastrophe: Armenians and Turks in the Shadow of Genocide.” Unfortunately our conversation took place before Pope Francis’ remarks over the weekend. Neither could I ask de Waal about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.
This week I spoke to Eugene Rogan, the author of an authoritative new history “The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, 1914-1920.”
Rogan is director of the Middle East Centre at the University of Oxford and also penned a major recent book on the history of the modern Arab world, so I was really happy to speak with him. The conversation was wide-ranging and stimulating, touching on some of the biggest issues around the war – resolved and unresolved – and the continued resonance of the Ottoman Empire’s collapse almost 100 years ago.
Click here to read the interview with Professor Rogan.
And here’s some footage of Istanbul in 1915 from the British Pathé archives, showing the historic peninsula and various warships heading up the Bosphorus:
PS. I hope my Turkey-based followers can see this post, as WordPress keeps being blocked and unblocked here.