I should say that the two things in the title are unrelated.
My interview this week was with Toni Alaranta of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, discussing his new book “National and State Identity in Turkey: The Transformation of the Republic’s Status in the International System” (Rowman). In the book, Alaranta traces how the entrenchment in power of authoritarian political Islam in Turkey after 2002 was critically aided by the West’s misguided search for a “moderate Muslim democracy” after the end of the Cold War and the 9/11 terror attacks.
And read my review of the book here.
This also marks my first step into the world of podcasting. From now on I’ll be publishing these author interviews in audio as well as written form, through my new podcast “Turkey Book Talk.” The podcast will include some extra parts that didn’t make the written edit, as well as some fancy music, etc.
Listen to the first episode here (a work in progress as I’m still figuring out the best host, player, etc).
Please spread the word to anyone you think may be interested, and do get in touch with any suggestions on how I can improve the podcast!
July 31, 2015
I’ve been walking in north Wales so haven’t had chance to post this piece I wrote on Turkey’s nervous LGBTIs and the “perils of visibility.” Clouds have darkened in recent weeks for LGBTIs in Turkey after last month’s police crackdown on the annual Pride March and a broader uptick in violent incidents and homophobic rhetoric.
The paradox I try to explain in the article is that this has accompanied an increasingly vocal LGBT rights activism that has flourished in the country over the past couple of decades:
“Yeşim Başaran, who works at LGBTI rights group Lambda Istanbul, agrees that a ‘conservative resistance’ has arisen in response to the campaign for recognition. ‘The two things have happened at the same time. The issue of LGBTI rights has become more visible in the media and activists have become more vocal. Opposition parties have nominated gay candidates in elections and have LGBTI people working in their party organizations. That would not have happened a few years ago,’ she says. ‘Life for LGBTIs in Turkey was never easy. They already were subject to attacks in public and within their families. They were at risk of being fired from their jobs or committing suicide. But in the last few weeks it has become more concrete.'”
Read the whole piece at Balkanist.
It was particularly interesting to meet the pro-Erdoğan AK-LGBTI group. Many people assumed they were trolls, but I can confirm that they are serious and in the process of becoming a legally recognised “dernek” (association). Turkey is certainly full of surprises.
July 25, 2015
As a result my interview and review this week are sadly topical. I spoke to Cem Emrence, who co-authored a new title on the history of the Turkey-PKK conflict, “Zones of Rebellion: Kurdish Insurgents and the Turkish State.” It is a slim but rich book, elaborating a complex theory of path dependence that has limited the options of both the Turkish state and the PKK over three decades and ultimately led to stalemate.
And something completely different: In next week’s Times Literary Supplement I review a new English selection of the great Sait Faik’s stories. It’s only available in print form so you’ll have to seek out an actual real physical copy of the TLS if you’re interested in reading it.
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.