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.
March 19, 2015
I’ve written a short piece taking a longer view of the ongoing tug-of-war between the government and Turkey’s Central Bank.
The piece argues that current speculation about the Bank’s independence should not be seen in isolation, but considered within the context of the government’s long-flagging enthusiasm for the economic reforms passed after the meltdown of Turkey’s financial sector in 2000-01. The jettisoning of long-term economic planning is one side effect of President Erdoğan’s bid to centralise all power in his own hands, and could herald a period of severe economic turbulence in the country.
March 7, 2015
My review/interview double-header this week was based on “The Rise of Political Islam in Turkey: Urban Poverty, Grassroots Activism and Islamic Fundamentalism” by Kayhan Delibaş, who works at Kent University and Turkey’s Adnan Menderes University.
The book is well worth reading for anyone looking for a deeper look into the political context of the emergence of Islamist parties in Turkey in the 1980s and 1990s. While it’s true that political Islam is an intrinsically transnational phenomenon, it’s always worth remembering the specific conditions that have facilitated it’s emergence, which of course differ everywhere.
Here’s my review of the book in the Hurriyet Daily News.
And here’s my conversation with its author Kayhan Delibaş.
February 14, 2015
My review this week was of “The Gardens of Silihdar,” Armenian feminist Zabel Yessayan’s (1878-1943) memoir of growing up in Ottoman Istanbul. Yessayan fled the city in 1915 after being included as the only woman on the Young Turk regime’s list of Armenian intellectuals targeted for detention and deportation. The book was first published in Soviet Armenia in the 1930s, shortly before Yessayan was arrested in Stalin’s purges and exiled to Siberia.
I caught up with translator Jennifer Manoukian to discuss Yessayan’s remarkable life and work. You can read the interview at the Hürriyet Daily News here.
For those interested, both “The Gardens of Silihdar” and Yessayan’s novel “My Soul in Exile” were recently published in English translations by the small press of the Armenian International Women’s Association.