is definitely the country of the future.
But will it always be?
Will the future ever arrive?"
Presentation by Stephen KINZER
"CRESCENT & STAR: Turkey Between Two Worlds"
Kinzer with Ferda Nemli, Sedat Nemli and Cengiz Hatiboglu
(right) at the Manhattan Marmara Otel.
Brief Introduction by Cengiz Hatiboglu:
Turkish American Business Forum President
you for joining us here tonight.
It's great to see a wonderful crowd here.
As you know, our guests tonight, Stephen KINZER,
is someone who knows Turkey very well, probably
He has lived for many years in Turkey
and has been to places that probably many of
Tonight we will not only talk about his
latest book, Crescent & Star,
but also, hear his views on the recent events
happening here and in other parts of the world
as well, and the implications on Turkey.
So, without further delay, I will pass
the floor to Stephen. (October 16, 2001, New
Thank you very much. Cok tesekkur ederim. Benim tarzancam cok
iyi ama benim Turkcem, maalesef yalniz soyle boyle o
zaman bu aksam Ingilizce konusacagim.
Thank you so much for having me.
The hospitality at the Marmara is wonderful.
I'd like to move in.
When I was told that I could stay for as long
as I'd like at the Marmara, I first thought that they
were talking about the one in Bodrum. This is a nice substitute. Not quite the same but I appreciate it and it's a good start.
And thanks, especially to Sedat Nemli who asked
me to come here.
Sedat was one of the people who introduced me
to Turkey. So for those of you who feel angry with
some of the things I wrote over the years, just blame Sedat. A
journalist is only as good as his or her sources, so
I'll leave you to judge how good a job Sedat did by
taking me by the hand on those long corridors of Ciragan
you know, the Ciragan was the home of a mentally disturbed
sultan, who was deposed and then lived there for many
years. After some time in Turkey, I began to identify
with him a little bit.
I began to wonder if I was wandering through
long corridors of this odd country, while outsiders
were wondering how I developed such a fascination for
I lived for four
years in Turkey, which is definitely not enough time
to get to know a country that diverse.
I've worked over the course of many years as
a foreign correspondent over more than fifty different
Turkey is the most fascinating of them all. Turkey is so multi-faceted and so multi-layered. I left there feeling that I still hadn't
finished my voyage of discovery. And I had sort of a culture shock when I came back here.
It's been, actually, twenty years since I've
lived in the United States, and those last four years
in Turkey were especially vivid. So I am still adjusting. I am certainly the only person on my block
with one of those blue evil-eye medallions on the front
of my house. But so far, it has been successful and
I've had relative good fortune since my return.
There are a lot
of things you have to get used to coming from Turkey
to the United States. Almost as many do when going in the other
of the things that I'd almost forgotten is how different
it is to dine in the US and to dine in Turkey.
The style of eating is so different.
In America, and
I guess it is true in some European countries, you sit
down and you get to business. You have a little bit soup and then they
bring the big piece of meat.
You dig in, and you're satisfied. You have your dessert and your coffee. You've gotten what you came for and you
are off. Fortified
and ready to face your next challenge.
Turkey, of course, has a very different dining
culture, and I think that it reflects the national character
of Turkey. As you know, the 'meze' is the center of Turkish cuisine, especially
in those meyhanes where I spent most of my time. I've always maintained that learning how
a country eats and drinks is a very important way to
learn about a country.
But I had to make this argument very strongly
several times to the expense account auditors at the
New York Times who wanted to know what all those 'raki'
bills were for.
When you are
in a Turkish restaurant, there is no menu.
This is something that also reflects Turkey's
approach to the world. Everything and nothing is possible.
The meze that
the waiter brings is a reflection of the wonderful diversity
that is one of Turkey's greatest qualities.
Most of the seafood dishes are a legacy of the
Greeks who did, for many centuries, did all the cooking
on what is now the Aegean Coast of Turkey. The kebabs and the other meat dishes come
mainly from the Central Asian tradition that the Turks
brought with them.
You've got chicken with walnuts that come from
the Caucasus, and the diced liver from Albania.
Sometimes you get the fried cornmeal from these
Black sea villages. So the rich diversity of Turkey, something that not all Turks
are anxious to acknowledge, is spread out along this
In many Western countries,
the main course is the point of the meal.
Everything else is just a small piece to surround
what you are really in the restaurant for.
But in Turkey, the pleasure is the experience
in sampling all these different tastes and textures
and colors and smells. They are endless variations on
a theme, and they're so delightful that you sometimes
forget all about the main course.
The main course never arrives. Most people don't
notice that. It doesn't bother them in the least because they had such a
wonderful time getting there.
The main course for
the Turkish nation is the great secular democracy that
Ataturk dreamed of but was never able to achieve in
his lifetime because of the turbulent conditions that
surrounded Turkey and existed within Turkey. His successors in this secular Kemalist priesthood have been
reluctant to allow his dream to flower.
Now, that main course is tantalizingly near. You can smell it from the kitchen. The cooks have been in there working on it for decades. But it can't be pulled out of the oven.
The Turkish people are sitting eating their mezes
and slowly becoming frustrated; when does the main course
The secular Islamic
Republic that is going to embrace the ideals of the
west without losing the heritage that it brings from
its Islamic and Ottoman background.
Turkey, as I say in
my book, is definitely the country of the future. But
will it always be? Will the future ever arrive? This is a question that not only outsiders
but also many Turks, ask themselves. After I'd been in Turkey for a very short time, I became fascinated
with the beauty and the audacity of the Turkish idea--
the secular Islamic Republic that is going to embrace
the ideals of the west without losing the heritage that
it brings from its Islamic and Ottoman background.
This idea gave me the sense that Turkey really
was a country poised at the break of greatness. I thought I could see that greatness approaching
just as clearly as if you were looking through one of
those bottles of raki on the walls of the meyhane, nice
and clear, with the future is shining right through
During the years
that I lived in Istanbul, the annual consumption of
Raki increased by 100 million liters per year.
Although I was not responsible for all of that,
I did make my contribution. After I'd been in Turkey for a little
while, and started to understand that drinking Raki
is one of important ways into the Turkish soul.
The same thing happened to my view of the great
Turkish future that happens to the raki when you pour
the water in; something that seems so clear in the beginning
becomes very foggy, misty and very unclear afterwards. The experience of long nights in those
meyhanes, of doing that difficult and trying work of
diving into the Turkish soul while emptying that raki
to send me out to the streets with two conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, it was that this country
would soon become the "Turkey of Turkey's dreams."
Other nights, it would be "nasil bir ulke." How can it be that Turkey fails to reach
its great potential?
Among the many legacies of the Ataturk era, there are
two that are very much in play right now. I referred
to one of them a little earlier, and you people who
grew up in the educational system in Turkey know this
far better than I. The Turkish Republic in its early years
was a very fragile creation. Without the repressive
measures that Ataturk used, the Turkish Republic as
we know it today, would never have come into existence.
Turkey was built on the fear that its enemies
would pull it back to fundamentalism and away form the
modern ideals of Ataturk.
In the years since then, the Kemalist elite has
clung to those fears. It acts as if Turkey were still
in the environment of the 1920's. A great deal has changed
in the world since then. Turkey is ready to be liberated
from it psychological and political cage.
But Turkey is still being defined, in many ways,
by its fears, which is a great shame.
Turkey will certainly
change in time.
But Turkey at this moment does not have time.
Now would be
a fine moment for Turkey to take the leap that it has
been unwilling to take for many years.
The people who hold political and military power
in Turkey, as you all know very well, are terrified
at what it will mean when believers are able to practice
their religion freely, when people of various
ethnic groups will be able to assert their ethnic
identities, when people have who fundamental criticisms
of the Turkish Republic are free to say and write everything
they think. More
and more Turks are asking themselves and their leaders:
What is wrong with us? Why don't we deserve the chance that citizens
of so many citizens have been given, the chance to determine
the direction of our nation?
If Estonians and Uruguayans it and Taiwanese
can do it, what is a matter with us?
Are we too childish, or too irresponsible or
Turkey is now at a stage where it is able to
withstand the stresses that democracy encompasses.
Postponing this dream is going to growing frustrations,
even in a country where people are naturally not confrontational.
This is a danger on the horizon for Turkey. Turkey will certainly change in time, but Turkey does not have
One of the greatest
things Ataturk did was actually something he didn’t
do; he did not try to rebuild any part of the Ottoman
The other aspect
of the Kemalist Revolution that is very much in play
now, was a decision that Ataturk took that has shaped
the republic almost as much as his commitment to secular
was his decision to turn inward during the 1920's and
30's. One of the greatest things Ataturk did
was actually something he didn't do; he did not try
to rebuild any part of the Ottoman Empire.
He did not support the Basmachi guerillas who
were fighting out in Central Asia against the incorporation
of their republics into the Soviet Union. He learned
lessons from the history of the last couple of centuries
of Ottoman rule, in which the Turks were constantly
losing wars; from the disastrous experience of Turkey's
role in WWI. Seeing
the backwardness of Anatolia, Ataturk realized that
the nation's priorities had to be domestic.
The reluctance to become involved in world affairs
that Turkish leaders inherited from Ataturk, persisted
right through World War II. Turkey began to break out of its shell with its noble role
in Korea. As
a member of NATO, Turkey emerged to play a role in the
world's key security system. But Turkey still has become reluctant
to play a role on a wider stage.
In recent years
we have seen Turkey flexing its muscles in its dealings
with neighbors, ranging from Syria to Israel to Greece.
Turgut Ozal dreamed of making Turkey a kind of "Godfather" or protector power
for the Central Asian and Caucasus nations, but that
dream died with him, partly because he was no longer
there to lead it, but also because Turks realized that
they did not have the economic wherewithal to take responsibility
for half a dozen new nations. Nonetheless, Ozal's idea
of projecting Turkey's image and power in the world
was one of his most important legacies.
Now the world is facing a situation in which
Turkey can play a unique role. There is a role for Turkey to play in this anti-terror coalition
in the short and medium term, and it can play an even
more important role in the long term.
Turkey has always
taken its obligation as a NATO ally very seriously.
And there are no more than a few countries that
can claim to be faithful ally with the United States
and the west than Turkey. If the United States plays its cards right, they will realize
Turkey's ability to help other nations.
The US loves
to come and ask when it really needs something.
And as soon as it has achieved its solitary role,
it's "so long."
United States is not a very good ally to have.
The US doesn't really treat its allies very well. The US loves to come and ask when it really
needs something, but
as soon as it has achieved its short-term goal, it's
Afghanistan is a perfect example of this.
We achieved our short-term goal of expelling
the Soviet's and after that, we thought we could walk
away and that nothing would happen. Despite the condition
in which we left Afghanistan.
Pakistan is another example.
We left that country to a wash in Islamic radicalism
and guns and drugs after we used it as a platform for
our war in Afghanistan. And then we imagined that we could walk
away and just allow the processes that we set in motion
to take their own course without thinking they could
ever come back and bite us.
In a terrifying
way, we have behaved somewhat similarly toward Turkey.
We went to Turkey after the Gulf war and asked
Turkey to close its borders with Iraq.
From an American point of view, or sitting in
Germany, or Japan or Mexico, stopping trade with Iraq
was really a theoretical matter. It makes you feel good and it really doesn't cost you anything.
But as you all know, the closing of the Turkey-Iraqi
borders has cost this nation tens of billions of dollars.
The United States never really showed much interest
in compensating Turkey either financially or in any
other way for the huge sacrifice that she had made in
supporting the American sanctions.
Turkey, because it takes its alliance responsibilities
very seriously, will certainly allow its airspace, the
use of its Incirlik base, and any other military facilities
the United States needs in this campaign.
Turkey's relation with General Dostum is also
Turkey can certainly
play a great role in sharing intelligence, about Afghanistan
and advice on how to fight a war there. It's not to
be forgotten that the Turkish army has just finished
winning a war in terrain very similar to the terrain
The enemy that the Turkish army was fighting
in southeast Anatolia had tactics and armament roughly
comparable to what the western powers are going to face
It cannot have escaped the attention of the American
military plans that Turkey has very valuable experiences
Finally, if there
is a post Taliban security force under the auspices
of the United Nations, or some other kind of peacekeeping
force, Turkey may play a role in that force. There is no other Muslim country that
has such experience in peacekeeping operations.
cannot be won on the ground.
It doesn't matter how many soldiers you have
on the ground; it's not going to determine the outcome
of this conflict.
This is not just
a military conflict, and it cannot be won on the ground. This conflict stretches beyond Afghanistan. It is a conflict in the minds of many
Muslims in more than 50 predominantly Muslim nations
in the world. The dominant message that is flashing
through the Islamic world now is the message coming
from some cave in Afghanistan.
It is a horrifying message to much of the world
and also to much of the Muslim world. But the answer to the Bin-laden message
is not being heard.
Where is the counter weight?
Where is the appeal?
Where is the counter example?
Turkey is the country that is best placed to
provide to the Islamic world with a beacon; with an
example of another way to be faithful to your Islamic
roots and to live in a society where you can fulfill
your dreams. "Take a look at what we built," the Turks would say,
"and take a look at what you have. We have a message
for you. You don't have to wind up living in caves
like the people of Afghanistan do, or in ruined cities
and in societies that are in constant turmoil playing
by poverty and every kind of social decomposition.
We've tried another root.
We can offer the Islamic world a way out of its
present conundrum." If Turkey can do this, it can play a huge
role in the Islamic World.
And in doing so, it can change the whole world.
is always a "but", when you are talking about
Turkey. For Turkey to be able to play this world-changing role, Turkey
must itself change.
Turkey is not yet a country that can stand up
in front of the Islamic world and say, "be like
us and you will get all the benefits that are being
shared by our 65 million people."
Turkey still has a few hurdles to jump across
before it can become the country that shows the world
that Islamic democracy is not a contradiction in terms.
There have always been Turks who have tried to
encourage their leaders to break out of this psychological
prison into which they have locked themselves for so
long. Now I think that group is larger than
The change in
the mind set of Kurdish leaders, not just in Turkey,
but also in Kurdish exile communities like Berlin and
London is quite remarkable. The kinds of changes that they are now seeking are 10% or less
of what they were seeking a few years ago. In the same way, the Islamic political movement learned a tremendous
amount from the huge shock of Erbakan's disastrous year in power. As you know better than I, Erbakan's party
has split and a more reformist group has taken over
the larger part of the party apparatus.
There is a growing NGO culture in Turkey. The earthquake relief effort, in which NGO's performed so well,
while "Devlet Baba" was still at home asleep
in bed, showed a lot of Turks that there are other forces
in society. Turkey is now prepared to complete its
march toward democracy.
The fears that we are hearing are fears that
come from historical tradition. These traditions don't
fit into modern Turkey anymore.
At this moment,
when the world is looking to Turkey to play a role when
no other country can play, is the ideal moment for Turkey
to break out of the prison in which she has enclosed
herself and finally tell the world and the Turkish people,
that "the main course has arrived." Thank
you very much.
If there are
questions, I will be happy to answer them.
But let me just say that it is really wonderful
for me to be in a Turkish environment,
not just here but also in other cities that I
I've had many events that were largely Turkish. And even at other events, there have been
Turks who have approached me.
I seem to be drawing them out of the woodwork. And it is a great feeling for me. I was sitting over there in Turkey, sending my stories often
to what seemed like a great void.
People in Turkey did not read them. Naturally,
and it is only since I have been back in the US that
I realized that there was somebody on the other end.
It is very gratifying to hear that from you (the
audience) and to meet many of you. So I will be happy to answer whatever questions you might have.
In regard to the challenges of being an American
journalist in Turkey, in that, when you first arrived,
you did not speak the language, your counterparts I
will assume are western educated, sort of western oriented,
and I’m going to assume that these are the voices
you tend to hear.
How can you comment on that?
- You put
your finger on one of the challenges of a foreign correspondent. The foreign correspondent is not supposed to mix with the kinds
of people he or she might choose as friends back home. You are supposed to mix with the people
who really make up the masses of the country in which
you live. Before I lived in Turkey, I lived in Germany.
I came to Istanbul from Berlin and I shared the
experience of many Europeans whose view of Turks is
formed by many primitive villagers from Eastern Anatolia
who would be completely lost in Izmir, much or less
in Brussels or Cologne. My educated Turkish friends were driven
to absolute distraction by the fact that this was the
image of Turks that all of Europe gets.
One of my Turkish friends is a Princeton professor
told me the story about being at a conference of engineers
in Beijing. And
after a long conversation on a technical subject with
the engineer sitting next to him at the dinner table,
his partner said to him, "where are you from?"
And the guy said, "Well, actually, I'm a Turk."
The German guy said, "no, really?"
So, it is a challenge for a foreign correspondent
to break out of the circle of people who he or she might
be instantly comfortable with. However, it is absolutely essential to do that. You cannot take the pulse of a country
solely by meeting the people in the intellectual elite. Although, I must say that I had such rich
friendships in Turkey.
I'm looking out at some of the people who really
introduced me to Turkey, and you know whom you are so
I won't embarrass you by pointing you out.
I always used
to come from my trips around Turkey with shorter hair
than when I left, because the barbershop in any country
is a great place to sit.
I made a real
point of getting out of Istanbul and getting out of
the circle of people who are used to dealing with journalists.
I always consider it a successful day of reporting
when I haven't met anybody who has ever spoken to a
journalist. Then I know that I am with ordinary people.
Journalists over the years develop certain tricks
or techniques to soak-up local opinion in a short time.
One of the things that I have done for years
is go to the barbershop. I always came back from my trips with shorter hair than when
I left, because the barbershop in any country is a great
place to sit. Everybody is more or less captive. You don't have to make up an excuse to
be there. The
barber talks to a lot people and is normally an out-going
chatty type anyway. There is always a bunch of people who
do not have much to do but hang around in the barbershop. One of them might strike up a conversation
and take you under his wing.
Next thing you know you are on the floor on some
Turkish rug eating a delicious plate of mezes.
So that is one technique I always use, but I
added a little refinement when I was in Turkey and that
was that I found a place even better then the barbershop.
It was a place where people sit and talk and that is
the "Nargile Salonu."
There is a place where you will not find a lot
of Bogazici graduates. You are going to find the real "halk," the real voice
of ordinary Turks.
I've had a lot of hard times trying to explain
to editors in New York that days smoking water pipes
and nights drinking raki was actual work, and that this
was the way I was getting to know Turkey.
When you were in Turkey, did you notice any different
views in the generation, in different generations, in
the elderly generation, how they see the military, or
how they see where Turkey is as opposed to the younger
generation. What is your view on this?
That is a very good question and I think that it goes
to the heart of the Turkish dilemma that I spoke about
have one Turkish friend who is probably into his mid
to late 60's and is an energy executive and has lived
for many years in the US. He is very open-minded and completely embraces the idea that
Turkey needs to become more democratic and complete
its march toward democracy. On the day when Turkey celebrated her
75th anniversary, he was right there in Taksim. When the National Anthem was played, he
was crying uncontrollably.
This is not a person who is in the hard line
reactionary Kemalist priesthood. This is a very open-minded, modern-minded
think that the generation explains it.
This is a person who grew up when Turkey was
unimaginably primitive. Turkey didn't have any roads, or any hospitals
Turkey was a country that almost within his memory
was about to disappear off the face of history.
The emotion of looking around and seeing what
has been built there is very deeply seated
in the older generation of Turks.
They asked themselves, "Whom do we have
to thank for this, who gave us this wonderful gift?"
Well who gave it to them was the Kemalist elite, in
particular, the army.
I worked for many years in Latin America. In all those
countries that suffered so terribly under the most grotesque
forms of military rule, there was a very clear equation. "More power for the military, worse
for the country."
Military down, hated, spit on, good for the country
and for freedom. This was 100 % accurate. I had to cleanse myself of this entire
scale of judgment when I arrived in Turkey. I believe that there is a growing frustration on the part of
many Turks with the military's insistence on shaping
the limits of domestic politics in Turkey.
The army reacts by saying that these questions
are vital to national security. Army officers say that the question of
whether or not there should be a Kurdish TV station,
or whether a girl should be allowed to wear a headscarf
in the university are not a domestic political questions
but national security questions. More and more Turks disagree with that argument, and there
is growing resentment of the army's role in society.
But despite all of that, there is tremendous bedrock
of confidence in the Turkish Army. It is based on the
fact that the army is responsible for the creation of
the Turkish state. And many Turks believe that just
within the last decade, the Turkish army saved the nation
Where you see
the generational difference I think is on this question:
Does our trust in the army's ability to handle our national
security issues extend to an equal level of confidence
in the military's judgments on domestic affairs. This is where you see the generation gap.
Many older Turks grew up with a reverence for
the military that makes it difficult for them to criticize
anything the military does.
The younger generations still believe that the
military embodies much of what the nation stands for,
but they are increasingly frustrated with what they
see as the military stepping beyond the role that officers
should play in a democratic country. There is a danger
in this. For
the first time, I think that a little space is opening
up between the army and Turkish people.
This is a dangerous trend in the long run.
You may have noticed that for the first time
since public opinion polling was introduced in Turkey,
the army is no longer the country's most trusted institution.
Since the arrival of Necdet Sezer, the presidency has
vaulted over the army as the most trusted institution
in Turkey. And that is not because of the presidency,
but because of the president and the modernizing views
that he holds.
How do you see the closeness between Turkey and Israel
in the light of the war going on in Central Asia?
- The Turkish-Israeli
deepened remarkably in the late 1990’s. The Israelis are fixing and modernizing Turkish military hardware.
They are training Turkish military personnel.
And they are doing something more important for
the PR-challenged Turks in Washington. When the Turks have big problems in Washington,
they can go to the Israelis.
This is a great benefit to Turkey.
Now what does Israel get out of it? Israel has, as you know a great reliance on air power, but
does not have any airspace.
Israeli jets are practicing on Turkish airspace. And besides this, Turkey controls huge
amounts water, which Israel badly needs. There are plans
to send water from Turkey to Israel by tanker or through
- Where will the pipeline go?
Turkey's plan is that the line would go through Lebanon.
Israelis don't like this of course. They are mapping the possibilities of an underwater pipeline
across the Mediterranean.
How do you evaluate Tayyip Erdogan's place in Turkey's
- Tayyip Erdogan
was thrown out of office and put in jail for reading
four lines from an Ottoman poem. Many people sympathize with him for this
the other hand, Erdogan, unlike some of the other more
modern figures in his party, does carry the taint of
using expressions just so that he uses them. Including one famous way in which he compared
democracy to a trolley car.
You get on it to go to your destination and when
you get to your destination, you get off.
Erdogan has disavowed those views.
Many people are suspicious of this and I can
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