Byzantium, we have a problem! Not only have Barbarians breached the gates: 6 times in 2015 and 15 times so far in 2016, but secular military vs Islamic government differences have flared up again.
Oops! I mean Constantinople, or is it now Istanbul? What about Ankara? We old guys do get confused with you current inhabitants of Anatolia where East meets West. Settlements, that date back at least 10,000 years, have seen the rise and fall of scores of strong leaders, interspersed with inept ones, numerous ethnic groups, plus borders most elastic. Quite a true reflection of our talented-yet-troubled human species!
Your current rulers - the ones with the best clout - call yourselves Turks, but your country includes Albanians, Armenians, Arabs, Azerbaijanis, Bosniaks, Chechens, Circassians, Greeks, Kurds, Lazs, Tatars, Yazidis, and Zazas. I understand you are having problems with some of them, yet these are only a few of those whom you have embraced, helped, abused, treated as equals or vassals - leaving us with much to study and learn from. Understanding does require at least a brief summary of hisstory and neglected herstory.
Did not the Chinese about 4,000 years ago call you Turks, Huns? It did take you a long time to develop your own language. The earliest we have found dates back only to 730 AD and it was not until 1040 that a group of nomads, known as Seljuk Turks and living east of the current Turkestan, grew so lean and hungry due to climate change that they were seduced by an extreme form of Islam to match the extreme forms of Christianity that we entertained. They burst out on horseback to conquer Persia, that was content under Zoroastrianism which although wounded, has survived. By 1071 their recklessness swept them into Asia Minor and the Holy Land in 1084. They molested our Christian pilgrims. Well, yes, we molested Muslims, very badly I admit, so they slammed the door on what trade there was with Europe. It was too early for Isaac Newton to tell both that actions sponsor reactions, but forgotten Greek philosophers had echoed the same warnings.
Before we jump to the Ottomans and current Turks, consider Byzantium, founded in the 7th century BC and important to Greeks and Romans. In 324 AD Roman Emperor, Constantine, made it his capital, gracing it with his name and it stayed that way for some 1600 years. In the 1920s Ataturk, the saviour of Turkey after the WWI defeat of the Ottoman Empire, changed it to Istanbul but western cartographers took until the 1960s to fully comply. Local groups had used various spellings including Islambol (where Islam abounds).
In 1299 Oghuz Turks under Osman Bey formed the Ottoman Sunni-Islamic sultanate in NW Anatolia. Between 1365 and 1453 they conquered the Balkans then Constantinople, becoming an empire. Expansion continued under Suleiman the Magnificent, (1494-1566), who took Belgrade and much of Hungary, but failed in two attempts to take Vienna. He did take Baghdad from the Persians in 1535. He allied with France, which opposed Austrian Habsburg rule, and helped them take Nice and Corsica. He ruled over 15 million people in 3 continents. World population was about 500 million. His famous daughter, Mihrimah Sultan, spent her immense wealth on palaces, hospitals, schools, mosques, and water systems. By 1600 the empire embraced 32 provinces with varying states of autonomy plus numerous vassal states. Regardless of origins or beliefs talented individuals could rise to high office. The end of expansion came in 1683 when they failed to take Vienna. Other setbacks had included: the Portuguese finding a route around the Cape of Good Hope to snare eastern riches and engage in numerous naval battles, the Rise of Moscow that expanded into the Volga and Caspian regions, and the Catholic federation under Philip II of Spain that defeated the Ottoman fleet at Lepanto in 1571.
This long progression of conflicts was to include Sweden, Poland, Crete, Ukraine, Serbia, Russia, Malta, and Prussia. By 1861 the Christian population with some 700 schools started to advance over the Muslim majority. By 1922 some 28 of the 654 wholesale companies in Constantinople were run by Greek Christians.
Allied to Germany and Austro-Hungary in WWI, the Ottoman Empire was attacked by the UK, France, Italy, Russia, Australia-New Zealand (Anzacs), Palestine Jews, and, of course, Lawrence of Arabia and his Bedouins.
To the victors go the spoils - sometimes. The Anzacs had the wisdom to go home, the Russians had their Red-White war, the Jews out-manoeuvered the Arabs in Palestine. This left France, Italy, and the UK to assume “Guardianship” of selected areas of North Africa and the Middle East. The United States? Although it had not fought in that theatre it was now a world power as greedy as all the others. Realizing the wealth and strategic importance of the area it snuggled up to the Saudi Arabian royal family, used its oil know-how to help the British exploit Persian oil, and, after WWII, manipulated the United Nations into creating Israel at the expense of Palestine not New York State where there were more Jews. Lawrence had already refused deserved awards due to the UK’s failure to create a promised Arab Palestinian state.
As the vultures were feasting on the dismembered Ottoman Empire, Turkey was saved by an army officer, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938). He formed a government in Ankara, defeated Allied forces, and set about creating, 29 October 1923, a modern, secular republic with independence in all matters: economic, judicial, cultural, and military. He abolished the Caliphate and Sharia courts, promoted western dress, modernized education, appealing to women to lead in rapidly increasing the literacy rate that was a mere 10%. He introduced a modified Latin alphabet, and supported manufacturing such as automobiles. All this was to leave a domestic and external Caliphate-minded opposition that still lingers as we have just noticed. Numerous large and impressive memorials testify to the popularity of Atatürk’s “peace at home and peace abroad” legacy.
Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan was mayor of Istanbul from 1994 until 1998 when he was imprisoned for 10 months for inciting religious intolerance. In 2001 he formed the moderate-conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), leading it to victory in 2002, 2007, and 2011. He rose from prime minister to president in 2014, but has abused the mainly symbolic office to increase his power. He curbed the power of the military but did negotiate a cease-fire in 2012 with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which lasted until 2015. He built new roads, airports, and a high-speed rail network. He is criticized for constructing for himself the world’s largest palace on the Atatürk Forest Farm and Zoo.
His rule has become increasingly autocratic, thus continuing the EU reluctance to accept Turkey as a member, accusing him of human-rights violations, substantial electoral fraud, and limits on free expression.
Turkey is crucial to the fight against Daesh but has both financed and fought it. The most successful ground force against Daesh has been the Kurds but, when 1,000 academics signed a petition in Jan 2016 criticizing the Turkish attacks on Kurdish towns, 30 were briefly arrested and half lost their jobs. In May 2016 Miss Turkey was sentenced to over a year in prison for insulting the president as were many others.
Having suppressed all avenues of dissent, Erdoǧan used them to quickly get his supporters into the streets to block the military coup and to give our media misleading pictures of cheering crowds, somewhat similar to political rallies here. My personal knowledge of the Turkish military is limited to a couple of years training pilot cadets for their Air Force in the 1950s in Ontario and subsequent correspondence with a few of them.
Now Erdoǧan, supported by both Russia and the US after the failed coup, demands that the US extradites Fethullah Gülen who had investigated his 2013 scandal. This was a secret deal to avoid US sanctions and allow the exchange of $100 billion in Turkish gold for Iranian oil. Corruption was involved in greasing the pathways. Gülen supports Sufi Islam and promotes dialogue with all other communities and religions including Agnostics. He was on the cover of Time magazine and labelled in 2013 as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. His group has built 1,000 schools worldwide, strong in physics, chemistry, and mathematics, yet criticized for segregating girls after the 6th grade. These schools are popular in Turkey but some have been shut down by Erdoğan. Gülen supports Turkey in the EU, and argues a true Muslim cannot be a terrorist.
Erdoǧan claimed Israel was more barbaric than Hitler with its genocide in Palestine; he condemned the Israeli attack on the peaceful 2010 flotilla bringing aid to Gaza that killed 9 Turks but some easing of tensions occurred after Netanyahu’s apology. With Russia in 2010 he signed 17 agreements on energy including help to build a nuclear plant, but he opposed, on behalf of the minority Tatars, the Russian annexation of Crimea.
Very good for Turkey’s economy was Erdoǧan’s best-of-friends relationship with Bashar al-Assad in Syria, but when the civil war started he sided with the rebels, arming them to the dismay of Iran. Turkey has been a conduit for both Syrian refugees and Europeans wanting to join Daesh. It has permitted the USAF to use their Incirlik air base whose commander was one of those handcuffed and arrested.
The failed coup killed over 265 and wounded over 1,400 which is inexcusable and self-defeating. But has not the quick arrest of over 6,000 dissenters including the generals commanding the Air Force, the 2nd and 3rd armies, the dismissal of some 3,000 judges and prosecutors, shown signs of panic, polarization, and seizing free opportunities for self-aggrandisement?
Vladimir and John Kerry, your plates are full, but Turkey is vital to world stability. Do not allow it to lose its secular military and legal bulwarks. And never sacrifice Gülen for shameful political gain.