We have only one WORLD yet! If we destroy it, where else will we go?
Winter 2002: 8th issue - **2nd Anniversary**

"Turkey is definitely the country of the future.
But will it always be? 
Will the future ever arrive?"

A Presentation by Stephen KINZER
"CRESCENT & STAR:  Turkey Between Two Worlds"

Stephen Kinzer with Ferda Nemli, Sedat Nemli and Cengiz Hatiboglu (right) at the Manhattan Marmara Otel.

A Brief Introduction by Cengiz Hatiboglu:
Turkish American Business Forum President

Thank 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 inside out.  He has lived for many years in Turkey and has been to places that probably many of us haven't.  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 York)

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 Palace.  As 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 it. 

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 countries.  Undoubtedly, 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 direction.  One 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 tray.

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 arrive?

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 it.

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 bottle,  used 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 too primitive?  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 time. 

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.

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 democracy.  That 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."

Actually, the 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 "so long."  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 potentially important.

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 in Afghanistan.  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 in Afghanistan.  It cannot have escaped the attention of the American military plans that Turkey has very valuable experiences to share. 

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.

This conflict 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.

However, there 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 ever. 

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 have visited.  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 earlier.  I 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 person.  I 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 or universities.  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 from dismemberment.

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 a pipeline.

- 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 political platform?

- 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 reason.  On 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 understand why.

- - - - -

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