By Bernard Weiner
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers (crisispapers.org)
The current political situation in Turkey is explosive and how it plays out will alter that region of the world and beyond for many years.
One of the reasons I wanted to travel to that country last year was precisely because of Turkey's having been a linchpin in world and cultural history over the ages. Situated at the nexus that links Asia and Europe, it couldn't help being influential. Indeed, for many centuries as the Ottoman Empire expanded, Turkey was dominant.
I wanted to directly assess that energy and dynamic by actually being there, on the ground. It turned out that I didn't feel I truly understood Turkey's vital contemporary role until that visit to Istanbul.
RUMBLES FROM BELOW
Istanbul is a bustling, immense metropolis with a population of almost 14 million, and the Bosporus where it sits is constantly filled with boats and ships, testimony to Istanbul's central role as a vibrant trading, economic powerhouse. How could it be otherwise? The Bospurus is the humming-with-activity funnel where all the Black Sea traffic from the north (Russia, Eastern Europe, etc.) pours into the Mediterranean Sea.
Yes, even in this vibrant economy, very occasionally one might see a beggar in Istanbul (or in Kapadokya), but nothing like what one sees everyday in Paris or New York or in my home city of San Francisco. Turkey has its poverty regions, to be sure, and unemployment is high, especially in the rural areas and among the young. But the country as a whole seems stable and relatively prosperous and progressive when measured against other nation-states in the region. But even so, during our visit one could pick up disquieting rumbles beneath the surface.
At a jazz concert we attended with a Turkish friend at a local park, the young people we met, mostly in their 20s and 30s, clearly were nervous about their country's, and their own, future. Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, projected an open, secular face to the Western world, they said, but behind that friendly facade something else was going on.
(Turkey's application to join the European Union is still active, if seemingly going nowhere because of EU reluctance to allow this Islamic nation into the tent of Western culture, seeing it as a potential stalking horse for Muslim activism or even extremism.)