Magazine article The Spectator

The Turks Today

Magazine article The Spectator

The Turks Today

Article excerpt

The cured man of Europe? THE TURKS TODAY by Andrew Mango John Murray, £20, pp. 292, ISBN 0719562295 © £18 (plus £2.25 p&p) 0870 800 4848

Mustapha Kemal, otherwise Ataturk, took the corpse of the Ottoman empire and reanimated it as Turkey. Breaking both the old sultanate and the hold of Islam, he laid the foundation of a democratic state. It was an extraordinary achievement, not to be witnessed again until Mikhail Gorbachev broke the Soviet Union and the hold of the Communist party - and that was more by accident than design.

In 1950 Turkey became the first Muslim country in history to replace its government through a free election. Politics since then, it is true, have been more a matter of strong personality than party and platform. As the guardian of Kemalist secular and nationalist virtues, the army has staged three coups. One unfortunate prime minister, Adnan Menderes, was hanged. The Seventies and Eighties were particularly grim. Assorted terrorists, Marxist or nationalist, secular or Islamist, Turkish fanatics or Kurdish separatists, murdered almost at will, killing an estimated 35,000 victims. Mehmet Ali Agca came out of this underworld of violence to shoot the Pope. One way and another, much of the Kurdish area of eastern Turkey was depopulated. But the army on each turbulent occasion returned power to the civilians, and therefore democracy never quite fell off the tightrope it was walking. In February 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected prime minister. He and his party were Islamists. Watchfully, the army waited in the wings, in contrast to the Algerian army, which had chosen to cancel an election rather than allow their Islamists to win it.

Andrew Mango knows Turkey well, and as the author of an admiring and admirable biography of Ataturk he is a thorough-going Kemalist. In the first part of this book, he describes how Kemalist secular and nationalist values have managed to survive. He makes the point that Ataturk and his heirs were determined to force Turks to think and behave like Westerners. In this case, Westernisation and modernisation are supposedly one and the same thing. The Turks, in a generalisation of Mango's, are 'avid for modernity'. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.