EARLIER this summer, I was a participant in a Georgetown
University study tour of Turkey. The focus was on history - on the
Greco-Roman presence in Asia Minor, on the rise of Byzantium, and
on the contributions of the nine centuries of the Ottoman empire.
But as dramatic as the history has been, the inescapable
impressions of the tour were of Turkey's central position in the
current events in the region. The Asia Minor nation is once more
caught up in the vortex of history.
Turn the corner in the spice bazaar in Istanbul and there,
before the visitor, is a street crowded, not with Turks, but with
peoples of Russia and other former Soviet republics. What are they
doing? They have come to sell for some profit personal property:
clothes, toys, family mementos - anything they could carry on the
bus trip south.
Or read the Turkish press. The fascination is with the
opportunities for Turkey in the new republics of Central Asia:
Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan - all
speaking languages closely akin to Turkish. The Turks have
redirected their broadcasting efforts toward these new nations.
Peoples of the region are encouraged to come to Turkey to learn the
workings of a free, democratic society. Trade is being diverted
from Arab countries to Central Asia. To reinforce these policies,
Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel visited the nations of Central Asia
But Turkey directs its attention not only to the east. Drive out
of Izmir toward Seljuk and the Turkish driver points out the
tourist hotels now occupied by refugees from war-torn Yugoslavia.
Turks are keenly aware, also, of their proximity to the unrest in
the Black Sea region to the north. On June 24, leaders of 11
nations, including six former Soviet republics, met in Istanbul to
sign a declaration of Black Sea economic cooperation.
Turkey's interest in these regions stems not only from
contemporary concerns but also from an awareness of history. The
roots of the Turkish people and their language lie in the steppes
of Central Asia. The nations of the Balkans and the Islamic
communities fighting for their existence in that region were once
part of the Ottoman empire. The history that guides Turkish policy
today, however, is not that of the ancient past, but of the modern
state and its founder, Mustapha Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk emphasized
the need to build a modern, secular state within the boundaries
agreed to after World War I and to set aside any dreams of
recreating an empire. …