Turkey -- Turkey: A Modern History by Erik J. Zurcher

By Sayari, Sabri | The Middle East Journal, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview

Turkey -- Turkey: A Modern History by Erik J. Zurcher


Sayari, Sabri, The Middle East Journal


Turkey: A Modern History, by Erik J. Zurcher. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 1993. Distrib. by St. Martin's Press, New York. xiii + 322 pages. Maps to p. 325. Bibl. to p. 343. Biogs. to p. 371. Index to p. 381. $49.95.

Erik J. Zurcher has written a comprehensive and very readable history of modem Turkey. Although conceived as a textbook that "in no way has any pretensions of being an original piece of research" (p. 7). it coherently draws together an immense amount of material and skillfully integrates contrasting approaches to the study of the late Ottoman and modern Turkish history. One of the principal merits of the book is that it addresses several different audiences. Due to the author's ability to cut across different disciplines, the study is likely to be of interest to historians, economists, and political scientists alike. At the same time, the authoritative treatment of the last two hundred years of Turkish history will be a valuable resource for students and the general public.

The book is divided into three parts that follow the author's periodization of the history of modern Turkey. Part I covers the period from the end of the eighteenth century to the Young Turks' ascendancy to power in 1908. Zurcher's focus on the growing economic, cultural, and diplomatic interaction between Europe and the Ottoman Empire is informed by an eclectic approach that takes into account both the increasing incorporation of the Ottoman Empire into the world economy and the impact of European ideas, institutions, and practices on Ottoman reforms and Westernization efforts. By not wholly subscribing to either the "dependency" or "modernization" theories, but making judicious use of each, Zurcher provides a balanced analysis of the dynamics of change that ultimately transformed the political map of the Middle East and the Balkans and paved the way for the emergence of modern Turkey.

Part II, "The Young Turk Era in Turkish History, 1908-1950." is arguably the best section of the book. It is devoted to the domestic and international developments that accompanied the demise of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of the newly established Turkish Republic. This novel periodization reflects Zurcher's belief that there were significant political, ideological, and economic continuities between the Young Turks and the Kemalists--a theme that ran through his two earlier works.(1) In addition to documenting these continuities, he highlights the political dynamics of the Kemalist one-party state and the radical reform measures undertaken by Ataturk that laid the foundations of a modern and secular state. The economic problems and challenges that Turkey faced in the 1920s and 1930s, and the country's transition from an authoritarian one-party regime to democracy in the immediate aftermath of World War II constitute the two other issues that receive substantial attention. Zurcher's discussion of the formative years of the Republic offers a useful corrective to the official historiography of the period on various issues, such as the real meaning and intent of Mustafa Kemal's famous 36-hour speech in 1927.

Part III focuses on the achievements and problems of Turkey's experience with democracy since 1950. Zurcher provides an overview of the growth of democratic pluralism and rapid economic development amidst increasing social and political instability during four decades of competitive politics. He examines the changes and continuities in political parties and their leadership, the breakdown of Turkish democracy and the relatively brief periods of military rule in 1960, 1971, and 1980, and the emergence of extremist political movements belonging to the Marxist left, ultra-nationalist right, Islamic fundamentalism, and Kurdish separatism. In the concluding section, Zurcher discusses important trends in Turkish politics and foreign policy since 1980, such as democratization and economic liberalization, intensification of the Kurdish problem, and Turkey's involvement in Middle Eastern security issues as a result of its participation in the Allied Coalition during the 1991 Gulf War. …

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