What to Read on Turkish Politics

Courtesy Reuters

The reach of Turkey's cultural and foreign policies extends from the Balkans to Western China, and the country plays an increasingly important role in debates about the future of both Europe and the Middle East. Successive administrations in Washington have talked about their strategic relationship with Ankara, but discussions have rarely gone beyond the stereotype of Turkey as a "bridge between civilizations" or concern that an Islamist government may draw Turkey away from the West. As the nation develops a more sophisticated and active international policy, with some Ottoman echoes, it pays to take a closer look at this crucial country from the inside out as well as the outside in.

Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World. By Hugh Pope. Overlook, 2005.
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The Emergence of Modern Turkey. By Bernard Lewis. Oxford University Press, 2001.
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Atatürk: A Biography of Mustafa Kemal, Father of Modern Turkey. Patrick Balfour Kinross. William Morrow, 1965.
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Atatürk. By Andrew Mango. Overlook, 2000.
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Contemporary Turkish politics cannot be understood without reference to the past. Hugh Pope's Sons of the Conquerors is an erudite and readable history of the Turks as a people, from their origins on the Eurasian steppes, through the Ottoman ascendancy, to their modern geopolitical reach. Along the way, it also says a lot about Turkey's political and strategic culture. Bernard Lewis' classic study analyzes the Ottoman origins of Turkish reforms and Westernization and the rise of the "strong state" in Turkey. Kemal Atatürk and Kemalist ideology have been at the core of Turkish politics since the creation of the Turkish republic in 1923, and the reaction against his legacy is a key feature of the contemporary Turkish scene. The Patrick Kinross volume is a classic and is well complemented by Andrew Mango's excellent, lively, and somewhat iconoclastic biography.

Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds. By Stephen Kinzer. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2001.
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Turkey Unveiled
. By Nicole Pope and Hugh Pope. Overlook, 1998.

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Turkey Decoded. By Ann Dismorr. Saqi Books, 2008.
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The last decade has seen a proliferation of books in English about contemporary Turkey, many by authors with long experience covering the country and its neighbors. These three offer a solid background on the rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP); changing secular, religious, and civil-military dynamics in Turkey; and the tremendous expansion of the Turkish economy. Crescent and Star is based on the author's observations as a New York Times bureau chief in Istanbul. Turkey Unveiled, by Nicole and Hugh Pope, covers similar ground but from other journalistic vantage points. Ann Dismorr's book flows from her experience as the Swedish ambassador to Ankara. All three volumes are refreshingly free of polemic about Turkish identity.

Strategic Depth: Turkey's International Position. By Ahmet Davutoğlu. Küre Yayinlari, 2000.
Islam, Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who Is a Turk? By Soner Cagaptay. Routledge, 2006.
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The New Turkish Republic: Turkey as a Pivotal State in the Muslim World. By Graham Fuller. United States Institute of Peace Press, 2007.
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Unfortunately, some of the most revealing writings on contemporary Turkish foreign policy, including the book Strategic Depth, by Turkey's current foreign minister, are not readily available in English. Debate on Turkey in Washington is sharply divided between those who see Turkey moving away from the West and toward a more Middle Eastern and Islamic orientation and those who see Ankara's improved ties with Iran and Syria (and Russia) as a natural progression toward balance and diversification -- and a potential boon for Turkey's NATO and EU partners. Soner Cagaptay, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is a leading exponent of the "we are losing Turkey" school. His Islam, Secularism, and Nationalism in Modern Turkey explores the nuances of Turkish identity. Graham Fuller's perspective is much more positive: his controversial book, The New Turkish Republic, interprets the new brand of Turkish policy as a natural correction, important for the Muslim world and the West.

Winning Turkey: How America, Europe and Turkey Can Revive a Fading Partnership. By Philip Gordon and Omer Taspinar. Brookings Institution Press, 2008.
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Turkey's Evolving Dynamics: Strategic Choices for US-Turkey Relations. By Stephen J. Flanagan et al. Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2009.
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Talking Turkey in Europe: Towards a Differentiated Communication Strategy. Edited by Nathalie Tocci. Italian Institute for International Affairs, 2008.
Rebuilding a Partnership: Turkish-American Relations for a New Era -- A Turkish Perspective. By Soli Ozel, Suhnaz Yilmaz, and Abdullah Akyuz. Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, 2009.

In recent years, U.S. relations with Ankara have deteriorated and Turkey's candidacy for membership in the European Union has foundered. Many observers have been troubled by these developments, and the following analyses are influenced by a desire to reverse both trends. Winning Turkey, by Philip Gordon and Omer Taspinar, and Turkey's Evolving Dynamics, edited by Stephen Flanagan, look at Turkey through the lens of American strategy. Gordon is now serving as assistant secretary of state for European affairs in the Obama administration, so his book might also hold clues to future U.S. policy. The volume edited by Nathalie Tocci, based in Rome at the Italian Institute for International Affairs, provides a European view, and the Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association volume presents a Turkish take.

Istanbul: Memories and the City. By Orhan Pamuk. Knopf, 2004.

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Snow. By Orhan Pamuk. Knopf, 2004.
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Cornucopia (www.cornucopia.net)

The writings of Orhan Pamuk, Turkey's controversial Nobel Prize winner, offer compelling insights into the stresses and strains Turkey is experiencing today. Istanbul: Memories and the City is a highly personalized exploration of the changing face of life, architecture, and society in one of the world's most populous cities. Snow, a novel set in the eastern city of Kars, takes as its central theme Turkish Islamism and the clash of religious and secular lifestyles. For contrast and a sense of Turkey's high-end, cosmopolitan cultural scene, it is worth looking through Cornucopia, a lavish magazine published in Turkey and easily available abroad.

Insight Turkey (www.insightturkey.com)
Turkish Policy Quarterly (www.turkishpolicy.com)
On Turkey (http://www.gmfus.org/onturkey/)

Given how intricate and fast-changing Turkey's geopolitical position is, some of the most useful contemporary writing on Turkey can be found in journals rather than books. Insight Turkey, published by the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) in Ankara, is a very good, generally pro-government platform for Turkish and international authors. Turkish Policy Quarterly, published by the ARI Movement, in Istanbul, is another excellent source, with a bit more distance from AKP, Turkey's ruling party. And leading Turkey-based writers contribute lively analyses to On Turkey, a biweekly series published electronically by the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

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