The new Tur­key and the old Mid­dle East: the lim­its of am­bi­tion, By Hugh Pope

Turkish Review - - CONTENTS - HUGH POPE

Talk­ing TR is a monthly se­ries of talks and dis­cus­sions from lead­ing an­a­lysts and aca­demics on key is­sues for Tur­key and the re­gion, filmed in front of a live au­di­ence. Each month Talk­ing TR ad­dresses a dif­fer­ent topic. This es­say is a mod­i­fied tran­script of the talk pre­sented by Hugh Pope, In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group’s di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and out­reach, at the March Talk­ing TR event in İs­tan­bul, ‘Tur­key’s MENA Man­ners’ The first time I came to Tur­key was ac­tu­ally from Syria, in 1980. I re­mem­ber very clearly what it was like. We were very scared of com­ing to Tur­key, partly be­cause of the po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence in those days, but mainly be­cause we knew would find noth­ing to buy there -we took good flat bread, cof­fee, tea and cig­a­rettes along with us. And in 1980, it was true. Tur­key was a needy coun­try; you re­ally had to hunt to find those things, as if it was a poor rel­a­tive of the Mid­dle East.

I stud­ied Per­sian and Ira­nian stud­ies ini­tially, and I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber how con­fi­dent Iran was in com­par­i­son to Tur­key. In­deed, in 1980 Iran had an econ­omy that was dou­ble the size. Now, 30 years later, Tur­key has an econ­omy that is dou­ble the size of Iran’s, and the coun­try has be­come a by­word in the Mid­dle East for qual­ity man­u­fac­ture, at­trac­tive tele­vi­sion shows and great tourist re­sorts. Even if Tur­key is al­ways a bit of a slow­coach com­pared to oth­ers in the re­gion, I feel that these two im­ages of how things have changed should al­ways be re­mem­bered when we think of how Tur­key is fac­ing prob­lems to­day in the Mid­dle East.

I re­mem­ber another thing that was, per­haps, one of the high­lights of my time in Tur­key, and one which re­ally dis­tin­guishes Tur­key from the Mid­dle East. It was that mo­ment in De­cem­ber 1999 when Tur­key was ac­cepted as a can­di­date for mem­ber­ship of the Euro­pean Union. There was an al­most deliri­ous feel­ing on the streets of İs­tan­bul. I re­mem­ber how the news­pa­pers were full of the faces of politi­cians beam­ing with hap­pi­ness that Tur­key had fi­nally been ac­cepted as a po­ten­tial full mem­ber of the EU. It was an in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant mo­ment that I think trig­gered more re­ac­tions amongst the Turk­ish peo­ple than any­thing I’ve ever seen in re­la­tion to Tur­key’s Mid­dle East poli­cies.

I was a jour­nal­ist for a long time, and it seemed that things of­ten moved in cy­cles. There were times when Tur­key was seen as the good coun­try, when Tur­key was the model, and Tur­key showed the Mid­dle East how it could de­velop and how progress could be made. There was an idea that some­how Tur­key was go­ing to be a mul­ti­plier of Western val­ues and mar­ket eco­nom­ics in the re­gion.

And then, al­most in­ex­pli­ca­bly, there would be

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