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Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds

Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds

3.6 9
by Stephen Kinzer

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"A sharp, spirited appreciation of where Turkey stands now, and where it may head." —Carlin Romano, The Philadelphia Inquirer

In the first edition of this widely praised book, Stephen Kinzer made the convincing claim that Turkey was the country to watch -- poised between Europe and Asia, between the glories of its Ottoman past and


"A sharp, spirited appreciation of where Turkey stands now, and where it may head." —Carlin Romano, The Philadelphia Inquirer

In the first edition of this widely praised book, Stephen Kinzer made the convincing claim that Turkey was the country to watch -- poised between Europe and Asia, between the glories of its Ottoman past and its hopes for a democratic future, between the dominance of its army and the needs of its civilian citizens, between its secular expectations and its Muslim traditions.

In this newly revised edition of Crescent and Star, he adds much important new information on the many exciting transformations in Turkey's government and politics that have kept it in the headlines, and also shows how recent developments in both American and European policies (and not only the war in Iraq) have affected this unique and perplexing nation.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“An unusually candid account of the state of Turkish politics . . . [Kinzer] is lyrical, even romantic, about the potential of a forceful, creative and (mostly) free people to realize their own implied glorious future.” —Ira M. Lapidus, The New York Times

“Turkey matters greatly to us, given its crucial role both in Europe and in the Middle East, and this vivid book, both personal and analytical, is the best recent work on the subject.” —Richard D. Holbrooke

Veteran foreign correspondent Stephen Kinzer takes a look at the enigma that is modern Turkey, a county both exotic and dangerous. Looking behind the myths, he shows how this now-modern state has progressed from its former status as part of the Ottoman Empire to its current embrace of democracy. Kinzer, who has spent years living and working in Turkey, is the perfect tour guide for this look at a country striving to become "the most audaciously successful nation of the twenty-first century."
Library Journal
Americans can no longer plead ignorance about modern Turkey. Recently, several excellent books on the subject have been published by Western journalists: Marvine Howe's Turkey Today (LJ 6/1/00), Nicole and Hugh Pope's Turkey Unveiled (Overlook, 1998), and now this work by Kinzer, former New York Times Istanbul bureau chief (1996-2000). All three are informative and provocative, though each has a slightly different focus (Howe focuses on the role of Islam, while the Popes provide a narrative history). Interspersing journalistic essays with personal vignettes, Kinzer discusses Turkey's potential to be a world leader in the 21st century, as it is truly a bridge between East and West, politically and geographically. Kinzer questions Turkey's ability to achieve this potential, however, unless true democracy can be established. Whether it can depends on Turkey's military, which, in order to ensure the continuation of the Kemalist ideal of a paternalistic state, has never allowed real freedom of speech, press, or assembly. Kinzer argues persuasively that if the military refuses this opportunity, the consequences (Islamic fundamentalism, Kurdish terrorism, denial of EU membership) could be catastrophic for the Turkish state and its people. An excellent, insightful work; highly recommended. Ruth K. Baacke, formerly with Whatcom Community Coll. Lib., Bellingham, WA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A lively, engaging report on modern-day Turkey, a nation poised between democracy and military rule. Kinzer ("Blood of Brothers", 1991), former Istanbul bureau chief for the "New York Times", is unabashed in his enthusiasm for the Turkish people and their rough-edged, yet vibrant, centuries-old society. This quality energizes his consideration of Turkish history as reflected by their 21st-century dilemmas. The Turks were reviled for centuries in Europe due to Ottoman imperialism. Kinzer explores the political paradoxes that followed the Turkish Republic's establishment in 1923 by national hero Kemal Atatürk, whose example created "Kemalism"-essentially the state's secular religion. Atatürk embodied the fiercely guarded, masculine Turkish traditions, but he advocated a "Westernization" of Turkey in civic and social matters. Another paradox lies in the uneasy Turkish dance with democracy, crucial to its acceptance by the European Union, yet repeatedly checked by the nation's skittish and powerful military. Strangely, Turks continue to put their faith in this regime, pointing to the successful 1997 "postmodern coup" against Necmettin Erbakan's Welfare party, which promoted fundamentalist Islamic rule. Yet the military's prominence has been tainted by the Kurdish conflict; Kinzer determines that the Kurdish PKK revolutionary group cynically prodded the army into "scorched-earth" warfare and civilian atrocities, thus damaging Turkey in the court of international opinion. (A similar historical resonance exists in a continued unwillingness to acknowledge the 1915 Armenian genocide.) Kinzer varies his intelligent untangling of these thorny matters with more personalized depictions ofthe Turkish people and the (mostly) good times he's spent among them. These range from their rituals of communal water-pipe smoking and consumption of the powerful liquor raki, to Kinzer's surprise interrogation by rural security forces as a suspected PKK sympathizer. Kinzer's well-executed travelogue addresses the "striking contrast between freedom and repression [that] crystallizes Turkey's conundrum," and will satisfy anyone curious about the future of this vibrant, volatile society.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
Revised Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Crescent and Star

Turkey Between Two Worlds

By Stephen Kinzer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2008 Stephen Kinzer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-53140-9



My favorite word in Turkish is istiklal. The dictionary says it means "independence," and that alone is enough to win it a place of honor in any language. It has special resonance in Turkey because Turkey is struggling to become independent of so much. It wants to break away from its autocratic heritage, from its position outside the world's political mainstream and from the stereotype of the terrifying Turk and the ostracism which that stereotype encourages. Most of all, it is trying to free itself from its fears — fear of freedom, fear of the outside world, fear of itself.

But the real reason I love to hear the word istiklal is because it is the name of Turkey's most fascinating boulevard. Jammed with people all day and late into the night, lined with cafés, bookstores, cinemas and shops of every description, it is the pulsating heart not only of Istanbul but of the Turkish nation. I go there every time I feel myself being overwhelmed by doubts about Turkey. Losing myself in Istiklal's parade of faces and outfits for a few minutes, overhearing snippets of conversation and absorbing the energy that crackles along its mile and a half, is always enough to renew my confidence in Turkey's future. Because Istanbul has attracted millions of migrants from other parts of the country — several hundred new ones still arrive every day — this street is the ultimate melting pot. The country would certainly take a huge leap forward if people could be grabbed there at random and sent to Ankara to replace the members of Parliament. Istiklal is perfectly named because its human panorama reflects Turkey's drive to break away from claustrophobic provincialism and allow its people to express their magnificent diversity.

That drive has been only partly successful. Something about the concept of diversity frightens Turkey's ruling elite. It triggers the deep insecurity that has gripped Turkish rulers ever since the Republic was founded in 1923, an insecurity that today prevents Turkey from taking its proper place in the modern world.

No nation was ever founded with greater revolutionary zeal than the Turkish Republic, nor has any undergone more sweeping change in such a short time. In a very few years after 1923, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk transformed a shattered and bewildered nation into one obsessed with progress. His was a one-man revolution, imposed and steered from above. Atatürk knew that Turks were not ready to break violently with their past, embrace modernity and turn decisively toward the West. He also knew, however, that doing so would be the only way for them to shape a new destiny for themselves and their nation. So he forced them, often over the howling protests of the old order.

The new nation that Atatürk built on the rubble of the Ottoman Empire never could have been built democratically. Probably not a single one of his sweeping reforms would have been approved in a plebiscite. The very idea of a plebiscite, of shaping a political system according to the people's will, would have struck most Turks of that era as not simply alien but ludicrous.

In the generations that have passed since then, Turkey has become an entirely different nation. It is as vigorous and as thirsty for democracy as any on earth. For years its leaders, acting to safeguard what they considered Atatürk's legacy, fiercely resisted change. They believed that Turks could not be trusted with the fate of their nation, and that an elite should make key decisions because the people were not wise or mature enough to do so. Only at the beginning of the twenty-first century did voters find a way to rebel against this stifling order.

Their rebellion is the defining episode of modern Turkish history. It marks the beginning of the end for the class that dominated Turkey for its first eighty years, and for the suffocating ideology it preaches. It is an epochal turning point not only for Turkey but for Islam. Nonetheless it fills many Turks with dread.

Atatürk's infant Turkish Republic was a very fragile creation. Sheiks and leaders of religious sects considered its commitment to secularism a direct assault on all they had held sacred for centuries. Tribal chieftains and local warlords realized that a strong centralized state would undermine their authority. Kurds who dominated eastern provinces sought to take advantage of the new state's weakness by staging military uprisings. European powers hoped it would collapse so that they could divide its territory among themselves. The new Soviet Union actively sought to subvert it and turn it into a vassal state.

In this hostile climate, Atatürk and his comrades came to think of themselves as righteous crusaders slashing their way through a world filled with enemies. They ruled by decree and with a rubber-stamp Parliament, equating criticism with treason. During their first years in power, arrest and execution were the fate of their real and imagined opponents.

Nearly a century has passed since then, and in that time Turkey has changed beyond recognition. The nation that faced Atatürk when he took power was not only in ruins but truly primitive. Nearly everyone was illiterate. Life expectancy was pitifully short, epidemics were accepted as immutable facts of life and medical care was all but nonexistent. The basic skills of trade, artisanry and engineering were unknown, having vanished with the departed Greeks and Armenians. Almost every citizen was a subsistence farmer. There were only a few short stretches of paved road in a territory that extended more than a thousand miles from Iran to Greece. Most important of all, the Turkish people knew nothing but obedience. They had been taught since time immemorial that authority is something distant and irresistible, and that the role of the individual in society is submission and nothing more.

If Atatürk could return to see what has become of his nation, he undoubtedly would be astonished at how far it has come. Muddy villages have become bustling cities and cow paths have become superhighways. There are universities and public hospitals in even the most remote regions. The economy is booming, and Turkish companies are making profits in every corner of the globe. Thousands of young men and women return home every year from periods of study abroad. People are educated, self-confident and eager to build a nation that embodies the ideals of democracy and human rights. This nation — the Turkey of Turks' dreams — is now, at long last, emerging from long shadows cast by geography and history.

During the last decades of the twentieth century, Turkish society was split by a steadily deepening chasm of culture and ideology — what Marxists might call a "profound contradiction." The entrenched elite, successor to Atatürk's clique of revolutionary officers and technocrats, was accustomed to holding ultimate power and refused to surrender it. But the society it sought to rule was hurtling toward modernity and impatient for democracy.

For years the elite seemed unaware that this brash new nation had come into existence. Military commanders, police chiefs, security officers, prosecutors, judges, university rectors, narrow-minded bureaucrats, lapdog newspaper editors, state governors, nationalist politicians and other soldiers in this superannuated army remained psychologically trapped in the 1920s. They saw threats looming from across every one of Turkey's eight borders and, most dangerously, from within the country itself. In their minds, Turkey was still a nation under siege. To protect it from mortal danger, they insisted on running it themselves. They saw the Turkish people, on whose behalf they claimed to rule, not as the embodiment of the nation but, perversely, as a profound threat to it. Caught in the grip of irrelevant experiences, they fiercely resisted pressure from Turks who wanted their country to break free of its shackles and complete its march toward the democracy that was Atatürk's dream.

As the new millennium dawned, demand for change had spread far beyond intellectual circles in Istanbul and pockets of restive ethnic nationalism. It gripped the psyche of the entire nation. Patriarchs of the old elite, true to form, refused to accommodate it. They had beaten back all other challenges to their permanent government, which Turks call "deep state," and there seemed no reason why they could not crush this one as well. But to the delight of many, the horror of some and the astonishment of almost all, they failed.

Their transcendent failure — or to put it another way, the long-delayed triumph of democracy — has produced nothing less than the re-invention of the Turkish Republic. It portends the doom of a ruling system that may have been appropriate when Turkey and Turks were backward and ignorant, but that became reactionary and repressive as "deep state" failed to change along with the people it sought to rule.

This self-appointed vanguard considers itself modernity's great and indispensable defender. It fears democracy not on principle but because it is convinced that democracy will unleash forces that will drag Turkey back toward ignorance and obscurantism. Allowing Turks to speak, debate and choose freely, it has long believed, would lead the nation to certain catastrophe. To prevent that catastrophe, it devised a ruling system that set the limits of debate and suppressed challenges wherever they appeared. For eighty years it exercised the right to limit freedom as it saw fit.

The most sacred principle of this secular faith — called Kemalism, because it claims to embrace Atatürk's principles — is the abstract idea of "nation." Second is secularism. Democracy comes third — but only as long as it is not seen to conflict with the first two. Since 1923 it has been axiomatic that anytime democracy threatens to erode the state's militantly secular identity, it must be crushed.

For much of Turkey's modern history, state power was directed relentlessly against the very forces in society that most fully represented Atatürk's modernizing vision. Writers, journalists and politicians who criticized the status quo were packed off to prison for what they said and wrote. Calls for religious freedom were considered subversive attacks on the secular state. Expressions of ethnic or cultural identity were banned for fear that they would trigger separatist movements and ultimately rip the country apart. When foreigners reminded Turkey that it could never become a full member of the world community as long as its leaders behaved this way, they were denounced for harboring secret agendas whose ultimate goal was to wipe Turks off the face of history.

Attitudes like these slowly turned Turkey's ruling elite into the enemy of the ideal that gave it life. Originally dedicated to freeing a nation from dogma, it came to defend dogma. Once committed to liberating the mind, it lashed out against those whose minds led them to forbidden places. It became the "sovereign" against whom its spiritual ancestors, the Young Turks, began rebelling in the nineteenth century.

"Our sovereign and our government do not want the light to enter our country," the Young Turk theorist Abdullah Cevdet wrote in 1897. "They want all people to remain in ignorance, on the dunghill of misery and wretchedness; no touch of awakening may blaze in the hearts of our compatriots. What the government wants is for the people to remain like beasts, submissive as sheep, fawning and servile as dogs. Let them hear no word of any honest lofty idea. Instead, let them languish under the whips of ignorant gendarmes, under the aggression of shameless, boorish, oppressive officials."

The Young Turks were members of insurgent groups that defied the absolutism of Ottoman rule during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These groups built a rich tradition of dissent that shaped the intellectual and political life of the late Ottoman period and laid the foundation for Atatürk's revolution. Their principles were admirable, but most of their leaders believed instinctively that the state, not popular will, was the instrument by which social and political change would be achieved. They bequeathed to Atatürk the conviction that Turkish reformers should seize state power and then use it ruthlessly for their own ends, not try to democratize society in ways that would weaken the centralized state.

Turkey's effort to rid itself of this authoritarian mind-set has been difficult and scarred by trauma. Not until 1950 did military commanders, the vanguard of Atatürk's new class, allow free elections. They continued to watch politicians closely, however. Four times — in 1960, 1970, 1980 and 1997 — they deposed elected governments. Turks were groping toward democracy, but whenever they tried to establish the primacy of popular will, the military swatted them down.

The 1980 coup, which led to three years of direct military rule, set in motion forces that would define Turkish society for the next two decades. Ruling generals decreed fierce crackdowns, ranging from torture campaigns to the mass firing of university professors. In 1982, before the generals returned to their barracks, they imposed a new constitution designed to assure their permanent power. It guaranteed Turks all civil rights, but then stipulated that the government could suspendany or all rights "with the aim of safeguarding the invisible integrity of the state with its territory and nation, national sovereignty, the Republic, national security, public order, general peace, the public interest, public morals and public health." It allowed judges to ban any political party whose program conflicted with "the democratic and secular order." Most perniciously, it established a new body, the National Security Council, composed of five elected officials (the president, prime minister and ministers of defense, interior and foreign affairs) and five generals (the chief of staff and commanders of the army, navy, air force and gendarmerie), that was to function as the nation's supreme decision-making body, above Parliament and insulated from the people's will. Governments were required to give "priority consideration" to its decisions.

For the next twenty years the National Security Council met once a month. Its deliberations were private, but television reporters were admitted for a few moments to film members as they took their seats. The footage perfectly conveyed the balance of power in Turkey. Government leaders sat on one side of a long table, shifting uncomfortably like guilty schoolboys. Military commanders, ribbon-bedecked and unsmiling, sat opposite, glowering at their charges as they pulled folders from their briefcases and prepared to deliver their decrees. Always they spoke with a single voice, and always it was understood that their will must be done.

"It is a fundamental principle that there is one state," former president and prime minister Süleyman Demirel wryly observed after he retired, "but in our country there are two."

The 1982 constitution and the laws passed to bolster it proved chillingly effective in preventing the flowering of Turkish democracy. It was folly, however, to believe that an essentially anti-democratic system could survive forever in a changing world. In the 1980s and 1990s Turks rebelled against it with steadily growing fervor. By the time the century ended, this conflict had come to dominate Turkish life. On one side was an inbred elite, weaker than it had once been but still accustomed to treating elected leaders like errand boys. Arrayed against it was a large and steadily growing majority of Turks.

Turkey's conundrum during this period was that although most people fervently wished for a new order that would represent their democratic aspirations, no political party or civic movement translated their aspirations into reality. Civilian politicians who claimed to represent the ideologies of left, center and right were in fact all part of the oppressive old consensus. All accepted the bedrock principle that had shaped the Turkish Republic since its birth in 1923: that military commanders and their allies should hold ultimate power because the voting public could not be trusted. The closed political system designed by framers of the 1982 constitution allowed autocratic bosses to dominate political parties, and for years this system effectively prevented the flowering of true democracy.

The 1980 military coup, though, had another, unexpected result. From its wreckage emerged the most dynamic political leader Turkey had seen since Atatürk. Only today, years after his death, is it clear how profoundly he reshaped Turkey.

The towns where Turgut Özal lived while he was growing up — Malatya, Mersin, Mardin and Kayseri — comprise a veritable map of the deep Anatolian heartland. In 1983 he became prime minister despite efforts by departing generals to prevent his election. Shattering taboos wherever he found them, Özal set out to re-revolutionize the Turkish state. "He threw open all the doors and windows in this place," one American ambassador to Turkey told me with evident admiration.


Excerpted from Crescent and Star by Stephen Kinzer. Copyright © 2008 Stephen Kinzer. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Stephen Kinzer was Istanbul bureau chief for The New York Times from 1996 to 2000. He is the author of many books, including All the Shah's Men and Overthrow. He lives in Chicago.

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Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
LoveHistoryVA More than 1 year ago
No country in the world could hold the key to successful relationships for the US with the Middle East and East Asia than Turkey. Stephen Kinzer helps readers sort out the challenges, failures and successes of Turkey's modern history and helps to untangle the paradox of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the modernist Islamist and perhaps the most important figure in Turkey since Ataturk.
Anonymous 6 months ago
A must read book on Turkey. Good outline of history with many good reminders and varying look angles as Kinzer always surprises the reader with. Definite errors in character evaluations of some of the leaders especially most recent ones. Best part is making the case why Turkey will never be an EU member at the end, giving an outline of Ottoman history and how much their behaviour in Europe is still in the minds of Europeans. We still hear it during our visits in Europe whether true or not (latest in Prague).
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KeikoHP More than 1 year ago
I liked the book, which gives an awful lot of information on modern Turkey. However, it seems to me that the author doesn't question received wisdom as much as he should. Our world currently lauds Ataturk for bringing his people out of the medieval darkness that Turkey was suppposed to have been in before his takeover. However, no one asks if it was really good for Ataturk to unilaterally impose not only changes in the Turkish script but also changes to things as basic and personal as the clothes people were allowed to wear. To me, Ataturk was a dictator pure and simple, and the fact that he imposed some good things on Turkey and also saved his country's territorial integrity, doesn't change that. The author of this book seems to have a habit of admiring other questionable people as well, if I remember correctly; it seems to me that he has a book out which extols President Kagame of Rwanda. I sincerely hope that President Kagame is a good man, but he's recently been attacked for showing dictatorial tendencies himself. However, in the main this is a good book, and the author does admit that Ataturk did some things wrong, though in general he describes him as a great hero. In any case, it would be a shame for people to refuse to read this book just because its author may have one somewhat objectionable political position. Turkey has been so little written about in the English-speaking press that any books on it at all are highly welcome.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Crescent & Star is ok for starters; if you have a pretty good background information on Turkey your time and money are probably better spent on another book. Even starter books are often very good, providing perspectives, profiles and vignettes not found elsewhere; but this one fails here. For a man who lived in Turkey Kinzer delivers surprisingly little in this regard. The most frustrating part for me was Kinzer¿s lapses into a repetitive preaching which seemed meant to fill up pages. His editor could have done better there. Still, it isn¿t bad at all for starters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is one of the best I've ever read. It tells how Turkey was formed and how it has come to our day. It shows in detail the troubles and problems Turkey has and has to overcome and also the good and positive parts of Turkey. It tells of the recent past of Turkey and gives an idea of where it may head in the future. It shows that Turkey is a country to be watched. It also shows how the people of Turkey can overcome their troubles. The author of this book tells the reader about daily life in diffrent parts of Turkey. This is definitely a great book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book gives a good overview of the historical roots of modern Turkey. Today's Turkey was formed from remnants of the Ottoman Empire shortly after it's defeat in World War I. A group of military officers led by Kamel Ataturk (the Father of Modern Turkey) took control of what was left of the Empire and put in place a military stewardship that has tried to slowly bring Turkey into the modern world in the mold of a European nation, not an Asian nation. Several civilian governments have taken control in past decades, but they drifted from the ideal established by Ataturk and the military stepped in to reestablish moderation. The military has fought liberals as well as radicals and has kept the government secular, supervising and picking acceptable ministers and controlling elections. Turkey has been beset with many internal problems. They have a diverse population and have just finished a long and bloody war with the Kurds that populate their easter provinces. (The Kurds were backed, armed, and financed by Syria just to bring Turkey down a notch). The author aptly explains why Turkey is at a crossroad where it can achieve greatness or sink into obscurity. The Turkish people are a good people. Most of the population is not Arabic. The predominant religion is Islam. The country stands between Europe and Asia and is surrounded by potential danger. The Turks are still waiting and hoping to gain complete freedom in their country. In addition to the historical and political background, the author gives insight about the country and it's people from experience gained by wide travel throughout the country and close contact with many of the diverse people that live there.