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Turkey today-one of the world's fastest growing tourist destinations-defies easy categorization. Friends speak of the Turks as blunt yet hospitable, inhabiting a land rich in history and culture, a member of the E.U. and strategic ally to the United States. Detractors cite military coups and concerns about Islamic fundamentalism. Turkey Unveiled fills a notable gap in Western history regarding this extremely complex country. This newly updated edition covers the first decade of the twenty-first century and brings the book up to the present.
The authors, who speak fluent Turkish and have reported from Turkey for twenty years, provide a rich mosaic of contemporary Turkey and its formative past. The strengths and weaknesses of the Ottoman Empire; the Armenian tragedy; the Kurdish struggle for independence; and the controversial legacy of the brilliant but autocratic founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, are all here. They also provide portraits of new leaders who have broken taboos and ushered in new freedoms at a time when other forces attempt to pull Turkey back into the Middle Eastern vortex.
Galloping from farthest Asia
like a mare's head reaching for the Mediterranean
this country is ours.
Wrists drenched in blood, teeth clenched, feet bare
and soil smooth as a silken carpet
this hell, this paradise is ours.
Nazim Hikmet (1902-63)
Every school-day morning a nearly identical ceremony takes place the length and breadth of Turkey. Children line up in school-yards from the gentle Thracian border with Greece to the steep mountains stacked up against the Iraqi frontier. In the massive concrete sprawl of Istanbul, in whitewashed Mediterranean villages, in the harsh towns of the Anatolian plateau and in hamlets hidden in the lush rain forests of the Black Sea coast, the voices of teachers rise above the excited chatter. When silence has been imposed, morning assembly gets under way, usually with the aid of a scratchy amplifier. Though not officially religious, the ceremony which ensues is part of a ritual indoctrination in the ideology of the Turkish republic founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
`I am a Turk! I am honest! I am industrious!' the children shout in proud unison, whatever part their ancestors may have played in Turkey's jumbled mosaic of ethnic groups, religions and migrations. The slogans are various, but the message is the same for the young would-be citizens of modern Turkey. `O Great Ataturk, I vow that I will march unhesitatingly along the road you opened, towards the goal you showed!'
Frowning down from an altar-like plinth is a black or gilded bust of Ataturk himself, the `Father of the Turks'. His expression symbolizes something between loving concern and implacable determination. The same deep-furrowed brow will follow the children through their lives: from omnipresent pictures in finely cut 1920s business suits, from cast-bronze horses in military splendour, from eerie copies of his death mask moulded seamlessly onto walls. Ataturk's arm is often raised, pointing to the glittering future that so many of Turkey's leaders have pledged to their long-suffering people, a future that has never arrived in quite the shape in which it was promised.
The morning ceremony over, the children who have so loudly proclaimed their Turkish identity chase each other noisily up to their classrooms. Most have no reason to challenge the way they are educated as Turks and know no other way to start the day. They pass slogans pinned to the wall such as `A Book is a Friend Who Will Never Cheat Me'. Indeed, school textbooks tell few outright lies. Even so, as they progress through their history lessons, Turkish students are drilled in a picture of their national origins and of the world around them that is quite different to that taught to a Christian child in Europe or even to their fellow Muslims of the Middle East.
These school history books of the Turkish republic are no idle creation. They are the direct descendants of four intimidating tomes produced by the Ministry of Education in 1932. Pretty colour pictures are now permitted, but the words are little changed. Rote learning is still the rule, and the line between reality and legend is sometimes blurred.
The Turks are taught that at the dawn of history their ancestors, led by a mythical grey she-wolf, started migrating outwards from the heart of Central Asia as the numbers of their people swelled and droughts dried the traditional grazing lands on the steppe. Some of them, they are told, even crossed the Bering Strait into the Americas, presumably becoming the American Indians. In his later, more deluded years, Ataturk himself adopted a bizarre creed known as the `Sun Theory', which depicts the Turks as the mother race of all mankind.
`You're not really an American, you're a Turk,' Ataturk told a doubtless astonished American journalist one day in the Ankara Palas hotel. `The Turks,' he added for good measure, `discovered America fifty years before Christopher Columbus.' The proof of this assertion, he told the journalist, was that the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean had obviously been named by Turks, especially since their capital was called Grand Turk. (The islands are in fact named after a fez-shaped cactus.) Ataturk might have been less amused to find that the only Ottoman Turks known to have reached the New World were a boatload of prisoners dumped in the American South who still call themselves the Melunjans, or `cursed souls'.
Setting aside such far-fetched claims, the fact is that peoples speaking more than eighteen languages related to Turkish still inhabit not only Central Asia but also such eastern Siberian territories as Yakutia. The Mongols are ethnic cousins of the Turks. Even the Turkish, Korean and Japanese languages have strange similarities, sharing a grammatical syntax that makes it easy for Turks and Japanese to learn each other's tongues.
However, the main migrational thrust of the early Turks, which lasted broadly for a thousand years from the middle of the first millennium AD, was westwards. They and their flocks settled in many parts of south-west Asia. But their strongest hold, and ultimate place of refuge, was the great peninsula that became modern Turkey. Also known as Anatolia or Asia Minor, it is a territory the size of Britain and France combined, with 5,500 kilometres of coastline bounded by the waters of the Mediterranean, the Aegean, the Marmara and the Black Sea.
Almost all the people of this land, Turkish textbooks are quick to assert, are descended from these incoming waves of nomadic Central Asian tribes. This thesis is disputed outside Turkey. But until the 1990s, few were allowed to challenge what this meant for millions of Turkish citizens who knew perfectly well that they were not ethnically Turkish and who at home spoke Kurdish, Arabic, Laz (a dialect of Georgian) or any of a dozen other minor languages. Few had any choice but to learn the official republican history of the Turks.
The origin of the word Turk is obscure. It seems to have been written down for the first time in Chinese chronicles in the sixth century AD as T'u-kue, to describe pastoralists known for their iron-working skills. According to Western scholars, the earlier invaders of China known to the Chinese as Hsiung-Nu were also probably Turks, and it was to keep out such `uncooked barbarians' that the Great Wall of China was built. It is also thought that the word Turk probably had a meaning close to `strength': Turkish textbooks like the sound of that. `The name Turk describes and symbolizes our race and nation,' they say, `and our history is the best proof that this meaning is correct.'
Strangely, given the central place of ethnic Turkishness in republican ideology -- the `heroic race' of the national anthem sung by the schoolchildren -- the study of the ancient Turks by modern Turks is still in its infancy, perhaps because the subject is surprisingly unfashionable and funds are scarce. For Turks, too, there is also the fear of discovering facts that do not fit the official republican theory, as evidenced at a rare meeting on the subject of the origins of the Turks held in 1995. `It was not so long ago,' one Turkish expert at that conference began, with a nervous smile, `that even talking about the possibility of different Turkish peoples would have landed us all in gaol.'
Such worries had made it hard for the French institute organizing the conference even to find a venue. It was forced to settle on a little lecture theatre in the Press Museum on Janissary Street in the heart of old Istanbul. The motley group of those attending made the usual deferential references to their subject, praising each others' efforts and then flatly contradicting them: bear-like Russian archaeologists displayed new finds from deepest Central Asia, Turkish linguists presented elaborate interpretations of inscriptions and suave French historians kept the peace. The presence of a bookish Hungarian reminded those present that Turcology originally arose from his own country's nineteenth-century search for its roots in the Turks' weak ethnic link to both Hungarians and Finns. There was even an ageing American intelligence officer who, having spent the Second World War in Ankara listening to the grandiose ideas of his Turkish republican friends, had gone on to teach himself to read the ancient Chinese chronicles to find out if any of their claims about Ataturk's `Sun Theory' could possibly be true. He was still searching for an answer.
Republican Turkey nominates the Scythians in 1,000 BC as `the first great state that can be called Turkish', but the international scholars gathered in the Press Museum could only agree that the first Turkish-speaking tribes had probably coalesced by the first century AD. Further back than that they could not go, as the written history of the Turks loses itself in scratchy runes carved on bones, sticks and stones. One Turkish expert told of how in his search for an inscription he was reduced to feeling blindly with his fingers round the back of a statue in Ulan Bator museum in Mongolia. Sheets of syllabic decodings were passed from hand to hand to show that the first words written in Turkish on a buried goblet may have been: `My elder brother, this hearth is for you. Stranger, fall down on your knees. And the tribe will have nourishment.' Or perhaps it meant something quite different. Nobody could be sure.
These early Turkic peoples quickly covered themselves with military glory. In the sixth century AD, as one great khan conquered the capital of China, Turkic `White Huns' were ravaging the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. At the same time in the west, Europe was making contact in the hills of Champagne with the man whom Turkish schoolbooks describe as the first all-Turkish hero: Atilla, known in the West as Attila the Hun.
Attila has made an indelibly bad impression on the Western psyche, whose histories portray him as a barbarian who helped break the armies of Rome. Western commentators dwell on details such as his lair in the Wallachian forests (modern Romania); a wooden citadel in which he dined off plates of gold, attended by a barbarian horde in ratskin tunics and goatskin leggings.
Turkish schoolchildren, however, learn their history from the other side of the battle lines. Attila juggled his alliances as `an extremely gifted diplomat', teachers are told to say. In tones similar to those used as Turkey aspires to full membership of the European Union, texts note that Attila `did not count the Romans as enemies, but waited for them to accept him'. From the Turkish point of view, the conquering Turkic tribes from the east civilized and improved the primitive peoples they found on the eastern marches of Europe. The hardships of the steppes had made the Turks quick, sharp-eyed, hard-working and disciplined. Above all, their military vocation was supreme.
`The Turks are undoubtedly the people who gave the art of soldiering the highest place among the civilizations of the world ... man and woman, every Turk was always ready for war,' teachers declaim. Any pupils in doubt about the continued importance of the army can meditate upon the fact that the first set of quotations in their textbooks is supplied by courtesy of the publications department of the Turkish military Chief of the General Staff.
Given this background, children are taught to take pride in an ancestry that can hold its own among other civilizations; in a language that is one of the `oldest and best' in the world, and in a descent that marks them out as a single, unified Turkish people. They are not told of one of the important lessons of meetings like that at the Press Museum, that `Turks' are almost impossible to define ethnically at an early date, or indeed at any other time. The ethnic mixing of Turkic blood in Asia started early and is still far from over.
Even so, it is hard to reject completely all the parallels that Turkish republican ideologues have sought to draw with the Central Asian past. Among the big Black Sea noses, the curly Mediterranean tresses and the tall Balkan blondes, there are still large numbers of Turks who boast the short, stocky frame and high cheek-bones of the steppes.
Turkish mothers still refer to their sons as `my lion', a parental endearment used in the first historical records written in Turkish, engraved on a Central Asian memorial stone in about AD 730. The ancient Turkish honorific for their rulers, beg, has been in uninterrupted use ever since. It now serves, in its form `bey', as an honorific meaning `mister'. The word for an army platoon is still a manga, the basic unit of ten men in a Turkic-Mongol horde; and the word `horde' itself derives from ordu, the name still used for the modern Turkish army. Even the horse-tails used to denote rank in the Ottoman empire still hang in plumes from tall poles outside the tomb of Tamerlane in Samarkand.
Whatever the rest of the world may think, the impression made on Turkish schoolchildren is indelible: `our ancestors' were a great people with a glorious history. One wall of the imposing entrance hall to the Turkish military museum honours Tamerlane, Attila and other Hun dynasties by casting their names in concrete together with those of other, later governments. Modern Turkey, according to the republic's official ideology, has carved a lonely path as `the last independent Turkish state'.
This remained more or less true until the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, which gave birth to five more independent Turkic countries: Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakstan and the Kyrgyz Republic. But the sixteen predecessor states remembered on the museum wall still huddle in a protective circle of stars around the proud single star that represents Ataturk's republic at the centre of Turkey's red-and-gold presidential seal.
Despite the enthusiasm of the republican ideologues for Turkifying the past, the Turkish republic is arguably the first state to be founded on a purely Turkish ethnic ideal. The early states founded by the Turks as they moved westwards tended to have mixed local populations of Persians, Kurds, Arabs and others. Indeed because Western scholarship has traditionally emphasized the place of these dynasties in the Islamic world, it is often not realized that some of their leaders were Turkish.
The Turks' gradual take-over of the Islamic world started early as they moved away from the shamanism of their forefathers: a religion of nature worship, especially of fire, water and air, through the agency of shamans or divinely inspired holy men. The presence of Turks in the Middle East is first recorded in AD 674, only forty-two years after the death of the prophet Muhammad, when 2,000 Turkish archers are said to have been in the service of the governor of Basra. The power of the Turkish mamluks, or slave-soldiers, grew as the early Islamic Arab aristocrats came to depend more and more on these mercenaries to control their subject populations. In AD 833, the caliph al-Mu'tasim, who had a Turkish passion for his army -- his mother was a Turk -- stepped up the hiring of Turkish mounted archers from his base in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). Under the first of his sons to succeed him, two Turks were appointed generals. In AD 861, the Turkish Mamluks rose up and killed al-Mu'tasim's second son and heir, the caliph al-Mutawakkil, and became the military arbiters of Islamic courts from Cairo to Baghdad. In the sixteenth century the Ottoman Turks seized the caliphate itself.
Medieval Islamic history is henceforth peppered with names that in varying degrees can be represented as Turkish. The building of India's fabulous Taj Mahal was ordered by the Turkic-speaking Mogul ruler Shah Jahan, while Isfahan's prized Friday Mosque was commissioned by the Seljuks, a Turkish dynasty that ruled Iran and Anatolia. The Turks, like the Arabs, are usually associated with Sunni Islam, the mainstream branch of the religion that limits the role of the priesthood and adheres strictly to the orthodox traditions of the prophet Muhammad. But Turkic speakers or their Mongol cousins supplied most of the rulers of Iran for nearly nine hundred years until 1925 including the illustrious Safavid dynasty. The Safavids laid the foundations of Iran's most beautiful cities and its state religion, Shia Islam, a minority sect that affords a greater role to the clergy and which supported the family of the Prophet against the Sunnis in a civil war that broke out shortly after Muhammad's death. Perhaps a fifth of Iran's current population are Shia Muslim Azeris who speak a kindred language to Turkish.
At this early period, the Turks did not create sophisticated court cultures in their own language: such a culture only came with the rise of the Ottoman empire. Mahmud of Ghazna (c. 971-c. 1031), for instance, a Turkic ruler based in today's Afghanistan, funded one of Islam's most brilliant courts with booty won in his raids on India. But the arts he patronized were Iranian -- among them Firdausi's Shahnameh, the great work of Persian epic poetry. The Turks still suffer from a sense of cultural inferiority. Even in today's highly nationalistic Turkish republic, the elite universities are expressly set up to teach in English, not Turkish.
The illustrious Seljuk dynasty of Konya acted with similar ambivalence towards their Turkish origins, even though they were the first to cause Anatolia to be called `Turkey' by the likes of Chaucer. Seljuk courts ruled today's Iran, Mesopotamia and Anatolia from the mid-eleventh until the mid-thirteenth centuries. Lovely high-arched stone bridges, caravanserais and fine mosques with conical domes survive across Anatolia, attesting to their greatness and sense of style. But their courts spoke Persian and their rule led to the spread of literary Persian, not literary Turkish, which barely existed. Jalal ud-Din Rumi (1207-73), the celebrated Turkish poet and mystic who founded the religious brotherhood of the Mevlevis, known in the West as the whirling dervishes, and whose twenty-first grandson died in 1996 in Istanbul, wrote mainly in Persian.
If the high Arabic and Persian cultures of medieval Islam gave the Turks a civilization, in return the Turks bore the sword and shield of the Muslims. But at times this military genius was nearly the undoing of Islam. Turkic nomads fresh out of Central Asia made up the bulk of the hordes of Mongol leader Genghis Khan and his sons, whose campaigns in the mid-thirteenth century laid waste the brilliant cities and carefully tended irrigation systems of the Middle East. These peoples were an even stronger component of the armies of the vicious half-Turkish, half-Mongol Tamerlane, who swept as far east as the Aegean Sea in the first years of the fifteenth century. Like Genghis Khan, their shock tactics wiped out the population of any city that did not immediately surrender. The Middle East was sent reeling into a dark age from which Muslim cultural and intellectual life has never fully recovered.
For this reason, perhaps, Turkish schoolchildren are presented with an ambiguous image of the Mongols, as if they were somewhat unsavoury relatives. The greatest pure Mongol leader, Genghis Khan, is not included in the official Turkish pantheon, whilst the half-Turkish Tamerlane is. Even so, one of modern Turkey's most popular early rock groups chose the name `The Mongols'; and as many Turkish mothers chase after little boys called Cengiz (Genghis) as do after those named Timur or Atilla.
In the course of these upheavals in the Islamic Middle East, wave after wave of Turkic nomads continued to move from east to west in search of grazing and booty. By the middle of the eleventh century, they were probing the edge of today's Anatolia, the western marches of the Byzantine empire. Based in Constantinople, the present Istanbul, the Byzantines were the orthodox Christian heirs of the eastern half of the Roman empire. The memory of this first contact is kept alive today by the Turkish word for an ethnic Greek: a Rum, literally, a Roman.
The advancing Turkic nomads were somewhat unruly outriders for the Seljuks -- settled Turks whose princes then held sway over much of the Middle East. The Seljuks had to decide whether to follow these raiders or risk losing out on the possible benefits of booty, new territorial conquests and the blessings of a holy war against the Christian infidels. On the other side, the Byzantines also had to confront the invaders. The Seljuk and Byzantine armies clashed at Malazgirt (Manzikert) north of Lake Van in 1071, an action still commemorated at the battlefield each year as one of the turning points in Turkish history. The Byzantines suffered a humiliating defeat and their emperor, Romanus Diogenes, was led captive to the Seljuk king Alparslan's tent. `What would you have done had you captured me?' Alparslan asked the Byzantine emperor. `I would have cut off your head,' the Byzantine replied. The honest answer so impressed the king that he spared Romanus's life; but from then on, the high central plateaux of Anatolia were open to settlement by the land-hungry Turkic tribes and their flocks.
These Turks were mostly from the ethnic branch known as Turkmen, or Turcomans, and their arrival in the land that was to become modern Turkey is the basis of one of the most controversial and insecure doctrines maintained by the republic: that Anatolia was, to all intents and purposes, always Turkish. As one textbook has it,
Turkmen groups flowed into Anatolia and settled there, welcomed by the people who were unhappy with the old Byzantine administration, which certainly never represented this country. They mixed with the people of Anatolia. Very soon it was completely Turkified. Of course they did not find Anatolia empty. But its population was very small. A new Anatolian Turkish civilization was born.
This official version has the grace to mention that `the Europeans never accepted this'. In fact, Western historians estimate that by the end of the Turkmen migrations in the thirteenth century, only a small proportion of the population of Anatolia was ethnically Turkish. As we shall see in the next chapters, non-Turkish populations remained predominant in most towns until the turn of the twentieth century.
Nevertheless, much of the culture of modern Turkey grew out of what was grafted onto the Anatolian stock by the new conquerors. The Christian populations gradually dwindled as a result of Ottoman taxation and other discriminatory practices, conversions to Islam, migrations to the West and terrible massacres. Even under the republic, the state targeted the substantial minorities left in Istanbul with a crippling wealth tax in the 1940s, and had a hand in stirring up street riots in 1955 which sounded the death knell for the Greek community in the city its ancestors had founded.
Presented with this reading of their history, it is not surprising that Turkish schoolchildren today, even were they to doubt the official version of events, have little cause to question the extent and history of the Turkish-Muslim identity being preached to them. The non-Muslim minorities who have inhabited their country are a vacuum in their minds. That does not mean, of course, that these minorities have left no trace.
Most Turks have to wait until they reach university before they hear anything about those who inhabited Anatolia prior to the arrival of the first Turkish outriders. Those peoples who pose an ideological challenge to the Turkish republic -- Greeks, Armenians or Kurds -- get short historical shrift. It is as if Turks have been given a puzzle with several parts missing, but which is said to be whole. Small wonder that Turkish versions of history sometimes look oddly as though the pieces have been forced into place.
Anatolia is extraordinarily rich in ancient peoples. It bears some of the world's earliest traces of civilization. Like the architectural jumble of Istanbul, where buildings have been piling up on top of each other for millennia, the ethnic and historical origins of Turkey's peoples are inextricably intertwined.
A drive along the old Fertile Crescent just north of the border with modern Syria reveals settlements where people still live in conical mud huts that seem to date back to the dawn of history. Further east it is possible to find stone-built villages perched on an accumulation of ancient mounds whose Syriac Christian people speak a kind of Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. Such hillocks are treasure troves of history -- and not infrequently of gold and silver too, as many a Turkish farmer with a plough or metal detector has discovered -- where archaeologists are pushing back the limits of our knowledge of man's earliest development.
The biggest and best-known such site is Catalhoyuk, a late Stone Age mound on the great plain near Konya discovered in the fifties by the charismatic British archaeologist James Mellaart, whose finds can be marvelled at in Ankara's Museum of Anatolian Cultures. Wall paintings illustrate hunters and bulls, showing how close the culture of the world's first known town of 10,000 inhabitants was to that of neolithic cave-dwellers; and showcases display mirrors of volcanic glass whose polish remains undimmed from the time when these first townspeople reflected on their own image.
A new 25-year excavation programme has now started at Catalhoyuk that will include a look at the DNA structure of the bones buried under the floor of these houses nine thousand years ago. The findings should help to answer the question of where these first townspeople came from, and also perhaps of their relation to the local Turkish villagers of the present day, now performing the inevitable archaeological donkey work of carrying away the hods of earth.
A living link has already been suggested. The Turkish carpet expert Belkis Balpmar believes that some of the patterns on carpets and kilims that decorate the homes of families all over the world can be traced back to forms and ideas seen on the walls and in the artefacts of sites like Catalhoyuk. The idea is far from satisfactorily proven. But it is tempting to believe her theory when looking at the most common design of all, the hooked diamond shape known to Turkish women weavers as eli belinde or `hands-on-hips': a design that instantly calls to mind the ancient clay statuettes of the fleshy, hands-on-hips Anatolian mother goddess.
Succeeding the inhabitants of Catalhoyuk came wave after wave of different peoples who made Anatolia their home. The austere-looking Hittites left formidable stone lions guarding their great fortresses, and their possible Central Asian origin is seized on by republican ideologues seeking to prove that the Turks have an ancient claim to Anatolia. Assyrian traders bequeathed storehouses full of order-books written in their wedge-shaped cuneiform script. The mystery of Troy is still being carefully sifted by a powerful international team of archaeologists on a small hill overlooking the entrance to the Dardanelles. Phrygian and Lydian rock tombs litter the tourist trail along the Mediterranean, while the imposing temples and theatres of Ephesus still radiate the strength of the Roman empire. Alexander the Great, Xenophon, Darius and Xerxes all passed through with their armies, as did Roman legions sent against the Parthians. As early as the first century AD, the Greek geographer Strabo admitted being perplexed by `the confusion which has existed among the nations of this district'.
Successive civilizations left behind pockets of their cultures everywhere. The coastal trading colonies and cities became predominantly Greek-speaking. The Armenians coalesced as a distinct national group in eastern Anatolia. Xenophon mentioned the Kurduchoi, probably Kurds, in the south-eastern mountains. All these peoples were to be gathered under the rule of Byzantium by the Roman emperor Constantine, who in AD 330 chose this settlement at the crossroads of Europe and Asia as his capital, and renamed it after himself Constantinople. At first it was the capital of the whole Roman empire, but in AD 395 the empire split and thereafter the Latin west went its own way. For over a millennium the Byzantines ruled their own Greek-dominated empire, and Constantinople, the new Rome, was for most of that time the largest city in Europe and the envy of the Western world.
Steadily, however, Byzantium's borders came under attack. An Arab expeditionary force briefly threatened Constantinople as early as the seventh century, although they left little trace other than the alleged grave of one of the companions of the prophet Muhammad who fell there. He is known in Turkish as Eyup, and his tile-clad tomb is now the holiest shrine in the city. The Byzantines had to fight off the Sassanids of Iran, lost much of Anatolia to the Seljuks and finally lost Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, who slowly throttled their empire until it finally fell in 1453. Turkish textbooks today admire the mosaics, laws and even armies of the Byzantine empire, but treat it disdainfully as a somewhat degenerate state. Their country's large and continuing cultural debt to the Byzantines is seldom publicly acknowledged.
Few Turks realize that the names of nearly all their major cities are versions of Hellenistic originals. Ankara was Angora, Izmir was Smyrna, Sivas was Sebasteia, Kayseri was Caesarea and Konya was Iconium. The Turkish name for Constantinople, Istanbul, is simply a corruption of the Greek for `up to town', eis ton polis. A scrub-down in the hammam may seem the ultimate Turkish experience, but the institution is in fact the linear descendant of the Greco-Roman bath-house. And it was Armenian architects who designed many of the grand Ottoman palaces and even mosques that have become poster portraits for attracting tourists to modern Turkish Istanbul. The projecting upper storeys of houses now thought of as typically Turkish were so common in Byzantine times that the emperors -- like today's municipalities -- had to make special laws to keep buildings apart.
The thousands of domed mosques springing up like mushrooms all over the Turkish urban landscape still echo the dome of the Emperor Justinian's great sixth-century Christian basilica, Haghia Sophia in Istanbul. Even when today's Islamist radicals stage noisy demonstrations attempting to force the republican authorities to restore Haghia Sophia to its Ottoman position as the country's principal mosque -- Ataturk turned it into a museum as part of his secularization campaign in 1934 -- they still shout for Ayasofya.
This tangled history lives on in mosques like Zeyrek, the echoing former monastery church of Christ Pantocrator. The great shipwreck of a building is now set amid a crumbling quarter of grubby concrete apartment buildings and collapsing wooden houses. One house has even been broken open to reveal in its basement ancient steps leading down to an old, disused Byzantine water fountain. Under the towering arches of the nave itself, Muslims still pray before marble-clad Byzantine apses and a minbar built of old pieces of Byzantine masonry. Its rough-and-ready appearance makes it seem as if the conquest of Byzantium had only just happened, and as if the ghosts of the monks cannot be far away.
But if Anatolia's non-Muslim inhabitants of the past are now little more than spirits and memories, Ataturk and his republicans were making a mistake if they thought that all Muslims would accept membership of a Turkish ethno-religious monolith. Today different Muslim groups are increasingly determined to have their individual identifies recognized. Kurds now constitute a fifth of the population. Several million people count themselves as Alevis, a heterodox sect from the Anatolian heartlands that mixes ancient Turkish shamanist customs with Shia Islam. Speakers of Arabic, Azeri and Laz are plentiful, and more than ever ready to speak up about their origins.
Trips to the provinces always turn up a surprise. High in the rain forest of the Black Sea coast can be seen the lovely faces of the girls of the Hemsin valley. They chatter away in a dialect that can only descend from Armenian, although their people found it advantageous to become staunch Muslims to escape the ethnic massacres of the First World War. A similar surprise was the discovery in the 1980s that one cabinet minister spoke fluent Greek. His family came from a mountain village that had once been part of the independent Greek kingdom of Trebizond but whose descendants had also converted to Islam.
All in all, though Turkey sees itself as an ethno-cultural unit, it turns out to be an extraordinary repository of the many peoples who have lived, taken refuge or simply passed through here. One recent study by the University of Tubingen has counted the relics of fifty identifiable ethnic and religious sub-groups still present in the country. For much of the republican era, the question of ethnic origin seemed an anachronistic irrelevance to the modernizers. But as the republic's ideological grip has slackened, nationalisms of all kinds have emerged. Some Kurds go so far as to demand a separate state. And descendants of Chechen and Abkhaz refugees from the Russian take-over of the Caucasus a century ago have shown themselves ready to hijack ships and planes to draw attention to their national cause. More than 200 young men even returned to the Caucasus to pick up the fight where their great-grandfathers left off.
Like the Chechens, Abkhaz, Bosnians or Albanians, many of these groups are descended from Muslim refugees who converged on Anatolia as the Ottoman empire contracted. Others came from further afield. For decades, Isa Yusuf Alptekin, a tall and dignified leader of the ethnic Turkic Uygurs of Western China, who had represented his countrymen at the Chinese parliament in Beijing before the Second World War, held court in an anonymous block of flats overlooking the railway line once used by the Orient Express. And for years the flame of the Golden Horde was kept alive in a dingy apartment on the Asian side of Istanbul. Here, amid grainy photographs of stern-faced Tartars and stacks of ageing magazines publicizing their forgotten cause, sat the last living representative of the last independent parliament of the Khanate of Crimea.
All are proud of their separate origins. But none of them can quite compete with the court still maintained by the best-known living descendant of the greatest Turkish dynasty, the house of Osman.
Note on Turkish Spelling xviii
1 Tangled Roots 7
2 Ottoman Glory and Decline 21
3 Turkey for the Turks 36
4 Atatürk, Immortal Leader 50
5 Walking the Tightrope 69
6 A New Beginning 82
7 The Army Shows Its Hand 92
8 The Cyprus Disaster 106
9 Wilderness Years 123
10 The Generals Take Charge 138
11 The Özal Revolution 155
12 A Bridge Too Far 177
13 Özal Stumbles 195
14 A Place at the Feast 214
15 The Kurdish Reality 241
16 The Wolf and the Bear 276
17 The Noxious Nineties 298
18 Erdogan Catches the Train 322
Posted October 18, 2014