‘The Rise of Turkey: The 21st Century’s First Muslim Power’

‘The Rise of Turkey: The 21st Century’s First Muslim Power’

William ARMSTRONG - william.armstrong@hdn.com.tr
‘The Rise of Turkey: The 21st Century’s First Muslim Power’ ‘The Rise of Turkey: The Twenty-First Century’s First Muslim Power’ by Soner Çağaptay (Potomac Books, $26, 192 pages)

In 2006, the BBC’s former Turkey correspondent Chris Morris published a slim book called “The New Turkey.” It focused on the major changes underway in the country and was intended as a nudge in the ribs of the European Union to accept its new negotiator into the fold. Almost eight years have passed, but the optimism of Soner Çağaptay’s “The Rise of Turkey” is very reminiscent of Morris’ book. The focus has moved beyond the tired EU question and on to Turkey’s regional and global ambitions, but the tone is almost the same. It’s almost as if the last eight years haven’t happened. Çağaptay - director of the Turkish Research Program of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy - writes that “with stars aligned in its favor … the ball is in the Turks’ court.” Such sunny optimism was widespread 10 years ago, but today it reads like a nostalgic throwback, out of synch with the gloomier spirit of the age.

Clocking in at just 150 pages plus footnotes, the book rattles along snappily and is full of quotable sound bites. Çağaptay lines up all the familiar figures: Turkey’s economic output has more than trebled (in nominal terms) since 2002; its trade volume has increased five-fold (in nominal terms), from $82 billion in 2000 to $389 billion in 2012; while the EU has grown at an average of 1.3 percent over the past decade, Turkey has grown at an average of 5.3 percent: “Gone is the Turkey of yesteryear, a poor country begging to get into the EU, and in its place is a new Turkey, confident and booming as the world around it suffers from economic meltdown.” At his most Pollyannaish, Çağaptay writes that “Turkey has not felt this confident since the heyday of Ottoman imperial majesty in the sixteenth century.” He is no apologist for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and is aware of its many failings, but he still seems to cling to all the hopes that Washington think tankers harbored during its early years in government.

In fact, those hopes were being held onto long after the AKP’s earliest years in charge. A defendable case could still perhaps even have been made about its record only 12 months ago, when the author was applying the finishing touches to this book. Sure - so the argument would have gone - Prime Minister Erdoğan was a little authoritarian, but maybe that was necessary to sort out Turkey's endemic problems. The peace process with the Kurds was in its early stages, the economic indicators still looked good, and the Gezi Park protests were months away, along with the corruption probe and the government’s panic-induced bulldozing of the rule of law (a power grab had already been going on, but it was greatly accelerated after the graft case). In a sense, Çağaptay is a victim of the country’s rapidly changing agenda. As he watched the spread of the Gezi protests last June and the outside view of the Turkish government finally nosedived, it must have dawned on him that his book needed substantial redrafting. But he’s optimistic in the redraft, too, taking the line that the protests were a “profound blessing” for Turkey that indicated the rise of “a middle-class society with democracy at its core.”

The essence of the book’s argument is that everything is still up for grabs: Turkey could yet become an open and inclusive society, a global player and a dynamic economy projecting soft power in its region, or it could fall back and become a basket case again. In these caliginous times, even this conclusion feels like wishful thinking. Still, although the outlook isn’t great at the moment, it would be foolish to make cast iron predictions about a place where there’s always a surprise waiting around the corner.

Notable recent release


‘Turkish Awakening: A Personal Discovery of Modern Turkey’ by Alev Scott

(Faber and Faber, £15, 336 pages)