The Book of the Week is “Crescent & Star – Turkey Between Two Worlds” by Stephen Kinzer, published in 2001. This repetitive volume recounts the recent history of Turkey. Of course the country has changed significantly since the publishing of this writing, which was prior to 9/11.
The individual was considered less important than the collective– family, village or clan, not the nation. The media were censored on topics such as the Kurds, Islam, the Armenian genocide of 1915, relations with Greece and Cyprus, etc., etc. Three major controversies in Turkish society included: the tribal conflict between Turks and Kurds, the religious conflict between Sunni Muslims and Alevis, and the hotly debated question of whether religion should be practiced in public life (such as female students’ wearing of veils at university). “The Turks are still gripped by two ancient Middle Eastern taboos. One is the taboo against change, which they equate with admitting failure. The other is the taboo against dialogue, compromise and negotiation.”
In the mid 1980’s, the Kurds formed an anti-government military organization called the PKK to try to subvert the government through violence. Excessive blood was shed with the government’s response against these separatists.
The August 1999 earthquake was a particularly trying time for the nation. There was plenty of unnecessary death and destruction. The disaster was a cluster screw-up. In years prior, unschooled, capital-poor Turks started unscrupulous home-building businesses that constructed flimsy apartment buildings. After the quake, arrogant and indifferent top officials of the government relief agency, Kizilay, who had been playing fast and loose with the organization’s checkbook, responded slowly to aiding the victims. Nevertheless, tens of countries around the world, including Greece, aided Turkey in its time of need. The disaster served as an excuse, a tipping point for the nation’s resuming diplomatic relations with Greece. Besides, the events surrounding the earthquake served as an additional impetus for younger Turks to agitate for political and cultural change.
Read the book to learn about additional factors that were affecting the people’s push for change, such as worship of Kemal Ataturk, the 1996 Susurluk scandal and the military’s role in governing the country.