Sunday, June 29, 2014

To know more: A modern history of Turkey

"Turkey. A Modern History" is according to many one of the best books about the history of this country. Its author, Erik J. Zürcher is professor of the Turkish studies at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. As the title shows, the author focuses on the contemporary history, which by convention, dates form the Napolenic campagn in Egypt (1798-1801). He leads us, on more than 400 pages, through successive reforms - first in the Ottomona Empire and then independent republic, reforms which sought to transform Turkey into a modern state, which struggles to catch up with the development of its European neighbors.

There were several reasons that made me to reach for this book. Firstly, Turkey and its people impressed me much during my trip to this country a few years ago. Secondly, I learn Turkish, and although you don't need to make a doctorate from history, I always try to deepen my knowledge about the country whose language I learn. Thirdly, I recendly finished a course on the emergence of the modern Middle East, which further has motivated me to reach for the books one the history of its countries.

But let's go back to the book. Zürcher with a reverence of a scholar leads us through over 200 hundred years of the history of the lands which constitute at present the Turkish state. He not only explains rules prevailing in those lands under the Ottoman rules, but he also explains the factors that resulted in the need for changes - the need recognized at first only by the army. We learn about the details of the consecutive reforms and edicts that not always brought the expected results, mostly because the rulers seldomly succeeded in implementing them - because of the resistance of the landowners, religious establishmentu, and in the end part of the military.

The process of the reforms in the Turkish state was very complex and complicated, and above all, long-lasting. Nevertheless, inspite of the objections and attempts to stop the upcoming changes, they have been at last successfully introduced. They gained momentum after the World War I, when the previous system has been nearly completely remodeled, both politically, economically and socially.

It resulted in the emergence of the secular republic, which has for many years struggled to keep up with the development of its European neighbors. It succeeds in many areas. Turkey is today a democratic country (athough many view a scope of the democracy insufficient), which on the one hand learns a lot from the achievements of the so called Western culture, and on the other - don't cut off its Turkish and Islamic roots.

Many scholars say that Turkey may be a model for other countries that in the last two centuries are torn by the seemingly opposite trends: how to reconcile modernity with tradition? what place should there be for a religion in a modern state? is returning to the roots of Islam a cure for the problems of the Middle East? There is no definite answer to these questions. Neverthelss, the Middle Eastern states are still looking for the these answers. How many of them will come to the conclusion that the Turkish model will work also for them?

Turkey. A Modern History

Author: Erik J. Zürcher
Publisher: I. B. Tauris, 2004
Pages: 424

This text is available also in Polish

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