This one answers a very specific question. Turkey has been acting in ways that the US and the EU disapprove of for at least four years now. Elements of the problem go much farther back, but up until the Gezi park protests in 2013, and the accompanying crackdown, the West was pretty much on board. That hasn’t been the case for quite a while now. But it’s only recently, in the past few months that real cracks between Turkey and Western countries have become visible. Why did it take so long?
I’M AN IDIOT EDIT: No Istanbul is not the Capital of Modern Turkey. Sorry. It’s Ankara.
I’m a little sick of hearing about how powerful Russia is. It’s become an obsession in the US. Russia has become the new boogieman, despite having very little in the way of real 21st century global power or accomplishments. Many of my friends are holding desperately to the idea that Putin gave us Donald Trump, when it was clearly the Democrat’s choice of Hillary Clinton as a nominee that did that. Russia’s “victory” in Syria is heralded everywhere, despite the fact that they’ve barely managed to keep one of their only allies together, in the face of a not particularly committed effort on the part of the United States to destroy the country. I’ve made videos about Russian weakness before, but I think there’s a need for more. That’s part of what I accomplish with today’s video.
Today I deal with the fantastical idea that Turkey and Erdogan might find enough common ground to threaten the west. This theory only requires avoiding about 500 years of history between the two countries. It’s just as dumb as imagining that Russia and China might be able to find real common ground. These countries are too threatened by each other to band together. I find analysis that claims otherwise infuriating.
There may be a fundamental mismatch between world-views here. Folks at major US news outlets seem to think that any diversion at all from the Washington, DC party line is a Cold War level threat. This strikes me as ridiculous. Turkey has committed to buying a couple billion dollars worth of air defense systems from Russia. This is pretty clearly intended to piss off Turkey’s NATO allies. But it’s not the end of the Alliance, and it’s not the end of the world. Turkey and Russia signed an agreement for a Nuclear plant in 2010 and they still haven’t broken ground yet, seven years later. These new systems are easier to deploy, but there is no guaranteeing that they will be deployed. And if they are, it’s hard to see how it could conceivably threaten US or European security. A real alliance would require Turkey to want a stronger Russia. They will never want that.
Last month I uploaded a video entitled “Why Turkey Will Never Be Saudi Arabia“. Multiple viewers commented in a similar way. “OK, but what about Iran?” The idea that Turkey could go down a similar path and experience an Islamic revolution like Iran was very appealing. Many saw Ataturk, Turkey’s modernizing founder, as somehow similar to the modernizing Shah of Iran, who was deposed in 1979. This doesn’t make any sense at all. With this video I attempt to fully explain why that is.
One of the things I noticed with this video is the way that I seemed to interchange “Westernization” and “Modernization”. This isn’t right. These two things are not the same. The experience of multiple Asian countries, and to some extent Turkey, shows that there are real differences. I clearly haven’t sorted this out in my own head, which is why I confuse the two in this video. I need to give this a lot more thought. I hope it doesn’t interfere with your viewing pleasure.
Nobody has anything nice to say about Turkey anymore. That’s a shame. If there’s a news story it’s about Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the ways he’s taking new powers, purging and repressing. That’s all very important stuff, but I think it’s missing the forest for one particularly tall tree. I lived in Turkey for five years, and I’ve been thinking about the country for a while. There are some basics that the doomsayers are avoiding. This video presents what sort of functions as my Grand Unified Theory of Turkey Optimism. Islam is important, Erdogan is important, and the economy is important. But what is most important is Urbanization.
This theory can actually be applied to the politics of a lot of countries, not least the United States of America. The tension between rural and urban populations is a universal, whether we’re talking about China’s Hukou issues, or the 2016 US election. Thailand is another country that pops to mind. We’re all, as a planet, still going through a pretty insane process of transition. Our parents or great-grandparents were mostly farmers, and now we’re mostly urban dwellers. That’s going to keep having an impact for centuries to come. I hope this video helps you think through these issues a bit more.
“Turkey is Turning into Saudi Arabia” is a bit of a straw man, but it’s something I have actually heard. Looking into why this statement is incredibly silly is helpful though, and that’s exactly what today’s video does. One of the central problems of Saudi Arabia is that there was very little there before there was Oil. When Ibn Saud took Mecca and Medina in the 1920s he reportedly did it with an army of 5,000. As recently as 1960 there were still only 4 million Saudi Arabians. There are around 30 million today, and their entire lives, and parents lives, have been lived in the context of this medieval state. The Universities are all Wahhabi, because they’ve always been Wahhabi. There weren’t any universities (give or take one or two) 50 years ago.
Turkey only had around 19 million people in the 1920s. But there was already a range of universities, and a very complex and almost first world history of institutions and learning from the Ottoman Empire. The Turks have developed for the past 90 years in the context of secularism, and at least surface competition in a national- European context. That simply can’t be eradicated. The form of Islam that Erdogan and the AK party is pushing isn’t Saudi. It can’t be. That particular pathology is only possible with endless oil resources, and a pre-modern blank slate.
The secular elites are being culled from Turkey’s institutions. But Turkey can’t close itself off completely. The Secular elites that control most business in the country are probably showing up at the mosque more often, but they’re still there, and they still believe in what they, their parents and grandparents have always believed. The recent constitutional referendum actually showed some green shoots. Erdogan lost all the major urban centers of power, including Ankara and Istanbul. In the last election he won both those districts handily. Don’t get me wrong. Turkey is in for a rough decade or two. But the bones of that house are good. At the end of the day Erdogan needs international engagement and business. And a lot of the people who he needs for that will never fit into even his version of Islam. Also, the longer the AK party(Erdogan) is on top, the more western and cosmopolitan they become. I’ve partied a fair amount with high profile AK party members and their kids. Saudi Arabia isn’t going to happen in Turkey.