Turkey: The New Ottomans

The third episode of Alan Little’s series about Turkey took a more in depth look at Turkey’s past & present relationship with Europe. One of the themes that Little was drawing out was that even tho the collapse of the Ottoman Empire was a hundred or so years in the past it was still the precursor for the Bosnian War in the 1990s. The Ottoman Empire had had Islam as the established religion – Christians & Jews were second class citizens. Only Muslims could be part of the government & in territories near to the core of the empire the ruling class were imported from the core. But as the empire spread the elite came from conversion of the native peoples, and this was the case in Bosnia. After the collapse of empire a lot of the Muslim elites left or were otherwise eradicated from the lands they’d previously ruled, but in Bosnia more of them stayed. The rise of a more modern nation state after the break up of Yugoslavia led to less tolerance of the Muslims, and Little pointed out that there was a folk memory of oppression beneath the Ottomans which was then turned against their Muslim countrymen.

Where this ties into modern Turkish/European relations is that the links & common cultural ground between Turkey and the Balkans are still strong – Little interviewed one Turkish businessman, who is descended from Bosnian refugees, and he was saying that trade links with the Balkans made obvious sense because the regions are so intertwined. So even with Turkey’s current focus on strengthening relations with their Arab neighbours the Balkans & other parts of Europe are still some of their biggest trading partners. And it’s this feeling of being aligned with Europe that lead to the AKP pushing to join the EU.

Little stated that it was the desire to join the EU that lead the AKP’s government to push through reforms on issues like human rights. And then the failure to join, with imposition of further conditions that Turkey regard as unfair, not only pushed Turkey towards their Arab neighbours but also stalled the reforms as not being “necessary” any more.

It’s been an interesting three programmes, although I feel it ended up a little incoherent. This was mostly down to events overtaking the programmes – both the protests in Turkey & the second Egyptian revolution (or coup, depending on how you like to think of it). But even so, I wasn’t always sure I knew what the take home message for each segment was supposed to be.