A unexpected question arose at the end of the Cold War - What is Europe? Centuries of warfare left the western fringes of the Eurasian continent exhausted. The survivors banded together in a loose co-operative - the European Union. The "Soviet Bloc", once the most powerful conglomerate on the planet, crumbled into fragments. Over the centuries, both these geopolitical elements had aspired to control the eastern Mediterranean. The offspring of those ambitions became the "Middle" or "Near" East nations. They are a remnant of imperial disruption of an extensive domain. For the Middle East had once comprised a mighty empire in its own right - the Ottoman. The Ottoman Empire was dismembered by the Western European Powers at the end of World War II. Oil finds aside, Turkey, the largest segment of that imperium, is the most important nation in the region. A Muslim nation, it retains a large contingent of Jews - and the leading figure in Orthodox Christianity resides in Istanbul. Turkey, a mixture of political, social and religious forces, wants in to Europe.
Morris spent eight years as a BBC correspondent in Turkey - and he never stopped learning. If this book is any indication, the only time he spent sitting down was in trains, buses or aircraft. He recounts how many Turks still mourn the breakup of the Ottoman hegemony, yet political and economic leaders want to shed the old idea of "The Sick Man of Europe" - an early indication of Turkey's strained ties with the West. The Ottoman structure lacked firmness, resulting in numerous ethnic groups forming strong identities. Among these, the Kurds are among the most noteable. Laying claim to a vast stretch of territory, the Kurds have struggled long for sovereignty. In response, the Turkish government and society has enforced a strict containment policy. Much of what comprises Turkish domestic policy reflects the dealings with the Kurds. Kurdish language use has been discouraged; an identity within the Turkish community has been rejected and concesssions to religious differences rejected. Yet restraints are loosening and Morris vividly imparts his hope for further change. It's as if he's shamelessly barracking for Tureky's EU membership. Reading his account, it's not hard to sympathise with both him and Turkey.
An enquiring journalist, Morris travelled Turkey extensively. There were tours of new businesses, confrontations at military checkpoints, an encounter with an earthquake and political activities. His interest in the people is ardent and he was keen to learn as much as possible. He views the EU membership as widely, if not universally, held. His scope of view is wide and he must have a fine sense of dealing with individuals within their own frame of reference. Through it all, however, there is a clear clash of Turks wishing to remain Turks even when the EU membership comes through. The process is slow and deliberate, with the European nations demanding high standards. Turkey wants to join, exhibiting enough ambition to modify its society to bring that about. Drastic social disruption, however, is not something the Turks themselves will tolerate. The national government is treading a precarious path in trying to bring about reform. If there is to be change, it will be in the form of a "quiet revolution".
Turkey, notes Morris, is in an anomalous position. Becoming part of the European Union will, in many ways, detach it from its Muslim neighbours. "Muslim" doesn't equate with "Arab" as many Westerners believe. Turkey is looked on askance by many Middle Eastern nations. On the other hand, with other Muslim nations on its borders and the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers rising in its mountains, there are other geopolitical forces it must deal with successfully. Water, an increasingly precious commodity in the region, will keep Turkey in close dialogue with regional nations lacking it. It's not a two-front war, but it is a tricky diplomatic arrangement. Morris feels Turkey is making sufficient progress in many endeavours that it will likely succeed in the EU membership application. Even if that membership is at a different level, it will intensify the already strong economic presence Turkey enjoys in Europe. The mutual benefits, he argues, will provide strong, positive ties. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]