One of the highlights of my summer was learning that my book ‘Turkey File’ based on this blog had been reviewed in an academic journal – The Journal of American Studies of Turkey (Spring 2015, Issue 41). I was delighted, flattered, and a little surprised. I thought my writings were far too opinionated to be taken seriously by anyone in academia. Well, the learned gentleman does make that point, in fact, in his final paragraph – but on the whole, it’s a positive review. And I just had to share it with you. By the way, that book, and its successor are both available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle format.
Turkey File. Alan F. Scott. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2012. p/bk 189pp. ISBN 978-1470082470. Price $9.95.
Alan Scott recently published the corpus of his blog, “Turkey File,” into a short book of the same name. The book represents a New Zealand expat’s attempt to demystify currents in Turkish society and politics for a Western audience. It’s especially apt at problematizing the notion of Turkey as an escalation of West-versus-East dilemmas. In unseating these generalizations, the author should be praised for incorporating his substantial historical familiarity to consider trends across the Turkish cultural-social- political spectrum.
The book is a chronological arrangement of twenty-nine short entries. The first probes the problem of ancient Greek artifacts removed from Anatolia and the last questions issues of gay rights and Syrian refugees. Although there seems to be little reasoning behind the arrangement of the topics, the unpredictability suits the inviting tone of the book — a thoughtful mélange which compels the reader to want to know more.
A number of these essays are particularly successful at making us reconsider our preconceptions of the modern Turkish republic. The chapter entitled “Short, and Sweet! – The Symbolism of Aşure” is a brusque and elegant argument against the clumsiness of “attempting to glibly define Turkey and its people …to locate them on some arbitrary continuum of civilization is risky” (66). Furthermore, his introductory overview of the Armenian genocide deserves mention, wherein he condemns overly simplified popular discourses of the event as an iteration of a Nazi-styled holocaust. His approach to the events that occurred in early 20th century Ottoman Anatolia takes issue with the lack of scrutiny on the role of the Russian empire in facilitating the removal of Armenians. However, he refrains from placing blame on any one single actor, calling for more subtle historical inquiries instead of furthering complacent comparisons to other international tragedies.
Scott provides similarly enlightening examinations of the problem of religion in his work. In “Religion and Turkey,” he frames his arguments in terms of the Alevi minority –complicating the notion that Turkey persists as a battleground between Islam and the secular. His chapter on “the Turkey-Israel Connection” also challenges popular conceptions of religion in Turkish society (47-55). Here, Scott historicizes the “cooling” off of relations between the two states into the present day, as well as considering the position of Jews in post-Ottoman Turkey.
Some of Scott’s essays present a somewhat less definite characterization of Turkish politics and society. For example, he presents the problem of “the Turkish Invasion”/ “the Peace Operation” of Cyprus purely in terms of history – and all in four pages (108-12). I would argue that the conversation could not be considered complete without a more thorough appreciation of the violence, attempts at unification, and the politicians’ involvement which led to the partition of the island. The contemporary politics of unification and relations with the European Union might also deserve some acknowledgement here.
Scott’s chapter on Turkey’s accession to the European Union feels similarly incomplete (169-74). This essay reads as a dismissal of Sarkozy and Merkel’s apparent disinterest in bringing Turkey into the fold. A fuller account of the Turkey-EU relationship might consider the many tangible impacts the negotiations have had on Turkish society – including further economic integrations with EU member states and human rights reforms.
Finally, Scott’s final essay, “Gay Rights and Syrian Refugees,” reads as an especially uncritical inquiry into the status of marginal communities in Turkish society. He contends that it is difficult to find instances where gay people are discriminated against in Turkey and that gays are oppressed in much more severe terms in other countries. Unfortunately the point of this essay isn’t very clear –is Scott arguing that gays should be content with their lot in the modern Turkish republic? (169)
Many of the shortfalls of Turkey File would be resolved with a more thorough positioning within the contemporary scholarly literature. Scott’s dependence on his own knowledge provides a unique voice on Turkish society. Unfortunately the result is a mixed bag: sometimes a fresh perspective on mired issues is offset by oversimplifications. The work is generally a positive overview and is highly recommended for anyone looking to move beyond popular discourses in understanding the complexity of the modern Turkish republic.
Paul Kramer University of Auckland