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Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds…

Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds

by Stephen Kinzer

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In choosing this work, I hoped for an introductory history to modern Turkey. While Kinzer did a good job of explaining various cultural points, the book carries an unapologetic bias for Western ideals and professes a clear wish-list agenda for Turkey's future. While I appreciate that the author made no secret of his political leanings, I cannot help but be skeptical of the history he chose to portray. I am not saying his politics are right/wrong, but I wanted to learn about Turkish society and history from a more impartial source. And as to his stance on the direction Turkey needs to take to become a "mature democracy," he offered no concrete suggestions, rather cookie cutter statements that do not fully appreciate the complexities of implementation. While he did not shy away from pointing out the obstacles to Turkey's Westernization, his solutions were sweeping statements that did not specifically address how the challenges could be overcome. However, this book did highlight many aspects of modern Turkey, from social customs to political bureaucracy. Its scope is actually rather impressive, for the size of the work. With that in mind, perhaps some of the generalizations can be forgiven. ( )
  Alidawn | Jan 14, 2016 |
Read this in preparation for going to Turkey in August. Kinzer is a former NY Times correspondent who has written several books. Seems like he is a good journalist who learned the language and culture very well and was granted access to important figures.

One passage from his inter-chapter interludes got me particularly excited, Kinzer talks about the countless historically and archeologically significant sites that no one even knows about:

"Even the discovered sites are so remote and widely scattered that many are rarely visited. In Turkey I have followed routes taken by Julius Ceasar and Saint Peter, walked among weird monoliths carved by Hittite sculptors three thousand years ago, crawled into caves used as churches by early Christians and climbed rocky hills up to crusaders' castles. Once I took a drive through eastern Turkey that in the space of just four days took me to unforgettable ruins from half a dozen great cultures."

The book is a pretty quick read and focuses on some of the history and current events (up to last year) that have shaped Turkey profoundly. I learned a lot and highly recommend it. He does a good job of showing the conflicts and contradictions of the nation as well as its hopes.

One thing I gleaned from reading it is that Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's Prime Minister, reminds me a lot of Barack Obama. Erdogan was elected under deep suspicion from the old guard and has since tried to prove himself to be a more moderate-leaning democrat while trying to move Turkey forward toward the EU. In fact, I just found a recent Turkish news article off Kinzer's website that quotes Kinzer as saying "Turkey's new identity fits with Obama's view of the world."
( )
  justindtapp | Jun 3, 2015 |
Kinzer is a great writer and a good storyteller. He alternates cultural mini-chapters with more analytical writing in Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds. As a Turk who was heavily brainwashed with the "official history of the country during and post-Ataturk", there is much I can and should read, and this book is a good starting point. I can write a whole other book as a response to Kinzer's very insightful study, but for the most part I agree with the bulk of his criticisms and analyses. Kinzer may love Turkey, but he does not hold back in his criticism of blind Kemalism, the iron fist of the military over civilian rule, and the current national pains, such as the ethnic problems the government has with Kurds, with Armenians, with Greece, etc. For years I have resisted reading about recent Turkish history, because I find it hard to believe anyone that I read. There is certainly a good amount of anti-Turkish propaganda in the Western world (a la Midnight Express) and inside Turkey the restrictions on free speech make it hard to get an unbiased view. So Kinzer, as a foreigner who loves Turkey, is a good place to start.

One thing that I want to point out is that even though Kinzer portrays Turgut Ozal as a revolutionary leader who was one of the few modern leaders of Turkey to see its full potential in the 21st century, Ozal's highly capitalist [and nepotist] shift inoculated a deep and powerful corruption in the government that Turkey, to this day, suffers from. Related to Turgut Ozal, and many other leaders of modern Turkey, the baffling question I have always had and to this day cannot really understand, is how so many Kurds can serve in the government and parliament as elected officials, so many Kurds can become very rich business man, entertainers, actors, singers, writers, and Turkey still struggles to find a healthy ground for communication about the Kurdish-Turkish issues? To explain away this discrepancy by just blaming the oppression of free speech seems inadequate.

Overall, Crescent and Star was a pleasure to read. At times, Kinzer becomes a bit repetitive, but his anecdotal references to conversations with Turks from different walks of life and with foreign officials about Turkey are priceless. His obsession, like most Americans and Westerners, of democracy is a bit optimistic, idealistic, and something that I do not completely agree with.

I will try to read Kinzer's more recent books about Turkey and the Middle East. I would like to hear what he has to say about the current political rule in Turkey, as it seems to be what he was wishing for in Crescent and Star, but I am not sure that now that it is happening, he would still wish for it. He got his pro-EU, pro-ethnic dialogue, non-Kemalist, pro-religion government that is trying very hard to turn Turkey into the next EU member. Some things are radically different. For example, now that the ban on the Kursdish language is lifted, radios and TVs broadcasting in Kurdish have sprouted all over, and artists are clamoring to record Kurdish songs and establish collaborations (Aynur Dogan's Kece Kurdan is a good album to start. And of course, Ibrahim Tatlises is not only the most famous Kurdish singer but one of the most famous Turkish singers of all time) On the other hand, Europe is busy passing laws banning head scarves and mosques with minarets, things that Turkey was criticized for doing. Once again, the double standards are apparent, as Turkey is always blamed to be violating human rights (I am not saying that it isn't!) while European countries restrict religious and cultural freedoms as they see fit (and let's not forget the non-secularist stuff, like "In God We Trust" on American bills.) The truth of the matter is the Islamic Fundamentalism that the aptly-criticized Turkish military was always paranoid about has shown its ugly head and this time threatening the Western world, and so *now* it is OK to try to crush Islamic extremism by restricting civil rights... What happened to open dialogue, the communication that Turkish government was always urged to engage in with what it considered extremists? I can imagine some Turkish generals nodding with a shrug to the West: We told you so! Perhaps Kinzer is right in that Turkey is at a unique position to bring together the troubled sides and end the chaos that is currently taking place in the world. But I find that hard to believe, as any issue about Islam is bound to polarize Turks. In the end, I think the ethnic problems can be overcome, but the issues over religion are going to get worse before they get better.
( )
  bluepigeon | Dec 27, 2013 |
I learned so much about this fascinating country thanks to this book. The author’s writing is clear and concise, and I was in no way overwhelmed by the amount of information he imparts on his readers. Once again, he turns a relatively dry subject into an interesting one.

Kinzer’s love of the country is evident throughout, but his love does not prevent him from portraying it for all its ills as a country in constant flux, coming into its own after decades of twists and turns. He’s quick to point out Turkey’s shortcomings, which makes for a very balanced book.

Read more on my blog: http://ardentreader.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/crescent-star/ ( )
  theardentreader | May 28, 2011 |
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The past has vanished, / Everything that was uttered belongs there. / Now is the time to speak of new things. -- Jelaluddin Rumi
To the people of Turkey
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Book description
As the author says in this autographed copy, "A book about a country that still isn't sure its in the Middle East!" Turkey has traditionally been viewed as a country that still is in between East and West, this book gives the reader insight into why that is. Tales of searching for the ruins of lost civilizations, watching camel fights, smoking water pipes to political trials and the nation's drive to join the European Union help the reader understand the modern nation of Turkey.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374528667, Paperback)

If Turkey lived up to its potential, it could rule the world - but will it? A passionate report from the front lines

For centuries few terrors were more vivid in the West than fear of "the Turk," and many people still think of Turkey as repressive, wild, and dangerous. Crescent and Star is Stephen Kinzer's compelling report on the truth about this nation of contradictions - poised between Europe and Asia, caught between the glories of its Ottoman past and its hopes for a democratic future, between the dominance of its army and the needs of its civilian citizens, between its secular expectations and its Muslim traditions.

Kinzer vividly describes Turkey's captivating delights as he smokes a water pipe, searches for the ruins of lost civilizations, watches a camel fight, and discovers its greatest poet. But he is also attuned to the political landscape, taking us from Istanbul's elegant cafes to wild mountain outposts on Turkey's eastern borders, while along the way he talks to dissidents and patriots, villagers and cabinet ministers. He reports on political trials and on his own arrest by Turkish soldiers when he was trying to uncover secrets about the army's campaigns against Kurdish guerillas. He explores the nation's hope to join the European Union, the human-rights abuses that have kept it out, and its difficult relations with Kurds, Armenians, and Greeks.

Will this vibrant country, he asks, succeed in becoming a great democratic state? He makes it clear why Turkey is poised to become "the most audacious nation of the twenty-first century."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:23 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

For centuries few terrors were more vivid in the West than fear of "the Turk", and many people still think of Turkey as repressive, wild, and dangerous. Crescent and Star is Stephen Kinzer's compelling report on the truth about this nation of contradictions - posed between Europe and Asia, caught between the glories of its Ottoman past and its hopes for a democratic future, between the dominance of its army and the needs of its civilian citizens, between its secular expectations and its Muslim traditions. Will this vibrant country succeed in becoming a great democratic state? This book makes it clear why Turkey is posed to become "the most audacious nation of the twenty-first century".… (more)

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