Sunday, June 19, 2011


No country has the confluence of cultures and religions like Turkey does. Its a country at peace with its own religion but also its place in the world. It is fond of its culture. But it is very forward looking. It is secular but proud to be Muslim. It has wide roads and disciplied traffic but its cities have a lot of life!

I believe that geography defines history in the long term. Nowhere is it as visible as it is in Turkey. The strategies location it had in the ancient as well as medieval times kept it at the global centrestage - initially as the eastern roman empire (Byzantines in Constantinople) and later as Ottoman Empire (Turks with their capital in Istambul - new name for Constantinople). Over time as the centre of action shifted to Western Europe, Turkey became a backwater of sorts econo-politically speaking. However, post World War 1 and its battle for independence from Greeks (after a brief 3-4 year period of occupation) the country broke away from its Arab peers in its orientation. Under the visionary leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey embarked on a path of modernization. Like the proverbial two paths of Robert Frost, Turkey could have gone the way of the European countries or the Arab countries. After all, it is slotted right between the balkans and Greece on one side and Syria and Iran-Iraq on the other!!

As Ataturk thought fit, Turkey chose the path of secular growth. Its choice is most obviously visible in the way it chose to shun the Arabic script for Turkish launguage and instead went for the standard Eurpoean letters. In a similar vein, in other walks of life as well, Turkey chose to follow a primarily western model of growth and governance. The rest is History! Today Turkey is attempting to enter EU - however on its own terms.

The country is a great place to visit for its history as well as the beauty of its sites. Istambul, Konya, Ephesus, Troy all have their own character. Istambul is one fifth of Turkey in terms of population - and I guess it might be larger in terms of share of the economy. It was in its heydays the equivalent of today's New York in terms of its relevance to the world. While far lesser today in terms of significance the city does not strike as a yestercentury's city at all. It owns its culture with a lot of pride but has moved on to a modern existance in general. Hence for most parts the city is a nice friendly place to move about in once you are done with the historically significant tourist attractions.

The war memorial at Ankara is quite a magnificent piece of architecture as also representation of history. While it is relatively more recent, the respect it signifies for the heroes of the country makes one thoughtful. Capadokya is a world in itself. A very queer place in terms of its geography, it is beautiful as it is distintive. The cotton terraces at Pamukkale are a case in point! Come Ephesus and one starts to realize the melting pot nature of Turkey as a country. This western side of the country has deep Greek and Roman influence in its architecture and perceptibly in its day to day life today as well. Much of Troy is destroyed. However, as our tour guide told us, if one has good imagination a lot can be experienced in Troy as well. Especially the story of Trojan war!

All in all, 21st Century Turkey is a place which in a way stands testimony to the power of positive governance just as its previous century Avatars stood for the importance of Geography in History!

(I have not written much on the site seeing etc since the purpose of this piece was to summarize my thoughts about Turkey as a country as against Turkey as a vacation destination.)

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