The New Turkey could not have come at a better time in the wake of the French and Dutch rejections of the EU’s Constitutional Treaty – fuelled significantly by popular fears of further enlargement, particularly to Turkey – and the official start to Turkey’s accession negotiations on 3 October. The author, Chris Morris, was the BBC’s Turkey correspondent from 1997 to 2001 and one of its Europe correspondents in Brussels from 2001 to 2005. As such, he is better placed than most to comment on this delicate relationship, and he does so with eloquence and a flair for journalistic storytelling that is normally wanting in academic books.
The author takes the reader through a cultural, social, economic and political voyage of Turkey, constantly fusing objective writing with interesting anecdotes and interviews with Turks of all walks of life. Although the book does cover a bit of the country’s history, it is mainly about Turkey today and its myriad concerns – from Islam and secularism to the ‘issues’ of Kurds and Armenians – and the unifying theme throughout is Turkey’s age-old dream of becoming a Western country, now symbolized by its ambition to join the EU. Morris paints a picture of a highly divided, almost schizophrenic, country struggling with its identity and its place in the world. Yet he does not contribute any new argument of significant weight to the debate on Turkish accession, but that is perhaps one of the book’s strengths: it does not take sides, and it gives the reader the closest thing to first-hand experience of the entire country.
One of the principal strategic arguments for including Turkey in the EU is the hard power it would add to the common European Security and Defence Policy. As Morris reminds us, Turkey has the world’s largest F-16 fleet outside the US and the second largest army in NATO, with vast experience fighting ‘terrorists’ (the PKK) in near-inhospitable mountainous terrain. ‘Turkey could give EU defence plans real muscle’, he writes. Indeed – but, as Morris states, ‘there is a genuine sense of patriotism and national pride in Turkey which most countries in Western Europe have lost’, and ‘if there’s one thing your average Turk hates, it’s someone else telling him what to do all the time’. In a country so fiercely nationalistic and loyal to its traditions, one wonders whether the Turkish army would serve an EU flag or commander effectively. Again, the author is prudent in noting that ‘Turkey has to decide whether it wants to be so unambiguously European.’ A comment by a columnist quoted in the book reinforces the notion that Turks will want to do things their way regardless of what the EU norm is: ‘Do we want to treat the PKK like the IRA, and HADEP like Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland?…If that’s what anyone expects, they are living in a fantasy world.’ The book is full of such enlightening observations on Turkey’s modus operandi, all of which serve to deepen our understanding of this complex country.
The New Turkey (subtitled The quiet revolution on the edge of Europe) ably accomplishes what it sets out to do – namely, give the reader a comprehensive and almost personal understanding of today’s Turkey and its wonders as well as its shortcomings. With Turkish accession negotiations looming on the horizon, this book should be required reading for anyone who wishes to express their opinion on the matter. Whether or not Turkey ends up joining the EU is a moot question, but as Chris Morris reminds us, it is not just a question of the EU giving Turkey a green, red or yellow light; it is Turkey which is ultimately in charge of its own destiny: ‘the EU could change so much in the coming years, that it is no longer the club the Turks thought they wanted to join.’
Assistant Editor, RUSI Journal