Blog week 5

The first thing that struck me when reading the article “From Ashes to Ashes” was the authors early explanation for why the political climate in Turkey shifted in the early 2000’s. The author states that Turkish votes saw a vote for the AKP party as a means to express, “…dissatisfaction with Turkish politics and the Turkish economy….” I thought that this was not unlike the public sentiment in the 2016 US election cycle – or honestly, in any instance of when a political “tide” changes. As always, Americans are “unhappy” with American politics and the economy, so Americans are supporting parties/individuals who promise them answers and improvements (even if they are just (small) hand-wavy improvements). This is not a phenomena which is new to the study of history, and it is not specific to the US – Turkey also experiences the same cycle of political “seasons.”

In the case of Turkey’s secular government, changes in leading party made dramatic changes to their secular state. The beginnings of this change, as seen in the Welfare party that came to power in the 90’s, were not necessarily bad based on the motivations of the movement. Welfare actually focused on some pretty important secularist issues, like religious freedom and ethnic minority rights. However it feels like the modern day AKP has no interest in upholding these things, or Turkey’s secularist past. Erdogon, the modern day leader of the party, was once quoted saying, “You will be either Muslim or a Secularist. These two cannot exist together.” It almost seems as though Turkey is moving away from being a Turkic civilization and becoming part of the Islamic civilizations. This was the beginning of the Islamic-governing system that has taken hold in Turkey. And it is interesting to read about all of these analyses as to how the political party leaders succeeded in getting things their way, but at the end of the day, Turkey’s elections were fair. Although the multi-party system probably leads to non-majority rule, the winner is still elected democratically and therefore represents something that the people of Turkey want in politics. The sentiment doesn’t come from no where.

As “The Clash of Civilizations” states regarding religious differences, “They will not soon disappear. They are far more fundamental than differences among political ideologies and political regimes. Differences do not necessarily mean conflict, and conflict does not necessarily mean violence. Over the centuries, however, differences among civilizations have generated the most prolonged and the most violent conflicts.” The author analyzes the future of conflict between “civilizations.” One level of these conflicts will be based in asserting the political and religious ideologies of “us” onto “them.”


Bloggin’ – Week 3

This week’s readings addressed the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the corresponding power struggle between European actors in order to secure their interests in the region. I thought investigating the motives of these European nations, namely France and the British Empire was particularly interesting. The British Empire’s primary motivation came out of protecting the “crown jewel” of India, as noted early on by Kamrava in “From Territories to Independent States.” This in turn was the reason that the British sought to secure the Suez canal, as the quickest maritime route to India from continental Europe, and also their land presence in Iran. I wanted to understand more regarding precisely why the British were so obsessed with maintaining their colonization of India, so I found a very nice lecture from Gresham College in England, called “India: The Jewel in the Crown,” linked to below. What I understood as being the historical significance of India as a colony had to do entirely with trade. India allowed the British to participate in trade with China, as well as providing resources such as spices, textiles, porcelain, etc. And additionally the British could also capitalize on India’s superior man-power for military purposes. Also, considering the fact that the British had last their New World colony to the American Revolution, they probably needed to reaffirm to themselves that they were a successful empire by at least retaining India. This is all sort of silly, since I remember learning once that the Queen of England had never even set foot in India in the whole history of its colonization by the British. Oh, imperialism. France was just as guilty of this, however, and they attempt a similar self-affirmation in their claim to Morocco and Algeria and Tunisia.

So, it was not too surprising to find that the British Empire and France secretly drew up the Sykes-Picot agreement, without the consultation or consent of the Ottoman Empire, as to how they would split the remains of the collapsing empire. It was interesting to then read about the “local” nation builders who either rejected the influence of the Europeans, or strategically accepted their offerings of help.

*Terrible segue* The Balfour declaration also had an interesting history, and historical ramifications. As an American-Israeli Jew, I have a hard time looking at the issues regarding the creation/existence of the state of Israel objectively. That is pretty hard to do when your family and friends live in and are dependent on the security of the state! However, it is important to maintain objectivity in one’s historical perspective. Theodore Herzl is a celebrated historical figure for many Jews (those who believe that Israel should at all exist). I remember learning in school about how the initial proposition made was to establish a Jewish State in what is now Uganda or Argentina – a place where the Jewish people had little-to-no history or claim to. That is what makes the current, tiny plot of land that is Israel so contested. I know that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only one of a 40-50 year lifespan – but that’s looking through the nation-builder lens of things. What *is* a conflict of thousands of years is the fact that many different people have historically laid claim to that tiny piece of land, and the really tricky question is, what or who determines rightful, sovereign ownership of contested territory? I certainly disagree with the right-wing rhetoric that is prevalent in Israel today, which is influences by the media’s agenda, as it is everywhere…but I do want to believe that there is a way to please every party and respect everyone’s humanity. That was an explicit requirement of the Balfour declaration, after all.

It is fascinating how the nations carved up in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire all saw different long-term outcomes, and although it is pointless to wonder, I’d be curious to see what would have become of the region if not for the British, French, Italian and Russian interference.

“India: The Jewel in the Crown.”

Istanbul (not Constantinople): Can we achieve harmonious minority-representing government in the Middle East?

  1. If the Millet system existed today, could the Middle East have peace between the majority and minority groups?
  2. I will answer this question using case studies — looking at the lives of Kurds, Armenians, and Jews in the times of the Ottoman Empire in Anatolia as well as modern day Turkey. I have already found many scholarly articles looking into the Millet system and minority groups.
  3. Working Thesis: Allowing for semi-autonomy, as was seen in the Millet system, is the only foreseeable way for religious and ethnic minorities to receive representation and security within a larger governing system.
  4. We see the Middle East as a volatile region with constant ethnic/religious clashes — but this was not always the case. Times of peace are not unprecedented, and the story of the evolution of the lives/treatment of these minority groups is paramount to understanding this.

In the times of the Ottoman Empire, the Millet system allowed for semi-autonomous existences for ethnic minorities within the empire. Although the system was grandfathered in from the former Constantinople, and not without its share of flaws, it allowed for relatively fair and balanced representations and treatment of both ethnic and religious minorities. This has historically been upheld as a great success in promoting both inter- and intra-ethnic cooperation and peace. The purpose of this work is to compare the lives and political representation of several minority groups in modern day Turkey to that of the Ottoman Millet system. The primary goal of this comparison is to understand what the current treatment of religious and ethnic minorities, namely the Kurds, Armenians, and Jews, is in the region. By understanding the evolution of the Millet system to the modern day, this paper hopes to understand what key elements compose a harmonious government system.