a bright future

Istanbul Travel Blog

 › entry 13 of 14 › view all entries
When the pope was here, he made headlines and endeared himself to Turks by quoting his predecessor,  John XXIII, saying "I love the Turks."  Apart from reservations about making broad statements of that nature (although I guess that's what much of this blog has been), I can't really disagree.  This is a wonderful country, with friendly, open people and I firmly believe it has a very bright future.  I'm optimistic about Turkey's prospects for a variety of reasons, but maybe the biggest is that there has been a recent increase in emphasis on quality higher education (and other 'luxury goods', like museums and cultural centers) within the country, spurred by the tremendous wealth creation of the past 5-10 years, and the new generation of bright, well-educated young Turks may well be better equipped to lead the country forward than any of their forerunners.  A strong sense of national pride and increasing opportunities within the country means that many of them are staying in Turkey or returning after studying elsewhere, rather than seeking their fortune abroad. 

Granted, the country is far from perfect; low-level corruption (i.e. bribery of police officers and government officials) is still more prevalent than it should be, some human rights are not given enough of a priority, and rural areas have a lot of catching up to do to reach the level of wealth within Istanbul and a few other major cities.  The mandatory 6-12 month military service for all male citizens is a not-insignificant drain on productivity within the economy.  But every developing country faces similar problems, and Turkey seems more properly equipped and incentivized to handle them than most.  The days of extremely high inflation and the heavy-handed influence of the military over elected governments seem to be over, which has and should continue to pave the way for increased foreign investment and the development of more advanced capital markets, which in turn will allow for additional growth.

And so when comparing Turkey to most of its middle eastern neighbors, it seems to me that Turkey should be viewed as a shining example of progress in this area of the world.  There are many differences between Turkey and the Arab countries (and no real love lost between Turks and Arabs), but the fact remains that Turkey is both a country with a heavily muslim population, and a reasonably well-functioning democracy -- certainly in comparison with other islamic countries.  Of course the historical legacy of the Ottoman empire and the secularist/laicist tradition stemming from Ataturk mean that the 'Turkish model' isn't an easy one to emulate, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be held up as an example to learn from, and that western governments shouldn't be doing all they can to strengthen Turkey's democracy and free-market economy, and to encourage other governments to take positive lessons from Turkey's development.  The EU in particular has the most power to promote or undermine the completion Turkey's transformation into a first-world country.  If the EU continues to balk at allowing Turkey to join, a disgruntled Turkey (there is already a rapidly growing sentiment here that Turkey will never be allowed to join the 'Christian' club, and corresponding bitterness toward the pwers that be within the EU) will have far less of an incentive to continue to carry out difficult governmental and economic reforms.  Full EU membership, however, will help to cement the country's pro-western, secular, capitalist nature.  This outcome is certainly in the interest of regional stability and economic growth, and so is therefore in the interest of all western democracies as well.  So the US should be doing everything in it's power to pressure the EU to accept Turkey; if the Europeans refuse, the US should still be strengthening ties with the country to shore up its democratic institutions and continued economic growth.

This country is in decent shape, and bar some tremendous shocks I can't really see it sliding too far backward; however, it would be a shame for Turkey not to fulfill its massive potential, and if that turns out to be the case, the West would share a large portion of the blame.
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photo by: Memo