Turkey is, as Mr. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says, "in the middle of everything."
It truly is--geographically, religionally, and culturally--at the crossroads of the world, where every thing meets, at some time or another, every other thing. These days it seems that mediating position encompasses, more relevantly than ever, the political realm.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald's Oct 8 article on Prime Minister Erdogan, when the Turkish leader was in Cairo last month he challenged his Muslim neighbors: "''The Turkish state is in its core, a state of freedoms and secularism. The world is changing to a system where the will of the people will rule - why should the Europeans and the Americans be the only ones to live with dignity? Aren't Egyptians and Somalians also entitled to a life of dignity?''
This unique approach to governance is not new in today's Muslim world. It arises predictably from the heart of modern Turkey, which had been established as a purposefully secular government when the "Young Turks" took over in 1908. Their revolution overturned the authority of Abdulhamid II; the Sultan's removal from power precipitated a final demise of the withering Ottoman empire. From that political takeover, and then through the trauma of World War I which followed a few years later, restive nationalists emerged in a surge of Turkish military confidence. But they were called immediately to another struggle--to extricate their fledgling state from postwar Allied ethnic partitioning. The Young Turks managed to focus their movement in a strong way that united a diversity of ethnic groups. By the time the Republic was established in 1924, one unmistakably popular soldier arose as the definitive leader of the Turkish people: Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
His story, which had begun in 1880 at Salonica, across the Aegean on the Macedonian coast, is a fascinating one. I have been reading about it in M.Sukru Hanioglu's biographical book, Ataturk.
Kemal Ataturk, more than any other person, steered the young-old nation's identity, during the 1920s and '30s, toward democracy and secular objectivity; it is a favorable precedent that survives to this day. Perhaps in our time the Turks will, from this perspective, guide the Muslim world to a position of moderate exchange with the democratic world, instead of taking a jihadist anti-Israel turn.
So very rich is the history of their homeland, which is known also by the name of its central plateau, Anatolia. To begin with, Noah's Ark settled on Turkish earth as the flood waters receded several millenia ago. Its pitch-covered frame is said to be nestled somewhere in the crags of antiquity up on Mt. Ararat.
More recently I am informed, through enquiries into my Christian heritage, that Turkey ("Asia" of the New Testament writers) was the birthplace of apostle Paul (of Tarsus, on the east Mediterranean coast). It's no wonder that the dyed-in-the-wool Phariseic Jew had such a burden to proclaim the good news of Jesus' resurrection among the Gentiles. He had grown up among them. In Antioch (now Antakya), across the Iskenderun Corfezi bay from Tarsus, "Christians" were first called by that name.
Over to the west, in the Lydia region which slopes down to the Aegean, the sites of nascent Christian identity are found. This is the area where believers in Jesus took their earliest solo flights from the Judaic runway back in Jerusalem. The "seven churches" to whom Jesus addresses his salutory letters in Revelation are here in Turkey. They are the churches that Paul and others had established in Ephesus, Smyrna (Izmir), Pergamum (Bergama), Thyatira (now Akhisar), Sardis, Philadelphia (now Alasehir), and Laodicea (now Denizli).
Since that churchly inception nineteen hundred years ago, the dizzying experience of peoples of Anatolia has included administration by four military empires: Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman. This last empire originated in Turkey itself, in the central plateau, Anatolia. The Ottoman empire began in the thirteenth century C.E. and spanned six centuries of time until its end after World War I. The Armistice of Mudros 1918 Oct 30 "marked the end not only of the Ottoman participation in the Great War, but effectively also (the end) of one of the longest-lasting empires in history."(M. Sukru Hanioglu, p.86)
Here are a few more notable facts about Turkey:
~ Troy, the ancient fortress city besieged by the Greeks and conquered under the shadow of the infamously deceptive "Trojan horse," (See Homer's Iliad) is on the northwestern Aegean coast.
~ When Emperor Constantine left Rome in 330 C.E., he relocated the empire in what is now Turkey, on the Bosporus strait waterway between Black Sea and Mediteranean; The ancient city there--Byzantium--he renamed Constantinople, after himself. From 395-1453, it was the seat of the Byzantine empire, and was ecclesiastical center of the Orthodox Christian Church.
~ The Ottoman Turks took Constantinople in 1453, and it became known as Istanbul, which was the seat of the Ottoman empire until after WWI, when the capital of the new Republic of Turkey was moved to Ankara, in the Anatolian heartland.
~ The six-century-long Ottoman empire encompassed the Arab world and beyond, with its zenith during the 16th-century under Suleiman II, after assuming the Moslem caliphate in 1517. The northward thrust of the empire extended as far as Austria, but was defeated by the rising Hapsburg dynasty near Vienna in 1683. This European repulsion is considered by many to have been the deliverance of European Christendom from Moslem dominance, and thus a turning point in history.
I'm glad the Austro-Hungarians were able to turn the Moslems around before they got to Vienna, so that Europe, and my ancestors, retained a Christian heritage. Over on the other end of the Continent, my Francish namesake Roland had been instrumental in turning the Mohammedans back from Spain about six hundred years earlier.
Here and now, in the 21st-century, I wish the Turkish people and their Prime Minister well. May God's blessings be upon them. And I hope they can convince the rest of the Muslim world not to force Israel, whom Mr. Erdogan calls "the West's spoiled child" from their ancient Jewish homeland.
CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress