Please click to hear Robert Siegel interview Hugh Pope on National Public Radio's All Things Considered, broadcast on May 23, 2005
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
Journalist Hugh Pope is Istanbul bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. That places him in the biggest, most cosmopolitan city of modern Turkey. It also places him in the western end of a stretch of countries and regions from Southern Europe to Western China where the people are Turkic. Hugh Pope writes about some of those countries and the people who are called `sons of the conquerors.' That's the title of his book. It is about the Turks, a family of peoples who Hugh Pope says can be described in different ways.
Mr. HUGH POPE (Author, "Sons of the Conquerors"): There's many ways to cut the cake. The Turkic world is basically a group of languages, which is about 140 million people. The main countries, though, that could be described as Turkic-majority states are six: There's Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic.
SIEGEL: All but Turkey formerly Soviet republics.
Mr. POPE: Yes. And Turkey's system of administration, of course, in the old days was a single-party state, so their cultural and their political background is not completely different from the other Turkish states.
SIEGEL: Apart from distant roots in the steppes of Asia, what do all of these countries have in common?
Mr. POPE: I think it's an informal thing rather than any political or ideological thing. It was the sum total of various things. Like, I felt there was an opportunistic genius in the way people behaved. I found the physical similarities, I found cultural similarities and, of course, linguistic similarities. And it's quite an amazing thing for someone like myself, who had learned Turkish in Istanbul, and I take a flight six hours east to Urumqi in China, get out of the plane and, with very little preparation, can speak to people in the street.
SIEGEL: You're speaking, in that case, to people who were members of the Uighur minority.
Mr. POPE: That's correct, yes, the Uighurs of Xinjiang, about eight million people in that territory, which is one-sixth of China's landmass. And there's still half of the population there, although, of course, a drop in the ocean of Han Chinese in the whole of China.
SIEGEL: Nothing sums up the problematic self-image of the Turks than the story of the word `Turk' itself, which is--which didn't mean the same thing a hundred years ago that it means today. And there are all kinds of connotations that we would consider, both negative and not descriptive, of the people who live in Turkey.
Mr. POPE: It's an extremely complicated word, many things bundled up into it. But one thing that we tend to forget about the word `Turk' is that a thousand years ago, it was already being used in Central Asia to define the joint characteristics of the various different Turkic groups and tribes. And it has its deep-rooted legitimacy in the eyes--in Turkish. Now, of course, over the centuries, it became diluted and especially in the Ottoman Empire, where the Ottoman court developed a different culture and--initially based on Persian culture and then later based on French culture in their government.
SIEGEL: And the Ottoman gentlemen would regard a Turk as some kind of rube who lived out in the countryside.
Mr. POPE: Precisely. And that's also the case in countries like Iran today, where any Persian's reaction to the idea of a Turk is Turkish donkey. You see it on the Web sites, you see it in literature and it's because the Turks, as Turks, are uneducated. That culture has never been developed. But now with six different independent states all trying to create new Turkic identities--I call them Turkic; they would call it Uzbek or Turkman, but it is Turkic. And even if you ask someone like President Nazarbayev, `What are you?' and his first answer's...
SIEGEL: He of Kazakhstan.
Mr. POPE: Yeah, the president of Kazakhstan. He says, `I am a Turk.' And you look at him slightly oddly because Turk now means a citizen of Turkey. He says, `No, not like that. We sent armies from here 500 years ago, a thousand years ago, to conquer Turkey. They married the local population, and now they're called Turkey. But the real Turks are still here in Central Asia, and it's us.'
SIEGEL: Well, the breakup of the Soviet Union has seemed to signal the start of another round of, well, what was once known as the `great game': Whose influence would prevail in this stretch of countries? Would it be Russian? Would it be Iranian? Would it be Saudi? Would it be American? Would it be Turkish? How are the Turks doing?
Mr. POPE: Politically, not a high profile at the moment. I think the big change from a century ago--the great game you refer to when the Russian Empire and the British Empire famously competed--is that the local states now mean something. In the old days, no one really paid much attention to the Kazakh Hans or the Uzbek tyrants that they met there. But now these countries have their own identities. They've managed to find a way of balancing themselves between the great players of Russia, China. So I think that that has changed, that the great game is a somewhat more complex game in which the Turkic countries and Turkic peoples have more space.
But having said that, Turkey enters--it enters, by its own desire, a step back from having a strong political big brother role. It wasn't wanted, and it caused problem. Turkey's completely eclipsed Iran and those countries because of simple matters of commerce. Turkish businessmen are the single biggest community of businessmen in any of these Turkic capitals.
SIEGEL: Turkey, until a couple of centuries ago, was a great imperial power; had controlled the Balkans, a good deal of Southeastern Europe and lots of other lands, the Middle East, and finally was reduced, after the First World War, to its current state, the rump state of Turkey. You observe at some point it is not unusual to talk with Turks about the decline, the sense of, `What's wrong here?' This is a preoccupation in Turkish discourse.
Mr. POPE: Yes. There's a sense of inferiority and a sense of--that the world has turned against them. In fact, the last two centuries have seen rather less than conquests; it's mainly seen Turks being turfed out of the bases that they conquered, and that's one of the reasons that Turkey has been such a defensive kind of country and perhaps even a militarist kind of country in a defensive way but prickly and worried about losing more territory, being divided up. I think America is suffering from this right now because the Turks are convinced that America is trying to create an independent Kurdistan in Iraq, and they see that as an extension of the European 19th-century efforts to divide the Ottoman Empire.
So, yes, they do remember that very clearly. And you see it, too, in the Turkic world. Azerbaijan obviously lost territory in Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, and that memory is a very live one and influences the way Turks view the world now.
SIEGEL: Mm-hmm. That the West, given a chance, will hive off lands off of what Turks regards as theirs.
Mr. POPE: Indeed, yes. And historically ,that has been the trend.
SIEGEL: Well, Hugh Pope, thank you very much for talking with us today.
Mr. POPE: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Hugh Pope is the author of "Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World."
(Soundbite of music)
SIEGEL: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
REUTERS NEWS AGENCY
Turkey's Plan B? Turks rediscover Central Asia
By Gareth Jones
23 June 2005
ANKARA, June 24 (Reuters) - Billed as a "Silk Road for the 21st century", a
new pipeline ferrying Caspian oil via Turkey to global markets has
highlighted a growing web of business and cultural ties between Turks and
their Central Asian cousins.
However, notions of a pan-Turkic commonwealth stretching from Istanbul to
Samarkand remain as romantically far-fetched now as they proved 15 years ago
when a first wave of Turkish businessmen swept into the region as the Soviet
"Turkey is looking at Central Asia more attentively again but we have a more
realistic view of the possibilities than before," said Sinan Ogan of the
ASAM think-tank in Ankara.
"There was a lot of excitement in the early 1990s. Turkey saw itself as the
elder brother rediscovering long-lost members of the Turkic family. But we
then found the Central Asians no more wanted a Turkish elder brother than a
"I am more optimistic now. Young people in Central Asia are looking west,
first of all to Turkey. They grew up in the post-Soviet period, they have
travelled, speak languages other than Russian. For them Turkey is a natural
partner," he said.
The $4 billion, U.S.-backed oil pipeline inaugurated on May 25 linking the
Azeri capital Baku to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan is the most
visible sign of burgeoning business links.
The pipeline will eventually pump more than 1 million barrels a day from
Azerbaijan -- and later in the decade probably much more from emerging
energy giant Kazakhstan -- thereby reducing the region's economic reliance
A natural gas pipeline following the same circuitous route via mountainous
Georgia is due to open next year.
TUG OF HISTORY
Turkey's President Ahmet Necdet Sezer evoked the ancient Silk Road -- which
carried trade and ideas between East and West -- during the ceremonial
launch of the pipeline in Baku. Tankers will start loading the first oil at
Ceyhan later this year.
Hugh Pope, the Istanbul-based author of a new book on the Turkic world
called "Sons of the Conquerors", said the pipeline was psychologically
important for Turkey, but added Central Asia -- a region stretching from the
Caspian to the borders of China -- had been exerting a steady pull on Turks
for some time.
"A third to a half of foreign businessmen in Central Asian cities tend to be
Turkish. Who is building the airports, the pipelines, running the hotels and
supermarkets? Turks. But much of this activity is below the international
radar," he said.
Azeris, Uzbeks and Turkmens have dropped the Russian-imposed Cyrillic
alphabet and now write their languages in Latin script, mimicking the
decision of Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, to scrap the Arabic
script for Turkish in the 1920s.
Central Asians listen to Turkish pop music and Istanbul draws many artists
and musicians from the region.
Turkey, with one of the Muslim world's biggest economies, most powerful
militaries and most functioning democracies, is an obvious role model for
the newly independent republics of Central Asia, given its linguistic,
cultural and ethnic links.
"Central Asians are also following Ataturk's secular model of national
development, eschewing pan-Turkic ideas," Pope said.
Turkish nationalists sometimes posit close ties with Central Asia as an
alternative vision to Ankara's increasingly rocky road to European Union
Most analysts dismiss this idea, saying Central Asia is no substitute for
the EU. The EU buys more than half of all Turkish exports, for example,
against Central Asia's mere two percent.
But they also argue that Turkey's own appeal for Brussels lies partly in its
proximity to countries such as Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan, key suppliers of
Europe's future energy needs.
"Central Asia has always been Turkey's Plan B, Plan A of course being Europe
and the West," said Hasan Ali Karasar of Ankara's Bilkent University.
"But the EU and Central Asia are not mutually exclusive. And even if Turkey
ends up only with a 'privileged partnership' with Europe instead of full EU
membership, Turkey could still help project EU economic and political
interests in Central Asia."
Turkey is due to start EU entry talks on Oct. 3, but many in the EU --
including some senior French and German politicians -- want to offer the
large, relatively poor, Muslim country a special partnership falling well
short of full membership.
As an EU candidate country, Turkey is required to align its foreign policy
with that of the 25-nation bloc. This means Ankara has become more sensitive
to issues of human rights and political freedoms in Central Asia, some
"In the past, Turkey forged good relations with the rulers of Central Asia
but neglected the opposition parties and non-governmental organisations,"
said one Turkish diplomat.
"That is changing," he said, noting Turkey had been critical of Uzbekistan's
crackdown last month on a revolt in its eastern town of Andizhan in which
witnesses say 500 people were killed. The Uzbeks put the death toll at 176,
But political analysts are sceptical about Turkey's willingness or ability
to promote democracy in Central Asia.
"The Turks have to move cautiously. After all, they are family," said Pope.
Please click on the photo to see interview with Sukran Pakkan published in Milliyet newspaper, May 18, 2005 (Photo: Milliyet)
Please click on the photo to read May 15, 2005 interview with Vatan newspaper's Rüşen Çakır. Published in Turkish. (Photo: Rüşen Çakır)
Please click on the photo to read May 12, 2005 interview and listen to broadcast on the Uygur service of Radio Free Asia. Published in Uygur. (Photo: RFA)
Please click on image to read analysis from May 12, 2005, on Voice of America Turkish service. Published in Turkish