The Author
Chapter Table and Synopsis
Readings and Lectures
Turkey Unveiled
Links to booksellers

1. Financial Times (Sept. 3, 2005)
2. The Economist (May 19, 2005)
3. Asharq al-Awsat (July 21, 2005)
4. Registan.net (Oct. 26, 2005)
5. The Columbus Despatch (May 15, 2005)
6. Publishers' Weekly (May 16, 2005)
7. turkeytravelplanner.com (May, 2005)
8. Santa Fe New Mexican (May 15, 2005)
9. Kirkus Reviews (March 15, 2005)
10. Prospect Magazine (January, 2006)
11. South African Journal of International Affairs (Winter/Spring 2005)
12. The Historian (Fall 2006)
13. Foreign Service Journal (April 2006)
14. Claremont Review of Books (Summer 2006)

1. FINANCIAL TIMES Weekend Magazine - Sept 3, 2005

Turkish delight Why doesn't the Turkic world add up to the sum of its parts? Here is a full and fascinating answer.

By David Gardner

Turkish is one of the 10 main linguistic families, its members scattered across a score of states from the Balkans to the Great Wall of China. Turkic peoples dominated the central Eurasian landmass for a good millennium, with the Ottoman empire that collapsed just under a century ago only the last of its imperial manifestations.

Yet the Turkic world today adds up to a good deal less than the sum of its many parts. That is a puzzle, and Hugh Pope sets out to explain it.

Pope is a long-time foreign correspondent in Turkey and the Middle East, whose fluency in Turkish (as well as Arabic and Persian) has enabled him to range across the Turkic world in a way few others could. Already the co-author of Turkey Unveiled, an acclaimed study of modern Turkey, this latest book, Sons of the Conquerors, is the product of deep and wide experience and long reflection. It is beautifully written, with a journalist's eye for the telling detail, a raconteur's ear for the resonant anecdote, all held in place by a fine weave of history and judicious analysis.

The whole notion of a Turkic world is a bit of a chimera, like the orientalist legend of the Silk Road dreamed up by the German geographer Ferdinand von Richtofen in the late 19th century. As Pope points out, while Chinese chronicles from the 2nd century BC indeed record a price of 40 bolts of silk for each "blood-sweating, heavenly horse" from central Asia's Fergana valley, and the Romans too probably exchanged gold for Chinese silk, the trade is just as likely to have been sea-borne: "Overland east-west trade and travel rarely prospered through the lands that came to be dominated by Turkic peoples. Distances were too great, slave-snatching brigands too prevalent and rival khanates waged too much war against each other."

Rather than trade, Pope argues, the "core genius" of the Turks has been military organisation. The creators of more than a dozen empires across the ages, from the elemental force of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane to the more settled dominion of the Ottomans and Moghuls, the main contribution of the Turks has been military and administrative. Tellingly, their high culture of literature and the court tended to be essentially Persian while religion and science was the domain of Arabic.

Even today the Kazakhs - the contemporary Turkic people closest to their nomad roots - are divided into three tribes still known to outsiders as "hordes", from the Turko-Mongol word ordu, or army.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's Turkey, put together by military will from the debris of the Ottoman empire, functioned as a key cold war buffer, its generals behaving as lords of the marches separating Europe and the west from the Soviets, as well as from the Middle East.

As the title suggests, the Turks were never conquered. The Austro- Hungarians halted the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna in 1683, preventing them from overrunning Europe and reaching the Atlantic, which became the springboard for the next generation of imperial powers, while the Ottoman empire started a long, two-century decline. Yet the subtitle of the book - The Rise of the Turkic World - is less convincing.

Pope's excitement at encountering the living manifestations of a shared Turkic culture over such a wide expanse of territory is clearly not something the rulers of these countries share. And while he has occasional stabs at suggesting a pan-Turkic resurgence - especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union changed the terms of Russo-Turkish rivalry in the Caucasus and Central Asia - his narrative tends to subvert this thesis, which he himself appears to find unconvincing.

One can see why. Republican Turkey was built, Pope observes, by refugees such as Ataturk, driven out of countries in the Balkans, south Russia, the Caucasus or the Middle East where their people had been established for centuries. While increasingly confident and self-sufficient, the political and, above all, military culture they developed was essentially defensive.

Embedded in the national pysche is the trauma of how the Ottoman empire was torn asunder by western countries that made and unmade states with casual ease. Turkey may be a long-term Nato ally and European Union candidate, but to this day its reflex action is not to trust western intentions. "Having seen western intervention split Kosovo from Serbia in the Balkans and Iraqi Kurdistan from Baghdad in the 1990s, the Turkish army was not convinced of western commitment to the territorial integrity of states," writes Pope. Little wonder, then, that the Turkish parliament voted against allowing the US to open a northern front for the invasion of Iraq.

But, after successfully regrouping in Anatolia, why have the Turks done so little to take advantage of the end of the cold war in central Asia or the Caucasus? The short answer is that after 150 years of Tsarist and Stalinist nationality-mixing and ethnic engineering in these Turkic heartlands, pan-Turkism is for adventurers: Turkey's strategic interest trumps ethnic ties every time. This book is full of the long, textured answer, and fascinating it is too.

Pope visits the frontline of the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia for Nagorno Karabagh. In half a page he makes three observations about this deeply mixed-up place. That nagorno is Russian for mountainous, kara is Turkic for black, and bagh is Persian for garden or orchard. That from Tsarist times onwards the Turkic Azeris were prevented from advancing in the army. And this: "A 1950s Soviet-made armoured car stood guard at the Azeri checkpoint, but it was pointing the wrong way and one of its tyres was flat."

Later, having been duped by a Turkish diplomat into writing that Ankara might come to the rescue of its Azeri brothers, Pope crosses Azerbaijan's border at Nakhichevan.

"I crossed the bridge that is the only physical connection between the Anatolian Turks and the Turkic world to the east. Officially, the Turks and Azeris had blessed the 100-yard-long steel construction with the name Umut Koprusu, or Bridge of Hope, amid plentiful slaughtering of sheep in 1992. Their hopes were not fulfilled. After a few years, local people went back to the name it had earned during its years of construction: the Hasret Koprusu, or Bridge of Longing."

This is a rich book. Above all, as Turkey and Europe measure each other up with suspicion, it gives a compelling sense of how the Turkic world, like Russia, bestrides east and west.

David Gardner is a leader writer for the FT.

2. THE ECONOMIST -- May 19, 2005

The Turkic world: Muskets and Mustachios

THE emergence of a clutch of newly independent Muslim Turkic states following the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991 stirred up an intense, if short-lived, interest in the Turkic presence that stretches from the outer edges of China all the way to the Balkans. At its core lay Turkey whose ready, if wobbly, democracy, its free-market economy and its own brand of moderate Islam, western strategists hoped, could serve as a model.

Fired by visions of leading this Turkic world, imams, entrepreneurs and language teachers all poured into the former Soviet republics. But their fervour was soon tempered by Russia's continued political and cultural grip over its one-time colonies. With the exception of tiny landlocked Kirgizstan, each of these countries is still ruled by its corrupt former communist dictator, its every potential unfulfilled. Indeed, modern Turks often seem to have more in common with their Christian Greek neighbours than they do with their ethnic cousins in Azerbaijan.

Hugh Pope, a veteran Istanbul-based correspondent of the Wall Street Journal and co-author with Nicole Pope of an unrivalled history of modern Turkey, “Turkey Unveiled”, might agree. Yet, in his ambitious new book, “Sons of the Conquerors”, Mr Pope seeks to unearth the common strands that link the 140m Turkic speakers across the globe. In a quest that takes him from the grim battlefronts of Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan to secret encounters with Turkic-speaking Uighur nationalists in China, he has produced the most comprehensive work on the Turks today. His book is also very timely. As Turkey prepares to open membership talks with the European Union later this year, Mr Pope's affectionate yet often critical gaze should help redefine the Shorter Oxford English dictionary's description of the Turk as “a cruel, savage, rigorous or tyrannical man”.

Part-travelogue, part-history and part-political analysis, “Sons of the Conquerors” overflows with hilarious anecdotes and distinctive characters that only someone who speaks Turkish, Farsi and Arabic as effortlessly as Mr Pope could dig up. There is the pan-Turkist Azerbaijani doctor, Timur Agridag, who milks Caucasus vipers; Aslan Abashidze, the president of the tiny autonomous republic of Ajaria, who believes his model of New York's Statue of Liberty is an image of the Virgin Mary; and Nadya Yuguseva, who is a witch-doctor cum priestess from Altay. “She wore a splendid, tall, round hat of reddish fur. I complimented her on it, and she told me it was a traditional shaman artefact made from the front paws of 12 foxes,” recalls the author.

So what are the essential characteristics that bind such Turks? The answer is not so clear, Mr Pope readily admits, as he charts their beginnings from the nomad armies who once conquered the Byzantine Empire, large chunks of Europe and the Middle East. Some are not Sunni but Shia Muslims, as in Iran; many in Soviet Central Asia are atheists. They often speak mutually unintelligible dialects.

Even so, Mr Pope sees some important and unmistakable similarities: “An engaging bluntness, loyalty to family, fearlessness and a rash love of risk,” that makes him hopeful for the future. Yet, the Turks' “ignorant pride can often give way to bombastic, insecure assertions of superiority.” Moreover, the “constant struggle in many Turkic hearts pits a love of authoritarian rule against a belief that the pleasures and profits in life are to be gained from bypassing the law in the manner of the heroic, mustachioed brigand.”

3. SHARQ AL-AWSAT, July 21, 2005

By Amir Taheri

With the increasingly globalised international system heading towards what looks like the elimination of nation-states are we heading for a new world which resembles the primeval soup in which nations could not be told apart? This is the question behind Hugh Pope's new book which is about the identity debate in almost a dozen countries where what he describes as "the Turkic people" form either a majority or a substantial minority. His answer is that globalisation, while effacing political and administrative frontiers among nations may paradoxically encourage a sense of cultural identification. And this, he further argues, is especially the case among the Turkic peoples.

But let us start by finding out what makes a people "Turkic".

The key element in that identity is not race or ethnicity. Ataturk's attempts at inventing a racial origin for his people led him into a number of absurd, if not comical, conclusions. At one point he traced the origins of the Turkish people to Finland rather than Central Asia and Siberia. The book "White Lilies", which promoted that idea, became compulsory reading at Turkish government schools. The idea was that Turks were Europeans and thus progressive and modern rather than Asian and "backward".

Nevertheless, a majority of people who now live within the borders of the Turkish Republic and speak Turkish as their mother tongue are, as far as race is concerned, the descendants of the Greek and other Hellenised communities of Asia Minor who have been Turkicised during the past 10 centuries or so. What makes them Turkic, therefore, is not blood but culture and sentiment. They feel they are Turks, and so they are.

Not everyone who speaks a version of the half a dozen or so Turkic languages may describe himself as Turkic. But most do.

Pope estimates the number of Turkic-speakers at over 140 million, almost half of them in the Turkey itself. Turkic-speakers are also a majority in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan which have a combined population of 50 million. Turkic-speaking Azeris number around 15 million in Iran while the Uyghurs, another Turkic people who live in Xinjiang, or the Chinese Turkistan, number some 12 million. There are also Turkic minorities in Russia (including the Tatars, the Bashkirs, the Charkess-Qarachai, and the Kabardino-Balkars) who account for some 20 million people. Smaller Turkic minorities live in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Syria, Iraq, Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia.

The idea of pan-Turkism, based on the dream of creating a single state to unite all the Turkic-speakers from Central Asia to the Mediterranean, reached its peak in the first two decades of the last century. One of its greatest champions, a certain Anwar Pasha, even tried to carve himself a mini-empire in Central Asia after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

It was pan-Turkism that inspired other nationalistic movements in the region starting with pan-Iranism in the 1930s and pa-Arabism in the 1960s.

The pan-Iranists preached the unification of Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and the Soviet Caucasus, plus the Bahrain archipelago in the Persian Gulf, in the name not of language but of Iranian blood and culture. The pan-Arabists dreamed of a single state spanning the vast region between the Arabian Sea and the Atlantic Ocean in the name of the Arabic language.

Pan-Iranism died in the 1960s when the Shah finalised Iran's borders with the Soviet Union and gave up the old Iranian claim on Bahrain. Pan-Arabism died with the demise of Gamal Abdul Nasser's dictatorship after Egypt's 1967 defeat by Israel.

Pan-Turkism, however, has managed, with many ups and downs, to survive and still constitutes a good part of the political discourse in Turkey where even Islamist and liberal ideological rivals pay lip service to it.

In the 1990s Pan-Turkism received an unexpected boost from the fall of the Soviet Empire. Turkey's President Turgot Ozal was especially keen to fill in the void that was taking shape in Central Asia and the Caucasus. A pragmatist, Ozal knew that sentimental issues, while important, could not sustain a serious policy in the region. Accordingly, he mobilised whatever economic, trade and military resources that Turkey could put together for the purpose, and organised an "invasion" of the region by businessmen, engineers, and military advisors.

In both Central Asia and the Caucasus, Ozal had to compete against Russia, which still hoped to retain a dominant position, and Iran, which was entering the scene with more money and an Islamist discourse. But Ozal's strategy ultimately failed not because of Russian or Iranian competition. The clincher in its defeat was the massive arrival of the Americans. Once the US was present with a high profile the newly independent republics preferred to deal with it rather than it junior local ally Turkey.

As Hugh Pope shows in his excellent study, the dollar proved stronger than emotional assertions about a common ancestry and a shared culture. In many cases the Turkish businessmen that Ozal had despatched to Central Asia ended up as middlemen for American corporations seeking a share of the regional market. Pope introduces one such businessman, identified only as Murad, who has made his fortune importing frozen chicken into landlocked Turkmenistan via Iran.

Pope, a British journalist and a fluent Turkish-speaker who has lived in Turkey for decades, knows the Turkic world like the back of his hand. His book is, for a good part, a travelogue, narrating his numerous ventures in the Turkic lands over the past 15 years.

But is language enough for shaping an identity?

Pope should have but does not pose the question. If language were enough as the basis of a common identity, the people of Bangladesh would not have separated themselves from their fellow Bengali speakers in Indian West Bengal.

It is also interesting to note that the world's second largest English-speaking nation, after the United States, is the Philippines not the United Kingdom.

Pope cites several collective features, or identifiers, of which language is the most important. But the Turkic people he describes have other common features, including their belief in a common ancestry- they all regard Chengiz Khan as their distant ancestor. Another common feature is what Pope describes as "the military vocation" of the Turkic peoples.

This is borne out by history which shows how various Turkic peoples appeared on the scene as mercenaries for local Persian, Arab and Byzantine principalities and ended up by absorbing, and in some cases, Turkicising them.

In some cases, especially in North Africa and Egypt, however, the Turks were gradually absorbed and Arabised and are today identified only thanks to their Turkish-sounding family names.

Pope asserts that the Turkic peoples have a certain fascination for the military which has turned the army, especially in Turkey itself, into the custodian of the highest national interests. He also says that the Turkic peoples always look to a "strongman" to lead them, and thus have developed a penchant for authoritarian rule. Because of that, Pope argues, prospects for democratisation in the Turkic world remain dim. One could safely ignore such questionable generalisations. There is, in fact, no evidence that Turkic-speaking peoples would reject the chance to live in a democracy where their human rights are respected. The book, which will be on sale next month, was written before the pro-democracy uprising that ended the regime of President Askar Aqaev in Kyrgyzstan and before the current pro-reform revolt in neighbouring Uzbekistan.)

Pope also acknowledges Islam as one of the key features of the Turkic identity. With the exception of Azerbaijan, where 98 per cent of the Turkic-Azeri speakers are Shiites, almost all other Turkic peoples are Sunni Muslims with a strong Sufi tradition. In fact, one of the weaknesses of Pope's otherwise valuable book is his failure to describe the role of the various Sufi fraternities, especially in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Pope shows that despite the revival of Islam in former Soviet republics all the new regimes are prepared to work with the Western powers, especially by allowing access to the oil resources of the Caspian Basin. Moreover, the United States now maintains military bases in several of the Turkic states in addition to its massive presence in Turkey itself through the NATO alliance. The pragmatist policy of the ruling elites means that the Turkic states are performing better than their Iranian, Slav and Arab neighbours in a number of domains, especially economic development and the spread of education.

For this reviewer the most interesting part of Pope's fairly long book is the narrative of his travels in Xinjiang (East Turkestan), a vast land controlled by China and largely closed to the outside world.

Pope estimates the number of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang at eight million, which is the official Chinese claim. But most Western specialists put the number at around 12 million. For the past five decades Beijing has pursued a policy of Sinification in Xinjiang by bringing in large numbers of Han Chinese so as to turn the native Muslims into a minority in their own land. Pope says that the Muslims now account for only half of the population in Xinjiang.

Pope shows that the Han settlers are given the most lucrative jobs in Xinjiang while the native Muslims are assigned to low-paid positions and rigorously kept out of "sensitive" fields such as the military and he police. Until the 11 September 2001 attacks against New York and Washington, the US, along with several oil-rich Arab states, had given moral and financial support to Uighur opposition parties. Since then, however, most of that support has stopped as the US has drawn closer to China and Russia in the name of a joint campaign against Islamist terrorism. As for the oil-rich states, they have recognised China as their biggest future market and, perhaps, even biggest protector, if and when the US loses interest in the region. This has persuaded the oil-rich states that backing the Uighurs is not worth the loss of Chinese goodwill.

Pope writes: " Islam is channelling the Uighurs' political frustration. A longing for international strength and legitimacy is the Main factor behind the Uighur embrace of Islam. It gives them a perhaps misleading sense of equality in numbers, since there are nearly as many Muslims in the world as Chinese. Islam is also a safer kind of dissent. Despite [periodic crackdowns on religious practices, including what a Human Rights Watch report in April called a ' highly intrusive religious control' Islam benefits from a minimum of toleration by the Chinese state. By contrast, Beijing bans every secular expression of a Uighur nationalist identity."

Pope says that the death in 1995 of Isa Alptekin, the secularist Uighur independence movement leader, marked the start of a long process that had led to the domination of the Uighur national scene by Islamist preachers and militants.

According to Pope some of the Islamist Uighur fighters joined the Taliban in Afghanistan where a few of them were captured by the Americans and taken to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Having attributed the growth of Islam among the Uighurs to purely political factors, Pope , nevertheless, goes on to contradict himself by showing that the Uighur attachment to Islam is not purely motivated by politics.

He writes: " In most houses, people rigorously observe Islam's five daily prayers. In Uighur villages, mosques are usually the tallest and best built buildings for kilometres, their street fronts decked out in fancy tile work and a line of slender minarets. At one small bookshop in Kashgar's old town, there were just a few dusty volumes of Uighur history. The fastest moving bestsellers turned out to be the Quran and teach-yourself Arabic books."

Pope further reports that many Uighur freedom fighters are expressing doubts about the wisdom of using an Islamist discourse in pursuit of political goals. This apparent change of heart has allowed Erkin, the late Alptekin's eldest son, to move centre stage to lead the independence movement towards a secular discourse based on culture and identity rather than religion.

" I was telling them for years that while you might admire a suicide bomber, the rest of the world will see him as a terrorist," Erkin Alptekin told Pope. " Now they come and tell me: Erkin, you were right!"

No one knows where the Turkic world maybe heading. Turkey is trying to become part of the European Union while the Tatars and the Bashkir appear content to remain part of the Russian federation. The Central Asian republics may be entering a period of political instability that might ultimately lead to their democratisation. One thing is certain: the Turkic nations are to move up the news agenda and Pope's book offers much insight into their little known world.

4. REGISTAN.NET -- Oct. 26, 2005

By "Laurence"

Hugh Pope has travelled from one end of the Turkic world to the other to write a magnificent survey of the Pan-Turanian world he calls Sons of the Conquerors. Now Istanbul bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal. Pope has lived and travelled in Turkey for some twenty years. He speaks Turkish, Persian, and Arabic, as well as English. As a result, he can talk to anyone from a bazaar merchant, to a police chief, to a businessman, to an imam, to a president. And he does so in this book.

Anyone who has been to Istanbul knows that the vibrant country Pope describes is already a reality. What he is saying is that even if pan-Turanianism cannot succeed as a political movement, Turkic qualities of Turkic states will give them a solid foundation to follow in Turkey’s footsteps to modernity–as Sons of the Conquerors.

The author of Turkey Unveiled certainly knows Turkey, the Turks, and Turkish culture. Pope takes an almost anatomical interest in Turkey’s people, as well as Turkic brothers and cousins scattered around the globe. He describes the realities of the Turkish Republic, its relation to the Balkan States and Azerbaijan. He visits the humming factories and gleaming offices of the new Turkish entrepreneurs, as well as the dusty agricultural towns of central Anatolia.

He understands Turkic psychology, too. His second section, on Turkic politicians, is entitled “Save us, Father!” It begins with a profile of Ataturk and his secular revolution, and continues to explore Turkmenbashi, Aliyev, and Nazarbaev’s political debt to the Turkic leader. Finally, he tracks down the ghose of Isa Beg, and his Uighur pan-Turanian legacy. His descriptions of Kashgar and Urumqi are priceless.

From examining the Turkish mentality, Pope turns to explore Turkic geopolitics–namely Iran and Russia. The Persian and Slavic influences have been a part of Turkey’s history, and the Turkic personality and society can be understood as a diamond squeezed by the pressure between Russian Orthodoxy and Persian Shi’ism.

Pope travels abroad as well, to look at Turkic communities in Germany, Holland, and the USA. What he finds is interesting, especially in the different ways expatriate Turkish immigrants adapt to their different host societies. Most intriguing is his claim that Virginia’s Melengueon Indian tribe were originally Turkish galley slaves washed ashore on the American coast. Even if you don’t buy that theory, his evidence that Native American Indian tribes had Turkish origins is persuasive.

There’s just so much that it is impossible to summarize. He describes the Caspian oil boom, the Kazakh oil boom, and the re-invention of the Turkish police force as the nation attempts to enter the EU–from “Midnight Express” to “Midnight Espresso.”

When it comes to Uzbekistan, Pope is sympathetic to Islam Karimov. Pope’s basic argument seems to be that Karimov, although of Tajik (Persian) ancestry, is closely following Ataturk’s path of independence, authoritarianism, secularism, and self-improvement.He sees Uzbekistan much like Turkey was in the 1920s, and is surprisingly bullish :

…But Uzbekistan has continued to develop according to the stern precepts of its regime, just as early republican Turkey insisted on it right to develop at its own pace. As in Turkey, its stubborn self-reliance and narrow-minded government have delayed its development. Again like Turkey, it may well help create a coherent Turkic nation, although scars will be left by Karimov’s widescale and often vicious oppression of the Muslim-minded countryside. A Soviet legacy of urban planning, literacy and education may even give it advantages over Turkey in some areas.(p.349)

Pope does a good job of explaining Uzbekistan’s uneasy relations with Turkey over the years, and details the reasons behind the closing of Turkish schools by President Karimov. He even speculates about a Turkish-Iranian-Russian alliance as an alternative to Europe–something also mentioned by Russian Eurasianist philosopher Aleksandr Dugin.

It is fascinating to think about the future of Central Asia, given Pope’s hopeful analysis of Turkish mentality, culture, society, and history.It would be nice if he is right… 


5. THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH -- May 15, 2005

Turks given voice in colorful prose

By Jason Beck      

Journalist Hugh Pope's enlightening and manageable history of the Turkic world, Sons of the Conquerors , will sell far fewer copies than Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code . 

While Brown's blockbuster novel pushed American tourists, guidebooks in hand, to France and Italy, Sons of the Conquerors won't induce sneaker-clad Midwesterners to descend on the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat to discover why the country's narcissistic leader, Turkmenbashi, built a 170-foot high monument with his image on top. 

But Pope's 400-page book is valuable. 

An international correspondent for The Wall Street Journal , Pope read Persian and Arabic at Oxford before moving to Istanbul in the early 1980s. His appreciation of nuance, combined with his love and command of language -- he dances between Persian, Arabic and Turkish, not to mention the many local dialects spoken among Turks the planet over -- give him access to a world unreachable by most. 

Son of the Conquerors reads like an op-ed piece: pleasantly opinionated, informative, thought-provoking, occasionally witty. 

Pope spends much of the book in the difficult-to-pronounce nations of central Asia: Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and as far east as Xinjiang Province in China, home to the oppressed and largely silenced Uygur people. 

He paints a colorful picture of a people still unknown to the West, a once-nomadic population connected -- in spite of national borders, menacing mountain ranges and several centuries of wars -- by language and religion. 

This is not a happy tale, of course, particularly for those freed from Soviet dominance only to be confounded by thorny issues of independence such as: In which direction do we look, politically, East or West? But Turkey is a dynamic country. What happens in the Turkic world, from the Netherlands to Iran, does and will continue to shape modern history. 

The "largely secular Turks can be a model for the modern, democratic Muslim world that Washington fully tries to foster,'' Pope writes. 

There are holes in this argument: The Turks are not Arabs, and therefore are much less angry with America's support for Israel. Furthermore, unlike Iran, Turkey has "not experienced a blood feud like that caused by the Islamic revolutionary takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.'' 

While Turkey might be moving politically toward Europe and the United States, geographically the nation is going nowhere. Turkey remains Eurasia's lone Muslim democracy, a country proud of its secularism in a region where theocratic rule is the norm. 

However, "it's worth noting,'' Pope says, "that whether communist, nationalist or Islamist, ideology has always come second to sheer military power in the Turkic world. 

"The (Turkish) army's prickly failure to cooperate with the Iraq war in 2003,'' Pope writes, "has also brought coolness with the traditionally pro-army United States.'' 

That coolness should thaw, however, as the Turkish "armed forces rarely relax their vigilance against the threat of Islamist fundamentalism.'' 

Sons of the Conquerors stays true to its theme and the voice of Turkic people emerges, rhetoric from presidents and prime ministers. Calling this book a "general history'' or "brief overview'' masks what it is: a good book about an interesting people


6. PW PUBLISHERS' WEEKLY -- May 16, 2005

Delving deep into a world most westerners are shamefully ignorant of, this highly readable collection of essays about Turkic people from Virginia to Xinjiang, China, buzzes with life and personality even as it explains topics as obscure as the inner workings of Azerbaijani politics. Pope, who also wrote (with Nicole Pope) Turkey Unveiled and is the Istanbul correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, has a knack for storytelling and an inexhaustible store of novelistic details—the pop of a weld torch, for example, as an Istanbul ironworker explains that UFOs are proof that Americans have djinns (evil spirits) instead of souls. The only real flaw in this appealing, affectionate portrait of the Turkic world (a term that includes all Turkish speakers, not only those who live in Turkey) is that all this vivid reporting can’t compensate for a relative lack of big-picture analysis. The book’s dozens of otherwise deft capsule histories of obscure corners of the world have an oddly free-floating quality, unmoored from any clear geopolitical understanding. It is perhaps this that gives some of Pope’s conclusions a tossed-off feeling. “Bulgarian Turks still do not really trust the Bulgarians,” he writes in a chapter about the persecution of the former by the latter, before breezily concluding, without offering any supporting evidence, that “the edge is off the conflict.” Pope’s gift for accessible writing make this an excellent first book for anyone interested in the subject, even if its dearth of analysis means it shouldn’t be the last.

7. TOM BROSNAHAN, author of Turkey's first Lonely Planet guides and editor of www.turkeytravelplanner.com -- May 2005

I've enjoyed Hugh Pope's reporting in The Wall Street Journal for years, and I thoroughly enjoyed—and learned a lot from—his book Turkey Unveiled.

His new book, SONS OF THE CONQUERORS: The Rise of the Turkic World, looks far beyond the modern Turkish Republic and its Ottoman past.

Turkish history and culture is a lot deeper than the empire and the republic, and this depth is familiar to, and treasured by, every modern Turk. It is integral to their view of the world. As the Turkic peoples—140 million of them—become more important in world politics, commerce and culture, it's important to know where they're coming from.

Turks proudly claim to have been the masters of a dozen important states and empires in Europe and Asia, including the Mogul empire in India, the Safavids of Iran, and the Mamelukes of Egypt. Today they are the majority in the Turkish Republic, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, with significant minorities of Turkic peoples in many other countries, including Iran, Iraq and China.

Anyone interested in Turks and Turkey will want to read Sons of the Conquerors. In fact, we should all read just about anything Hugh Pope writes on Turkey. I do.

8. THE SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN -- May 15, 2005
Baghdad and Turkey: Well-Steeped in History
By Devon Jackson

One chronicles the revivification of a modern culture and its disparate peoples, while the other recounts the origins and demise of another from the Middle Ages. One's colorful and crisply paced, the other a bit dry and choppy. Ironically, the one you'd think would be the most enlightening (When Baghdad ruled the Muslim World) turns out to offer comparatively little in helping to better understand Iraq today, or Muslims, or contemporary Arab culture; whereas Sons of the Conquerors offers a wealth of information on everything from Turkic language and history to politics and food, all of it backing up author Hugh Pope's belief that the Turkic peoples (and the various countries more or less under their control) might easily be the Soviets of the 21st century. 

Pope's book falls somewhere between that of a typical New Yorker "Dispatches" article and the personal-as-political travel narratives now so popular. As The Wall Street Journal's Istanbul correspondent, Pope uses that former capital of the once-great Ottoman Empire as home base from which to explore Turkic peoples (most of whom are nominally Islamic) in 24 countries, from western China's Xinjiang province to the Netherlands to Berlin to the Appalachians. 

Hugh Kennedy, a Scottish history professor (perhaps hoping to cash in on the suddenly revived interest among laypeople and politicians alike in all things Iraqish), hopes to convey to readers a more intimate account of the founding of the city of Baghdad in 762 and all its concomitant intrigue and inspiration (one of its caliphs, for example, served as the lead protagonist for the classic Arabian Nights). Kennedy, though, early on makes the disclaimer that his book will not be "a general history of the Abbasid caliphate" and their courts of the 8th to the 10th centuries. What's doubly, sadly, ironic, is that Kennedy wrote his "history" of this "Golden Age of Islam" in this narrative fashion and directed it toward a "nonspecialist audience" for just this reason: to jazz up this rarefied world of Arabic studies that he calls "difficult, problematic, and yes, rather dull." Oops. 

Aside from it taking about 100 pages for the book to really become engaging (in the chapter dealing with the poets and the overall culture of the early Abbasid courts), Baghdad also suffers from structural defects, opening up the book chronologically, then bouncing way ahead in time, then way back in time, then all over the place. Kennedy's so-called "nonspecialist" approach probably would've benefited, in these areas focusing on the rulers, from some of the scholarly insights of someone like the Western Arabic scholar nonpareil Bernard Lewis. 

As for Pope's angle and organization, he sticks pretty much to his reporter roots and his succinct observations and longtime knowledge of Turkey and its diverse peoples (as well as its language -- always a plus when the writer not only knows whereof he speaks but knows intimately how to speak the language of the people he's writing about). Still, it's neither as searingly or overtly political as Robert D. Kaplan's The Ends of the Earth or as personal, erudite or focused as Tim Mackintosh-Smith's wonderful Travels with a Tangerine: From Morocco to Turkey in the Footsteps of Islam's Greatest Traveler. 

Nevertheless, for all their respective faults and shortcomings, both these books complement each other (especially given the fact that it was the Turks, in part, who eventually led to the downfall of the Abbasid caliphate). Even though there's a gulf of about a thousand years separating their two dynastic heydays, the terrain and influence and uncertain futures of both their cultures are very much in the news nowadays. While not a particularly scintillating read (the chapters on Abbasid power and politics are especially lugubrious), Baghdad almost compensates in its chapters on the Islamic dynasty's cultural and stylistic legacies. Almost. Sons, however, flows quite smoothly, and in the future might prove to be one of the more prescient and informative books dealing with the Turkic peoples

BOOKLIST -- April 2005
With the end of the Soviet Union began independence for a half-dozen Turkic countries, where Istanbul-based reporter Pope has made forays for the past 15 years, traveling in both presidential airliners and faltering taxis. Pope does not organize his trips chronologically, but, rather, according to what he believes are the seven collective characteristics of Turkic peoples. One is the "military vocation" epitomized by Turkey itself, whose military is regarded as the guardian of secularism; a concomitant trait is predilection for the political strongman. None of the new Turkic states is a liberal democracy, and none less so than Turkmenistan, home to a shambolic personality cult devoted to its dictator. Pope's talks with officials are always revelatory of local and international politics, but readers will most value his perceptiveness about Turkic culture when he, speaking fluent Turkish, meets ordinary people. Some of these are Uygurs, the Turkic minority suppressed by communist China, and others are part of the Turkic diaspora in Europe and America. A sensitive presentation of how Turks view themselves and their future. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

9. KIRKUS REVIEW -- March 15, 2005

Once a fighter, always a fighter: or, never rule out the tenacity of a descendant of the Golden Horde.

If the aftermath of WWI made hash out of the Ottoman Empire, the fall of communism helped revive the notion of a Turkic polity: in the 1990s, apart from Turkey, there were five new nations with a Turkic majority: Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic. This should not be seen as a bad thing, suggests long-time Istanbul-based reporter Pope. Turkey, with an army of 600,000, is the second largest force in NATO, and since the days of Kemal Ataturk it has supported secularism against theocracy, making it a welcome stabilizing force in the Middle East, one largely friendly to American interests. The other nations are similarly inclined, at least for the moment. No widely embraced pan-Turkic movement seems to be on the horizon to advance the notion of a "Turkic bloc from the Great Wall of China to the Adriatic Sea," so imperial ambitions are unlikely to complicate events: "A dream of a greater Turkic world is all very well," Pope notes, "but Turks everywhere are pragmatists." The collapse of communism brought a massive exodus of ethnic Turks from the Balkans into Turkey itself and some movement of populations in other Turkic states, not least when the head of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, decided that he needed to be worshipped as Turkmenbashy, or "Head of the Turkmen," a position strengthened by the fact that "he controlled the fifth biggest gas reserves in the world." Some of the other Turkic leaders were no more democratically inclined, but Turkmenbashy is a special kind of monster, and his pull has made neighboring China, with its large population of Turkic Uygurs, just a touch nervous lately. As perhaps it should, for year by year Turkic peoples are exercising more influence in the region, thanks in large measure to the oil beneath their feet.

A solid work of history, cultural geography and reportage, opening a view onto a world too few in the West even know exists.

10. PROSPECT MAGAZINE -- January 2006

Return of the Turk

By Aatish Taseer

Turkey is not Europe. Since my arrival here a month ago, I have been collecting reasons big and small for why this is. But just as it is not Europe, neither is it the middle east. Some will argue that this is why many Europeans want Turkey in the EU, a country so well positioned geo-culturally between Christian Europe and the Islamic middle east that if there hadn't been a clash of civilisations, it might have invented one just to profit from its ability to bridge it. Yet however much we would like to think of Turkey as a secure walkway between east and west, it might come as a surprise to learn that Turkey's deepest cultural affinities lie not between al Qaeda and George W Bush, but with a corridor of Turkic peoples stretching to western China.

This is the central idea of Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World, a highly readable account of travels in the Turkic world by Hugh Pope, the Wall Street Journal's correspondent in Turkey and a long-time Istanbul resident. If we feel a pang of shame at not knowing exactly what is covered by the word "Turkic," Pope lets on that he himself had only heard it for the first time several years after moving to the middle east. Pope becomes acquainted with the word in 1989 after a demonstration in the streets of Urumqi, capital of the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang. The demonstrators are an ethnic group called Uighurs and their exiled leader (who died in 1995 in Turkey) is Isa Alptekin. In tracking down Alptekin, Pope becomes acquainted with an entire world that had been submerged by the Soviet Union. The book is an account of a decade of travel in the Turkic-speaking countries, stretching from Turkey and Azerbaijan to all those with the suffix "stan"—excluding the older stans of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Persian-speaking Tajikistan—right up to the Uighurs in western China. The Turkic world. Pope's greatest achievement is that he succeeds in giving cohesion to this region. Through the course of his travels Pope discovers compelling connections from religion and food to ethnic traits and customs that link Turkey and the steppe. But the most compelling thread through Pope's book is that with the Turkish he has learnt in Turkey he can get by all the way to western China. In turn, the reader finds that without too much effort he has become acquainted with the major events of the past decade in this region, the political lives of individual countries and, yes, where they are and what their capitals are. It prepares the ground for the main thrust of the book.

Pope gives new life to the claim made by Turgut Özal, former Turkish president: "If we do not make serious mistakes, the 21st century will be the century of the Turks and Turkey." Pope is more cautious than Özal, but despite this a powerful optimism runs through his experience of these countries. There is a sense that this region, with its rich natural resources, pragmatic Islam and hunger for a better life could attach itself to the rising star of its more experienced, cultural big brother, Turkey, to herald a new age for Turkic peoples. Pope makes many references to the great Turkic past: "The Ottomans proclaimed themselves caliphs of the Sunni Muslim world and spread Turkic settlers far and wide. They ruled over this vast empire for five centuries. Few people today realise that many other conquerors who seized the thrones of Iran and India—Mahmud of Ghazna, the Safavids, Nadir Shah, the Qajars, the Moghuls—were also of Turkic stock." While for many these are terrible figures from history, for Pope they are the heroes of a Turkic past on the brink of a revival.

In this strain, Pope admonishes an Iranian Azeri who suggests that the Turks are just aping the west. "Yes, just like Japan and China used to," Pope says. At other times, Pope succumbs to sentimentality: "The girls charged with thin, eerie war cries, the men with a howl worthy of their conquering forebears. I felt a surge of excitement as I mingled among them. For on their high-cheekboned faces and in their rough practised handling of the panting horses wheeled the wild and untamed spirit of the Turco-Mongol horde." Exciting stuff, but not likely to win the hearts of Europeans anxious about Turkey's otherness.

And this is part of the problem with Sons of the Conquerors: it makes Turkey seem decidedly unappetising as a potential candidate for the EU, because the author effectively argues that Turkey's closest cultural links and interests lie elsewhere. Judging by the intensely emotional level of the discussion in Turkey over EU entry, I'm not sure he is right. A high-level European diplomat recently confessed to me that the temperature of the discussions was so high that it had exposed the country's political immaturity. Immature or not, in the present climate, it is hard to imagine Turkey's sights set anywhere but on Europe. And while Turks show a certain pride in the distant reaches of their culture, there is, as one English professor living in Istanbul suggested to me, a touch of fatigue towards those people from the far-flung corners of the empire that they wish had been flung further.

Pope is best when he's not trying to sell us the unified Turkic future. His knowledge of the region, his meetings with the leaders of almost every country, his timely forays into the interior of these countries are gripping and fresh. The section on Uighur China is a penetrating analysis of China's treatment of its Turkic minorities and of the subsequent appeal of Islam for politically disenfranchised people.

It would be understandable if Turkey were to look east to its Turkic cousins and escape the grim demands upon it to play middleman between the present descriptions of west and east. Such an orientation would save it agonising decisions like that in 2003 when its parliament voted on whether to allow the US to use Turkish bases to attack Iraq. But this perspective is a wish rather than a reality. Turkey is positively aligned westward, and in Istanbul, where about a sixth of the population lives, even Anatolia seems far away, let alone the divided and disrupted politics of the steppe. Even if the EU bid were to prove unsuccessful, it is doubtful whether Turkey would make the turn needed to pioneer an "economic and cultural union of Turkic people." There is a deeply entrenched European aspiration in its political culture and, even in the Ottoman days, the steppe had been left behind so long ago, that any self-respecting Ottoman would have been horrified to be called a "Turk." Still, the book's lingering pan-Turkic hope does not detract from the fact that by the time the last of Pope's adventures is over, he succeeds in delivering a robust and current history of a region where the great game is indisputably back in play.


By Tom Wheeler

When the Turkic world, to the extent it was known at all in the West, disappeared behind the Iron Curtain during the Soviet era, few foreign visitors were able to visit its great cities such as Samarkand and Bukhara, whose beauty and mystery were extolled in poetry and legend.

The sudden collapse of the USSR in 1991 projected the Turkic states of the Caucasus and central Asia to independence within the artificial borders drawn by Josef Stalin as Commissioner of Nationalities in 1922. Subsequently, as Western and Turkish airlines commenced services to Tashkent, Almaty, Baku and other capitals in Turkic central Asia, and books like Peter Hopkirk's The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, appeared in the early 1990s, the world again started to take notice of the Turkic world, which stretches from the Balkans (Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria) and the Black Sea region as far as Xinjiang province in western China and Tatarstan in the Russian Federation. It has extended in recent years to Turkish communities in Western Europe and even the US.

            The Turkic world, Turkey and Central Asia at one time called Turkestan, has long served as a buffer between the competing imperial and great power interests of Russia, Britain and Persia, and latterly China, Russia and the US. The US-led war against the Taliban in Afghanistan once again brought its strategic position into sharp focus. Hugh Pope has lived in Istanbul since 1987, covering Turkey and the adjoining countries for the Los Angeles Times, the Independent, Reuters and the BBC, and latterly for the Wall Street Journal. As a scholar of Persian and Arabic and being fluent in Turkish, he is ideally placed to unravel and explain the intricacies and contradictions of the Turkic world and to speak in their own languages to the people who could given him a first-hand understanding of their situation.

            Pope travelled to most of these countries and regions and observed conditions, from the Uyghurs experiencing suppression and discrimination by the Han Chinese in the remote, fabled Xinjaing city of Kashgar, to the Turks of Bulgaria, living with their own contradictory relationship to the Slavic state that was itself once part of the Ottoman empire.

            He adopts a thematic approach, rather than treating each country or community individually.

     He examines the military nature of Turkic culture, and its reliance on a great leader and he notes how each state has dealt with the problem of creating a new national identity. Uzbekistan has adopted Amir Timur, known best in the West as Tamerlane, subject of Christopher Marlowe's play of the same name, as its unifying figure to replace Lenin; Kyrgyzstan relates to the heroic 1,000 year old Manas legend; while Turkmenistan has the cult of contemporary personality.

     Pope details how the oil, gas and mineral wealth in the Caspian region, Siberia and the Central Asian republics have drawn the attention of the Western oil majors and mining companies, creating problems of corruption and unequal distribution of income.

    The section titled Islam Allaturca deals with the pragmatic approach of the Turkic world towards Islam, in contradistinction to that of the Arab world and Iran. Old rivals, Turkey and Persia (in its current guise of Iranian theocracy), are described as mirror images of each other, one stressing the secular at the expense of the religious; the other precisely the opposite. Turkey, as probably the most democratic Muslim nation, continues to battle with issues of human rights practice that bedevil its attempts to achieve the Western vocation Ataturk prescribed 80 years ago — today in the form of European Union membership.

     He tells of Babur, the first Mogul emperor of India, who was a Turkic Muslim from the Fergana Valley of present day Uzbekistan. The position of the minority Allevi community in Turkey; the role of the Islamic mystic and poet Jelaliddin Rumi, whose beautiful tomb stands in the city of Konya (Roman Iconium); the mystic religious order of the Whirling Dervishes or Mevlevi; and the rise of the Anatolian Tigers, the anti-secular Muslim business community, largely focused on Konya, all receive his attention.

While Turkish migrations to Western Europe, and the problems that accompany them, are well-known, Pope refers also to the less well-known Turkic connection with the New World. According to generic andlinguistic evidence, it seems that peoples of Turkic origin crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia to North America and were the forebears of several American Indian nations. Now there is a growing Turkish and Central Asian Turkic migrant community in the United States as well.

Pope provides a fascinating insight into the Turkic world, and attempts to identify the factors that have caused the Turkic community to play a role disproportionately less than their numbers, 140 million people, and their representation of the tenth largest language community in the world, would seem to justify.

12. THE HISTORIAN (Fall 2006)

By Kemal Karpat, Distinguished Professor of History, Emeritus

University of Wisconsin-Madison


Hugh Pope, head of the Wall Street Journal's bureau in Istanbul, provides in this penetrating and admirably written book of twenty-seven chapters, plus epilogue and appendices, probably the first and most extensive account of the sudden burst of the Turkic peoples onto the world scene.

The largest concentration of the Turks—some 72 million out of approximately 180 million worldwide—is in Turkey. After receiving some 7-9 million refugees and immigrants from the lost territories of the Ottoman Empire in the Crimea, Caucasus and Balkans between 1783 and 1950, Turkey in the 1960s began to send workers first to Germany and then to the rest of Western Europe, altogether some 3 million people. Another 200,000 settled in Australia and in the United States (where the Melungeons of Virginia also contacted by Pope had come four centuries earlier). In the latter countries many acquired permanent residency or citizenship, whereas in Europe most Turks have temporary status. Meanwhile, the Turks of Northern Cyprus have established a state recognized only by Turkey, and four Turkic republics in central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan) as well as Azerbaijan in the Caucasus have won full independence after the disintegration of the USSR in 1991. Pope has visited these countries repeatedly, interviewing leaders and commoners. He also has made several forays into East Turkestan (Sinkiang) to present a rare picture of the eleven million Uigur Turks who, oppressed and pressured by the Chinese government for seeking independence, are being turned into a minority by Chinese settlers.

Pope is armed with a sound knowledge of history, culture, politics and language, for his mastery of the Turkish of Turkey has provided him easy access to the other Turkic tongues. He presents a highly colorful and informative picture of both the new independent Turkic states striving to build viable nation-states and the Western Turks struggling to adopt democracy, secularism and European ways while retaining their identity and faith. Except for Azerbaijan, all seven Turkic states (including Cyprus) are predominantly Sunni Muslim and practice a moderate multi-cultural, or alia turca as Pope calls it, Islam impregnated by Sufi mysticism. At least three states (Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan) possess vast deposits of oil, gas, and coal, which have awakened the interest of energy-hungry China and compelled Russia to tighten its economic and military grip on the area although both countries appear united in keeping out the United States.

Pope is right in stressing the fact that all the Turkish states reject panturkism even as he is convinced that "a certain genius informs and binds together Turkic peoples from Kashgar to Cologne." (391). Another tie that binds the Turks together may be precisely the negative image they have in the eyes of the Persians and Arabs, whose empires they challenged and eventually defeated, an image that is shared and distorted further by Europe whose Christianity the Turks helped consolidate while defining their own Islamic identity. (Pope himself asked his friends whether it was safe before coming to Istanbul only to fall in love with the Turks once he got to know them as invariably is the case for millions of tourists nowadays.) Pope cites both good and bad features that give the Turks their rather unique characteristics such as engaging bluntness, fearlessness, family loyalty, love of risk, friendship and hospitality, all of which are balanced by an aversion to planning, refusal to apologize and recognize faults, a love-hate relationship with leaders and, I might add, an immunity to criticism that results from being unjustly maligned so often.

Turkey's rather spectacular development, despite persistent problems, is due first to a close political-military association with the United States and NATO after 1950, which provided it security and economic support. At the same time, the direct contact of individual emigrant Turks with European society, business, literature, and art has produced at home a dynamic and forward-looking society whose world impact is just emerging. Turks in Germany own some 70,000, mostly small, businesses, and another 35,000 Turkish enterprises and 400 schools are located in the Balkans, Russia (a growing partner) and Central Asia. Pope presents an admirable picture of the struggle by Turks all over the world to adapt themselves to the new economic, political and cultural environment both nationally and internationally.

As Pope aptly states in the prologue, the "Turkic peoples can no longer be treated as marginal players on the edge of Europe and the Middle East, or crushed subjects of remote parts of the Russian and Chinese domains, or, distant allies taken for granted by the European Union and the United States. "(18) Consequently he also might have included in his outstanding national portraits the twelve or so million Tatars, Bashkirs and the Siberian Turks (such as Yakuts) of Russia striving for independence or autonomy.

 The book stands today as probably the best, most readable account of the Turks' history, politics anthropology, culture and life throughout the world. I recommend it highly to the general reader and as a textbook to teachers of international relations, politics, anthropology and cultural change.


Turkic Delight

By Richard McKee

After the disintegration of the USSR, the unfamiliar adjective “Turkic” came into use to describe five newly-independent kindred republics – Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan – and minorities in China’s Xinjiang Province, Russia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Greece, and the Balkans.  All shared with Turkey languages derived from a single source as well as certain cultural affinities, notably an attachment to Islam.  The United States was already interested in this “strategic buffer zone” separating Slavic Europe and Asia from the often-turbulent lands to the south.  But Washington’s interest grew sharply after the 9/11 attacks, due to the region’s utility as a base from which to launch a military assault on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Few observers are better prepared and positioned than Hugh Pope to enlighten Western readers about the 140 million Turkic residents of some 20 countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, and the US.  Having read “Persian” and Arabic at Oxford, he settled in Istanbul in 1987, learned Turkish, and became the correspondent of the Wall Street Journal.  In 1989, a xenophobic spasm that obliged 350,000 Turkish-speaking citizens of Bulgaria to seek refuge in Turkey, and Pope’s courtesy call on Isa Alptekin, the aged and exiled leader of the Turkic Uygur minority of Xinjiang, led him to travel as far as China to gather material for this ambitious, often funny, and occasionally profound book.   

Mercifully, Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World is neither a guidebook nor a travelogue.  In its pages, Pop highlights six collective qualities he discerns in Turkic peoples -- their military vocation, affinity for strong leaders, shared history, complex attitudes toward the West, pragmatic approach to Islam, and entrepreneurial confidence.  Along the way, he gives us sharply delineated portraits of Kazakhstan’s crafty Nursultan Nazarbayev, Turkmenistan’s comically megalomaniac Saparmurat Niyazov, and Uzbekistan’s hardline Islam Karimov, all acolytes of Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk.   

Pope’s insights into the smoldering discontent of the Uygurs are particularly valuable because Xinjiang is so inaccessible.  Devotees of the 19th-century “Great Game” will appreciate his chapters on the Turkic republics’ efforts to loosen the Russian bear’s hug; the contest for influence between theocratic Tehran and secular Ankara (won by enterprising Turkish exporters, entrepreneurs, builders, and moderate Muslim educators); and American oilmen and military officers (alas, no diplomats) far from home but close to the action.  His encounters with many colorful characters like Emre, a youthful Kazakh immigrant from Mongolia; Fidan Ekiz, an outspoken Turk set on creating her future in the Netherlands; and Arif Azci, who led a camel caravan from China to Turkey, vivify Pope’s generalizations. 

It is odd, however, that Pope lavishes so much ink on the far-fetched claims to Turkic descent of North Carolina’s “Melungeons” but ignores the Tatars in the heart of Russia and, particularly, the Turks of Cyprus.  The island’s unresolved status clouds Ankara’s quest for full European Union membership and has great potential ramifications throughout the Turkic (and Muslim) worlds.

 Is there a Turkic world and, if so, is it rising?  Pope marshals arguments to answer both questions affirmatively, adducing architectural, culinary, psychological, and physiological affinities, along with the six qualities cited above, as being shared by all “sons of the [Mongol and Ottoman] conquerors.”  Nonetheless, he concedes that “The Turkic peoples…add up to far less than the sum of their parts.”  Given their linguistic differences, oppressive and corrupt political systems, and economic and ecological burdens, that sober assessment looks likely to last.


Between East and West

By John S. Gardner

Questions for the foreign policy-minded: During the Cold War, which NATO ally maintained the second-largest army? Which shared the longest frontier with the Soviet Union?

If you guessed Britain and Norway, respectively, you are wrong; the answer in both cases is Turkey. Canadians of conservative bent may like to think of themselves as the forgotten ally of the United States, but the Turks surely have a stronger case—Turkey bore the burden of the Cold War to a greater extent than most of our other allies. Recall, for instance, that the denouement of the Cuban missile crisis included an agreement to remove Jupiter missiles from Turkey (a decision about which the Turks were evidently not consulted).

If Americans think of Turkey at all today, it is probably in the context of its troubled history of accession negotiations with the European Union, or the country's refusal to permit transit to American troops prior to the Iraq War in 2003. Few recall Turkey's long history of ruling the Balkans, its contributions in the Korean War, or even the siege of Gallipoli in World War I (an event Australians will never forget). Still fewer are conscious of Turkey's current push for influence in Central Asia in competition with Russia, Iran, and China—a modern Great Game in which America, too, is keenly interested. We have to be reminded that the Turkic world stretches from the Adriatic to the western deserts of China, from northern Iraq and Iran to the vast steppes of Kazakhstan and southern Russia.

Hugh Pope's Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World is a significant effort to correct this gap in Americans' historical and geopolitical understanding. Pope is Istanbul correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, and the book shows reportorial insight and occasional boldness. It is essentially a series of portraits of Turkish and Turkic communities (though he strangely omits northern Cyprus). Along the way in Pope's journey, we meet personalities such as Isa Alptekin, leader of the 1940s nationalist movement in Chinese Turkestan (modern Xinjiang); Islamist businessmen who have made fortunes since the economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s; and young Azeris torn between Turkic identity and Russian culture. Not nomadic like the Mongols but sharing with them a love of military tradition and the hard life of the steppe, the Turks have fashioned a vibrant democracy in a relatively short time. Turkey's economic growth in recent years, based on privatization and freeing the economy, is equally impressive. (After meeting then-Prime Minister Turgut Özal, President Reagan remarked that Özal was a "real Reaganite.")


It is hard to visit Istanbul and not be reminded of the dreams of faded empire. Or rather empires: Constantine, Justinian, Mehmet the Conqueror, among others, all ruled from the city straddling Europe and Asia. And this legacy looms large in modern Turkey. Pope introduces us to Mehmet Ali Bayar, the foreign-policy advisor to former President Demirel, whose family is from Pristina in Kosovo on his father's side and from the Caucasus and Bulgaria on his mother's side. "I haven't got a drop of Anatolian blood in my veins," he says. This phenomenon is at the center of the modern Turkish debate over identity. Chaos during and after World War I and the breakup of the Ottoman Empire changed not only Turkey's political status but with the expulsion of the Greeks and the mass murder of Armenians, its ethnic composition as well. Before WWI, explains Pope, Turkishness meant something more expansive than Turkish ethnicity and Muslim faith. Thus "[f]or 1920s Turkey, this sudden Turkish-Muslim monopoly was arguably more revolutionary than [the] new nation-state ideology." As Pope notes, "the Turkification of Anatolia [was] a triumph of national will, rather like the history of France, where few people originally spoke French. Assimilation, education, population growth and sometimes massacres mean that the proportion of those who now consider themselves ethnic Turks is more than seven in ten."

Yet if memory of lost empires alone were a sufficient bond among the nations of Europe, Turkey would have joined the E.U. long ago. The question of Turkey's relationship with Europe dominates the country's politics and reverberates in such countries as France, Germany, and the Netherlands. In the latter two, the question of Turkish accession influenced, perhaps decisively, the debate over the ratification of the proposed European constitution, even though it was nowhere mentioned in the document.

Europe, in Turkish lore, is the kýzýl elma, the "golden apple." And yet many Turks are as ambivalent about joining the E.U. as Europeans are about admitting them. Pope writes that "Turkey probably wouldn't want to join the E.U. unless it had evolved into a purely economic and trading organization." (This was Margaret Thatcher's vision of the Union, which has been strongly resisted by the French and Germans.) For Mustafa Koç, chairman of Koç Holdings, Turkey's largest company, "[t]he journey towards E.U. membership was more important than actually getting there." Pope observes that many leading Turks seemed to want "recognition of Turkish equality with Europe rather than a dilution of Turkish sovereignty in a new European partnership."

Can a large and relatively poor country like Turkey play a role in Europe? Yes—though for Turks part of the danger is that they could be seen merely as janissaries for countries to their west who choose not to support large standing armies. But the question circles round and round, admitting no clear answers. Always in the background is the Atatürkist vision of secularist integration into Europe; always in the foreground is the reality of Turkey as a nation of 80 million predominantly Muslim, relatively poor citizens. If Atatürk were alive, would his Francophilia lure him towards the E.U.—or would his nationalism rebel at the poor treatment of many Turks in western Europe, and his secularism scorn Europe for not taking a tougher line against Islamic militancy?


The Turkic Central Asian nations are a different case. Unlike Turkey, which in the past 20 years rapidly left corporatism behind, the "stans" suffered under the Soviet yoke for 70 years. And the effects go well beyond the typical backwardness and corruption of most post-Communist countries. In the 1930s, Kazakhstan lost 1.5 million people, about 40% of its population, to a "Moscow-inflicted" famine--a percentage perhaps higher than the Ukraine suffered in its notorious famine. Stalin's nationality policy deliberately confused borders and divided ethnicities and populations. The effects of Soviet-era mismanagement of the environment are particularly tragic in Central Asia. The Aral Sea, once the world's fourth-largest lake, has shrunk by 80%.

But despite this terrible heritage, the Central Asian states still reflect to a remarkable degree their Turkish heritage. Although the Turkic world's physical boundaries have been fluid, its cultural and linguistic boundaries remain surprisingly intact even after decades, sometimes centuries, of separation from the modern Turkish heartland. Hence despite misrule and tyranny, which are thought by some to prepare the ground for radicalism's appeal, militant Islam has made few inroads into Central Asia—though these countries share borders with Iran and Afghanistan. Pope concludes, probably correctly, that the threat from Islamism in the region is remote given the "politically secular proclivity of the Turkic peoples."

Three Central Asian states—Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan—possess vast reserves of oil and gas that are the source of prosperity for a privileged few and hold the potential for genuine national development. Oil is a mixed blessing. With oil, the author explains, "[g]overnments can fund budgets and distribute patronage without any need to consult the people, a situation that corrodes legitimacy, breeds corruption, discourages free enterprise and undermines the national sense of purpose." He rightly quotes an Azeri cleric's view that "[w]hen money comes in the door, faith leaves through the window." For "faith," one may also substitute "democratization," "civil society," and "honest government."

Some Central Asian countries have done better than others. Kazakhstan, awash in oil, features serious corruption but also the absence of terrorism. Relations with the substantial ethnic Russian minority are generally positive. Pope remarks on the "impressive bureaucrats of the Kazakh central bank and the increasingly international bankers of Almaty," whose work provides a foundation for a strong economic future, though it remains unclear how the spoils will be shared.

A less fortunate case is Turkmenistan. Pope is surprisingly lenient on its president, Saparmurat Turkmenbashy Niyazov, whose extravagant personality cult would be comic were it not for the real repression in the country. Among other lunacies, he renamed the month of April after his mother, placed his book the Rukhnama in mosques alongside the Koran, and constructed a golden statue of himself that rotates to face the sun.

But the worst comes after crossing the Chinese border. The Beijing government has sought to erase evidence of Uighur life in Xinjiang (Uighurs are a Turkic-Muslim and nomadic people), sometimes literally bulldozing old Uighur communities to make new streets for the Han Chinese population. The name of Rebiya Kadeer, the leading Uighur activist and businesswoman, deserves to be better known in the West, as do the struggles of her people. But no movie stars have converted to Uighur-inspired Islam, and so the persecution of the Uighur community is less familiar in the West than that of Tibet to the south. Still, Pope finds Turkish chocolate bars in the markets in Xinjiang and sees the faint flicker of the Turkic past in this former stop along the "Silk Road." In this remote spot, Istanbul is still closer than Shanghai.


After September 11th, to the great annoyance of the Russians, the Turkic countries generally cooperated with the U.S. in the War on Terror. Now the situation is more complex. U.S. forces left Uzbekistan after the massacre of civilians in Andijan in May 2005, and four of the five Central Asian countries have since joined with Russia and China in forming the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, designed to counteract Western influence in the region.

Unlike the Central Asians, however, Turkey has been developing a bold foreign policy that the author describes as "self-protective, opportunistic and viscerally independent-minded." But this should not alarm the U.S., for such a foreign policy can easily align with American interests. Turks served as peacekeepers in the Balkans, reinforcing the NATO role there; and America quietly supports Turkey in the contest for influence in Central Asia. Turkey has influence with the Turkic nations in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The generally moderate face of Turkish Islam is a point of attraction to many reformers in the Iranian and Persian worlds. Although Turkey remains adamantly opposed to an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq, relations with Turkey's own Kurds have improved dramatically since the capture of the terrorist Abdullah Ocalan in 1999—and as the result of Europe's pressure to improve human rights as a prelude to E.U. accession talks. More broadly, there is a meeting of the minds between Americans and Turks. As businessman Mustafa Barutçuoglu says, "It's easier to cooperate with the Americans. We're good at the small things; they're good at the big things."

This is so even considering the most bitter disappointment in recent U.S.-Turkish relations: the Turkish Parliament's refusal to permit transit of U.S. troops before the Iraq war. As Pope recounts the story,

politics were as strong a force as any Islamic sentiment. It was secular groups on the far left who gloated most over the discomfort of the American superpower, not the Islamists. [Prime Minister] Erdogan's pro-Islamic party sought to align itself to the United States and especially the European Union, while the 'pro-Western' army and republican establishment sought to keep Washington and Brussels at arm's length.

While the vote was distressing to the U.S., at least it was a vote in a freely elected parliament. And the resolution only failed by nine votes—surely vibrant democracy in action, even if America did not like the result.

G. H. L. LeMay, tutor of British history at Worcester College, Oxford, used to describe British diplomatic practice during the 19th century in this way: "Britain maintained ambassadors only at capitals which were of importance at any particular time." Then he would pause for dramatic effect, and say: "Always at the Porte." Pope is correct that "the Turkic world does not yet add up to the sum of its many parts." But Turkey and the Turkic world could be central to the 21st century, if they so desire.

John S. Gardner was General Counsel of the U.S. Agency for International Development from 2001 to 2005. He has also served as a Deputy Assistant to President George W. Bush and a Special Assistant to President George H.W. Bush.