Turkey: A Modern History

Erik J. Zürcher

I.B. Tauris 2004
A book review by Danny Yee © 2010 http://dannyreviews.com/
Turkey: A Modern History is "modern" historiographically; temporally it goes back as far as the Ottoman empire at the end of the 18th century.

Zürcher discusses periodization in his introduction. He chooses to end part one, "Western Influences and Early Attempts at Modernization", in 1908, with the coming to effective power of the Committee of Union and Progress. And the divide between parts two, "The Young Turk Era", and three, "A Troubled Democracy", falls in 1950. This approach places less emphasis on Atatürk than traditional histories and brings out the continuities between the Unionist period and the Kemalist one-party state.

The primary focus of A Modern History is on politics. Zürcher describes the series of coups and constitutional changes that have shaped Turkey, but also gives a good feel for the shifting forces behind them. He presents the complex relationships of political parties and leaders in a way that is readable and easy to follow, but without descending into biography. There is some treatment of foreign relations and economics, especially in so far as these had political implications, but there are only peripheral glances at social and cultural history.

As well as end notes and an index, Zürcher includes a glossary of Turkish terms, a nicely discursive bibliographical survey, and biographical notes on important figures. Together with its historiographical awareness, this makes Turkey: A Modern History an excellent guide for further exploration of Turkish history.

Originally published in 1993 and revised in 1997 and 2004, A Modern History is perhaps due for another revision. The long final chapter, on the Third Republic and events since 1980, covers the Kurdish problem and regional relationships separately, but has no unified treatment of the rise of political Islam or of Turkey's attempts to join the European Union. Zürcher's survey is still, however, the best history of Turkey I have been able to find.

September 2010

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Related reviews:
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%T Turkey: A Modern History
%A Zürcher, Erik J.
%I I.B. Tauris
%D 2004
%O paperback, notes, biographical notes, index
%G ISBN-13 9781860649585
%P 418pp