The New Turkey:
The Quiet Revolution on the Edge of Europe

Chris Morris

Granta 2005
A book review by Danny Yee © 2010
In The New Turkey Chris Morris presents a broad portrait of Turkey. A BBC correspondent who spent four years living in the country, he draws on personal observations and interviews with people from all walks of life, from high-ranking politicians down to street-sellers and peasants. These are all integrated into larger stories, however, and the "travel" aspects are kept to a minimum.

Published in 2005, parts of The New Turkey are already a little dated, especially given its emphasis on the topical and newsworthy. The introduction, which focuses on Turkey's bid to join the European Union, is probably the worst affected.

An opening chapter describes the background history and the origins of Turkey. This leads naturally into the second chapter, which covers devlet (the state) and the secular, nationalist traditions that are Ataturk's legacy. A chapter on Islam also focuses on politics, on the rise of Erdogan and the AKP, and on flashpoints such as the wearing of headscarves.

Relationships between the state and the large Kurdish minority, for long denied any recognition at all, have been improving, and violence in the southeast has decreased. The relationship with Greece is also warmer, though some issues remain thorny. But Turkey and most Turks still refuse to accept the reality of the Armenian genocide, even eighty years on. Turning to broader human rights issues, Morris covers the crackdown on torture, the status of prisons and the death fasts of the DHKP-C, honour killings and women's rights, and regional inequalities and the dams on the Euphrates and Tigris.

Turkey experienced an economic crash in early 2001, which it was only really recovering from when The New Turkey was published. The general picture Morris paints, however, of a country with huge potential for growth, remains accurate. He touches on the roles of agriculture, the grey and black economies, corruption, and Islamic and military capital.

Morris describes the Turkish community in Germany, anti-Muslim rhetoric in Europe, and Turkish sentiment towards joining the European Union. He looks at Turkey's position at a crossroads: the smuggling of people and drugs; relations with Iran, Syria and Iraq; unpopular alliances with Israel and the United States; attempts to export surplus water; and the geopolitics of tanker routes through the Bosphorus and gas pipelines such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.

A final chapter covers Turkey's cultural revolution, touching on literature and art but mostly covering film and music.

With the kind of narrative in The New Turkey, where the writer stays in firm control and their sources are relatively distant, one has to trust they are presenting a balanced picture. Morris seems reasonable here: he is clearly deeply involved with Turkey and its people, but willing to face its failings — and in a position where he can do that openly.

The New Turkey is an easy introduction to some of the notable features of modern Turkey. It is already a little dated, however, and becoming more awkwardly placed as time goes by, a study of current affairs aging poorly into social history.

March 2010

Related reviews:
- books about Turkey + the Ottoman Empire
- more social history
- books published by Granta
%T The New Turkey
%S The Quiet Revolution on the Edge of Europe
%A Morris, Chris
%I Granta
%D 2005
%O paperback, index
%G ISBN-13 9781862078659
%P 258pp