BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Stephen Kinzer,
when you think of Turkey, what's the
best thing about it?
Mr. STEPHEN KINZER (Author, "Crescent
& Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds"):
Turkey is a truly fascinating, very
multifaceted country. It has a huge
cultural history; probably more
civilizations have existed over a longer
period of time on that piece of geography than anywhere else
in the world. You can hardly turn over a shovel anywhere in
Turkey without finding some remnant of some fascinating
civilization. So that's the historical and cultural aspect.
At the moment, Turkey is going through a period of
self-examination and trying to decide if it's ready to complete
its march toward democracy. It already is the most
democratic Islamic country in the world and only country in
the world that can call itself, with any justification, a Muslim
democracy, so that makes this a fascinating place at any
As a result of what is happening in the world right now,
Turkey's importance has suddenly mushroomed. Turkey has a
big role to play in what's going to be happening over the next
weeks and months in central Asia and probably even an eq--a
greater role in the long-term future, as it seeks to set a
counterexample in the Islamic world to the message that
we're getting from the cave.
So although Turkey is a fascinating place--and I--I can say
that out of the 50 countries I have covered, as a foreign
correspondent, this is really the most interesting one--it holds
a very special place right now. And I think it's probably a more
interesting place and a place where the world's attention is
focused more sharply than ever before.
LAMB: It struck me this morning--I was in reading The Wall
Street Journal, one of your competitors, I guess. And there's
a story in there--it--it was a small story--says Turkey's
regional ambitions get boost by a fellow named Hugh Pope.
And it's dateline Istanbul. And as I read it, I thought, this is a
great opportunity for us to learn from you all the ins and outs
of this piece, 'cause it's very relevant to what's going on
today. First paragraph: `Turkey won Britain's blessing for its
bid to become a leading planner and peace keeper in any
international postwar reconstruction of Afghanistan.'
Let me just stop right there. Why would it be--why would the
Brits be involved with Turkey? Why would they say something
like that? And how does it relate to Afghanistan?
Mr. KINZER: I'm not going to say it was because the author of
that piece is British, but the British foreign secretary was in
Turkey and simply gave a kind of pro forma approval, I think,
to a plan that the Americans have long since accepted, the
pa--the principle of which is that Turkey is uniquely situated
to play a role, not just in the period in which the Taliban is
being confronted and perhaps overthrown and in the
immediate post-Taliban period, but for--for a much longer
period after that.
Turkey brings some very unique and valuable assets to the
table when it comes to participation in this anti-terror
coalition. First of all, Turkey holds a special role in the Islamic
consciousness as a result of the Ottoman Empire and as a
result of its very central geography. So Turkey can play a role
that Christian countries cannot.
Secondly, Turkey has a long history of involvement in
Afghanistan. Not only is it the chief sponsor of one of the
principal components in the Northern Alliance, but it has
intelligence and experience over many years of training
soldiers and having diplomats and having projects on the
ground in Turkey. There is no other country who--which has
the access to the kind of intelligence experience in
Afghanistan that Turkey does.
Also bear in mind that Turkey has recently finished fighting a
civil war against Kurdish insurgents in terrain almost exactly
like that of Afghanistan, against an enemy whose armament
and tactics is very similar to what is--the West is going to be
facing in Afghanistan.
Now the Afghan leaders of the '20s and '30s consciously
modeled themselves on Turkey. They saw Turkey as a country
that had broken away from imperialism and had established
itself as a Muslim state with very modern, Western oriented
ambitions. And in fact, Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish
state, co--corresponded at great length with the Afghan king,
the grandfather of Zahir Shah, about whom we hear so
much--now living in Rome and hopefully playing a--a part in
the rebuilding of his country.
And finally, Turkey has big ethnic ties in central Asia. The
Turks only got to what is now Turkey 1,000 years ago. Before
that, they were living in central Asia. And their ethnic cousins
are all over that region. Uzbekistan, for example, which is the
principal country in the region from which the United States
hopes to fly missions into Afghanistan, is a Turkic country. My
own pidgin Turkish gets me along quite well in Uzbekistan.
So there is a readiness to accept Turkey that you don't see in
a willingness to accept participation from any other country.
Turkey is the only Muslim country in NATO, and it's the NATO
country that is the closest to the theater of operations now.
So Turkey can make a great contribution and is going to make
a great contribution to this coalition.
LAMB: When were you there for The New York Times?
Mr. KINZER: I arrived in 1996. I spent four years there and
returned to the United States just about a year ago. I was
most recently in Turkey again for a--a visit just a few months
LAMB: Where did you live when you were there?
Mr. KINZER: I lived in Istanbul, which may or may not be the
world's most magnificent city, but it's certainly the most
magnificently situated city in the world. It is, as one writer
from the 17th Century once described it, the key to two
worlds, because with a single waterway, it connects two
empires. You have the Black Sea to the north, which is the
gateway to Russia and the Slavic world, and the
Mediterranean to the south, which connects Turkey to
Europe, and to Africa and to the Middle East. I was living in a
house quite close to the Bosphorus, which is a body of water
that separates Europe from Asia.
Istanbul is the only city in the world that is on two
continents. And that reflects Turkey's dilemma. When I used
to sit in a cafe near my house and look out over the
Bosphorus, I could feel the--the duality, the--the double pull
on the Turkish identity. Behind me is Paris and Rome and
London, and in front of me just across the Bosphorus is this
huge, unbroken landmass that stretches all the way to
Baghdad and Delhi and Beijing.
So Istanbul proved an intensely fascinating place to
live--former capital of the Roman Empire, for a 1,000 years
the capital of the Byzantine Empire, and then for centuries
the capital of the Ottoman Empire and now the center of one
of the most vibrant Islamic civilizations in the world. So I can
honestly say that four years was just not enough time to
absorb all of the richness of that city.
LAMB: How many people live there?
Mr. KINZER: Nobody knows the answer to that question,
probably in the neighborhood of 13 million people.
LAMB: I'm sorry. I meant the whole country.
Mr. KINZER: The population of Turkey is about 65 million.
LAMB: What countries abut it?
Mr. KINZER: Turkey has a variety of different neighbors. On
the European side, Bulgaria and Greece. Then on the other
side, it has the Caucuses. It has--it borders on Georgia; has a
little border with Azerbaijan. Then it borders on Iraq; it
borders on Syria, and it borders on Iran. So Turkey is in a
difficult neighborhood. Countries that could choose their
neighbors would not choose the neighbors that Turkey has
found itself with.
LAMB: What language does--do the people of Turkey speak?
Mr. KINZER: Turkey has the remarkable experience of having
essentially created a new language in the 1920s. Kemal
Ataturk, who was the founder of the Turkish Republic, was
one of the most successful revolutionaries of the 20th
Century. The other ideologies that emerged at the time that
he stepped on to history's stage in the 1920s--I'm talking
about Bolshevism, and Fascism and Nazism--have all
collapsed, leaving legacies of untold misery and pain, but the
revolution of Ataturk still thrives. And that revolution
consisted of ripping Turkish society completely and quite
violently apart from its deep Islamic, traditional, theocratic
roots and forcibly pushing it towards Europe, towards
modernity, towards democracy. The fez was banned. The veil
for women was banned. Divorce was legalized. Marriage
between Muslims and non-Muslims was legalized. Civil codes
were imported from Switzerland and other European countries.
And in what was not the least achievement of that revolution,
Ataturk decided that writing in the Arabic script was always
going to keep Turkey isolated from the Western world. He
called them incomprehensible symbols. `We must free
ourselves from these.' And so he convened a convention of
linguists and philologists--told them that he wanted them to
transliterate the entire Arabic la--Turkish Arabic language into
the Latin script. And he asked them, `How long did they
estimate this would take?' They came back to him with the
response that since it involved creating es--essentially a
whole new language, they could manage this in six years. His
answer, in typical Ataturk fashion, was, `Fine, you've got six
months.' And in six months' time, the script with which Turks
had lived for centuries was abolished and a new es--a new
language essentially was implemented, and it is now a version
of Ottoman Turkish, but probably would be almost
incomprehensible to a person who lived in Turkey 100 years
LAMB: Who leads the country today?
Mr. KINZER: Turkey is ruled by a democratic system. There's
an elected pres--elected president, elected prime minister, a
parliament, and it functions in many ways as a parliamentary
democracy. There is, however, one exception to this. The
Turkish military has played a very interesting role in forming
this nation. And there's a tremendous public admiration for the
military in Turkey.
I came to Turkey after spending many years in Latin America
during the 1970s and '80s, and there, I observed that there
was an almost directly inverse relationship between the power
of the military and the happiness of the people. Powerful
military means oppression and brutality and misery for the
people. Tear down the military, spit on them and kick them;
people will become happier and live more fulfilling lives. I had
to throw that scale completely out--out of my window and
into the Bosphorus when I arrived in Turkey. The Turkish
military was responsible for creating the Republic of Turkey,
which after World War I was to be sliced up and divided
among the victorious Allies. Many people also feel that the
Turkish military saved the nation from destruction just within
the last decade by suppressing a separatist rebellion.
As a result of this confidence that many Turks have in their
army, they have accepted a system in which there's a body
called the National Security Council, in which the country's
principal military leaders and principal civilian leaders meet
together to fo--shape the direction of public policy. In
practice, the military has a strong role on the National
Security Council. So this means that the military is not
completely subject to civilian authority the way it is in a
democratic country. There is con--cr--growing debate about
this in Turkey today. Even though most Turks are willing to
accept the guidance of the military in national security
matters, they're increasingly uncomfortable with the military's
desire to shape the limits of domestic politics. And this
conflict is one of the--it--debates that is shaping Turkey
LAMB: A religion--you say it's a Muslim country. Are--is
Mr. KINZER: Almost everyone, well over 95 percent.
LAMB: What does that mean?
Mr. KINZER: Islam plays a very different role in Turkey than it
does in many other Muslim countries. In the first place,
Ataturk himself was deeply secularist and believed that
although religion can play an important, even a dominant role
in shaping personal morality, it should not have any role in
shaping state policy. That is what he meant by secularism,
which is the guiding principle of--of his ideology. To a
remarkable extent in--what's actually quite a short time--75
years of existence for the Turkish Republic--the vast majority
of Turkish people have embraced the idea of secularism. And
this is what gives Turkey the opportunity to play a long-term
role in the Islamic world, particularly in central Asia, but
actually even beyond. Turkey is the furthest to the opposite
extreme imaginable from what we are seeing in Afghanistan
and from the Taliban in terms of religious belief.
Right now, the message that is coursing through the Islamic
world and that is shaping all discussion and debate and
dialogue is this message from the cave. And I--I guess that
could--that phrase could be used figuratively as well as
literally. The--the message has been such a shock and comes
so unexpectedly to the outside world that there has been no
countermessage. The Islamic world, much less the world
outside of it, has not been able to come up with a coherent
response to that message from the cave.
Now Turkey is the country best equipped to give the
countermessage. And that message is you can become a
fulfilled, prosperous, democratic country if you adopt the
ideas that we have followed. Follow democracy and
secularism. Embrace Islam as a form of personal guidance, but
don't try to shape the direction of your state through religious
principles. Turkey can give this message to the Islamic world
and, by so doing, help to pull the Islamic c--consciousness
away from radical fundamentalism, towards modernity,
towards universal ideals of human rights and democracy. And
if it can do that, Turkey can have a profound influence on the
Islamic c--world. And by so doing, it can change the whole
LAMB: Let me ask you about this cover. Where is this picture
Mr. KINZER: That is a picture of the Bosphorus. And that body
of water that you see is the body that separates Europe from
Asia. And there's a bridge in that picture, which is to illustrate
the theme of my book, as the subtitle says, "Turkey Between
Now in my book, although I discuss the political and cultural
conflicts that are now bubbling in Turkey, after
finished--finishing writing those chapters, I c--concluded that
I hadn't done enough to explain my fascination with this
country or show how much fun it was to live there. So I wrote
a series of mini-chapters about what it was like to watch
camel fighting, and why I loved eating in Turkish restaurants,
and who's the best Turkish poet and other little tidbits that,
I--I think, give people an insight into what makes this country
And one of these little chapters is about the Bosphorus. I talk
about its history from the moment that it filled up with water
over the period of just a few days in one the greatest natural
cataclysms of recorded history; actually many people believe
that this is the great flood that is referred to in the--the Noah
story in the Bible and in the epic of Gilgamesh and in other
great religious and historical writings. The Bosphorus is also
lined with beautiful castles, and it's lined with colorful
mansions in all sorts of architectural styles. Anybody who lives
near the Bosphorus is captured by its beauty. It's a--it's a
constantly changing jewel.
And one the things that I wanted to do before I left Turkey
was swim across the Bosphorus. It's a little more than mile
wide. And I thought I could handle this, even though every
time I asked my Turkish friends what they thought of this
idea, they said, `Why? Why would you want to do such a
thing? It's very dirty. The currents are very dangerous. There
are too many tankers and large vessels going through. It's
dangerous.' It's not even really legal to swim in--other than at
the edges of the Bosphorus. But I wanted to do it as a way of
consummating my relationship with this wonderful body of
water. And very importantly, I decided that I wanted to swim
across from the Asian side to the European side, because that
is the direction of Turkish history, and the Bosphorus
encapsulates this. I--Turkey has been moving from East to
West throughout its entire existence, and that's the direction
of--across which I swam the Bosphorus.
LAMB: Thirty-nine minutes?
Mr. KINZER: Thirty-nine minutes according to the stopwatch
of the guy in the boat who accompanied me. The water was
cleaner than I expected. I--was very early in the morning,
about 5 AM, so the traffic wasn't quite as heavy as it
sometimes is. I was swimming right up near the Black Sea end
of the Bosphorus. The Bosphorus is about 17 miles long. And
as I was swimming across, I was thinking of the people that
have crossed that body of water, from Tamerlane and Homer
and Aristotle, through Darius and Alexander the Great. And I
felt connected to the sweep of Turkish history. So does
everybody who comes to Istanbul and gazes out on this
LAMB: The Dardanelles--now explain what the Dardanelles and
the Bosphorus and the Black Sea--what are they?
Mr. KINZER: These are the two straits--the Dardanelles and
the Bosphorus--that separate Europe from Asia, and
concretely today the European part of Turkey from the Asian
part of Turkey. You must pass through, if you're coming from
the Mediterranean, the Dardanelles first, then you come into a
small body of water called the Sea of Marmara, and then you
go up through the Bosphorus. In this way, you've gone from
the Mediterranean up to the Black Sea. This is the only
route--this is the only connection that the entire Slavic and
Caucasus world has with the outside world.
This body of water is the lifeline for a huge region of the
world. And it is also the body of water that symbolizes, not
only Turkey's dual East-West identity, but also its--it's
north-south identity. To the north lies Russia and the Slavic
world, which is a world with which Turkey has been very
intertwined for a long time. And the Mediterranean not only
connects it to storied history, as Jason and Odysseus and all
these other great heroes, who supposedly touched foot on
Turkish soil, but also the Mediterranean is the outlet to the
world. It washes the shores of Africa. It washes the shores of
Europe. And it is the outlet to the Atlantic.
So Turkey, because of its geography, has a number of
different views of the world. For m--much of its existence,
the Turkish Republic was off on the edge. It's in the very far
corner of Europe, far, far corner of Asia. It's near but not in
the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus. So it's always
been considered kind of marginal with the end of the Cold
War. And the evaporation of the imaginary line between
Europe and Asia, which was always an imaginary construct
anyway by European intellectuals who wanted to find a way
to separate themselves from the barbarian hoards to the East.
Turkey is no longer on the edge of anything. Turkey is right in
the middle of the world. And that gives Turkey the platform to
begin what may now be its largest role, its largest operation,
its largest projection, not just of military power, but of
political ideals ever since it existed as a nation.
LAMB: Back to Mr. Hugh Pope's article in The Wall Street
Journal--you mention some of this--`Turkey, the only member
of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was a largely--with
a largely Muslim population, has already sent a high-ranking
team to the US to begin military coordination.' Do--does the
US still have military bases in Turkey?
Mr. KINZER: Absolutely. The US operates from a large base in
southern Turkey. And that is where the planes who
are--which are patrolling northern Iraq are based.
LAMB: What's the name of it?
Mr. KINZER: Incirlik, down near the city of Adana on the
LAMB: And Mr. Post says they prove a loyal Western ally,
quote, "`The struggle in Afghanistan against an archaic
regime, which hosts terrorism, must be carried out until the
end,' Prime Minister"--and you pronounce his name...
Mr. KINZER: Bulent Ecevit.
LAMB: ..."told Turkish Parliament. Mr. Ecevit lent credence to
reports that Turkey is readying a military team to train forces
of Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance opposition group. Turkey
is also offering to lead a Muslim contingent of any
international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. It is well
prepared with NATO's second-biggest Army." Second biggest
to the how many countries in NATO--nine, 10?
Mr. KINZER: More than that, so Turkey has a...
LAMB: Yeah, it's up to fif--up to fif...
Mr. KINZER: ...has a large--has a large military force. And
it's--it's interesting that Prime Minister Ecevit announced,
even before the Americans did, I think on September 14th,
that he was convinced that there would be no end to terror
movements in the world as long as the Taliban was in power.
When I heard that, I thought, `Well, prime minister, you're a
little ahead of the curve here,' but the curve has really
caught up with him now. The Turks have no tolerance for
these kinds of movements and are--are aggressive in their
desire to stamp them out.
It's also very interesting to imagine the role that Turkey can
play on the ground in Afghanistan in a post-Taliban
environment. It is ideally placed because of its heritage, and
certainly because of its religious foun--foundation, to go into
Afghanistan without arousing the hostility that some other
kinds of forces would. This is another role that Turkey is now
equipped to play better than any other country in the world.
Turkey is the only Muslim country in NATO. And it is the NATO
country closest to this theater of operations. It's only one
country away from Afghanistan.
So Turkey will play a role in the first stage of this conflict,
which will be to depose the Taliban. It will play a role in the
transitional phase, which will be to stabilize the country,
pob--probably by participating and, I wouldn't be surprised,
leading a peacekeeping multinational force under the auspices
of the United Nations or some other body. And then it will go
on to play what I described earlier as perhaps its most
important role, which is helping to reshape not just the
consciousness in Afghanistan, but the Islamic approach in--in
a wider world.
It will have particular resonance in Pakistan. There is actually
a very interesting relationship there. The Pakistanis, who were
becoming restive under British rule in the 1920s and '30s,
looked to Turkey as an example. They were inspired in many
ways by Ataturk. And Jinnah, the founder of the modern
Pakistani state, was a great admirer of Ataturk. In addition to
that, President Musharraf of Pakistan is a military officer who
was trained in Turkey. He speaks Turkish. And I believe, like
many of the people of his class and background in Pakistan,
he also sees Turkey as a model for what countries can be if
they want to embrace Islam as a guidance for--as a guide for
personal life, but isolated from influence over state power.
LAMB: You went to jail in Turkey.
Mr. KINZER: That's a nice way of putting it. It makes it sound
voluntary. I did have a little brush with the Turkish
authorities. The war that was fought between the Turkish
army and Kurdish insurgents in southeastern Turkey was
fought more or less out of the public eye. The Turkish army
was anxious, as most armies are, to conduct its operations
without anybody watching and it was more successful than
many armies have been in--in doing so. As a foreign
correspondent, it was part of my responsibility to try to sniff
around and find out what was going on in southeastern
Turkey while that conflict was underway.
The Turks had had several cases of Europeans who had been
working with rebel groups in Europe and had come to
southeastern Turkey to serve as couriers or play some other
kind of shadowy role on behalf of rebel Kurdish groups. I was
driving around, minding what I thought was my own business,
although from the perspective of the army, I was intruding
into theirs. I came to a couple of roadblocks during the day,
and when told I couldn't go any further, I respectfully turned
around and went the other way. But I did reach one roadblock
where I was told I couldn't go away. I should come in and sit
down while some phone calls were made. After a couple of
hours, I was brought down to another command post and
finally into the basement of a military headquarters in a
provincial capital out in eastern Turkey. And I was subjected
to some quite intense, although not physical, interrogation
over a period of many hours. And I was told finally by a couple
of my interrogators, we think you're a spy for--for the rebels.
I spent about 24 hours in custody. And although it was a
highly unpleasant experience, even while it was going on, I
can remember telling myself, `Try not to focus only on what
they're doing to you, but see what you can learn from this
experience.' And--and it was a learning experience in a sense.
I got a view of that conflict that I don't think I could have
gotten any other way. And although the Army was hoping to
keep me apart from some new insights into the military
mind-set, I think I did get some while I was down in that cell.
LAMB: You say that half the 30 million Kurds in the world live
Mr. KINZER: Something like that, yes.
LAMB: And what's the relationship now between the Kurds and
Mr. KINZER: There's been a great change in this relationship
over the last few years. The Kurdish rebellion reached a peak
in the late '80s and early '90s. It was something that was
terrifying for the rest of the Turkish nation because the
central goal of Kurdish rebels was to slice Turkey apart and to
establish their own state in eastern Turkey, a state which the
Turks feared was going to be very radical and become a base
for further attacks that could ultimately end in the
disintegration of their nation. Now in the mid-1990s, that war
began to end, particularly with a series of military victories by
the Turkish army, and then finally because of the capture of
the leader of the rebellion.
As a result of those events, the demands of Kurdish
nationalists, diminished tremendously. In my book, I talk about
a trip that I made after the war ended and the trial of the
rebel leader was over. Through Kurdish exile communities in
Europe, I concluded that Kurds would feel more free to talk
and would speak more openly outside of Turkey than they
might be able to inside Turkey. And many of these exile
communities had supported the rebellion inside Turkey. I found
some remarkable turn-around in the Kurdish mentality. People
told me as a result of the Internet and modern technology,
national borders have lost so much of their importance. You
can set up a Web site and reach anyone you want.
One Kurdish poet who had been very active in nationalist
circles in London for many years told me, `I always believed
that there should be an independent Kurdistan, but I don't
believe that anymore. I want to live in an environment in
which I am free to be who I am and in which I can enjoy
democratic rights. If that environment is called Turkey, that's
fine with me.' This is a great step forward and a tremendous
reduction in what Kurds want. The ability of the Turkish nation
to resolve this question almost forever is greater now than it's
ever been, because the concessions that are necessary to
persuade Kurds that they have a place inside the Turkish
Republic are now smaller, more minor than they've ever been.
It's still a psychological hurdle for the Turkish leaders to get
over, that--that they should make concessions, but they can
resolve this conflict by making what are now relatively minor
concessions, and I hope they will.
LAMB: Where do the Kurds live in Turkey?
Mr. KINZER: That's an interesting question, because the
traditional Kurdish homeland is in southeastern Turkey, which
is the poorest and least-developed part of Turkey. However,
partly as a result of the upheaval caused by the war, millions
of Kurds have poured out of that region, looking for stability
and economic betterment in the big cities. So you can now
find huge Kurdish communities in Istanbul, in Ankara, in Izmir.
And I should add that this minority is not a minority in the
sense that Americans often use that term. M--a Kurd and a
Turk look very much alike. You--you can't tell them apart on
the street. And no one is discriminated against in Turkey for
You are sometimes discriminated against for refusing to
accept your place as a Turkish citizen, but Kurds have risen
to the top level in business, in entertainment, even in
government, in Turkey. The speaker of the parliament has
been a Kurd. So being of Kurdish descent is no obstacle to
advancement in Turkey. And that is why many Kurds outside
of their ancestral homeland in southeastern Turkey are
anxious to integrate themselves into the Turkish nation, and I
think increasingly the Turkish nation is anxious to embrace
LAMB: You say there are two and a half million Turks in
Germany, and I--I remember that at--at one point, at least,
they couldn't become German citizens. Has that changed yet?
Mr. KINZER: I lived in Germany, coincidentally, before I went
to--went to Turkey to live, and there is a large Turkish and
Turkish-Kurdish community in Berlin. When I looked out at
these communities, I get a certain view of what Turkey is and
what Turks are. But that, I found out when I got to Turkey, is
a very distorted view. During the 1960s and '70s, Germany,
and other European countries, asked Turks to come by the
tens of thousands to work in factories and power the
economic rebirth of Europe that followed the Second World
So who came? Not intellectuals, not educated people, but
very poor villagers from eastern Anatolia, many of them Kurds.
These are people who would have been out of place and
disoriented, even in--in Ankara, or Izmir, or Istanbul, much
less in Brussels or Cologne. And it drives the educated Turks
absolutely crazy to realize that the image of Turks in Europe is
essentially shaped by these relatively primitive villagers who
have nothing to do with the modernity that the Turkish nation
embraces. I think that's part of the reason why Europeans
look at Turkey with a certain skepticism and why they find it a
little difficult to embrace the idea that Turkey can be a
European nation psychologically, as well as politically, that
Turkey should have a place, perhaps even in the European
Union. They see one side of Turkey and imagine that that
represents the whole nation, although that's very much not
LAMB: Two-thirds of the Turks are under 35 years old?
Mr. KINZER: Turkey has had a big demographic boom, and this
has had a huge political impact in Turkey, too. Turkey, when
it was founded in the 1920s, was a very fragile state. It faced
enemies all around it, including the Soviet Union, which
wanted to incorporate it.
LAMB: What was it before it was formed?
Mr. KINZER: Before it was formed, it was the heart of the
LAMB: And what was that?
Mr. KINZER: The Ottoman Empire was the greatest Muslim
empire of all time. It stretched all the way from Arabia across
northern Africa into the Caucasus and out into Europe, right
up into the gates of Vienna and Budapest. So it was on the
ruins of this finally collapsed empire that Ataturk built the
LAMB: Where does the `ottoman' word come from?
Mr. KINZER: There were various Turkish clans that came from
central Asia to Turkey about 1,000 years ago. And one of
them was headed by a sultan, or a chieftain called Azman. So
his clan was the House of Azman. In Germany, the Ottoman
Empire's called (German spoken), and that got transliterated
in--in English from Az--Azmans to Ottoman.
Now in the early years of the Turkish Republic, the fears of
Turkish leaders guided all their politics. They feared religious
backlash. They feared uprisings by sheiks from within the
country, they feared their neighbors. And generations of Turks
grew up with the idea that Turkey was surrounded by
enemies, Turkey was surrounded by dangers, Turkey always
had to be on the alert. Everybody's against Turkey. Only the
Turk will save the Turk.
Younger generations have grown up in a very different
environment. They look around and don't see threats. They
see a thriving, very self-confident nation. And they want to
know why there are still some restrictions remaining on Turkish
democracy. `Why can't we,' these two-thirds of the nation
that are under 35 ask, `be the examples of democracy and be
entrusted with the responsibility, as voters, of deciding the
direction of our country? If Estonians can do it and
Uruguayans can do it and Taiwanese can do it, why can't we
do it? Are we too irresponsible or too stupid or too immature?'
Their elders are telling them, `Watch out. Once you let the
religious believers practice religion as they like and let people
of various ethnic groups express themselves and let people
who denounce and hate the principles of our republic speak
freely, you are opening the floodgates, and the nation and our
great secular experiment will be drowned.' This younger
generation doesn't believe that anymore.
The great question now that shapes the entire political and
intellectual debate in Turkey is one that I guess I could
reduce down to a simple three-word question, and that is,
`Are we ready? Are we ready for democracy?' If the lid is
taken off and Turkey is allowed to complete its march toward
democracy, when even the most hateful ideologies can speak
freely, when any form of religious belief is allowed, when no
form of criticism of the state is illegal, will Turkey still be able
to survive this shock, the shock of a true democracy? There's
a great debate over this question now, and the demographic
explosion to which you referred, that has made this such a
young country, has given tremendous momentum to the view,
`Yes, we are ready.'
LAMB: How many statues are there of Ataturk in Turkey?
Mr. KINZER: Well, I would say to count the images of Ataturk
in Turkey would be a folly akin to counting the number of
grains of sand on the beach or the numbers of stars in the
sky. Ataturk is on every coin and he is on every bank note.
His picture hangs in every office and every cinema and every
tea house. His statue is in every neighborhood and in every
town. Turkey prides itself more than anything on its
secularism, that it is not guided by religious principles. But as I
traveled around Turkey and began to see the--these images
of Ataturk everywhere--and believe me, no form of image is
considered too vulgar. Whether it's on a paperweight or
carved into the side of a mountain or illuminated in flames,
there--there is no f--there is nothing that is considered
excessive. You--you cannot go too far. So it's a--it's a little
off-putting actually to some outsiders.
LAMB: Is there anything to compare him to in the United
Mr. KINZER: Absolutely not, and I don't think in--there--there
are very few countries in the world where there is any
comparison. But I--I got to the conclusion that maybe Turkey
does have a religion and that Ataturk is the center of it. The
mausoleum in which he is buried is something like a mecca or a
Vatican of this Kemalist faith.
LAMB: Where is it?
Mr. KINZER: In Ankara. Everywhere you go, places where
Ataturk slept and clothes that Ataturk wore are preserved.
There are countless movies and books and poems written
about him, and it's remarkable to me the extent to which this
LAMB: Where does the name come from?
Mr. KINZER: One of the other fascinating aspects of the
Ataturk revolution had to do with names. When Ataturk took
over, Turkey was a primitive country without roads, without
hospitals, without universities, and one aspect of its relatively
backwards civilization was most people had only one name.
You were just Azman or Hussein. This was a non-European
tradition that Ataturk abolished. Everybody should have a first
name and a last name. Just like a European. The same way
that he should--a man should wear a suit and a hat instead of
a caftan, and a woman should wear a blouse and a skirt
instead of a veil or a covering, everyone should have a proper
first and last name.
So everybody in Turkey was ordered to choose a last name.
And for those who couldn't think of one, a book was prepared
with thousands of possibilities and this book was distributed to
town halls around the country so you could choose a name
like Sari Guld, Yellow Rose, or Akil Diz, the Pale Star, or Turk
Ola, the Son of the Turk, or Berber Ola, Son of the Barber.
You get a lot of these names still. But the one name that no
one could choose was the one that the Turkish parliament
chose for Ataturk himself. When he was born, he was Mustafa
Kmal. He didn't like Mustafa because it was a little Arabic
sounding, and Turks and Arabs haven't always got along. So
he chose the name Ataturk, which means Father of the Turks,
and by that name he has entered history.
LAMB: You say that he died at age 58 of cirrhosis. What
Mr. KINZER: Ataturk embraced the European lifestyle and
he--he liked to swim and he liked to take trips on yachts, he
liked to dance, he liked to eat and he especially liked to drink.
He drank raki, which is the potent anise-flavored national drink
LAMB: That you said you liked.
Mr. KINZER: He drank it to excess and I--I may have done a
little of that myself. I had a running battle with the expense
account monitors at The New York Times over whether my
purchase of all that raki was actually research, as I insisted,
or whether it was merely recreation, as they suggested.
Actually, Ataturk died from overindulgence in raki, but I might
suggest that he died from overindulgence in Turkey, his
frustrations about Turkey. Because raki is really a wonderful
tool to help understand Turkey. When you look at raki in the
bottle, it's clear. It's just like water. And when I first got to
Turkey and became tremendously excited about the--the
beauty and--and the audacity of the Turkish idea, I thought I
could see the shining future of Turkey ahead of me so clearly,
just as if it were shining through that very clear raki bottle.
But when you drink raki, you don't drink it straight. You pour
about one-third of the glass, or maybe one-half if you're in
the mood, full of raki and then you put water in to dilute it.
When you put the water in, this clear liquid becomes very
cloudy. Turks call raki lion's milk, and it looks a little like milk
after you put the water in. Well, the same thing happened to
my certainty that Turkey was about to reach its great
destiny. Instead of seeing it as clearly as I did at the
beginning through that clear bottle, I became filled with
doubts and uncertainties as to whether Turkey would really
grasp the chance that history is now offering it, and my view
of the Turkish great future became clouded and I saw it only
through that milky mixture that you see in the raki glass
instead of clearly as you see through the raki bottle.
LAMB: Where was Ataturk born?
Mr. KINZER: Ataturk was born actually in what is now Greece.
He--he is a classic example of how the heart of the Ottoman
Empire in much of the Turkey consciousness comes from the
Balkans. Ataturk was the son of a minor civil servant and rose
in the Turkish military, which was then one of the few
institutions in which people without social standing could rise.
The great turning point in his life came in the battle of
Gallipoli, which was fought right on the Dardanelles. He fought
his decisive battle within sight of where the Trojan War was
fought. And both the Trojan War and the battle of Gallipoli,
which was a key battle in World War I, were fought really for
the same purpose, if you don't--if you're willing to put aside
the view that the Trojan War was fought over a woman.
Actually, I think the Trojan War was fought over control of
the straits. Once you control that strait, the Dardanelles and
the Bosporus with it, you control access to a huge world.
The British expeditionary force that was sent by Winston
Churchill decided it needed to seize this Gallipoli peninsula that
overlooks the Dardanelles so that British ships would have free
passage through and perhaps could ultimately supply a
rear-guard attack on--on Austria or Hungary. But Churchill,
who was then first lord of the admiralty, the equivalent of our
Navy secretary, was foiled, because the Turkish army at
Gallipoli, to the shock of the outside world, proved very
resolute, very brave, and willing to take tremendous
casualties. This was the only major Turkish victory of World
War I, and the commander of that Turkish brigade was
Mustafa Kmal, later to become Ataturk.
LAMB: In what years did he live?
Mr. KINZER: Ataturk died in 1938.
LAMB: And it had been a country since 1923?
Mr. KINZER: '23, right. So he was the president for its first 15
years of existence. And he was the only figure who could
have rallied the nation, because he was the only Turkish
officer who emerged from World War I with a glorious victory
under his belt.
LAMB: Did he have a family?
Mr. KINZER: Ataturk was married, and it's interesting that one
of the reforms that he implemented was the abolition of the
old Muslim style of divorce in which you could divorce your
wife by simply repeating three times the phrase `I divorce
you.' But one of his final acts before abolishing this system
was to divorce his own wife in this way. So there were some
contradictions in--between his personal life and what he
wanted for the nation.
LAMB: What did he have that was so important?
Mr. KINZER: I read a memoir by the British king who came to
visit Turkey during Ataturk's rule and visited Ataturk, and he
wrote that Ataturk had `the most penetrating eyes of anyone
I've ever met.' And I've heard other people say this and I've
read this in a number of books. Ataturk had a force of
personality that was truly remarkable, and he had a sense of
who he was and what he was gonna do from quite a young
age. He embarked quite consciously on a vast reform project.
He had total self-confidence. And he was not a person for
small dreams. He was deeply convinced that he had a mission
to destroy an entire theocracy and build a new nation on its
ruins. And, in fact, he spent less years--fewer years
destroying the existing system of government and society
than centuries had been spent building it.
LAMB: '96 was your first year in Turkey...
Mr. KINZER: Yes, it was.
LAMB: ...for The New York Times. How many years now have
you got with that newspaper?
Mr. KINZER: Almost 20 years as a New York Times reporter.
LAMB: Where are you from originally?
Mr. KINZER: I come from Boston. I actually grew up on Cape
Cod, and in the 1970s when I began my career as a foreign
correspondent, I was posted in Latin America. I left Latin
America thinking that now that I was going to Berlin, I wasn't
gonna be crawling around in the mud anymore or having
bullets fly over me as I did in Central America for many years,
but rather I was gonna be sitting in sophisticated salons and
discussing the future of Europe with intellectuals. Immediately
after my arrival there, the Balkan wars broke out, so I found
myself right back in the mud. But everything worked out
wonderfully in the end, because Turkey--because Germany
proved my jumping off point for Turkey, which was a very,
very memorable experience.
I have probably talked to hundreds of Americans and others
who have gone to Turkey as tourists and every single one of
them without exception has told me they loved it and they
had a great time there. If you multiply that by several
hundred, you can understand how a person who lived there
for four years, particularly a person who has an interest in
culture and history, comes away deeply enamored of that
LAMB: Do you have a family with you there?
Mr. KINZER: I did, and they were as tearful when we left
Turkey as I was, and just in the last few weeks we've learned
that my book is going to be published in Turkey. My family has
seized on this and insisted that this has to be the excuse for
us to go back and have a party and while we're there, of
course, see all our old friends and do some more traveling. So
like just about everyone who has been to Turkey, I'm always
looking for another excuse to go back.
LAMB: How big is your family?
Mr. KINZER: I just have my wife and my beautiful daughter
LAMB: Your school, your college?
Mr. KINZER: I went to Boston University.
LAMB: How did you get interested in being a journalist?
Mr. KINZER: I worked for my high school newspaper and have
always been interested in--in writing. But I was a history
major in college and for a while entertained the idea of
becoming a historian. In a sense, I'm a kind of frustrated
historian. But it dawned on me as I began to consider this
possibility what historians do for a living. Usually they teach in
universities. That didn't appeal to me. I--I wanted to be
somewhere a little closer to the making of history, and
journalism is one way to do that. I--I feel that I am in some
ways writing a first draft of history. And journalists, especially
foreign correspondents, are essentially in the front row
watching history unfold.
I notice that when academics have reviewed other--this and
other books that I have written, they sometimes use the word
"journalistic," and I've--I've slowly realized that this is not a
compliment. This is a way of saying, `lots of interesting
reportage and lots of nice stories, but no deep theoretical
underpinning.' And what is much worse from the academic
perspective, this a book that is actually interesting to read,
that people are actually want--gonna want to buy and curl up
with. For an academic, that's almost the kiss of death. When
you tell an academic that his book is becoming very popular
and ordinary people like it, that's enough to deny him tenure
LAMB: When we started, I--I--I read this article by Hugh
Pope in The Wall Street Journal on the--on Friday. It puts
Turkey right in the middle of what's going on over in
Afghanistan, and some other things I wanted--few remaining
minutes wanted to ask you about. `With its
candida--candidacy for the European Union membership
languishing,' Mr. Pope writes, `and excluded from the inner
workings of a proposed 60,000-man European force, Turkey
has angered Europe by threatening to block the force's
access to NATO facilities.'
Mr. KINZER: Turkey has been a very faithful NATO ally and is
one of America's most reliable allies, but it's now caught up in
a very odd circumstance. Turkey is a member of NATO, but it
is not a member of the European Union. Now the European
Union has the idea that it wants to create its own military
force. Rather than build a new force, it wants to use NATO as
its force. And the other--since there's such a great
overlap--almost perfect overlap between the EU and NATO
that that seems quite reasonable. So the EU will decide where
and when and how to use this force, and NATO will then
supply it. But the Turks are saying, `Wait a minute. You're
telling us that as NATO members we're going to participate in
military operations, but we're not gonna have any say in the
councils at which it's decided where or when or whether to
have military operations. We're not prepared to do that.'
LAMB: And they're the second largest army in--in NATO?
Mr. KINZER: They are, after the United States. But I--I
hasten to add that there's the universal military service in
Turkey, so a lot of that is a conscript army that is serving for
one year. That's not necessarily the professional officer corps.
LAMB: Mr. Pope also writes, he says, `At the same time,
Turkey is warning strongly against extension of the war into
Iraq, one the six neighbors abutting the vast bulk of Turkey
that lies east of the Bosporus.' Why?
Mr. KINZER: Turkey, as I said earlier, brings many cards to the
table in this anti-terror coalition. Turkey has really a lot to
offer. So what is Turkey gonna ask in return? Well, the one
thing that concerns them the most gravely is Iraq. They're
right on the border with Iraq, and they are terrified that the
United States is going to go to war with Iraq and topple--or
try to topple Saddam Hussein without a real plan for what
comes afterwards. They fear that this will result in the
splintering of Iraq and the emergence of a highly unstable,
perhaps anti-Turkish hostile state in what's now northern Iraq.
So they are telling the United States and the other allies in
this coalition is, `You've got to promise us you're not gonna
go after Saddam and leave a huge vacuum in Iraq which can
be a powder keg for the whole region and very dangerous to
us. If you are, you'd better be careful to plan in advance
what comes after Saddam.'
LAMB: I forgot to ask you about the cover and what does
"Crescent & Star" mean?
Mr. KINZER: If you see along the bottom of the book in that
red stripe, you've got crescents and stars. Now that's the
Turkish flag. The Turkish flag is a red flag with a white
crescent and a white star. Crescent is also, of course, the
traditional symbol of Islam and star might be seen as the light
that is shining from Europe and from the West to try to build
the synthesis between Islam and democracy that is at the
heart of the Turkish idea.
LAMB: Final question: You do what now for The New York
Mr. KINZER: I'm a national correspondent for The New York
Times now based in Chicago. Up until September 11th, I was
writing mostly about cultural affairs. All of us in our business
have had our lives a little bit disrupted by these events. But I
think these events in our country are going to have an effect
on culture as well, so my job is going to be to travel around
America and try to see how this constellation of events is
going to shape the way we live our lives.
LAMB: Our guest has been Stephen Kinzer, and this is the
book, "Crescent & Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds," a book
about a country that appears to be right in the middle of
everything the United States is involved in. Thank you very
Mr. KINZER: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2001. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.