BOOK REVIEW–SONS OF THE CONQUERORS:The Rise of the Turkic World, by Hugh Pope

by Laurence on 10/25/2005 · 9 comments

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…

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Alexander Morrison October 26, 2005 at 3:00 am

Aha, the mysterious ‘Turkic qualities’ of ‘Turkic States’ eh? Not to mention ‘Turkic psychology’. It’s a relief to know that these sterling virtues (whatever they may be) are the birthright of every Turk, so perhaps we should just stop worrying about politics altogether. Naturally, as we all know, Turks are unsuited to democracy – all they really want is a strong leader like Niyazov or Karimov to crack the whip and tell them what to do…..curious that, according to many scholars, they appear to share this quality with the Russians. I have no patience with this sort of ethnic determinism: every generation makes its own political choices, provided they have the freedom to do so, and these are not necessarily dependent on ethnicity or language. Turkey and Uzbekistan both have majority Turkic-speaking populations (lets leave ethnicity out of this altogether as in both cases it is very mixed and impossible to establish, not to mention being irrelevant) – and that’s where the resemblance begins and ends. Neither Niyazov nor Karimov come close to Ataturk’s importance and stature, and neither of them can exactly be described as a ‘reformer’: where’s the resemblance, except on the negative, authoritarian side? Ataturk used his power to transform a country, albeit at great human cost. Karimov and Niyazov use their power – to stay in power. And that’s it.

Admiral Waugh October 26, 2005 at 6:20 pm

I agree with the prior comment about ethnic determinism. I think some people get lost amidst the powerful wash of culture and forget that things are hardly so cut and dry. Also, I hope the book contains some projections for the future– of course, it’s all speculation, but as an uninformed reader I’d like to know where this region is headed, with whom, and what might the problems be that lie ahead.

Denzil Uz October 26, 2005 at 9:04 pm

Nevertheless, seems you’re going from one extreme to another.. Agree that ethnic determinism couldn’t dominate nowadays and generations do make their choices. But:
1st – Oblivion or ignorance of the common roots also brings to rather EXTREME choices and not necessary to progressive one (in our comprehension). Effect even could be vice versa – more harsh opposition to Progress, because sum of “fresh” ideology and youth maximalism needs not only consolidation, but conquest of its own Libens Raum too.
2nd – You approach to this issue from individualistic point of view, neglecting such still “hard” aspects as paternalism, community-mind, prevalence of “ethnicity sense” under religious one (while) and congeneric on the top of all.
N.B. – We talk about “turks” (тюрки) only, although I agree that nations from Altai to Balkans are connected linguistically, and less by socio-political peculiarities. That’s why Pan Turkism is a fine illusion..

Hugh Pope November 9, 2005 at 6:05 am

Many thanks to Laurence for taking the trouble to review my book SONS OF THE CONQUERORS, and for the debate that followed it. I’d like to add a comment: I was trying to describe both what does and also what does not add up to a ‘Turkic world’ in these Turkic countries. I don’t claim that there is any decisive pan-Turkic political union on the way in the short or medium term — rather the reverse. I do, however, find socio-political qualities that are shared, qualities that are shared in other degrees by many developing states. Being neighbors and speaking similar tongues and with similar histories, however, I believe that sum of these shared qualities (and faults) may be referred to as ‘Turkic’. This is not ethnic determinism, but an attempt to balance other views of the region as purely “post-Soviet” or “Islamic” or just a desert of tyrannical dictators. My book aims to be more descriptive than analytical, one way to look at what in many places is still a very raw region. I spent 15 years researching and writing it, and remember how hard it was in the early period to get any information at all about these once obscure peoples. So I hope SONS OF THE CONQUERORS will be a good stepping stone for those who come after me — allowing even better answers to all the questions raised by the Turks’ and Turkic peoples’ sometimes erratic progress.

Laurence November 19, 2005 at 4:06 pm

Hugh Pope, Thank you for your comments on Registan! I certainly didn’t mean to imply that you were some kind of ethnic determinist–rather that you did a great job describing the realities of life in Central Asia and Turkey as they appeared to me during my travels there, as well as giving a fascinating historical and cultural context for current events. I agree, there is no pan-Turkic political union on the horizon at this point and look forward to using your stepping stone, myself. Thank you for writing SONS OF THE CONQUERORS!

Garid December 5, 2005 at 10:31 pm

So what does it have to do with Mongolia?

John March 9, 2006 at 12:30 pm

A fantastic read, a real eye opener to the Western Audience.

The region we call “Central Asia” is actually referred to as Turkestan by the people who reside there and was always used prior to the Soviet invasion.

So a pollitical Union between these States is not only logical it would contribute to regional stability and peace and should be supported.

As Turkey and Azerbaycan are also Turkic Nations today its also logical that they could play a part and make a Pollitical Union with these states.

In my opinion in a world where extremism has become the norm its in our best interests to support these Turkic states, they are Muslim, forward looking wanting to rise and enforce at least a degree of Democracy and freedom.

Instead of regarding everyone as a threat we should look to working together with others to build an “Alliance of Civillisations” instead of a CLASH.


Alexander May 6, 2006 at 7:08 am

I ought to clarify that my response above was to Laurence’s review, which actually distorts a lot of what Pope has to say. Having read the book, he certainly hasn’t been guilty of ethnic determinism, nor is he an apologist for the Central Asian dictators. I found it a fascinating, stimulating read, and I share his admiration for Modern Turkey and its achievements. It’s just a pity few of these have been emulated elsewhere in the Turkic-speaking world.

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