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…