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Reality Check

From the Sultan to Ataturk: Turkey
by Andrew Mango
Haus Publishing

In the autumn of 1921 King Constantine of Greece visited Izmir and Eskisehir, both of which cities were then under Greek occupation. “It is extraordinary how little civilized the Turks are… It is high time they disappeared once more and went back into the interior of Asia whence they came,” he wrote. The king was, of course, simply echoing the views of preceding generations of eminent European liberal intellectuals and politicians, but history had already made a fool of him. By the time of Constantine’s visit, Turkish nationalist forces had won the Battle of Sakarya and halted the Greek offensive against Ankara. Within a year the Greek armies would be swept out of Anatolia. Instead of the partition which Greece and its British and French allies had planned for Turkey at the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, the Turks would set the terms of the eventual peace treaty at Lausanne in July 1923.

This story has been told many times before but it is still relevant in our day, partly because the successors of the Turks’ opponents in the early 20th century are still campaigning against them – and with notable success, as Turkey’s stillborn EU accession talks demonstrate. There have been many books before on the Turkish War of Independence and its aftermath, but this one stands out for its combination of remarkable freshness, conciseness and scholarship.

“Lloyd George’s ill-advised policy”, as Mango calls it, arose directly from the fact that Western policy-makers and the Western general public were out of touch with reality where Turkey was concerned because they listened to irredentist nationalisms and their supporters. With the War of Independence, along with the defeats at Gallipoli and Kut al-Amara, reality reasserted itself – though, as Mango notes, at “an immense price in human suffering”.

His book ends with Sir Horace Rumbold, the British High Commissioner in occupied Istanbul, leaving for the Lausanne conference, muttering about the Kemalists as “Asia versus Europe”. Comments on blogs in British newspapers today are still doing the same. Some people never learn, but those wishing to inform themselves on the origins and nature of modern Turkey could do no better than to begin with this excellent short book, possibly the author’s last, or so he says, but certainly one of his finest.

Other Highlights from Cornucopia 43
  • Frozen Moments

    Famous for his atmospheric films set in stark landscapes, Nuri Bilge Ceylan is now attracting attention with his photography. Maureen Freely leafs through the pages of a fine limited-edition album of his enigmatic, painterly scenes

  • Riding into History

    In September 2009, six travellers set out on horseback to retrace the early part of the route taken in 1671 by the Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi on his way to Mecca.

  • The Elusive Dane

    Spirited impressions of Ottoman Istanbul in the 16th century from a mischievous Danish artist and an acerbic Flemish envoy.

  • Back to Our Roots

    When eaten raw as a salad, turnips are shredded or thinly sliced like radishes. Their distinctive mustardy bite, which cleanses the palate, makes them excellent company for rich meats and fish. Cooking however, transforms the starch in the turnip, giving it a mellow taste.
    More cookery features

  • Journey to Divriği I: Sublime Portals

    The Great Mosque and Hospital of Divriği, an imperilled masterpiece of Islamic art in the remote upper Euphrates, is the only single building in Turkey given world heritage status. Cornucopia celebrates this medieval marvel with a 26-page guide to its mad, exuberant architecture through the stunning photographs of Cemal Emden

  • The Elector’s Turkish Treasures

    The city of Dresden is now home to one of the finest displays of Turkish art and armoury

  • Cult Capital of Caria

    Little known and rarely visited, the hauntingly beautiful sanctuary of Zeus at Labraunda – built by the family of the legendary Mausolus high above Milas – was for centuries Aegean Turkey’s most revered shrine. A Swedish team has managed to uncover the ruins without sacrificing the serenity of these sacred hills.

  • Journey to Divriği III: Meet the Ancestors

    Daniel Shaffer explains the value of the Great Mosque of Divriği’s ancient carpets.

  • Journey to Divriği II: Not a Place for Those in a Hurry

    Reassuringly inaccessible, Divriği has always taken time to reach – and its riches time to savour. Patricia Daunt on the historical figures who made the journey

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Issue 43, 2010 Shrines and Sanctuaries
£8.00 / $10.17 / 327.58 TL
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