Backgrounder on Turkey

Turkey: What Everyone Needs to KnowTurkey: What Everyone Needs to Know by Andrew Finkel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This concise, quick read will be a good starting point for anyone who needs to know about this surprising country. Finkel covers a breadth of topics and suggests linkages among them — language, regional disparities, ethnic history and conflicts, political history, current party and government structure, economic potential and weaknesses, religious tolerance and conflicts, and Turkey's complex and fluid geopolitical strategy. Not a word about the country's vibrant arts scene — theater, literature, film, painting, etc. — but on other aspects, clear and opinionated (he's a fierce defender of free speech, which is sometimes in danger).

Andrew Finkel is an American journalist with long experience in Turkey. He is also the husband of historian Caroline Finkel, author of the monumental history of the Ottoman empire, Osman's Dream, which I reviewed here earlier; she describes him (in her acknowledgements) as an "academic manqué" (he mentions having worked on a Ph.D. dissertation), and indeed he approaches journalism with a scholar's seriousness and the expectation that his readers will be able and happy to follow a sometimes subtle and sophisticated argument. He was fired from Turkey's big daily Today's Zaman in 2011, he believes for defending a critic of the paper's founder and backer, the controversial Islamic preacher and charter-school empresario (in the U.S.) Fethullah Gülen (look him up — Americans should know about him). Finkel now has a regular column in the International Herald Tribune, still reporting from Turkey.

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