I barely recognized the distorted face spewing venom at me.
A minute earlier a group of us were sitting in a room in the Business Admin building on the Bilkent University campus working on a group project.
I took advantage of a pause in our work to ask some questions about the Armenians in eastern Turkey after WWI. I gave no details or even hints about what I was thinking, but my classmate, who had been so friendly a minute before, went into a fiery rage.
I honestly feared for my safety. This was my introduction to “Topics Not To Be Discussed in Turkey”.I had been reading Kinzer’s excellent work and wanted to ask my classmates some questions about what I was learning. Bad idea. So you do not make the same mistake, I am here to tell you, “Do not discuss Cyprus, Armenians, Greece, or Kurds with Turkish friends unless you know them well and are careful in bringing up the topic.”
Regardless, I highly recommend Stephen Kinzer’s Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds. Kinzer, the NYT correspondent in Istanbul for four years in the late 90′s, clearly loves Turkey and wants to see it reach its potential. He is fearful that it will be like those athletes who should be one of the best in their sport but for various reasons never seem to get there. He skillfully mixes culture, politics, history, and day-to-day life in his very readable prose.
Between each chapter he includes little anecdotal stories, named “meze”s (appetizers), that introduce the concept of the coming chapter in a memorable way. He covers Ataturk, Raki and the meyhane culture, the deep state, the aforementioned Armenian issue, Turkish Islam, the Kurds from the viewpoint of a much maligned Kurdish village, human rights abuses and freedom, the Turkish army, the significance of the Turks who fought in the Korean War, the 1999 earthquake, relations with Greece, the banned author Nazim Hikmet, and much more. In the process he takes his readers on a journey from the Aegean Sea to Lake Van, from the Black Sea to the Med and many places in between.
Read the book, learn from Kinzer’s experience, and ask questions, but be careful!
Are you interested in other Turkey-related books? Check these out:
The New Turkey: The Quiet Revolution on the Edge of Europe by Chris Morris
The Visitor: A Stranger, A Message, A Clash of Cultures by Peter Pikkert
Cappadocia Travel Guide by Oberheu & Wadenpohl
Turkish Alevis Today by John Shindeldecker
The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk
Crescent and Star by Stephen Kinzer
Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey by Andrew Mango
The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire by Lord Kinross
A Fez of the Heart: Travels around Turkey in Search of a Hat By Jeremy Seal
29 Books Related to Turkey: A Reading List
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