Beverly Hazen | Staff Writer
“Turkey: Model for the Middle East?” is the 2013 theme for Week Eight, and the Interfaith Lecture theme is “Turkey: Crossroads of Many Faiths.”
Slightly larger than the state of Texas, Turkey occupies a key geopolitical position in terms of energy and trade, and it has played an essential role in the history of the Western world.
Ninety-seven percent of Turkey’s territory is in Asia and three percent is in Europe, placing it at the crossroads of the two continents, strategically controlling the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, which link the Black and Aegean seas. A large portion of its southern coastline borders the Mediterranean Sea.
Chautauqua President Tom Becker sees the location of Turkey as a measure of its utmost importance.
“Look where it is,” he said. “It is a vital country in terms of economics: a link bordering the countries of Iraq and Iran, a link between Russia and its natural gas reserves and Europe. Everything flows through Turkey.”
The heartland of Turkey is a semi-arid Anatolian plateau known as a cradle of human civilization — remains of settlements as old as the eighth millennium BC have been unearthed there. Bronze Age settlements and Hittite civilizations are part of Turkey’s history. Constantinople was the capital and seat of power in the Roman Empire until conquered by the Ottoman Empire that ended Roman rule in 1453. Konya, the Seljuk Turks’ capital from the 12th to 13th centuries, is the home of Rumi, the great Sufi poet and founder of a Sufi Order known as the Whirling Dervishes.
The Ottoman Empire joined World War I on the side of the Central Powers. After the war, occupation by Allies in some parts of the country prompted the establishment of the Turkish National movement with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk leading the Turkish War of Independence.
Ataturk became the first president of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. He initiated social and institutional changes to transform the nation into a modern Western state and moved the capital to Ankara, a cultural trading and art center in Roman times and part of the caravan route to the East for silk and spices in Ottoman times.
Turkey was neutral during most of the World War II and, in 1945, became a charter member of the United Nations. In the early 1950s, Turkey joined NATO, safeguarding against Soviet expansion into the Mediterranean. Turkey is a member of all the leading European institutions except the European Union.
Becker said that a discussion of the EU and Turkey in 2013 might reveal changes that occur between now and then.
“Of particular emphasis is regarding Turkey’s role as to what we consider the Middle East,” he said.
Turkey now reflects a Western style secular, democratic state with a large Muslim population.
George Murphy, Institution vice president and chief marketing officer, noted how the theme appropriately follows previous Middle East themes of Iran and Pakistan, with the morning and afternoon lecture themes complementing each other and providing a good balance.
Murphy sees the leadership of the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell and her contacts with the Muslim community as a way to provide insightful knowledge for exploring the crossroads of the many faiths at the Interfaith Lectures.
“There will be great content in the morning and afternoon,” he said.
Murphy views Turkey as a model for the Middle East.
“We have one view of the world from our standpoint, with our customs,” he said. “Sitting in the West, we probably are not going to understand what is the right living model for the Middle East.”
Turkey is in a different position. Murphy said the country has ties to the West but is located in the Middle East with an understanding of the deep religious elements and how other countries of that region may embrace them.
Greece and Bulgaria are Turkey’s European neighbors. Turkey’s Asian neighbors are Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Considering what the U.S.-Turkey relations look like and where they may be headed in the time ahead, Becker looks forward to hearing the scheduled guest speakers. At this time, Ibrahim Kalin, chief adviser to the prime minister of Turkey, is a committed participant.
Becker has seen a Kalin interview and noted his thoughtful composure.
“I am particularly delighted to have him come to Chautauqua,” Becker said. “He is a powerful spokesman for the Turkish point of view.”
Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is also a committed speaker for the week.