Cagaptay explores ‘yin and yang’ of Turkey’s cultural identity



Turkey is a country split between continents, and it has a similarly bipolar cultural identity. Its political history is that of a secular democracy committed to Western institutions but its people are staunchly religious, with a Sunni Muslim majority.

Soner Cagaptay, the Beyer Family Fellow of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute, will explore what he calls the “yin and yang of Turkishness” in today’s 2 p.m. Interfaith Lecture in the Hall of Philosophy.

“It has been able to balance many things at the same time, which we don’t see in Turkey’s neighbors,” Cagaptay said.

Turkey has always held deep connections with Europe, he explained. It is a member of the Council of Europe and NATO, with current negotiations for full membership in the European Union.

Yet Turkey is also a member of the Organisation of Islamic Conference and has a primarily Muslim population; the Justice and Development Party (known as AKP) currently in power was developed from Islamic tradition. The AKP’s more socially conservative policies have raised controversy across the country, such as tightened restrictions on the advertising and sale of alcohol that were approved in June.

“At least half of the country is unhappy with these developments, as many people took to the streets demonstrating against AKP’s policies,” Cagaptay said.

Cagaptay has written extensively on Turkish politics; he has been published in The Wall Street JournalThe Washington Times and The Los Angeles Times, among others.

In a December 2012 article printed in The Atlantic, Cagaptay wrote that Turkey is stuck between two visions: founder of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s idea of Westernization versus the AKP’s intended Islamization.

But moving away from Westernization may be impossible, Cagaptay wrote. Many Western notions — such as women in the public sphere and involvement with NATO — have become too ingrained in the culture to go away.

“Turkey’s two halves are like oil and water,” he wrote. “Though they may not blend, neither will disappear.”