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Katso täsmennyssivulta muut tekijät, joiden nimi on Charles King.

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Charles King lives in Washington, DC, where he is a professor of international affairs and government at Georgetown University. He is the author of five books on Eastern Europe and a frequent commentator on events in the region for television, radio, and the press.

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BJMacauley | 11 muuta kirja-arvostelua | May 15, 2024 |
I took the opportunity of a summer vacation in the Mediterranean to brush up on the ancient history and contemporary history of the region. It was in this context that I began reading Charles King’s fascinating history of 20th century Istanbul.

The following remarks notwithstanding, I found Istanbul a great place to visit. There is such a wide variety of things to do, good meals can be found outside of the regular tourist traps quite easily, and wandering off the beaten path yields some terrific finds.

The Nevmekan Sahil, a new library on the Asian side of the Bosphorus comes to mind. The gorgeous dome over the upper reading area is a modern classic. And the entire public library is served by a cafe and table service for the readers. It is to my mind an oasis for the cultured mind.

We also visited Pera Palace, the 19th century hotel and centrepiece of King’s book. The hotel’s original elevator and tea room have been exquisitely restored. You can stay in the Agatha Christie Room or the Alfred Hitchcock room for a small premium. We indulged by purchasing a copy of the Agatha Christie room key where legend has it she wrote Murder on the Orient Express. (She didn’t) And we purchased a Turkish Coffee set.

Of course, you cannot visit Istanbul without visiting Hagia Sophia, the massive basilica built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD and converted into a mosque by the conquering Ottomans more than 900 years later. Even if you know nothing about architecture or Roman arches you cannot fail to be blown over by the scale of the church.

Outside of the Basilica is another matter. Attempts to modernize the surrounding environs feels very much Stalinist in its coldness. Hundreds of thousands of people visit this monument each year, and the old ottoman place Topkapi, the basilica to Empress Irene, and the great mosques including that to Suleiman the Magnificent.

The young Turkish government mowed down the surrounding streets some years ago to open up a square. And as King makes clear in the book, they took great pains to modernize other sections north of the Golden Horn inlet as well.

A young regime in a very old and historically very popular crossroads. This is very much King’s story.

The Pera Palace opened in 1870 was Turkey’s first European-style hotel. It had Turkey’s first elevator and became the terminus for visitors taking the trans continental Orient Express train from Paris.

Like the Chinese in the east, the Ottoman rulers badly let the west sprint by them in commerce, technology, and government. On the losing end of WWI, the Ottoman rulers lost control over their massive empire to the Allies, and Turkish nationalists stepped into the breach to salvage some of what the Ottoman Sultan had lost.

In many significant ways, Turkey picked up the least valuable assets of the Ottoman Empire. It didn’t include the oil fields of the Middle East, and they lost the great agricultural lands of the Balkans, but then again they didn’t inherit some of the ingrained cultural tensions of the Balkins either.

Mustapha Kemal Ataturk and his junta forced out the Sultan and the Allies after him. His government radically changed Turkish life. For example, the gov’t mandated last names for Turks starting in 1930. It separated church from state and it got Turks to agree on a unified calendar. It mandated a latinate script for the Turkish language. It even outlawed the fez, for those who have never seen it, a red plush cap with a tassel on it. (You still see them on Shriners in parades.)

It was a really big deal, so big in fact that even today you will see portraits of Ataturk even in the Herz Rent-A-Car kiosk at the beautiful Izmir Airport. Many of the young people today look back fondly at those days. At least he was a strongman who kept the economy moving in the right direction, one fellow moaned to us.

But Turkey still labours under oppressive rules against free speech and freedom of the press. It jails more journalists than any nation in the world. Turkey didn’t have free elections until 1950, and then later jailed and executed its first freely elected president. More juntas followed, three or four of them depending on how you count.

Turkey’s freedom was purchased with a massive exchange of Muslims from Salonica for Greeks, Jews, and Armenians. The Armenian genocide is still not acknowledged in official circles. Turks committed pogroms against Jews and Greeks. Turkish government levied prejudicial taxes against ethnic groups.

In some ways, Turkey followed the same route as Israel. While they dis-established religion, they entrenched the ruling ethnic majority. It is a democracy but stacked a little for the Muslim Turks.

I think what King accurately builds is an argument for Turkey having built a national myth out of the ruins of the Ottoman reign. It got them on the rails and moving, but it has a dark side. It wants an ethnic purity.

Mention to an Istanbulu that the city has 15 million people and he will tell you it has 15 million Turks and one million Syrian refugees. In fact, Turkey has taken in four million Syrian refugees, a gesture of brotherhood with fellow Sunni Muslims, but many urban Turks aren’t happy with it.

Some say that President Erdogan took a calculated risk that saving Europe from a flood of even more refugees would guarantee him entry into the European Union. And entry into the EU would bring more jobs. So far, that hasn’t happened and Turkey has been trying to fully join the EU since 1987.

He seems to be fighting back with make-work projects to keep the unemployed busy.

You won’t find many monuments to the exiled Greeks in Istanbul. Not to the Armenians, or Jews, or many other minorities who made Istanbul such an incredible cosmopolitan centre, and at one time, the greatest city on earth.

Which brings me back to the Hagia Sophia.

With the exception of the Hagia and few odds and sods, the Ottomans buried the Roman presence, as Rome buried the civilizations it was built on, and as our contemporary politicians do through the media every day. Out with the old and in with the new.

King’s book is very good. If I have one small quibble it is that the climax of the story is the Turkish indifference to the Jews of Eastern Europe trying to escape Hitler’s death camps. While I agree this is important history, it feels odd in this particular book as the defining moment of Istanbul or the Turkish people. There are many worse and many better moments to choose.

It is the story of a very young regime in a very old and popular crossroads, much like the hotel itself.
… (lisätietoja)
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MylesKesten | 9 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Jan 23, 2024 |
Excellent book, due for a 2023 update.
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karatelpek | 2 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Nov 21, 2023 |



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