Once a fighter, always a fighter: or, never rule out the tenacity of a descendant of the Golden Horde.
If the aftermath of WWI made hash out of the Ottoman Empire, the fall of communism helped revive the notion of a Turkic polity: in the 1990s, apart from Turkey, there were five new nations with a Turkic majority: Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic. This should not be seen as a bad thing, suggests long-time Istanbul-based reporter Pope. Turkey, with an army of 600,000, is the second largest force in NATO, and since the days of Kemal Ataturk it has supported secularism against theocracy, making it a welcome stabilizing force in the Middle East, one largely friendly to American interests. The other nations are similarly inclined, at least for the moment. No widely embraced pan-Turkic movement seems to be on the horizon to advance the notion of a “Turkic bloc from the Great Wall of China to the Adriatic Sea,” so imperial ambitions are unlikely to complicate events: “A dream of a greater Turkic world is all very well,” Pope notes, “but Turks everywhere are pragmatists.” The collapse of communism brought a massive exodus of ethnic Turks from the Balkans into Turkey itself and some movement of populations in other Turkic states, not least when the head of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, decided that he needed to be worshipped as Turkmenbashy, or “Head of the Turkmen,” a position strengthened by the fact that “he controlled the fifth biggest gas reserves in the world.” Some of the other Turkic leaders were no more democratically inclined, but Turkmenbashy is a special kind of monster, and his pull has made neighboring China, with its large population of Turkic Uygurs, just a touch nervous lately. As perhaps it should, for year by year Turkic peoples are exercising more influence in the region, thanks in large measure to the oil beneath their feet.
A solid work of history, cultural geography and reportage, opening a view onto a world too few in the West even know exists.