CIC talk: Turkey Today
An overview of present day Turkey as seen from a historical perspective
By Byron Toben
The Canadian International Council (CIC) was founded in 1928 as the Canadian Institute of International Affairs (CIA!) but renamed the CIC in 2006. This admirable non-profit, non-partisan group hears the voices of many actors – academic, business, civil, government and media – to help enhance the development of Canada’s next generation of foreign policy leaders. Its national office is in Toronto with 15 branches across Canada.
Held at downtown Concordia, the eminently qualified speaker was Dr Chris Kilford.
The Montreal branch, with four Universities, ICAO, IATA and a bilingual setting, seems particularly equipped to organize events for this membership organization “think tank”. I myself have attended a number of its events on an intermittent basis. The most recent on March 6 dealt with Turkey Today and Tomorrow. Held at downtown Concordia, the eminently qualified speaker was Dr Chris Kilford.
After 36 years in the Canadian Armed Forces, he retired in 2014. He had managed to acquire a PhD in history from Queens in 2009, after which he was posted as a military attaché to the Canadian Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan for a year. Following that, a similar post to the embassy in Ankara, Turkey from 2011 to 2014.
He holds a number of positions with Queens and the Royal Military College, while publishing papers on the Middle East and being a guest on TV. Here is one with CPAC in 2017.
Although his recent talk started with an overview of Turkey today, you cannot expect a history major to omit the important events leading up to today to put things in context. So Kilford used WW I as the starting point.
At that time, Turkey was ruled as a sultanate (something like a caliphate that ISIS seeks to re-impose). The rulers of a vast Ottoman empire that reached into South-Eastern Europe and large swaths of the Middle East, it chose to ally with Germany in WW I, largely to counter British and French expansion into its turf.
Wrong gamble. Germany lost and the Ottoman empire was carved up by the victors. In addition, the Young Turks and many other modernization groups gained influence. They selected Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, the military hero of the battle of Gallipoli, as the first president of the new Republic of Turkey. Secularization followed rapidly – Fez headwear was abolished, Turks had to select last names, Arabic script was jettisoned for Latin script, women were allowed to vote, etc.
By the time Ataturk died in1938, Turkey was on its way to becoming a more modern nation state. With a large land mass, productive agricultural land and growing tourism (currently the 6th most visited country in the world).
However, old problems persist – separatism by the large Kurdish minority in the East, the burden of Syrian refugees in the South, harsh treatment of journalists, diminishing hopes of qualifying for European Community membership and threats of military coups. Increasing reliance on Islamic appeals further threaten to reverse Ataturk’s legacy.
Not discussed in the lecture was the continued official denial that the 1915 killing and dispersal of the sizable Armenian population was a ‘genocide’, despite a number of respected Turkish writers, at risk to themselves, finally agreeing it was. Ah, the tyranny of words – food for thought.
Speaking of food, full disclosure, I am a regular purchaser of imported jars of Turkish Pindjur and roasted eggplant.
More information about the CIC at thecic.org
Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.