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But Erdogan, though his Islamic revival harks back to the indelible legacy of the        Ottomans, cannot do away with the nationalism which ultimately brought the empire down and gave a new compelling alternative to secularists to build the modern Turkey he now presides over. Ottomanism was authoritarian but cosmopolitan—like all empires, it accommodated numerous ethnic communities, faiths and nationalities. Erdogan can't yet be fully authoritarian but, more ominously, he has to contend with what nationalism left behind in the region, including unfinished business.

Behind the exuberant assertiveness of its rich and successful business sector,  Turkey is still anxious about the Kurdish question. A Turkish interlocutor presented it to me as evidence of an American conspiracy to carve the region up and check Turkey's ascendancy. From a Washington perspective such a conspiracy sounds far-fetched—although the Middle East rarely fails to suspect CIA—or Mossad-inspired conspiracies, even when none exist. America is even more preoccupied than Europe with its economic failings, and seems more and more detached from the region. And President Obama is determined to turn his attention from the Middle East to the Far East. Asia Minor is indeed a minor concern compared to the vast Asian continent beyond. Gone is the almost messianic optimism that a presidential envoy and a few speeches could bring peace to Israel and the Palestinians. Nobody speaks of Obama's failure to deliver anything on this track, still less of his apparent decision quietly to go on autopilot. But such a decision is in step with what he is doing elsewhere across the Middle East.

The growing chatter over bilateral talks between Washington and Tehran may be scuttled in the end by the Ayatollah Khamenei's inveterate fear of America's seductive cultural embrace. A grand bargain with Iran may remain elusive,  but Obama would seize it if there was one to have. Retreating from this messy place is not without appeal. Which, if it were to happen, would leave the locals to fend for themselves at a time when, a century after the Ottoman Empire's carve-up at the hands of obtuse imperial powers, its legacy is unravelling.

Kurdish ambitions, conspiracies aside, are long overdue. A nation of more than 30 million, the Kurds have a stronger claim to independence than most others and have suffered under the boot of Arab and Turkish nationalist regimes more than most. Yet other, lesser claims could more easily emerge, as the current convulsions caused by the Arab Spring bring Syria's last outpost of "progressive" governance to an end. Whereas the Ottomans ruled over a complex but generally harmonious mosaic of subjects, Turkish and Arab nationalism painted over those colours that did not match their own. Under the former, minorities sometimes even thrived. With the latter, they lost even the meagre freedoms they enjoyed as imperial subjects, and barely survived.

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geoff garside
January 5th, 2013
8:01 PM
This is a very long-winded article that doesn't say very much save that Erdogan has reoriented Turkey's position in the world. But we know that. The discussion of nationalism is superficial. The whole poinjt about Erdogan is that he is an opportunist, who stands somewhere between Kemalism and the Turkic (not Turkish) nationalism that now has a place in the AKP ranks (Tv shows about Bosnia, Kosovo, Turkmenistan, the Caucuses etc, folk dance festivals celebrating Turkich culture). There are also concrete examples of Erdogan's playing off different countries against one another or just being unpredicatble - so he is hostile to Israel but perfectly open armed towards american business, especially agribusiness, which is now destroying turkey's agricultural sector and swelling already bloated cities like Istanbul. And what about his 'at least 3 children' family policy?

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