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Taking Turkey Seriously

STOCKHOLM – Istanbul, in western Turkey, is one of Europe’s great cities. As Constantinople, it was the capital of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, and after its capture and renaming by Mehmed II in 1453, it served as the capital of the Ottoman Empire for nearly another 500 years.

Throughout its history, the city on the western side of the Bosphorus Strait separating Europe from Asia has been an epicenter of the relationship between the geopolitical West and East. And Istanbul will most likely continue to play that role, given the current importance of mostly Christian Europe’s relationship with the wider Muslim world.

Turkey itself emerged from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, and Turkish political life has often been tumultuous, marked by competing visions and aspirations, successes and setbacks. Still, during the last two centuries, reformers seeking to modernize Turkey have looked to Europe for inspiration.

This was certainly true of Turkey’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who pushed through authoritarian reforms in the 1920s and 1930s to secularize the country; and it has been true for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who, over the past 13 years, first as Turkey’s prime minister and now as its president, has emerged as a towering personality on the world stage.