Skip to main content

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions

turkish lira Harnett/Hanzon/Getty Images

The Sick Man of Europe Returns

When the Republic of Turkey emerged from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, its national ambition was to join Europe as a modern, secular state. But after much progress, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has now all but squandered his country's chance of realizing its founders' vision.

BERLIN – One of the great geopolitical issues in nineteenth-century Europe was the so-called Eastern Question. The Ottoman Empire, then known as the “sick man of Europe,” was rapidly disintegrating, and it remained to be seen which European power would succeed it. When the self-annihilation of World War I finally arrived, it was no coincidence that it emanated from the Balkans, the geopolitical playground for the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian Empires.

All three great empires met their demise after the war. During the Allied partition of the Ottoman Empire, General Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the defeated Turkish army withdrew to Anatolia, where they successfully repelled a Greek intervention, and then rejected the Treaty of Sèvres. In its place came the Treaty of Lausanne, which paved the way for the establishment of the Republic of Turkey.

Atatürk’s ambition was to turn Turkey into a modern, secular country that would belong to Europe and the West, not to the Middle East. To achieve this goal, he ruled as an authoritarian, and created a hybrid state based on de facto military rule and multiparty democracy. Over the course of the twentieth century, this arrangement produced recurring crises in which Turkish democracy was repeatedly interrupted by temporary military dictatorships.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.


Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.;
  1. tharoor137_ Hafiz AhmedAnadolu Agency via Getty Images_india protest Hafiz Ahmed/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

    Pariah India

    Shashi Tharoor laments that the government's intolerant chauvinism is leaving the country increasingly isolated.
  2. skidelsky148_Matt Dunham - WPA PoolGetty Images_boris johnson cabinet Matt Dunham/WPA Pool/Getty Images

    The Monetarist Fantasy Is Over

    Robert Skidelsky

    UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, determined to overcome Treasury resistance to his vast spending ambitions, has ousted Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid. But Johnson’s latest coup also is indicative of a global shift from monetary to fiscal policy.