When I lived in Ankara in the early 2000s, I often spent time with Turks in their 20s and 30s. I recall a particular dinner conversation when we were discussing Turkish foreign policy and the country’s tortured relations with its NATO allies when one of them asked: “Why do Americans and Europeans insist that Turkey is either West or East? Why can’t we just be Turkey?” I fumbled around for an answer citing Turkish interests, the Cold War, and European Union membership before settling on “But Mustafa Kemal Atatürk! He wanted to ‘raise [Turkey] to the level of the most prosperous and civilized nations of the world.’ He meant the West.”
I have thought about my friend’s excellent questions quite a bit in recent years, but especially whenever moments of crisis in U.S.-Turkey ties arise and the inevitable “Who Lost Turkey?” article appears.