On Baklava, Turkey, and Being in Over Your Head

I recently returned from my first trip to Turkey where, among other things, I tasted the best baklava in the world from the city where it was invented – Gaziantep.

Turkey is booming and it is being led by cities like Gaziantep that are able to take advantage of an abundance of natural resources, cheap labor and favorable government policies to develop strong, export-based economies. Despite the loss of trade with neighboring Syria, Gaziantep businesses exported $5.9 billion worth of goods and local authorities expect that number to increase to $30 billion by 2023.

Unlike other rapidly expanding industrial cities, however, Gaziantep seems to be legitimately committed to doing so in a relatively eco-friendly way. Local officials in the city showed me plans to build a 200,000 person zero-carbon satellite city and this is in addition to a whole host of other environmentally responsible reforms that the city is undertaking, from updating their bus fleet to improving water pump efficiency.

Clearly, I left the city extremely impressed by the enthusiasm and dynamism I witnessed there. I imagined that it was kind of like being in early 20th century Pittsburgh…if it were run by people who preferred not to breathe in lung-clogging smog.

I also left Turkey with the sense that I was in WAY over my head. As someone who has spent the better part of 6 years studying the Arab World I quickly found that none of the conceptual frameworks I have been trained in really apply in Turkey – at least not in the same way as in some of the other countries I have visited.

I can’t – and don’t – claim to have much of an understanding of Turkey. However, from what I have read about some on-going internal political debates and my brief time in Ankara and the South East, I can say that whatever is going on Turkey right now certainly feels important and those interested in Middle Eastern affairs should really start to pay attention.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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