Armenian Boats and Turkish Food: Anthony Bordain goes to Istanbul

February 3, 2010 at 11:59 pm (Armenian-ness, Turkey) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Everyone’s favorite snarky food writer, Anthony Bordain, took in Istanbul on this season of No Reservations.  (Watch the full episode here.)

We can all argue about whose dolmas came first, who makes the best pilaf or yogurt or baklava, and whose kebabs reign supreme, but at the end of the day we must acknowledge the geographically and culturally encompassing iron embrace that informed the palate of the Ottoman Empire.  So it was with a growling stomach and eager eye that I watched Bordain take in Istanbul.

And I laughed – because floating through shots of the Bosphorus at the beginning, middle, and end of the episode was a boat painted from bow to stern with colors of the Armenian flag – like this one:

I think it will be a few seasons before Bordain makes it to Armenia, but at least we can rest easy knowing that our flag got in there (three times!) on the Turkey episode.


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Erdoğan in the Chocolate City

December 10, 2009 at 1:00 am (Turkish Diplomacy, Washington DC) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

On December 8th, the SETA Foundation hosted a talk by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC.  Held in the hotel’s grand, yet garish, ballroom – the event was open to the public and provided simultaneous translation in both English and Turkish through wireless equipment.  (neat!)  About two hundred people attended, including myself.

Erdoğan was introduced by former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel (R), who referred to Kurdistan during an anecdote about traveling in eastern Anatolia with Joe Biden.  I thought I heard a mild snicker ripple through the crowd when Hagel dropped the K-bomb, but maybe I am just overly sensitive to Turkey’s problematic relationship with their “mountain Turks.”

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Chuck Hagel

Erdoğan was a good speaker: frank and not afraid to give some meat along with the requisite political niceties.  He addressed many of Turkey’s current foreign policy issues, touching upon domestic issues (the economy, human rights, Kurds) only very lightly.    His remarks came off as slightly defensive; whether he was covering Turkey’s prolonged EU ascension process, his country’s relationship with Iran, or the Israel-Palestine conflict -Erdoğan was explaining, justifying, and/or defending his stance.  The PM mentioned something in defense of this defensiveness – to paraphrase his remarks very loosely: ‘Turkey has been a state in limbo for the past 50 years and it is still lingering in this limbo.  Turkey is improving, but Turkey is also patient.’

Treaty of Sèvres (click for larger image) Credit:

This is what I know as the “sèvres syndrome,” a term used to describe Turkey’s contemporary foreign policy paranoia because of the way the Ottoman Empire was butchered-up at the end of World War 2.  The “sèvres” of sèvres syndrome refers to the Treaty of Sèvres, which was one of many peace treaties drawn up during WW2 to give Ottoman land to the allies of the Triple Entente.  While never enacted, the treaty shows how much Ottoman land was up for grabs.  The resulting paranoia is evident in Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies today.

So when Erdoğan mentioned Turkey’s prolonged state of “limbo” – I thought of the “sèvres syndrome” and how Turkey is still fighting off the Ottoman Empire’s reputation as the “sick man of Europe.”   Erdoğan states that this limbo is fifty years-old, which covers the post-Ataturk & co. era of democracy building.  I think it is safe to say that this limbo dates back to the beginning of the Turkish Republic.  The Ottoman Empire is a tough specter to shake.

Erdoğan’s frankness did not carry over into his discussion of Armenian-Turkish rapprochement.  Firstly, this topic was not addressed during the talk proper – only during the short question and answer section that followed his presentation.  Secondly, he did not reveal any of his signature flair in response to the question, which was “How do you see the Armenian-Turkish protocol process proceeding?”  The PM has not shied away from critiquing the protocols.  In fact, despite being a member of the party that worked on the protocols with Armenia, Erdoğan was the first to start chipping away at them after they were signed.  Following the signing, Erdoğan voiced some common pre-conditions that have prevented normalization to date, namely, Nagorno-Karabagh.  Since the deadline for ratification is approaching, I thought the PM would have a forceful response to that question, but it was lack-luster.  He simple gave an overview of the ratification process (first signing, then commission, then parliament…) and said that progress between Armenia and Azerbaijan over NK would help.  The response short, civil, and totally predictable.

To date, I’ve attended talks by two high-ranking Turkish officials.  The other was Ali Babacan, who spoke at the University of Chicago in the fall of 2007.  If the two had a diplomat-off, Erdoğan would win – hands down.  His blend of staight-talk and suave disengagement from certain contentious issues explains why he is PM and why I wasn’t invited to the reception.

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