No. 114—ANKARA

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Though Asia Minor has existed under the control of Romans, Persians, Byzantines, Seljuks, and Ottomans during its long history, Ankara Castle is one of the few historical outcroppings visible in the contemporary capital of the Turkish Republic.

Istanbul was the beating heart of the Ottoman and Byzantine empires, and the object of desire for the Romans, Persians, and any other number of regional powers. This is precisely why Mustafa Kemal Ataturk decided to meet his republican co-conspirators in the sleepy backwater town of Ankara in 1923. Ankara’s central location in the midst of semi-arid highlands left it well outside the reach or consideration of foreign powers and domestic bureaucrats, allowing Ataturk et al to even establish a parliament and plot their overthrow of the Ottoman emperor.

Central Turkey offered another advantage to the cosmopolitan, diverse city of Istanbul: Ataturk could use it as a base to craft a new nationalism shaped not by a common Islamic faith but a secular, ethno-Turkish nationalism (without all the Armenians, Jews, Greeks, Balkans, et al that called the Ottoman capital their home). With a simple re-definition of what “Turk” meant, Ankara’s central position quickly became a force to be reckoned with.

Unlike secular Istanbul, Ankara is more reflective of Turkey’s conservative, religious interior. That heritage now is fully in command of the Turkish political process under the rule of current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

For More on Turkey’s future, see Chapter 10 of The Accidental Superpower and Chapter 7 of The Absent Superpower.