In September 2002 I returned for a second visit to Turkey. The occasion? Fifty years ago last spring I made my first visit to Turkey as a member of the U.S. Army. I loved my tour of duty there. It greatly enriched my life and helped steer me toward a career as an economist and teacher. Since then I had often dreamed of making a return visit. . . . To return to places I knew well. . . . To see well-known sites I had not been able to visit during my earlier stay. . . . To learn more about Turkey’s political, social, and economic progress and problems. This year I finally realized that dream.
To me, Turkey is and always has been intriguing. For someone who had done virtually no traveling outside the upper Middle West states, everything on my arrival in Turkey in late spring 1952 proved to be new and surprising—its mountains and vast uninhabitable areas, its people and how they dressed, their religious and social customs, the primitive living conditions they endured, their rudimentary agricultural techniques, the underdeveloped road system, the absence of modern technology, and the ‘bombsight” toilet facilities. So too was its history, as evidenced by unexplored ruins everywhere. Fifty years later, Turkey is still an alluring place to visit. Much has changed. Yet much remains the same. The country, though experiencing many difficulties, remains as intriguing as ever.
In reflecting on my wonderful return visit, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Leonard Woolf’s description of his return to Sri Lanka (Ceylon as he knew it) 50 years after serving there as a young District Officer; see Woolf’s autobiography: Growing (1961) on his years in Ceylon from 1904-11, and The Journey Not the Arrival Matters (1969) on his life from 1939 onwards, including his 1960 return. The major changes I observed after my long period away from Turkey are remarkably similar to those Woolf noted on his return to Sri Lanka. But, the changes I observed differ significantly in detail, as will soon be apparent.
In preparing for this Elderhostel trip, a three-week program called “Troy to Civilization”, I read the recommended books on modern Turkey, the Ottoman Empire, and much more. But, like Woolf, I was able to relive important parts of my earlier visit, thanks to my “packrat” tendencies. In the attic I located an old carton containing my weekly letters home (saved by my parents), a file of old military records, a collection of newspaper and magazine articles about Turkey from the early 1950s, and an assortment of old hotel receipts, colorful hotel stickers for suitcases, and other small items related to my travels. I also located my photo album and slide collection, as well as local maps and guidebooks. What I found proved to be surprising. My old letters mentioned many long-forgotten events; equally important and somewhat perplexing, they omitted other important events and impressions that remain etched in my mind. My photo and slide collection proved to be much less complete and systematic than I remembered it to be. What all this proves is that our memory often plays tricks on us; we simply don’t recall much of the richness of our early experiences. That is what makes confronting the past so fascinating.
Unlike Leonard Woolf who returned to official welcomes by Sri Lanka officialdom, I slipped back into Turkey in the company of 33 Elderhostelers eager to see the glories of Turkey’s past civilizations. Earlier I had arrived as a member of the US Army Group, part of the Joint American Military Mission for Aid to Turkey (JAMMAT). The atmosphere was quite different then, with both the Korean War and the Cold War in full play. This particular Mission constituted an important element in the Truman Doctrine’s goal of containing Soviet expansion. In particular, it sought to establish an effective counter force to the USSR; periodically, the Russians issued provocative threats from across Turkey’s mountainous eastern border. Equally important, as a new member of NATO, Turkey’s military establishment needed help to enhance its fighting capabilities, particularly in employing modern military technology. Nobody questioned the effectiveness of Turks as fighters—the army brigade sent to Korea distinguished itself for bravery and willingness, even eagerness, to engage in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy.
JAMMAT’s mission depended on the work of small field training teams of American officers and enlisted men with technical specialities. These teams worked with local Turkish military units; team members lived in nearby towns. At the program’s peak about 50 field training teams operated in Turkey, with another dozen teams assigned to military schools and specialized bases. When I joined Field Training Team 39D in Iskenderun (on the Mediterranean Sea just north of the Syrian border), it included three officers and five enlisted men. The normal tour of duty was one year (Turkey was viewed as a “hardship” post); this meant that people rotated regularly through these teams. (I stayed there almost 18 months, to round out the remainder of my 33-plus months of military service.)
For regular army personnel, these adviser assignments proved to be frustrating. Being an effective adviser required great patience because interacting with Turkish military personnel meant working through interpreters, a time consuming and difficult process. Being an effective adviser also required great patience because the Turkish army still operated at a pre-WWII level and without modern military technology. Most Turkish officers and enlisted men had no direct experience with the technology of a modern army. Nor did they have the background to adapt easily to new technology. Indeed, they were quite unlike Americans who had grown up working with tools, fiddling with radios, repairing old cars; this difference made the adviser’s job even tougher.
For me, my tour of duty in Turkey proved to be richly rewarding, filled with travel and learning. Being newly drafted into the Army shortly after the Korean War began (I had just graduated from college) and having served in an administrative capacity at 5th Army Headquarters in Chicago, I did not have the kind of technical expertise possessed by fellow team members. During my eight months in Iskenderun my job involved handling the team’s administrative tasks, courier duties, supervising our numerous interpreters, and managing our living quarters; we were fortunate in messing with an international construction company building a huge naval base there. During my subsequent stay in Konya, located about 150 miles south of Ankara and the site of a larger 15-man team, I performed similar duties. Except that I was in charge of feeding everyone, including frequent visitors. This required me to train two Turkish cooks in American-style cooking, plan menus, supervise the purchase of local supplies, and from time to time deal with complaints about the food from my colleagues.
The job, though interesting, was not particularly demanding. While in Iskenderun, I had ample time to explore nearby Crusader castles, Roman ruins along the southern coast of Turkey, the battleground at Issus where Alexander defeated Darius, historic Antioch of Biblical fame, out-of-the way villages, and closely situated mountain peaks. While in Konya there were other ruins to see. But, in addition to my regular duties there, I taught English to Turkish army officers. I also taught evening classes to groups of young people, mostly students, wanting to improve their English. These experiences, augmented by opportunities for extensive travel through the Middle East and Europe, proved to be immensely interesting and satisfying.
Serving in Turkey also gave me a first-hand chance not only to learn more about ancient history but also about the problems of economic development. I quickly became aware of the formidable challenge of trying to spur modernization and economic activity in a country like Turkey. Little did I know then how important this exposure would be in stimulating my interest in economics and economic research. Nor did I realize that my experience teaching English would lead me to discover that I enjoyed teaching; undoubtedly it influenced my decision to become a college teacher.
But, back to the Elderhostel. What most impressed me about the Elderhostel? Like the two previous international programs I attended, one in Assisi (Fall 2000) and the other in Russia (Fall 2001), this Elderhostel program reflected careful planning. The itinerary provided a rich menu of interesting visits, the guide was very knowledgeable, the food and accommodations were excellent, and the varied backgrounds of my ever-curious traveling companions contributed to everyone’s learning and enjoyment. Our guide was a most amusing fellow. He took great delight in explaining how wonderful Elderhostelers were; he never had to worry whether we were getting to bed early enough to be ready for the next morning’s activity!
Most of what I saw on this trip was new to me. While stationed in Turkey 50 years ago, most of my traveling took place along Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast and later around the Konya area; I also took numerous trips to Ankara and briefly visited Istanbul en route back to the States. Among the most memorable stops on my return visits were the Mevlana Museum and Mosque which is the home of Konya’s Whirling Dervishes, the impressive sites in Ankara (notably the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations and Ataturk’s tomb), and Istanbul’s stunning Topaki Palace, St. Sophia, and the Blue Mosque, plus the Grand Bazaar.
An important reason for making this trip was to fill important gaps in my earlier travels. Of major interest were my visits to what remains of Homer’s historic Troy, the remarkable and at least partially excavated ruins of the great ancient cities of Pergama and Ephesus, the relatively unexcavated ruins of Aphrodisias, Hierapolis, and Antioch-in-Pisidia, the remarkable underground cities of Cappadocia, the mysterious Hittite ruins at Bogazkale (east of Ankara), the impressive tomb of King Midas at Gordium (west of Ankara), plus the fabled Green Mosque in Bursa. Turkey contains a remarkably large and diverse collection of historic ruins, representing the remnants of a long succession of civilizations. After returning home, I discovered an historical atlas (e.g., Philips Atlas of World History, 1999) that helped me better understand the ebb and flow of the many different civilizations that once flourished in what we now call Turkey.
Pergama and Ephesus are the most impressive of the new sites I visited. Pergama’s vast ruins are unique for their location, at the top of a high hill that afforded needed protection for the city and its inhabitants from invading armies during its heyday, in the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC. Pergama was also noted for its famous library of more than 200,000 books, rivaled only by the library at Alexandria. Though the original structures are long gone as a result of earthquakes, wars, and destruction, the site stands out for its huge theater, the temples of Dionysus, Trajan, and Athena, and the altar of Zeus. Nearby was the impressive Asciepion of Pergamum, an ancient medical center where practitioners experimented with various therapies for the ailing.
Ephesus is the best preserved and probably the most thoroughly excavated site we visited. Its scale is remarkable, with its large theater, expansive agora, magnificent library (connected by an underground tunnel to a brothel across the street!---or so we were told), its water and sewage system, its paved main street, as well as an assortment of temples and fountains. Visiting these sites makes you realize that despite current claims about our sophistication and technological advances, these early people possessed exceptional talent. They achieved so much despite the limited tools and resources available to them.
A firmer appreciation of what these early people accomplished grew out of a brief exchange while walking through the long tunnel into the center of King Midas’ tomb (at Gordium) which dates from the 8th Century BC. Someone wondered aloud how much time and effort was required to construct the large mound of dirt covering the tomb; the mound is a cone 57 meters high and 300 meters in diameter. The answer lies in calculating the volume of a cone, and estimating how big a load of dirt a worker could carry and how many loads a worker could carry in a single day. Making reasonable assumptions about these latter two variables and carrying out the calculations produces an astounding result: as much as 10,000 man years of work was needed to complete the job. Put another way, building this cone would require a force of 1,000 men working every day for 10 years! This estimate ignores the additional manpower, whether slave or free, required to feed, clothe, and protect this army of workers. In the surrounding countryside there are dozens of additional smaller cones. The magnitude of this civilization’s accomplishments is most impressive. Comparable calculations of the raw manpower and the fine skills of stone carving required to create Pergama and Ephesus would help us appreciate the immense resources required to build these places and the highly developed organizational skills these people had already developed.
The Elderhostel trip itinerary did not allow for several visits I would like to have made. We did not go anywhere near Iskenderun where I spent my first eight months in Turkey (Spring 1952 to late winter 1953). Our visit to Konya where I served from late winter 1953 until my return to the US in fall 1953 was much too brief. Having enough time to make these visits worthwhile would have required arriving in Turkey at least several days early so I could spend a day or two in Iskenderun and another day or two in Konya. I finally decided that adding these visits would be complicated and unduly prolong my trip. Enroute home after the Elderhostel I wanted to visit a brother and his wife in England as well as one of our daughters and her family who recently moved to London.
What about Turkish carpets? Yes, I did purchase three of them, not for us but for our two children. My fascination with Turkish rugs began shortly after arriving in Turkey. While traveling through Aleppo Syria in September 1952 I purchased my first carpet, a Kashan that cost perhaps $25. Later in Konya I purchased a Turkish bokhara made in a rug weaving establishment. Later, in the maze of shops in the center of Konya, I bought an interesting looking and quite primitive Anatolian prayer rug. Over the years we have greatly enjoyed the beauty and durability of these rugs; the prayer rug hangs over my desk and I frequently glance at it while searching for a particular word as I write. As you might guess, I could not resist looking and then buying the rugs we were seeing everywhere in Turkey. We visited two rug Handicraft Production Centers that try to preserve the art of rug-making while at the same time offering tourists a vast array of choices among rugs that are presumably authentic reproductions of local designs and of good quality. No much bargaining can take place, but the array of rugs was impressive and the skill in displaying and selling them proved to be irresistible. I purchased three rugs, two for Ellen and family and one for Martha. They were both thrilled to receive them. Eventually, they will receive other Turkish rugs because we have them in most every room.
What impressions emerged from my trip? As noted earlier, my overall impressions parallel those of Leonard Woolf but differ significantly in detail. Most apparent is the faster tempo of life, something that Woolf noted. Again, automobiles have done much to speed things up. Back in 1950, Turkey possessed an estimated 12,000 automobiles (6 per 10,000 people) as contrasted to 6,000,000 today (about 1000 per 10,000 population). For those who remember the 1950s, the ratio for the U.S. was vastly greater, about 2200 per 10,000 population. Back then, whether in cities or the countryside, you were far more likely to see donkey-drawn wagons moving down the street than even a single automobile. Buses in the earlier period were ancient and dilapidated; they were always jammed with people and carried on their roof racks all kinds of luggage, including live chickens in cages. Now, with the building of a modern highway network, cars are numerous, huge trucks speed along the roadways, modern buses run between major cities, and local jitneys cruise the streets and highways picking up and discharging passengers along the way.
Turkey’s communication infrastructure varied. I usually received international airmail from Wisconsin in five days, on rare occasions in four days. By contrast, making telephone calls was much more difficult. A phone call to the US called for making initial contact with a local operator in say Konya; that operator connected another operator in Ankara who in turn connected with an operator in Istanbul (meanwhile each of these operators had to hold open the connecting line) who in turn contacted an operator in London who then contacted an operator in New York and then hooked up to a local operator in whatever city was being called. It sometimes took up to 20 minutes before the person being called was available to speak; if they were out, you had to start over again another time. I doubt that the already good mail service has improved; by contrast, direct long-distance dialing from Turkey is now no more complicated than it is here.
The faster tempo of life is also the result of Turkey’s enormous population growth. In 1950 Turkey’s population was 20 million; today it is close to 70 million. This rapidly growing population is relatively youthful, with three quarters of the population under 40 years of age. Even more dramatic is the growth of major and not-so-major cities. Much of this growth occurs because of people’s quest to improve their lives and those of their children. Most people think the surest and easiest path is to migrate from their villages to the more abundant opportunities in the city. The result: cities and towns now teem with people. This continuing migration creates serious problems: the supply of workers exceeds demand and unemployment rises; housing is in short supply; cheap high-rise apartments dot the outskirts of cities, new ghettos of immigrants are cropping up everywhere. Meanwhile, public services are in short supply. For example, school attendance has risen rapidly but currently only a quarter of the students applying for and admitted to college can enroll; facilities are completely inadequate to handle them. The conclusion: Turkish cities face terribly challenging problems.
The increased tempo of life observed in my old habitat of Konya reflects these same forces. Konya’s population rose from 60,000 in 1950 to almost 700,000 in 2002. Konya is no longer the small city it once was, with its skyline dominated by mosques and minarets. Now, large, multi-story buildings (up to a dozen stories) can be seen throughout the city. Commercial activity thrives everywhere. The main thoroughfares have been straightened and widened to accommodate cars, buses, and trucks. Traffic is dense, with vehicles, cyclists, and a few donkey-drawn wagons vying for space. The sidewalks are packed with people. The smells of cooking food are everywhere. The city looks far more attractive than it ever did before, with its tree-lined boulevards and generous floral displays. Modernization has arrived!
The guide books portray Konya as among the most religiously conservative areas in Turkey. Women are described as much more likely to keep themselves covered with head scarves and long coats. Yet, I saw perhaps no more than 15 percent of women dressed this way. Interestingly, I noticed a woman dressed in the traditional garb carrying a large clear plastic bag. What was in it? A brightly-colored plastic tricycle. The old and the new; how incongruous. Relatively few men can be seen now fingering their traditional worry beads as they stroll down the sidewalk. The few that do are my age. Most people pay little attention to these old practices. By contrast, younger people dress like young people do everywhere. I even saw many young people wearing those now fashionable jeans whose backside and upper legs have been treated to make them look worn, giving them an ugly green cast. In short, the Konya I knew as a backward, mid-sized town has been transformed into a modern, thriving metropolis.
Rather than visiting the Mevlana Museum and Mosque (home of the whirling dervishes) during our brief visit to Konya, I decided to search for the Turing Palas Oteli where I lived in 1953. I walked down Alaaddin Caddessi (the main street) to Alaaddin Hill which is the site of the 1221 A.D. mosque built by Alaaddin (he ruled the Seljuk empire from 1219 to 1231). The hotel opposite is gone. Unless my bearings were completely off, the hotel, the coffee house next door, and adjacent stores have been replaced by several nondescript buildings. I walked around the block and spotted the school where I taught English and the adjacent playground where we sometimes played softball. The absence of the hotel, though disappointing, was not that surprising. With the passage of 50 years, change is inevitable.
While checking my guidebook and an old map to be sure I was in the right place, a middle-aged man approached me and asked in quite understandable English whether I needed some help. I explained my search. He assured me the hotel had been demolished some time ago. I remarked about the vast changes in Konya, saying that my old photo album portrayed a quite different city—the streets were filled with people walking rather than driving; the buildings on Alaaddin Hill, then clearly visible from throughout the city, are now completely obscured by surrounding trees. On hearing these comments, he perked up, expressing an interest in seeing my pictures. He went on to describe himself as a high school teacher who writes local history. He wondered whether I might send him copies of these old photos. An intriguing thought crossed my mind; my photos may be the world’s only photos of Konya in the early 1950s! I assured the man I would send him copies rather than allowing the originals to languish in my photo album, as they have for a half century. Better to make copies for somebody who might find a use for them than allow them to deteriorate in my attic. I will be curious to find out what he does with these photos. After exchanging addresses, I rushed back for a quick look at the Mevlana Museum and Mosque before we departed for Cappadocia. If only there had been more time for me to renew my acquaintance with Konya. Perhaps another time.
My return visit to Ankara produced a similar impression—growth and modernization. Among the more obvious changes: Ankara’s population increased from perhaps a quarter million in 1950 to between 3-4 million today. Street and pedestrian traffic is heavy; the city and its environs contain a wide array of large new multi-story buildings similar to those in all but this country’s largest cities. Kizilay Square has displayed Ulus as the center of city life. Embassy row has been thoroughly redone. Again, I searched for the hotel where I stayed during my frequent visits to Ankara. But, the two-story Guley Palas Oteli also seems to have disappeared, a result of pressures to make the best use of valuable land. To think that 50 years ago we simply drove up to the hotel and parked on the street in front; now the press of people and traffic would make that impossible. Ataturk’s tomb which used to be outside the city is now surrounded by Ankara’s new suburbs. Istanbul’s has also grown, with its population increasing from roughly 1 million in 1950 to as much as 10-14 million now. To sum up, Turkey has changed and its tempo of life has clearly accelerated.
Our visit to the small town of Tire, north of Seljuk, reminded me most of the Turkey I knew 50 years ago– Iskenderun and Konya as well as nearby towns with military establishments. Tire is well described in the guide books as a typical Turkish village unchanged by modernization. The narrow streets teem with activity—pedestrians, men pushing or pulling large two-wheel carts loaded with materials, other shepherding heavily-laden donkeys, and an occasional donkey-drawn four-wheel wagon. The shops are narrow, small, and poorly lit. Proprietors perch outside on stools or brightly-covered plastic crates of the kind you buy here in Walmart stores. In other shops people work industriously—here making felt, in a shop across the street stitching together garments, and next door weaving carpets. In the windows of a cubbyhole-sized bakery with its glorious aroma are stacks of freshly baked bread. All the while young men scurry about, darting into shops with their trays, delivering chi (tea) in traditional small glasses, with the required two sugar cubes and a tiny teaspoon on the accompanying saucer. As I wandered about, the sights, sounds, and smells frequently evoked those sharp but fleeting memories of the past.
The second change noted by Woolf is political. He makes much of Sri Lanka’s independence even though the Tamils had already begun their efforts to break away. By contrast, Turkey was already independent; the surprise is how and why Turkish politics evolved as it did. What happened? Turkey gained its independence in 1923. But, its political system did not come alive until the early 1950s when the ruling party was defeated and Adnan Menderes became prime minister. The Turks were proud of this development and outsiders watched with interest as Turkish democracy took hold. By the late 1950s, however, the political system’s weaknesses began to emerge. In 1960 Menderes was thrown out of office and later hanged for his crimes; I remember having seen him at close hand in Konya during a military review. What has evolved is a political system difficult for outsiders—and perhaps Turks also—to understand. For example, more than 50 different political parties exist, occupying a spectrum ranging from far left to far right, with every shade between, plus pro-Islamist parties. Because no one of these parties is strong enough to gain a majority, or even a substantial plurality, the result has been a succession of coalition governments maintained by fragile alliances among the several leading parties.
During our visit, the upcoming November election campaign had already attracted great attention. We heard a couple of sound trucks here and there but did not directly witness the campaign. Yet, we were keenly aware of it from reading the foreign newspapers and particularly the English-language Daily Turkish Journal. What did we learn? Charges of widespread corruption–ongoing. Controversy over whether the former mayor of Istanbul Erdogan could be appointed prime minister if his party gained a majority in Parliament—the court ruled him ineligible. What the election will mean for Turkey’s quest for EU membership remains unclear.
Trying to make sense of Turkish politics has always been difficult, no matter how much one reads in The New York Times, The Economist, or European papers. New York Times correspondent Steven Kinzer’s recent book, The Crescent and the Star (2001) throws some light on Turkey’s fractionated political system, the military’s attempt to preserve the secular state as Islamist forces grow stronger, the challenge of dealing with the Kurdish population, and the hurdles in gaining membership to the EU. While his book provides interesting background, one must be a diligent student of Turkey’s political system to make sense of it. For the rest of us, the best descriptive term is “baffling.”
The third change in Sri Lanka Woolf commented on was economic, the rise in its standard of living. Of course, Turkey’s standard of living has risen but far less than might have been expected. Attempting to understand the evolution of Turkeys’ economy and its current economic problems is another challenge. At our initial meeting in Istanbul, an Elderhostel official who studied economics at the university said there would be no exploration of Turkey’s economic problems because these problems are too complex and difficult to understand. He was right. But, his warning did not discourage people from raising questions in the following days. Their questions were often addressed to me, on the assumption I understood the situation. Before leaving Madison I had tried to bone up on the Turkish economy but doing so was difficult. Kinzer’s book says almost nothing about the economy. The most recent survey of Turkey in The Economist is more than a year old and devoted largely to politics and Turkey’s quest for entry into the European Union. The 2001 OECD report on Turkey is rather technical, devotes considerable space to fiscal and financial matters, and then describes Turkey’s wide-ranging structural reform program. Feeling myself unprepared, I desperately hoped we would hear a lecture or two on Turkey’s economic problems. But, that was not to be.
What kinds of questions did people ask? As we drove through cities, towns, and the countryside, the most obvious questions dealt with real estate: Why are there so many unfinished residential buildings everywhere we go? Why do some buildings have a completed first floor but unfinished second and/or third floors? How do builders finance large development projects involving dozens and dozens of condos? How can people live and operate in an economy where prices rise so rapidly, where in the past several years annual inflation rates have ranged between 60-70%? Many of my traveling friends had some inkling of the impact of inflation. Put simply, under conditions of rapid inflation it does not pay to hold cash or other financial assets. The only way to protect yourself is as quickly as possible convert your cash into real assets (land, buildings, etc.).
What about inflation? How bad is it? What caused it? The presence of inflation became clear enough when people converted their US dollars into Turkish Lira, and was reinforced as people tried to keep track of those pesky zeros on the paper currency: “Let me see, is this a 500,000 TL or 5,000,000 TL note?” The first figure represents about 30 cents, the second about $3.00. At this point, I could offer some perspective, explaining that during my earlier stay in Turkey, the current exchange rate was 2.8 TL to one U.S. dollar. What a contrast! But then came more difficult questions. What accounts for the high inflation rate? Why are interest rates so high? Exactly how prosperous are people living in Turkey?
Being frustrated by my inability to respond meaningfully to many such questions, I visited Istanbul Technical University during the final two days in Istanbul, hoping to hook up with an economist who could help answer these and other questions. There I met a Turkish economist, Professor Oner Guncavdi, who had been educated at Warwick University in England and who fortunately specialized in international trade. We spent more than an hour talking about the issues, and he kindly provided me with two recent research papers analyzing Turkey’s economic problems. These studies indicate that Turkey in the early 1980s embarked on a bold experiment, liberalizing commodity and financial markets, and at the same time reducing administrative and regulatory statutes hindering the international flow of capital. The intent was to stimulate economic growth, bring down the inflation rate, reduce government deficits, and improve the condition of the poor. The reality was quite different: slow growth, high inflation, continued high deficits, a decline in real wages, and an erosion of moral values because of pervasive corruption. Not a pretty picture.
What these analyses reveal is the difficulty of freeing up a statist economy (one with many government owned and controlled companies) so that market forces can work and in the process squeeze out inefficiencies and eliminate rampant corruption. Achieving success requires making unpopular changes and sticking to them—toughness is essential. The difficulties should not be underestimated. As one example, Turkey continues to operate many state industries that by their very nature are inefficient and require generous subsidies to keep them afloat. Despite efforts at privatization, much remains to be done in transferring these industries to private sector entrepreneurs who will have to face the discipline of the marketplace. Continuing to subsidize these industries inflates government expenditures, leading to larger budget deficits because tax revenues fall short of government expenditures. To finance these deficits, government must borrow from the public; doing so requires paying competitive interest rates that may range as high as 70%. Meanwhile, Turkey’s insatiable demand for imports combined with weak export demand creates balance of payments problems that weaken the TL in foreign exchange markets. This in turn undermines the confidence of foreign investors who might be poised to make new and much-needed investments in Turkey. The seriousness of Turkey’s economic problems is dramatized by the fact that its national debt exceeds its current gross domestic product (GDP). Until its national debt can be brought down, Turkey will never be able to meet the criteria required for membership in the EU.
Because of Turkey’s key role in the Middle East and its long-standing alliance with the U.S., this country has led efforts by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to help Turkey stabilize its economy and accelerate its economic growth. Despite these efforts, Turkey’s economic growth lags seriously behind other recent entrants in the EU. In 1950, per capita GDP (gross domestic product) was approximately the same in Turkey, Greece, Spain, and Portugal; the level was probably no greater than a couple of hundred dollars per year. In 2000, the comparable figures are: Spain $16,000, Portugal $12,000, and Greece $11,000, as compared to only $2500 for Turkey. These figures raise other questions: Why hasn’t Turkey been able to grow itself more rapidly? Does it have the capacity to grow more rapidly in the future? Can it ever catch up?
My comments here hardly do justice to the complexity of the Turkish economy and its difficult economic problems. How well it fares in the coming years is now clouded with uncertainty. Much depends on who is elected and how committed the country’s leadership is to improving Turkey’s economic prospects. It must move quickly to implement the reforms needed to promote faster economic growth, stricter control over inflation, restrained public spending, a reduced role for government, and elimination of corruption. All represent formidable challenges in even the most stable political environment.
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This concludes “My Turkey: Reminiscence and Reflection,” an essay on my two trips to Turkey. Writing this essay helped me focus on what I learned from my recent Elderhostel trip. Even more gratifying, it awoke old and gratifying memories of my earlier stay in Turkey. How lucky I’ve been, to enjoy two wonderful journeys to a country I love.
About the Author
At age 92 I decided to showcase my recent and current writings on a variety of topics outside of my career interests as an economist. My wife Sally’s dementia, my experiences of war, and my interests in improving higher education all compel me to write.
For most of the last decade I maintained a low profile, necessitated by my wife Sally's suffering from a decade-long siege of vascular dementia. After she passed away several years ago I wrote about our experience, in the belief that this would be helpful to the many others who suffer from dementia and their family caregivers. I am currently seeking a publisher for my book manuscript: The Forgotten: Dementia and the Right to Die.
Over the past few years I began working on several other writing projects that are described more fully elsewhere in my blog. These include a nearly-completed book manuscript on my "expected proficiencies approach to the college major'' as a vehicle for reinvigorating liberal education. I continue to write on the shortcomings of UW-Madison's affirmative action policies and programs that over the years have been renamed "diversity and inclusion" policies and programs.
Within two weeks of my graduation from UW-Madison in June 1950, the Korean War broke out. I was drafted and expected to be sent to Korea to join our fighting forces there. But instead I was sent to Turkey for 18 months. How lucky I was. I am also writing a memoir of my Korean War military experience when I served as an U.S. Army adviser in our military aid program in Turkey.
Until I began branching out beyond economics, I failed to realize what a profound effect the Great Depression and World War II had on me as I grew up. I have already captured some of these recollections, with more of them to follow.
With that introduction, I turn you over to my blog entries as well as my other writing projects described more fully elsewhere in my blog. Best wishes ~ W. Lee Hansen
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Award-winning author W. Lee Hansen, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Full bio.