This week Turkey was in the news as President Obama chose to make his first state visit to the secular republic which is the inheritor of the Ottoman Empire. It was significant, as despite his many visits to countries in Europe following the G20 meeting, Turkey was chosen by Obama for the full pomp and circumstance, and significance that goes with it of a state visit.
This is why I find the Byzantine Empire and its successors so interesting. In the last two thousand years very little has changed for the state that controls Constantinople and Anatolia; it has huge significance to both the East and the West. It always has done and now Turkey has a role as a pro-Western secular state that has a largely Muslim population, on the doorstep of the troubled states of the Middle East – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel and even Georgia.
One could wax lyrical how the Emperor of the West (Obama) has visited the Empire of the East and try to make a lot of analogies with the situation of one or two thousand years ago. Certainly there is a split between East and West as great now as it ever was.
Turkey’s road towards full EU membership seems to have gone up a cul de sac, or at the very least is on a long diversion. Whilst an influential Turkey would be of clear benefit to Europe politically, the prospect of millions of poor(er) Muslims having free travel rights and work access in the rest of Europe does fill many with horror. However, as many have said, Turkey is too important to ignore and too important for the West to lose to an Islamic alliance if anything like that should appear.