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August 15, 2006

Turks: Friends in Deeds

Roy Meachum

Bursa, Turkey - I came into this trip with such apparent appalling ignorance of this country; my knowledge of Turkey was spotty at best. What comfort I had came from history.

This third largest city was remembered only as a siege and a victory for the first known Osman. His progeny went on to create the Ottoman Empire, once the world's largest, which stretched deep into Europe. That favorite breakfast pastry, the croissant (a crescent) was created by Viennese bakers. They celebrated the city's triumph over Ottoman invaders. Together with a single star, the crescent forms the symbol for Islam.

In my own lifetime there had been the incredible feats by the hard-fighting Turkish brigade during the Korean War. Muslim soldiers saved American lives with their ferocity and braveness. They became legendary "devils" to the communists: Chinese and Korean troops were known to run rather than take them on.

During the Cold War, we had no better friend in the region. Neither the CIA nor the Air Force had problems establishing bases and listening posts; its proximity to the Soviet Union made this country the launching pad for all sorts of missions, including the famous spy plane.

Gary Powers' U-2 took off from a Turkish air force runway on the infamous flight that exasperated and frustrated President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In Vienna for a high level conference with Russia's Nikita Khrushchev, the retired general hadn't known Mr. Powers had been ordered into the air; his superiors figured Soviet defense would be down during the mini-summit. They weren't.

With their public cover blown, the Turks never waffled in their support of the United States. They were steadfast despite Moscow's campaign of harassment and intimidation. Most people have no concept of the length and intensity of the propaganda and the dirty tricks Russia launched. If all else failed in the incident, these people earned an envious record of standing for loyalty to our friendship. Today Turkey remains steadfast to our mutual regard; although we are sometimes divided on issues that threaten to blow the relationship apart.

Despite heavy Washington pressure, Ankara, the Turkish capital, refused to dispatch divisions to the U.S.-dominated war in Iraq. But together with London and Paris, this nation contributed heavily to the forces maintaining the jittery peace in Afghanistan. By the way, the Korean War was sanctioned by the United Nations. Invading Iraq was not.

No nation could have worked harder for a cease fire in Lebanon; Ankara used all its influence in every direction. Home to a considerable number of Shiites, the country has witnessed widespread demonstrations calling for Israeli withdrawal from its neighbor's territory. For all their Western ways there simply can be no doubt Turks, women and men, are shocked at the slaughter of innocents over recent t weeks. Their media reflect the popular view.

A former Washington lawyer and U.S. bureaucrat, returned home to Istanbul, shared his opinion that, thanks to its position on the most recent Middle Easton crisis, Turkey has never been more popular among its fellow Muslims. Since their subjugation by the Ottomans, Arabs have been generally and viscerally leery of their former rulers, who are not, after all, Arabs.

Turks belong to a totally different race; they rode out of deep Asia seeking some place where they could settle down; they lived a nomadic life, roaming endlessly, until bumping into the declining Byzantine Empire. Before their conquest of Constantinople, in 1453, they moved into various outposts of the Christian empire, including Bursa.

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