A resurgent Turkey is shifting from a linchpin of the Western system to an independent-minded actor dominating the world's key geopolitical intersection, between Europe, the Middle East and Caucasus.

Turkey's regional might is greater today than at any other point since the formation of the modern Turkish state in 1923. More at ease with its Muslim identity, this secularized nation's religious government is re-engaging its Sunni, Caucasian and Central Asian backyard even while maintaining strong ties to Washington, Brussels, Moscow, and Beijing. In its quest for a UN Security Council seat, Ankara also courts allies in continents as distant as Africa and South America.

Domestically, Turkeys recovery from the 2001 financial collapse and its long economic boom are threatened by a simmering confrontation between the religiously conservative pro-business government and the secular civilian and military elite that guard the secular, pro-Western vision of modern Turkey's founder, Kemal Ataturk. The headscarf ban controversy, the eruption of the simmering Kurdish conflict into strikes on PKK bases in northern Iraq, the 2007 assassination of a prominent Armenian newspaper editor challenging the Turkish narrative on the fate of the Armenians during the First World War, and allegations that Turkish society is increasingly conservative have all sharpened tensions.

Is mainstream Turkish society more conservative than ever -- or more liberal? Experts are sharply divided, and so are Turks themselves. The one certainty is cultural and economic polarization on a scale that is unprecedented.

This reporting project is part of Rising Powers: The New Global Reality, a project sponsored by the Stanley Foundation. It is designed to raise awareness, motivate new thinking, and ultimately improve US foreign policy regarding the global transformation taking place, as a new group of countries exhibit a growing influence over the future of the world.

Iason Athanasiadis's picture
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Iason Athanasiadis is a freelance writer, photographer and television producer covering the Middle East and Southeast Europe. Based out of Cairo, Damascus, Doha, Tehran and Istanbul since 1999, he...

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