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Turkish journalist Çandar: Future of Middle East hinges on Syria

October 17, 2013

Cengiz Çandar

Despite writing extensively on the Middle East as an author and journalist, Cengiz Çandar said the only thing he knows for sure about its future is that he can’t know. “I find myself totally ignorant concerning the future of the region,” he told the audience during a public lecture sponsored by the UW Jackson School of International Studies and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation on Oct. 15 as part of its lecture series, “The U.S. in a Changing World.”

To illustrate his point, the senior columnist for daily Turkish newspaper Radikal held up a graphic by @TheBigPharaoh, included in a Washington Post blog showing how confusing the alliances are between major players in the region. The graphic is titled, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding the Middle East.”

Originally scheduled to give his lecture last May, Çandar contrasted the talk he would have given then, focused on the Arab Spring and democracy, with the rapid change of events that he has discussed while in Seattle, including the protests in Turkey’s Taksim Gezi Park and the deepening crisis in Syria.

After the Arab Spring, Çandar said, people started talking about a “Turkey model” of democracy. Turkey’s popular Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had become a spokesman for Turkey and the Arab world. In fact, Çandar said, Tayyip has even become a popular name for newborn babies.

Çandar emphasized that continuing violence in Syria will have an effect on the entire Middle East. “There is a passionate debate about why it’s happening,” he said. He noted the absence of an influential superpower in the region – the United States has been reluctant to take a leadership role – and said protracted bloodshed in Syria is almost certain.

In response to an audience question about Iraq, Çandar said, “Iraq’s future will also be determined by how things unfold in Syria.” Historically, the region was interconnected and today, despite political boundaries, what happens in one country affects the others. He said, “If Syria is fragmented, Iraq is fragmented.”

Read more about Çandar’s lecture in an article in The Daily.

By Kristina Bowman,