In spring 2010, a few months before we were to leave Ankara, the new Secretary of State, Ahmet Davutoğlu, moved down the street from us. After nearly two years of driving up our street to take a right onto Uğur Mumcu to take the children to school, we now drove down the hill from our apartment building, and circled back around another city block to get onto the main boulevard above ours. I imagined this was for security reasons, and had mixed feelings about a prominent politician living two blocks from us in a city where we had to go through security just to enter the mall.
One evening around the same time, there was a long news program about the new secretary of state on Al-Jazeera on The Rageh Omaar Report. Rageh Omaar is a British journalist whose family is originally from Somalia. I remember that Omaar kept pronouncing the “g”, which is silent, in Davutoğlu’s name. It was interesting to see the inside of Davutoğlu’s enormous apartment, where some traditional Ottoman art hung alongside modern Turkish paintings. I also watched the comings and goings of his family and entourage, various members of which we often saw standing on the sidewalk waiting for their car.
Davutoğlu, who became Prime Minister of Turkey in August last year (2014), flew to Paris in early January to march in protest of the terrorist attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. As Time magazine reported (Turkey's Awkward Place in the Paris March), "not only does its president hate cartoonists, but a terror suspect passed through [the country] to get to Syria." It is also true that there are more journalists in prison in Turkey today than in either Russia or China, or anywhere.
In my book, IT'S COLD HERE: A MEMOIR OF MODERN TURKEY, I'm sympathetic when Omaar interviews Davutoğlu. This is what I write in part: In the interview, Davutoğlu looked upbeat and was smiling, as he always appeared on television, but he somehow still seemed beleaguered, as if the Western-oriented questions themselves were patronizing. Why do we need to explain ourselves to you all of the time? his look said, even as he smiled. Why do we need to reassure you that while we believe our history and geographical location puts us in the unique position of being a regional superpower that can potentially influence people as diverse as Bosnians and Persians and Caucasians – Muslims all! – we are still dedicated to Europe and to Western Enlightenment values?
"We are proud of our religion and our identity, but at the same time we a part of European culture and European history and we are proud of that as well," he told Omaar.
Foreign Affairs reported over the weekend that upon his return to Ankara in January, Davutoğlu "made it clear that he had gone to Paris to make a stand against terror, not to support Charlie Hebdo." This was not obvious during the march, when he walked arm in arm with leaders who were clearly there in support of free speech.
But Davutoğlu said that Turkey would not allow its prophet to be insulted. And here, in that statement, is the problem, for although Turkey's population is almost entirely Muslim, Turkey is a country, not a religion.