A Turkish Dilemma

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.

Three faces of Istanbul

Istanbul is an overpopulated metropolis whose estimated 14 million inhabitants are straining it at its seams. Centuries of events in arguably the world's most historical city have shaped an urban environment so varied that it regularly throws up baffling scene changes for the traveler caring to venture a little beyond the Sultanahmet-Taksim-Bebek triangle that delineates most foreign visitors' trips. The common denominator is a rush to build and modernize, often at the expense of the layers of history lying underneath or – often – right on the surface.

Forgotten Capital: Images and text

Whether Istanbul or Constantinople, this solitary city that straddles both Europe and Asia and was the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, has always exerted a splendor that bequeathed it its Greek epithet, the Vasilevousa (the Reigning/Majestic One).

Orientalist paintings take a tour of modern Middle East

A GAGGLE OF EMIRATI art curators clad head to toe in black hijab paused in front of "Odalisque," British painter Frederick Leighton's sensuous portrait of a partially exposed Oriental beauty gazing indulgently at a long-beaked swan.

Kristine Von Oehsen, the British Council exhibition curator guiding the group, tried to persuade the delegation there was little scandal in the discreet nudity, but the all-female group of Emiratis looked unconvinced.

Obama’s tepid Turkish welcome

Iason Athanasiadis, for the Pulitzer Center
Istanbul, Turkey

For president-elect Barack Obama, his arrival on the international scene has been one of near-universal acclaim. Around the world, he is seen as the man who can transform the perception of an ailing America and reclaim that country's ideal of being "the shining city upon a hill". Except in Turkey.