09 August 2006

Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World

I finished Sons of the Conquerors by Hugh Pope today; I'm not going to do a full review of the book because there are lots of reviews out there about it. I very much enjoyed the book and highly recommend it to people who are interested in history and cultures.

Pope speaks Turkish, Arabic, and Persian, and at least some Russian, all of which made his travels far more valuable. He's lived in Turkey for the last 20 years and has traveled extensively through the Turkic world. I am envious of all the things he has done. He also has a very high opinion of Turkish Airlines, something I'm still working on.

I was very disappointed about how little attention he gave to Kyrgyzstan. While it is certainly the smallest of the current independent Turkic states, it still should have had a chapter about it. There also was almost no mention of the Turkic people living in various parts of Russia.

But I wondered if Kyrgyzstan fit with his various assumptions about Turkic culture (as I pointed out before, I never quite managed to shake the feeling that he was trying to apply things he's learned about Turkish Turks to the rest of the Turks). His first section is about the military power of Turkic nations, and that hardly applies to the Kyrgyz and never has, except for a short time 1200 years ago. Hardly a military tradition.

His second section was about the Turks love-hate relations with strong leaders. While this is unquestionably the case in Kyrgyz and the rest of Turkic Central Asia, it is difficult to know if this is the result of the Soviet Union or if this is truly a Turkic characteristic. I think in the case of the Kyrgyz, it's not so historically ingrained.

I did feel that there were too many generalizations in the book, but I did like his summary of "Turkic qualities" in the epilogue: "I would count an engaging bluntness, loyalty to the family, fearlessness and a rash love of risk...an inordinate respect for elders, an aversion to planning, a tough resistance to pain, a refusal to apologize or recognize faults, a love-hate relation with leaders, and an in-born animus to take charge." Sounds about right to me, if you can ever make a statement like this.

I hope more attention is paid to the Turkic world as a result of this and other books that are being written about it. With around 140 million speakers stretched out across Asia, they are an important group.

1 comment:

danithew said...

Thanks for writing about this book. Sounds like a good read.