I wasn’t planning on reviewing two Erdoğan-heavy books in a row, but I read what comes before me so here we are and, as Hanna Lucinda Smith points out in Erdoğan Rising, the topic of Erdoğan sells copies! Besides, it is difficult to write a about Turkey's recent history without focusing on the president. So that's what Smith did. Yet she does not simply write Erdoğan's biography, his rise to power and authoritarian slide, which are well known stories. Smith draws on her vast experience as a journalist in Turkey to tell a more holistic story of the country in the past decade.
Hanna Lucinda Smith first came to Turkey as one of the many journalists camping down in Antakya looking to cover the Syrian civil war. There, she realized that the story in the next few decades was not just going to be in Syria but that monumental changes were taking place in Turkey. Hence, she moved to Istanbul to cover them. Smith has been reporting on Turkey ever since.
Erdoğan Rising takes us through all the critical moments of Turkey's recent history, from the Gezi Park protests to the coup attempt and the 2018 election. As a seasoned journalist, Smith directly covered most of those events.
Smith's Syria reporting is compelling as not only does she report on politics but provides personal experiences - which at times, can be harrowing. But beyond Syria, some of the book's most striking reporting is related to the time she spent in Turkey's Kurdish regions between 2015 and 2016. This is an area of Turkey's recent history on which information is scarce. Smith was on the ground during the fighting between the PKK and the Turkish armed forces. Her writing on the reality on the conflict in Diyarbakir, Silopi and Cizre is sobering.
Much of the book is dedicated to expounding Turkey's political cleavages and the polarization that has facilitated Erdoğan's electoral successes. Smith spoke to a wide array of people across the country, including Erdoğan supporters on the day after the coup, historians such as Ayse Hür, refugees and smugglers. The book also gives a voice to the many people that were dismissed from their jobs and imprisoned in the aftermath of the purges against suspected Gülenists. Smith thus provides a comprehensive picture of Turkey's political landscape and the multiple facets that form the country's political identities.
In particular, I found Smith's interviews with AKP insiders very insightful. Not only does she speak with major political figures but with people that have worked and continued to work both directly and indirectly for the AKP in less public if vital roles. The journalist thus sheds light on the AKP's internal decision-making process, though many these people have since fallen out with the AKP.
While Erdoğan Rising is very well written and researched, it is marred by a few blunders. For instance, Smith’s description of Sheikh Said as the original Kurdish rebel ignores earlier Kurdish leaders like Sheikh Ubeydullah, that were a headache for the 19th century Ottoman administration.
Another significant point the books explores is the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Turkish state. Smith details connections between some pro-Erdoğan circles and the City of London, slightly odd ties between the Turkish government and members of the House of Lords as well as an unexplained visit by the Archbishop of Canterbury to Turkey. The British institutions or people Smith writes about appear very murky.
In sum, Erdoğan Rising tackles Turkey's political events with nuance. Smith caters to readers that aren't experts on Turkey but provides enough detail to capture those readers that are invested in the country.