Çandar says change in the Middle East can’t be forecasted

Cengiz Çandar

Cengiz Çandar -

The acclaimed Turkish journalist speaks at Kane Hall on Tuesday night. 

Photo by Joshua Bessex

Nearly 14 years after his last appearance at the UW, acclaimed Turkish journalist Cengiz Çandar returned to campus before an audience of professors and students in Kane Hall on Tuesday night.

Çandar is currently a senior columnist for Radikal, a Turkish daily newspaper in Istanbul. Sponsored by the Jackson School of International Studies and part of their series, “The U.S. in a Changing World,” he spoke at length about change in the Middle East.

Resat Kasaba, director of the Jackson School, introduced Çandar, calling him the most distinguished journalist in Turkey.

“He is extremely knowledgeable,” Kasaba said. “I am very pleased to have him with us.”

After a career spanning nearly 40 years, Çandar has written hundreds of columns on Turkish politics and foreign relations, specifically relations with the Middle East. His most recent works include, “Mesopotamia Express: A Journey in History,” which was released earlier this year.

Çandar was originally scheduled to lecture in May but was forced to reschedule due to traveling conflicts. However, Çandar claimed he has much more content to discuss now.

“Had I been here in May when I was supposed to be, my talk would have been 180 degrees different,” Çandar said. “This indicates how rapidly everything is changing in my country, in the world, but particularly in the region that I live.”

Çandar talked specifically about the post-“Arab Spring” Middle East, explaining that Turkey is now the model for the changing region.

“The world started to speak about Turkey,” he said. “All of the sudden, they were talking about the ‘Turkey Model.’ What happened? The Arab Spring happened. Turkey is projecting itself as an emerging region of power.”

Often referred to as an expert on the Middle East, Çandar took the time to clarify that even as an expert, he cannot make accurate predictions of the future of the region due to its extremely fast changes.

“Whatever I say will be a mistake,” he said. “This is history in construction. Having spent my entire life in the region and making my living from the region through writing and traveling, I know.”

Çandar quoted economist John Kenneth Galbraith, saying, “There are two different types of forecasters. One are those who know that they don’t know. The second are those who don’t know that they don’t know.”

Çandar said he considers himself the first type.

“This is what expertise is,” Çandar said. “That’s what experts should be. Things are moving and changing. This is a phenomenon in the Middle East much larger than Turkey.”

Çandar, who emphasized Syria as one of the most changing actors in the area, explained that the future of Turkey is dependent on how current events unfold in the country. He claimed that Syria has become the definition of the Middle East as a whole. Yet, he is still unable to make any assumptions as to the future of this area explaining that anything and everything could happen.

Senior Esther Lee, who attended the lecture, said she understood why he wasn’t able to make assumptions.

“People are afraid of not knowing, but they are hesitant to talk about the region because there is such a deep history in which America is a part of in not necessarily a positive way,” Lee said. “They [Americans] don’t know so they don’t make assumptions.”

Çandar said since he was last in Seattle, Turkey and the surrounding region have become a changing world. By his next visit, he predicts, this will be true all over again.

“If I live another 14 years, and he [Kasaba] brings me back, everything we talked about today may be irrelevant,” he said. “If he brings me back in three or four years, things we are discussing right now may still be irrelevant. This is what the changing of Turkey and the Middle East is about: no predicting, no forecasting, stay with us and cross your fingers.”

Reach reporter Kate Clark at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @KateClarkUW

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