Anthony Shadid is a native of the Oklahoma City area who is now a reporter based in the Middle East for the New York Times. A graduate of Heritage Hall High School, he attended the University of Oklahoma for a time and graduated from the University of Wisconsin. Shadid also did graduate work in Arab language and culture at Columbia University in New York City, and he is fluent in Arabic.  

He formerly reported for the Washington Post from Baghdad,  Iraq, and for his coverage of the American invasion of that nation he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. The committee that selected him for that honor noted his “extraordinary ability to capture, at personal peril, the voices and emotions of Iraqis as their country was invaded, their leader toppled, and their way of life  upended.”

Shadid recently authored an article in the New York Times’  “Week in Review” section in which he spoke of the expanding role Turkey is playing in the Middle East.

Until World War I most of the Middle East was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The journalist writes of how the rural community of Marjayoun, Lebanon, which is where his forefathers resided before they made their way to Oklahoma, was part of a historical trade route that brought goods from Turkey to what is now the states of Syria and Israel. But after that conflict ended  British and French officials replaced the Turkish functionaries that had governed the area for several centuries.

But, as Shadid points out, ties of culture, religion and commerce  remained in place between Turkey and its former colonies, and Turkish phrases such as something being as good as “apricots in Damascus” are still in use today.

And the soul searching that is occurring in the Arab world as a result of the violent upheavals taking place in the Middle East   has resulted in renewed interest in the area’s historical links to Turkey. Shadid writes of the friendly crowds of people speaking both Arabic and Turkish that he found along Turkey’s borders with its Arab neighbors, and reports that there is now an agreement in place that allows Turks and the residents of those   states to visit each others’ nations without having to first obtain a visa.

He also details how Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s government is overseeing negotiations that will result  in a free trade zone that will include Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. In addition, rail and transit lines are being constructed that will once again bring goods from Turkey to markets throughout the Middle East.

OU Professor Joshua Landis, who is an authority on the Middle East and attended a Turkish University for a time, believes that many in the Arab world are now looking to Turkey as a model of  a moderate Islamist democracy that has improved the standard of living for its citizenry. Iran is also seeking to expand its role in the Middle East, and Landis believes that Turkey embodies an  alternative to the radical Islamic fundamentalism that is offered by the ruling mullahs in Tehran.

Landis also points out that Turkey recently has hosted a meeting of Syrian groups that are opposed to the  increasingly repressive government of Bashar Assad, and that such a gathering conveys to the Arab people that Turkey is supporting those who are seeking freedom and democracy in Syria.

Turkey maintains diplomatic relations with Israel, and Erdogan oversaw negotiations between Israel and Syria several years ago in an unsuccessful effort to end the conflict between those two  states. And Landis believes that in time Turkey may again work to broker a peace agreement between Israel and its Arab  neighbors.  

WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.