Anyone riding the rails from Seville to Salzburg to Sofia will quickly get a sense of the diversity of language and culture across what has become the European Union. Yet as Barack Obama's visit to Istanbul illustrated today, the continental coalition could reach further.
During a town hall exchange, a student asked Obama whether Turkey, which straddles Europe and Asia, should be admitted as a member of the European Union. Obama replied, in part:
"I think it's the right thing to do. I also think it would send a strong signal that Europe is not monolithic but is diverse and that that is a source of strength instead of weakness."
Scenes of Turkey's diverse heritage and modern moment emerge in the eastern arc of land that runs from Europe into the Middle East. As part of a four-part series, At the Edge of Europe, photographer Essdras Suarez and I met devout Muslims during Friday prayer, a colony of Christians worshipping, and Kurds celebrating their new year. The sense of time and place was epic and intimate nearly everywhere, but particularly just south of the town of Silopi, at the border with Iraq. As I wrote in a story:
"A Turkish policeman, his face defined by wider, flatter features common among more eastern Turkic people, stands outside a small shop and registers truck drivers waiting to cross. His efforts are part of a new system he says will shorten their wait.
'It will be similar to the European borders,' he says.
Beside the road, a shepherd, seemingly lost but surely not, tends his flock. A swallow darts above green grass grown from cold rain.
EU membership for Turkey will not come for years, if at all. Now, though, Iraqi Kurds, friends of the Turkish army during the Kurdish rebellion in Turkey, talk of controlling oil in Kirkuk, and of having a state of their own. So Turkish army helicopters rise from a nearby base and buzz low. It is the ultimate point of power: For how long can force from above prevent change from below?
A stiff breeze blows, and the shepherd and his sheep move on. The swallow rises and falls, its angled wings beating against unseen currents."