08 October 2004

Turkey: To be European or not to be

AZAD-HYE (8 October 2004): Lebanese "Daily Star" argues in its 8th October 2004 editorial that "A European Turkey stands to be a guiding light for the Muslim world". It concludes that "the best way the Arab and Islamic worlds can help - and benefit themselves - is to participate in Turkey's economic, social and political transformation".

It is no secret that Arab politicians are following carefully the process of Turkey's membership to the European Union. After all Turkey's admission will bring the European border just north of Syria and Iraq and for the first time Asia Minor will be no more an Asian territory.

The European Commission recommended on 6th October 2004 that EU leaders set a date to launch membership talks with Turkey when they meet on the 17th December 2004 to assess Turkey's situation. The report, however, came with a number of heavy conditions and a warning that a likely start of negotiations would not guarantee membership.

A Turkish daily claims that "opponents of Turkey in the European Council tried to append conditions to the report on Turkey just prior to the report's release. Suggested conditions ranged from acceptance of the [so-called] Armenian genocide to a privileged partnership; however, none of the conditions were added" ("Zaman", 7/10/2004).

In the view of many Westerners, Turkey is regarded as a model for Arab countries and a stabilizing factor in a very disturbing neighborhood. A Dutch Euro-parliamentarian Joost Lagendijk says: "I think there is a lot of explaining that needs to be done by those who are in favour of Turkish membership like myself to explain that Islam in Turkey is completely
different from Islam in Iran or in Saudi Arabia and that getting Turkey in will prove that being a Muslim and being a democrat can be combined, and I think that would send out an important message to the rest of the world.
" (Radio Netherlands, 7/10/2004).

Francis Wurtz of the European United Left is also supportive of Turkey's European potential, saying that "Turkey's EU accession could serve as a bridge between the West and the Middle East, contributing to establishing peace in a region plagued by war and chaos". He also said that using Turkey as a scapegoat would be a mistake, but acknowledged that there are a series
of issues Turkey must resolve. These include certain clauses of the new penal code, which according to Wurtz, pose a threat to freedom of expression; the Turkish occupation forces in Cyprus and the Turkish authorities' refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide (Athens News Agency, 7/10/2004).

Turkey's obsession with the European dream dates back to the Ottoman times, when Turkish forces conquered the Balkans and reached to Vienna, but could not knock down the walls of the fortified city. In modern times, Kemal Ataturk promoted his image in the Western World as a reformist and a secular leader in a predominantly Islamic country.

For many decades Turks believed their country is a democratic one. Ahmet Acet, the Turkish Government's Deputy Undersecretary for European Affairs says that "Five years ago, we thought we were a democracy. After going through this process, we realized we were less democratic than we thought we were". ("The Christian Science Monitor", 7/10/2004).

The same could apply to the Turkish conviction about the Armenian Genocide. Five years from now we may guess that Turks will be more willing to accept the fact of the Genocide, if they are sincere about their orientation as a European nation. Unfortunately the new Penal Code that was voted by the Turkish Parliament and hailed by many Europeans as a step towards democracy still considers a criminal offence to mention the Armenian Genocide or to demand withdrawal of occupying Turkish forces from Cyprus. It may sound strange, but in the euphoria of taming Turkey, Europeans are not at the time being in a position to examine closely the Armenian and Cypriots perspective of Turkey politics.

But the Turks are feeling that the price of democracy and European identity could be very high in terms of the collapse of some historical myths. Turkish Press.com quotes Sinan Aygun, Chairman of the Ankara Chamber of Commerce protesting "they [the Europeans] say there are many missions to accomplish. What will happen about Cyprus, Aegean, southeast, minority and human rights issues? Will they ask us to accept so-called Armenian genocide? ... We cannot see them clearly''.

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