Turkey and the European Union
April 26, 2007
This past September 7, I attended a lecture at the University of Utah,
"Perspectives on Turkey-E.U. Relations," the ninth panel discussion of the
University's 2006 Middle East & Asia: Politics, Economics & Society
Conference in Salt Lake City. The first speaker, Dr. Sadeq Rahimi, professor of
Trans-Cultural Psychiatry at Harvard, addressed an issue he considered mandatory
when discussing Turkey and the European Union.
Dr. Rahimi was concerned with the notion that Turkey is leaving the West, and
that this is the fault of the Europeans and the Greek Cypriots. From that moment
on, I began to wonder, can Turkey truly be a member of the European Union? Also
does the average Turk want to be part of the E.U., or is Turkey's future E.U.
accession just a demand of a selected class?
It is imperative to look at certain crucial moments in history and related
issues which Turkey is facing, as it travels down one of the longest roads to
becoming a member of the European Union, a road I believe will lead to a dead
With respect to Dr. Rahimi's argument that Turkey is "leaving the West," is
he referring specifically to the European Union?
Cyprus, a former British colony, gained independence in 1960. In August of
that same year, on the basis of the Zurich-London Agreements, Cyprus became
internationally recognized as an independent republic with a governmental system
composed of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots. On July 15, 1974 the Greek
Government supported a military junta against the Cypriot Government, and within
a short time, the Republic of Cyprus collapsed. The Turkish Government responded
immediately, and within several weeks, took control of approximately more than a
third of the island republic's northeast territory, which some 35-40 thousand
Turkish troops continue to occupy today, almost 33 years later. In 1983, the
Turkish-held area declared itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus"
which, internationally, is recognized only by Turkey.
Turkey and the E.U. now have a problem, a problem to which Dr. Rahimi was
apparently referring to when he said Greek Cypriots are pushing Turkey away from
For many years, the division of Cyprus has been a major obstacle on Turkey's
path to European Union admission and membership. The E.U. has officially
demanded that Turkey recognize the Republic of Cyprus and its government for
ultimate membership. Turkey has refused, for reasons which would force Turkey to
acknowledge itself as an illegal occupier of a sovereign nation on E.U. soil
(The Republic of Cyprus acceded to the E.U. in May 2004).
According to a report posted by the BBC News ("Deal Struck Over Turkey-E.U.
Talks," December 17, 2004), Turkey agreed to acknowledge Cyprus and its
government for the first time in December 2004. And most recently, Turkey did
not keep its promise to recognize the Republic of Cyprus, nor open their ports
and airspace to Greek Cypriots (BBC News, "Turkey's Long Road to the E.U.,"
October 9, 2006). Cyprus remains unconvinced of Turkey's intentions and will not
lift its veto to begin new chapters for Turkish accession to membership in the
E.U. (The Economist, "Troubles Ahead - Turkey," October 21, 2006).
On December 10, 1999 the E.U. announced that Turkey "is a candidate state
destined to join the Union on the basis of the same (Copenhagen) criteria as
applied to the other candidate states." According to Hakam M. Yavuz, part of
those criteria deal with human rights and the protection of minorities ("Islamic
Political Identity in Turkey," Oxford 2003).
During the last week of September 2006, seven years after Turkey was informed
of the criteria that it is required to meet in order to join the E.U., the
European Parliament adopted a report that condemned Turkey for its human rights
failings (The Economist, "The Awkward Partners: Turkey, America and Europe,"
September 30, 2006).
With human rights and protection of minorities, I will briefly deal with
focusing on the Greek, Kurdish and Armenian populations living within the nation
of Turkey. With the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, the hopes of
Kurdish Autonomy, Armenian independence, civil rights for the Greeks in Turkey
and, most of all, the dream of freedom for all three, were to be forever subdued
within the newly formed nation of Turkey ("The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman
Empire," Alan Palmer, Barnes & Noble 1994).
Turkey's Kurdish population are immensely oppressed by Turkish Government,
and are still commonly referred to as "Mountain Turks," as if they have no
genuine ethnic identity of their own. According to Yavuz, in 1987, then Turkish
Prime Minister Turgut Ozal initiated a fresh set of policies concerning the
perennial Kurdish question. Yavuz points out that Ozal allowed greater cultural
freedom for Turkey's Kurds, in hopes of recognition for Turkey's full
integration into the European Union; he went onto acknowledge the rights of
individual Turkish citizens, which included Kurds, to petition the European
Commission on Human Rights; and signed the European Convention on the Prevention
of Torture in 1988.
On 4 October 2004, the European Union assessed Turkey's progress towards
meeting E.U. criteria concerning the issue of human rights. It included freedom
of the press, freedom of religion, and respect for minorities, which addressed
the use of torture, as noted by Jonathan Sudgen, a Human Rights Watch researcher
(Human Rights News, "Turkey: Progress on Human Rights Key to E.U. Bid - In the
Coming Months, Ankara Must Take Action on Torture, Internal Displacement,"
hrw.org/english/docs/2004/10/04/turkey9434.htm). Sudgen was arrested in
southeastern Turkey on 12 April 2006, shortly after documenting abuses. The
abuses included torture, which was carried out by paramilitary police in a
predominately Kurdish area of Turkey (Human Rights News, "Turkey: Human Rights
Watch Researcher Detained in Southeast,"
TURKEY ALIENATING ITSELF
According to the New York Times, Turkey is further alienating itself from
Europe with its persistent refusal to officially acknowledge the massacre of
Armenians during and after World War I ("Turkish Laureate Criticizes French
Legislation," by Sebnem Arsu, October 14, 2006). Arsu also notes that Turkey's
intransigence has further complicated its attempts to join the European Union,
and has also convinced more Turks to oppose joining the E.U.
The New York Times also points out that French President Jacque Chirac,
French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and future presidential candidate
Segolene Royal have agreed that Turkey must acknowledge the Armenian Genocide
before gaining membership to the European Union ("French Pass Bill that Punishes
Denial of Armenian Genocide," by Thomas Crampton, October 13, 2006). Moreover,
six European countries and Israel have passed legislation designating denial of
the Jewish Holocaust as a crime (Institute for Jewish Policy research,
"Combating Holocaust Denial through Law in the United Kingdom,"
www.jpr.org.uk/Reports/CS_Reports/no_3_2000/index.htm). Should this not also
apply to the Armenian Genocide?
Greece and Turkey share a turbulent history. For Greeks in Turkey, especially
the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), that
turbulence still persists. According to Ambassador Erich Hochleitner, director
of the Austrian Institute for European Security Policy, human rights under the
Copenhagen criteria include religious freedom.
According to Chris Smith, co-chairman of the Commission on Security &
Cooperation in Europe, "Turkey's policies concerning religious freedom and the
Greek Orthodox Church have come under increased international scrutiny, and so
they should (CSCE, 'The Greek Orthodox Church In Turkey: A Victim Of Systematic
Expropriation,' March 16, 2005)." Mr. Smith was referring to the Turkish
Government's continuous unjustified confiscation of property owned by the Greek
Orthodox Church in Turkey - most importantly, the seizure and forcible closure
of the Greek Orthodox Theological School at Halki. The theological school on the
island of Halki is the only educational institution in Turkey for training the
next generation of Greek Orthodox clergy.
For our purposes, there is no need get into the numerous accounts of how the
Greek Orthodox Church continues to be victimized and terrorized by the Turkish
Government. Except for the Ecumenical Patriarch, who the Turkish Government
refuses to acknowledge as an ecumenical figure, clerics are forbidden to wear
their clerical robes in public.
Does the average Turk want to be part of the European Union, or is it just
the demand of a selected class? According to Dr. Rahimi and his colleagues
during the panel discussion I attended, the average Turk does not want to join
Dr. Zeynep Guler from Istanbul University considered the issue of Turkish
identity in Europe, suggesting it would be an extremely difficult subject to
address. Instead of finding a common ground so that the Turks could 'fit in'
with Europe, she described a Europe in which Turks felt "cold and lonely." She
depicted an atmosphere in which Turks perceived themselves as outsiders. She
said the E.U. has created a system by which Turks are to be represented
differently than those who are from E.U. member states. Dr. Emrullah Uslu of the
University of Utah's Middle East Center added, "Turks would like the benefits of
being a European Union member without having to participate in the European
Union." According to World Affairs, many small marginal groups are leaning
towards opposition to E.U. membership ("The Impact of Globalization on Islamic
Political Identity: The Case of Turkey," by Hasan Kosebalaban, Summer
Opposition towards E.U. membership is growing rapidly. In early November
2006, the Associated Press reported that thousands of nationalist Turks marched
in the Turkish capital of Ankara, urging the government not to make too many
concessions in order to gain European Union membership ("12,000 Turks March
Against Radical Islam," by Selcan Hacaoglu, November 4, 2006).
If Turks in general do not want to be part of the European Union, who or what
is the directing force in Turkey driving them to join the bloc? Some argue that
it might be the independent, capitalist, national bourgeoisie or the Anatolian
capitalists and bourgeoisie who are advancing Turkey's movement to do
Sometime during the 1980's, Turkey finally opened its economy to the outside
world. According to Yavuz, with the aide of Ozal's economic policies, the
Anatolian Tigers, a fast-rising entrepreneurial class of Islamic-minded business
owners from Anatolia which has emerged as a counterweight to the established
secular elite, were to become important globalization players within Turkey.
Kosebalaban notes that Anatolian capital groups started to expand their
interests in international markets. According to the New Left Review, they were
businessmen who contracted directly with retail chains and volume buyers in
Europe, ("The Turkish Bell Jar," by Caglar Keyder, No. 28, July-August 2004).
The Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies reported that the Anatolian
Bourgeoisie is, without doubt, one of the major driving forces behind Turkey's
ruling Justice and Development Party ("Misconceptions About Secularism, Islam
and Islamism in Turkey," by Sahin Alpay, April 2006).
The Anatolian Tigers, with their economic incentive, are clearly a driving
force trying to steer Turkey towards the European Union. Celal Hasnalcaci,
chairman of MUSIAD - the Independent Industrialists' & Businessmen's
Association in Turkey - which is, in essence, a pro-Islamic chamber of commerce,
"If we want to be modern and be technical and improve, we have to be together
with the Europeans. E.U. membership may provide a lot of opportunities. Turkey
is integrated into the global system, but E.U. membership would deepen that
integration (Christian Science Monitor, 'Turkey's March West,' by Yigal
Schliefer, October 7, 2004)."
The United States supports Turkey's entrance into the European Union. On
February 8, 2006 Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeastern Europe
& Central Asia Matthew Bryza said, "Turkey has strategic value in showing
Muslim-majority countries that democratic reforms are possible, and in inspiring
Muslim populations in European countries that a Muslim country can engage with
Europe in economics, politics and culture while maintaining a respect for
cultural differences (usinfo.state.gov, 'Turkey's E.U. Aspirations Can Inspire
Muslims, U.S. Diplomat Says,' by Vince Crawley)." After meeting with Turkish
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House on October 2, 2006
President George W. Bush told reporters, "It's in the United States' interests
that Turkey join the European Union (usinfo.state.gov, 'United States Supports
Turkey's Bid To Join the European Union,' by Tim Receveur)."
Unfortunately for the United States, the war in Iraq has poisoned
Turkish-American relations (The Economist, "The Awkward Partners," September 30,
2006), so it seems quite possible that Turkey is tilting away from the West
altogether, from Europe as well as from the United States.
Will Turkey eventually become a member of the European Union? Only one E.U.
member is needed to block an applicant's membership. In Turkey's case, it would
appear that the Turks might have more than one E.U. country opposing their
entry. I believe Turks are becoming impatient of this tedious process. We would
like to believe that, in the 21st Century, religion is not at the forefront of
political issues, anymore. Since 9/11, however, religion is now front and center
in the realm of international politics. As the end of the dead end road rapidly
approaches for Turkey in its quest for E.U. membership, what's next? Should
Turkey turn toward the east and embrace its Islamic brethren, or should it stay
the course as middleman between Europe and the Middle East?
Mr. Condas is a graduate student with the University of Utah's History
Department. He holds bachelor's degrees in Political Science and History from
the University of Utah.
(From The National Herald - Friday April 20, 2007, by Ted Condas)