Turkey and Europe: will this stressful engagement ever end?
Mehmet Basutçu - 13/04/2007
En venant de Burgaz Ada
Turkish-European relations share an exceptionally long past. Let’s quickly run through the entente between Francis I of France and Suleiman the Magnificent, the cultural and merchant trade with the Venetians, the conquest of the Balkans and the siege of Vienna…On the social, political and cultural front, the turning point was negotiated at the start of the mid 19th century. Mahmut II, the 30th Ottoman Sultan, introduced in 1839 a set of reforms known under the name of Tanzimat, in order to modernise the Empire by taking example from the western world… About a century later, Westernisation was the key word of the Kemalist revolution, following to a war of independence (1919-1923) lead, as a matter of fact, against the western forces!
As for the rapprochement with the European Union, since 1963 Turkey clearly stated its will to become a member of the Union … back then, Europe was just taking its first steps towards a common policy and Turkey’s pace marched along a coherent historical line. Being a part of Europe seemed to be a natural tendency of the Turkish Republic, but it took over 40 years to celebrate this engagement in public and it certainly has been a peculiar one! Starting from the announcement of the official ceremonies at the time of the European Council in Brussels in 16 and 17 December 2004, and even before the negotiations for the marriage were begun, set as from 3 October 2005, the mood deteriorated day after day. A first announcement reported that this long awaited marriage would probably not have taken place before ten or fifteen years. Worse still, many European politicians, the French in the front line, blatantly disavowed an actual marriage and proposed some sort of co-habitation which they portrayed in shrewd diplomatic language as a “privileged partnership”…
Summed up, it seems so grotesque you’d have a hard time believing it, but, regrettably, it’s a fact. Besides, such a protracted drift can partly explain the disenchantment of the man on the street as to his country’s integration with the European Union.
«Today our country is attacked from all sides on the diplomatic level, even humiliated”, some have noted. Others believe that deep in their heart even “western powers” would like to reopen the files of the Treaty of Sèvres (1920), which had ratified the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire among the allied states, but that Mustafa Lemal Atatürk had so rightly invalidated by winning the war of independence. The Treaty of Sèvres was then replaced in 1923 by that of Lausanne, thus marking the birth of the Turkish Republic and tracing its borders. A new Nation-State was born on the ashes of the empire.
Still today, the concept of Nation-State remains indisputable to most Turks. As for those who dare to argue on the matter, both within and outside the country, they inevitably become enemies of the Turkish people!
Aujourd’hui encore, pour une majorité de Turcs, le concept d’Etat-nation ne peut être mis en cause. Quant à ceux qui se permettent de le faire, à l’intérieur comme à l’extérieur du pays, ils porteraient atteinte à l’indivisibilité du territoire national; ils sont alors forcément ennemis du peuple turc!
The equation is simple, the accusation severe.
But who are these ever more numerous “enemies” which Turkey blames as hostile?
First of all, any stranger can turn guilty by interfering in domestic affairs. As are, for example, those who worry about the human and cultural rights of Kurds, citizens of the Turkish Republic… Those who persevere in requesting the unconditional opening of Turkish ports and airports to Greek Cypriots…Even more, those who define the “massacres” of Armenians as “genocide”… Such “interferences” lead to an irrevocable sentence by most citizens, which confuse every tendency: “They bring old issues back to better split us up!”, rant the most radical ones…
Other enemies are those who point their finger at the human rights issue, more specifically at freedom of speech, which is indeed lacking. The well-known article 310 of the penal code – theoretically restyled to suit Copenhagen standards– is quite rightly denounced: “This proves that our national unity is being put at stake. It is yet further evidence of the bad faith of our traditional enemies” they retort…However, the moderate Islamic government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seeks advice even from representatives of civil societies to modify the aforesaid article, so as to avoid that any future Nobel Prize may be accused of attempting to national unity and be booed and insulted by ultranationalist militants when entering a conference room…
It would be easy to say that we are facing a phenomenon of collective paranoia by folk who have always been highly strung on nationalism. We should rather speak of pride and touchiness that sparks up easily when confronted with the rising feeling of being targeted by age-old “enemies”. “The only friend a Turk has is a Turk” as the saying goes, and more and more people seem to agree to this…
This fever is becoming increasingly perceptible in everyday news. A first glance on the most significant events of this beginning of May 2007 can give an idea.
Tensions on the Kurd Iraki reality
The evolution of the political situation in the North of Iraq is still worrying. The army announced once again, out of the mouth of a four star general, that Turkey would not hesitate to cross its borders to intervene (obviously, in accordance with international law) against “separatist territories” which may threaten its land. This declaration was made in Diyarbakir where the majority of the population is Kurdish. The general went there for a surprise visit to the hospital where soldiers wounded in the clashes with the PKK.
The Chief Land Army General who made this declaration is İlker Başbuğ. It this name had been invented, it couldn’t have been more appropriate: ‘İlker’ means first soldier; ‘Başbuğ’, chieftain, a sort of primeval feudal lord… The general delivers a stiff speech: “To us, Iraq’s territorial and political integrity is a sensitive element. If our vital interests should be threatened, no one can intimidate us” he hammers. Le général en chef de l’Armée de terre qui a fait cette déclaration, se nomme İlker Başbuğ. S’il fallait inventer un nom, on n’aurait pas trouvé mieux. ‘İlker’ signifie premier soldat; ‘Başbuğ’, chef de tribu, une sorte de seigneur féodal des temps anciens… Le général tient un langage ferme. «L’intégrité territoriale et politique de l’Irak est pour nous, un autre élément sensible. En cas de menace de nos intérêts vitaux, personne ne peut nous intimider» martèle-t-il.
Does the Turkish Army warrant a secular republic?
The paradox that some westerners pretend not to realise is that the army does not only play a classical conservative role in the political spectrum. On the contrary, it acts the part of the infallible warrantor of republican values, secularism and Kemalist ideas. In these terms, it is a factor of political stability rather than a danger to democracy. Le paradoxe que certains occidentaux font semblant de ne pas comprendre, c’est que l’armée ne joue pas qu’un rôle conservateur classique sur l’échiquier politique. Au contraire, elle s’affiche comme le garant infaillible des valeurs républicaines, de la laïcité et des idées kémalistes. En cela, elle est un facteur de stabilité politique, plutôt qu’un danger pour la démocratie. Rightly enough, with the accession to power of moderate Islam, much of the public opinion, which does not welcome this turn towards religious implications in public affairs, sees the army as the protector of democracy. A military coup would surely be greeted by some…
Insulting Atatürk on the Internet: unacceptable!
On the beginning of March, following to several complaints, the Internet site You Tube was locked by «Türk Telekom» due to a video insulting Atatürk online. There’s no kidding with the Father of the Nation! Two days later, on 9 March, after the video is removed from the site, the Turks will be able to reconnect to the notorious site… News of the site’s block is even reported by the international press. It is in fact the last episode of a psychological warfare which for some time now has been lead by the ultranationalists of both sides of the Aegean Sea through the internet. The last online “joke” before this incident was reportedly signed by a Turk who declared that homosexuality is a part of the Greek genetic heritage! Well! The counterpart quickly returns the compliment by sending the video on Atatürk online. That’s obviously the last straw. It’s unacceptable! So the serious Turkish telecommunication enterprise promptly intervenes to avoid any further frustration to internet users, and at once, all the TV commentators start arguing extensively on the effectiveness of this measure… Luckily the scandal was settled in a few days. It’s relieving to know we can now turn over a new leaf.
Who will be the next President of the Republic?
Let’s go back to the serious matters… the elections for the year 2007 are crucial. A new President of the Republic will take over before summer, before normal general elections expire. At less than two months from the vote, the main doubt lies on the presidential elections. The Head of State is elected by Parliament. The current Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, seemingly wishes to fill that post… However, it’s the end of March and he has made no official declaration yet as to his candidature! The secular milieu and the Army fiercely oppose the arrival in the presidential palace of Çankaya of an Islamist whose wife, moreover, wears the Islamic veil. A shrouded woman in the first rows of the protocol? That’s simply unacceptable!... Ways to prevent Mister Erdoğan from seizing this symbol of power have already been debated for some months. Even the ultimate solution was called forth: the resignation of all the members of the opposition which would lead to the dissolution of the National Assembly. This last way out doesn’t seem to be on the agenda though.
This leaves us with the current parliamentary arithmetic. It’s irrevocable since the Prime Minister’s party (AKP) holds an absolute majority. The government candidate, whoever that may be, will be elected.
But who will this candidate be?
On 15 March, the press publishes the results of a survey within the AKP (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi – Party for Justice and Development) on the Prime Minister. One of the questions is the following: “In case R.T. Erdoğan would not wish to be a candidate, who do you would be better place to become President of the Republic?” Four prominent names follow, three ministers and a deputy, on which the interviewed should decide between. The article’s preamble on the daily “Radikal” which gives this information also notes that the four potential candidates have something in common: their wives don’t wear an Islamic veil! That’s not surprising if we consider that the secular milieus, among which the Army stands first, have symbolically targeted Mrs Erdoğan’s veil. A shrouded wouman at the head of the State would be, according to them, an insult to the fundamental values of a secular Republic…
To be followed
Turkey wasn’t invited to Berlin!
In the meantime, as for the strained relations with the European Union, Turkey has officially expressed its malcontent for not having been invited to the family meeting held in Berlin to celebrate in grand style the fifty years of the Treaty of Rome, signed on 25 March 1957.
It’s all very symbolic!
Does Mrs Erdoğan’s veil still have to do something with this ?
So much more could be written on this rich and contradictory topic, so many remarks could be made on the progress of Turkish-EU relations, that summing it up in the current context is not easy. We therefore chose within the framework of this context to give the floor to Turkish intellectuals. After all, isn’t trusting the sensitivity of a country’s artists one of the best ways to survey an unknown future?