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 end.

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 the West.

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," hrw.org/english/docs/2006/04/12/turkey13171.htm).


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 the bloc.

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 2005).

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 so.

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)