The Washington Times
March 29, 2006 Wednesday

Turkey's dream of EU meets with hesitancy;
Conflicting Muslim roots, quest for modernity trouble some

By Andrew Borowiec, THE WASHINGTON TIMES


Turkey's search for a new European identity casts a long shadow over
eastern Mediterranean countries, where there is considerable
confusion as to Ankara's intentions. Until now, Turkey has rarely
bothered to explain to the international community the reasons for
its decisions, thus causing misunderstandings.

For Europeans, Turkey's traditional Islamic roots and its quest for a
modern outlook contradict each other. On this divided island, a third
of which is patrolled by Turkish troops, Ankara's hopes to join the
European Union are viewed with misgivings.

Equally concerned is Greece, the motherland of Greek Cypriots, which
feels that Turkey's foreign policy, its contested European
credentials and the slow pace of its reforms do not bode well.

This month, diplomatic alarms rang in Athens again as Turkey repeated
the threat of war if Greece extended its territorial waters in the
Aegean Sea. The nuances of that controversy often confuse most
Europeans.

"Threats don't help Turkey come closer to Europe, which it has said
is its main goal," said Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis.

Six months after Turkey was invited to begin membership negotiations
with the EU, worries surfaced in several capitals that the talks
could collapse unless Turkey conforms totally to the union's
requirements. These include the demand that it open its ports and air
space to Cypriot ships and aircraft and that it recognizes the
island's Greek-Cypriot government. So far, Turkey has refused both
demands.

U.S. sees Ankara as ally

Olli Rehn, the EU enlargement commissioner, warned of negative
consequences for Turkey's uncompromising attitude. "We have kept our
word and opened up accession negotiations. Now we expect Turkey to
keep its word," he said.

Despite rising anti-Americanism and Turkish criticism of the U.S.-led
war in Iraq, Washington regards Ankara as an important ally in a
turbulent part of the world, and has supported its EU candidacy. The
EU is deeply divided on the admission of 71 million Muslim Turks into
the European "Christian club."

Several European leaders have challenged Turkey's European
qualifications. Only 5 percent of Turkey's 297,000 square miles lies
on the European side of the Bosporus strait.

The recent warning came from Vice Chancellor Hubert Gorbach of
Austria, who currently holds the EU's rotating presidency. "If we
pretend we are ready to take on a member country like Turkey, we are
ignoring reality," he said.

The EU expects negotiations to last 10 years or more as Turkey
complies with all requirements. The Turks regard this as excessive
procrastination, and many have lost interest in "becoming Europeans."
Some are tempted by closer links to the Middle East instead.

According to a recent opinion poll, 40 percent of Turks - 30 million
people - oppose EU membership at this stage. Turkish media are
becoming increasingly critical of Europe's attitude toward their
country, frequently considering it as demeaning.

Commented Mehmet Dulger, a major figure in the governing Justice and
Development Party, which is known by its Turkish acronym, AKP, "For a
long time I have been a partisan of the EU, but my patience has its
limits ... If the EU restricts itself to Eastern Europe and the West,
then it will die."

There is little doubt that educated Turks want to belong to Europe,
and in fact consider themselves Europeans already, despite their
rejection by much of Europe. Turkey's connection with the Middle East
is tenuous, mainly because of centuries of Ottoman domination of that
region, rarely benign and remembered for its cruelty.

Most EU governments support the idea of expansion to include Turkey;
opposition to Turkish membership comes at the grass-roots level. The
most outspoken signal was the rejection by French and Dutch voters in
separate referendums last year of the proposed European Constitution,
partly for fear it would speed Turkey's accession.

A stark reflection of this feeling was a statement by former French
President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, one of the authors of the
defeated constitution, who said; "The question is whether Turkey is
or is not a European country. History and geography say no."

A wave of nationalism

The obvious European procrastination with Turkey's candidacy has
spurred already intense nationalism in a country where soldiers on
parade roar "one Turk is worth the whole world," and where children
begin the school day by reciting "Lucky is the man who was born a
Turk" - a saying coined by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the
Turkish republic.

Lately, the intensity of Turkish nationalism has been reflected in
its arts and literature.

"The Third World War," a novel in which the Turkish army defeats the
EU and establishes a "new world order," was an instant best-seller,
as was "Metal Storm," which tells the story of an imaginary U.S.
invasion of Turkey and the destruction of Washington by a Turkish
atomic bomb.

Equally popular, if not more so, was this year's film "The Valley of
Wolves: Iraq," featuring a Turkish "Rambo" who specializes in killing
American invaders in Iraq. It was an unparalleled box-office success,
applauded by audiences across Turkey.

Apart from its limited European territory and Muslim religion, the
list of other European objections is long. It includes the
restriction of self-expression for the Kurdish minority and
repression of Kurdish nationalist guerrillas with more than 35,000
deaths; the influence of the military on Turkey's political life;
punishment for any form of criticism of the state, and Ankara's
refusal to admit the World War I massacre of its Armenian minority,
considered by many in Europe as genocide.

Then there is the problem of divided Cyprus, where Turkey landed an
expeditionary corps in 1974 following a Greek coup intended to unite
the island with Greece. The Turkish army is still firmly in control
of northern Cyprus, now a state for the Turkish-Cypriot minority.

The Turkish military considers its presence in Cyprus to be
strategically important, and so far Ankara has refused to discuss the
island's demilitarization. This has become a permanent irritant for
international diplomacy and another hurdle for Turkey's EU
aspirations.

Europeans seem confused by Turkey's contradictions. It is a country
where the army considers itself the republic's guardian, where women
are not allowed to wear kerchiefs in government buildings because
these are seen as an Islamic political statement, but where the prime
minister's wife wears one at public functions.

Erdogan seems ambiguous

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan tries on one hand to lead the
country toward Europe, but on the other hand favors certain laws that
reflects Islamic fundamentalism.

Said Ankara commentator Burak Bekdil: "The government is accused of
promoting Islamic issues, including building a mosque in an Istanbul
park, banning alcoholic beverages by local authorities and setting
new Islamic standards for food."

Opined the Athens daily Kathimerini: "The Islamic rhetorical tone
adopted lately by Turkey's prime minister is at odds with his EU
ambitions." And the Istanbul mass-circulation daily Hurryiet
commented that Mr. Erdogan's party "is slowly wrapping the Islamic
blanket around us."

Turkey's European partners have yet to be convinced of the Turkish
army's avowed commitment to democracy. It is a force that overthrew
the country's civilian governments in 1960 and 1980, but after
forcing political changes, it returned to barracks. In 1997, the army
forced the resignation of Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey's first Islamic
prime minister.

Thanks to EU pressure, an army general no longer presides over
Turkey's powerful National Security Council, but other generals
maintain a high public profile with the government's blessing. Thus,
when a public prosecutor tried to investigate reports about a secret
military unit set up by Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, head of Turkey's land
forces, to fight Kurdish rebels, Mr. Erdogan quickly quashed the
probe.

"No one will gain anything by making the country's military weak,"
the prime minister said. "The army is one of our most important
institutions."

Some commentators call the Turkish army - the second-largest in NATO
- "a pressure group with heavy weapons." Others think its role is
crucial in educating conscripts and instilling patriotism.