201 0/03/30 | 13:35


In a SPIEGEL interview of March 29, Turkish Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan discusses Ankara's relationship with the European
Union, the debate over genocide against the Armenians and his role
as a mediator in the dispute over Iran's nuclear policy.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, your country is currently giving a
confusing impression. It is more modern and open than it was before
you came into office, and yet it is also more pious and Islamic. Where
are you taking Turkey: toward the West, toward Europe or toward the
East?Erdogan: Turkey has changed considerably and has been modernized
in the last seven-and-a-half years. Unlike previous governments,
we take the founder of the republic, (Mustafa Kemal) Ataturk, at his
word and are trying to bring the country to the level of contemporary
civilization. In doing so, we look in all directions. We don't turn
our face from the East when we look to the West. We see this as a
process of normalization.

SPIEGEL: The first thing a visitor sees after passport control at the
airport in Istanbul is an enormous display of the duty free shop's
alcohol department and a poster advertising an exhibit of the revealing
work of the late Picasso. In the Mediterranean city of Alanya, on the
other hand, there are hotels with separate beaches for men and women,
which would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

Erdogan: What you saw upon arrival at the airport is a nice expression
of freedom. What you say about Alanya is something I hear for the first
time. But even if it's true, it too is a manifestation of freedom. The
owner of a hotel like that, and his guests, are exercising a right
that we have to respect.

SPIEGEL: This week, you will host German Chancellor Angela Merkel,
who doesn't want Turkey to join the European Union anytime soon. What
will you say to her?

Erdogan: Turkey submitted its application for associate membership in
the European Economic Community in 1959. That was 51 years ago. No
other country was subjected to such a procedure, and yet we have
remained patient. Nowadays, however, we are no longer a country
that is merely seeking membership in the European Union. Instead,
we are already negotiating for full membership. If proposals are
submitted to us today that diverge from the agreed framework of these
negotiations ...

SPIEGEL: You are referring to the "privileged partnership," which
Chancellor Merkel prefers over full membership for Turkey.

Erdogan: ... then this is just as strange as someone changing the
penalty rule in the middle of a football match.

SPIEGEL: Your government is trying to shape Turkey into a new regional
power. Why do you need Europe at all anymore?

Erdogan: It isn't about what we need, but about a mutual need. Turkey
is not a burden for Europe. On the contrary, it takes a burden away
from the EU. Together with Spain, we run the United Nations Alliance
of Civilizations initiative against extremism, which benefits Europe.

We have been a member of the customs union since 1996, and we satisfy
the political criteria established in Copenhagen. In fact, we are
even closer to fulfilling the economic Maastricht criteria than some
EU member states. And then there is the fact that we are a founding
member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD) and have been a member of NATO since 1952. This makes us a
bridge between the West and 1.4 billion Muslims.

SPIEGEL: Turkey has become very self-confident, and you are considered
to be one of the most influential leaders the country has had since
Ataturk. Do you see yourself in the role of a "sultan," as some
supporters, but also critics, describe you?

Erdogan: I am the chairman of a major party that was founded by the
people. Therefore, I would never compare myself with Ataturk, the man
who founded the republic. I have no intention of becoming a padishah,
a sultan. It's enough for me when people say good things about me.

'We Will Be Prepared to Accept Our History'

SPIEGEL: Why doesn't modern Turkey acknowledge the Ottoman Empire's
genocide against the Armenians? The Foreign Affairs Committee of
the United States House of Representatives has approved an Armenian
Genocide resolution ...

Erdogan: When a journalist uses the word genocide, he should take
a careful look at the issue first. There can be no talk of genocide
against the Armenians. Genocide is a legal term. In 2005, I wrote a
letter to then-Armenian President Robert Kocharian, in which I told
him that this is not a matter for politicians like us, but one that
needs to be studied by historians. There are currently millions of
documents on the subject in Turkish archives, of which more than 1
million have been examined since I wrote to Kocharian. If there are
archives in your country, I wrote to him, then make them accessible.

And if historians cannot clarify the subject sufficiently, then
let lawyers, political scientists and archaeologists take part in
the effort.

SPIEGEL: Armenians say that commissions of historians are just the
best way to put off such disputes indefinitely. And we disagree with
the notion that politicians should not talk about genocide. One person
who has used this word is the current American president.

Erdogan: If he used the word, then he did so in error. A word doesn't
become more correct because a president uses it. And besides, the
United States is not a party to this matter. America, like other
countries, is merely a bystander here. We and the Armenians are the
only participants. This is our history. The Turkish Republic had
not yet been founded in 1915. It was the era of the Ottoman Empire,
which was allied with Germany at the time.

SPIEGEL: Isn't the republic the legal successor of the Ottoman Empire?

Erdogan: Turkey was undoubtedly founded on what was left of the
Ottoman Empire. No nation can deny its ancestry. Anyone who denies
his ancestry is committing a sin. If something serious comes to light
after the historical examination of the past, we will be prepared to
accept our history. But it's important that the Armenians are also
willing to accept their history.

SPIEGEL: What history should the Armenians accept in this regard?

Erdogan: This was not a mass murder committed by one side against
the other, but a battle, one that claimed the lives of Turks and
Armenians, who were loyal citizens of the Ottoman Empire. However,
some of them were later controlled by foreign powers and rose up in
an insurrection. This has to be studied very carefully.

SPIEGEL: Why have you further inflamed an already difficult debate
by mentioning the possibility of deporting all of Armenians working
illegally in Turkey?

Erdogan: It saddens me that you see it this way. I talked about what
we could do. For years, we have tolerated Armenians without residence
permits. All I said was that this doesn't always have to be the case.

The problem of illegal workers is discussed openly all over the
world, but when someone in Turkey makes such a statement, people feel
troubled. Why?

SPIEGEL: Why do you want to punish Armenians in Turkey for genocide
resolutions adopted abroad - like the one in the United States and,
most recently, in Sweden?

Erdogan: Who says that we hold Armenians responsible for this? I
never said that. We began a process of rapprochement between Turkey
and Armenia a year ago. We want to normalize our relations. And then
the Foreign Affairs Committee in the US Congress, at the behest of
the Armenian diaspora, suddenly adopts a resolution that describes
the events of 1915 as genocide. This is not helpful. We turn to the
Armenian diaspora and those countries that support the diaspora:
There are Armenians in Turkey who are Turkish citizens, and there
are those who live in our country illegally. So far, we have not
considered the question of deportation, but if the diaspora continues
to exert pressure, we could imagine ourselves capable of doing that.

SPIEGEL: You refuse to accept the term genocide, and yet you yourself
use it frequently. For example, you accuse Israel of genocide in the
Gaza Strip. On the other hand, you defend Sudanese President Omar
al-Bashir by saying that a Muslim cannot commit genocide. Are Muslims
somehow better people than Jews or Christians?

Erdogan: You take my words completely out of context. I'm not walking
into that trap. I said that, to a certain extent, one could describe
the events in Gaza as genocide: 1,400 people died there, many of them
killed by phosphorus ammunition, more than 5,000 people were wounded
and 5,000 families became homeless.

SPIEGEL: And what about Sudan?

Erdogan: In that case, I was talking about a principle. I am a Muslim.

But I have never compared my religion with other religions. I said that
a Muslim could not commit genocide the way the United Nations defines
it. Islam is a religion of peace. Muslims believe that someone who
kills an innocent person behaves as if he were killing all of humanity.

SPIEGEL: Turkey is currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security
Council. It is also under consideration to be the country through
which an exchange of uranium enriched in Iran could take place. Will
you support sanctions against Tehran? The International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA), has doubts about the peaceful nature of the nuclear

Erdogan: That's wrong. The IAEA never made that conclusion.

SPIEGEL: In its latest report, it clearly stated that Tehran has not
cooperated sufficiently to rule out non-peaceful use.

Erdogan: I take a different view. Iran offered to transport its
enriched uranium to another country, and the Iranians wanted nuclear
fuel in return. The question, now, is where this exchange is to take
place. Former IAEA Director Mohammed ElBaradei proposed Turkey. The
Americans were opposed to it at first, but then they agreed. Now we
are waiting for an answer from Iran. Iran seemed to be considering
this possibility, but then the connection was cut off.

SPIEGEL: If Iran refuses, will you support sanctions?

Erdogan: First we have to try to find a diplomatic solution for the
problem. Sanctions have been imposed against Iran several times,
but what's the result? Aren't any American or German goods reaching
Iran now? They are, indirectly. Of course there is Mercedes in
Iran. And Peugeot, too. I like to speak openly. I hate hiding things
in politics. What we need is diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy. Anything
else will do nothing but threaten global peace. And don't those who
are exerting pressure have nuclear bombs of their own? Turkey isn't
a nuclear power, but there is one country in this region that does
have nuclear weapons.

SPIEGEL: You mean Israel.

Erdogan: Iran doesn't have any nuclear weapons now, at any rate. We
say very clearly: We don't want any nuclear weapons in our region.

SPIEGEL: Have you made this just as clear to Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Erdogan: Of course. I speak as openly with him as I do with you. We
don't want any nuclear weapons in this region.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Daniel Steinvorth and Bernhard Zand.