Media Monitors Network, CA
June 20 2005

Turks show growing opposition to EU membership
by M. S. Ahmed
(Monday June 20 2005)

"Interestingly, western politicians and media frequently describe
prime minister Recep Tayip Erdogan's regime and party (the Justice
and Development Party) as `Islamist' or `pro-Islam'. Adopting this
false line clearly enables them to maintain their pressure for
continued secularism in politics and public policy. But secularism is
only one part of the EU's many requirements for admission. Respect
for human rights and ethnic minorities also figure prominently."

The assumption that it is the European Union's transparent
unwillingness to admit a Muslim country, rather than the reluctance
of a Muslim people to join a Christian union, that is mainly
responsible for the failure of membership-negotiations to make any
progress is being steadily revised. The EU member-states' undisguised
disdain for Ankara's application to join, while warmly and
expeditiously admitting East European countries that, unlike Turkey,
were until recently anti-western and pro-Russian, is turning Turkish
popular opinion against the project and against the government's
commitment to it. Even secular groups that backed the application, to
get rid of Turkey's past and present as a Muslim country, are now
criticising the government for its attitude; army generals, who are
normally keen to disguise their grip on political power and refrain
from making public statements, have openly taken the EU to task for
trying to impose foreign values on Turks. The recent ruling by the
European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that Turkey must grant Abdullah
Ocalan, the Kurdish rebel leader, a new trial, has caused a furore.

Many ordinary Turks - whose country, after all, was once a superpower
and ruled some of the European countries now being welcomed into the
EU - feel that Brussels' treatment of their effort to join the EU is
humiliating, and describe it as only fit for a `banana republic'. For
instance Sencan Bayramuglu, a retired teacher, was recently quoted in
an American magazine as using that very phrase. `We can't just do
everything the Europeans say,' she said. `They behave as if we are
some sort of banana republic.' It is true that her anger was provoked
by the ECHR's demanding a new trial for Ocalan, and that her son was
one of 30,000 victims of the 15-year uprising that resulted
eventually in the capture and imprisonment of Ocalan in 1999. But, as
the magazine points out, her fury is not directed only against the
Kurdish rebel-leader, whom she blames for her son's death, but also
against the European institutions that demand Turkey conform to their
standards as a precondition for joining the EU.

Many nationalists see the court ruling as `playing into the hands of
Kurdish militants', fearing that it will lead to the division of
Turkey into `ethnic enclaves'. Many would agree with the warning of
Talat Salk, who prosecuted Ocalan in 1999, that a retrial would have
serious implications and play directly into the hands of Kurdish
`terrorists' by providing them with a pretext to hold demonstrations
in major cities. One nationalist politician who agrees, and publicly
expressed his objection to the ruling, is Devlet Bahceli. He said
that the retrial ordered by the ECHR would be like a `time-bomb' and
lead to simmering tensions.

But general Hilmi Ozkok, head of the powerful Turkish military, made
the most powerful attack on the court ruling even before it was
issued. He said in April that `outside influences are trying to
change our national culture by imposing foreign values, fashion and
language that do not match Turkish customs and traditions.' When the
ruling was issued, he criticised it as `political manipulation'. He
also observed that his country had a security interest in northern
Cyprus, that allegations of genocide against Armenians in 1915 have
no basis, and that the Americans were not `doing enough' to get rid
of Turkish terrorists of Kurdish origin in Iraq. It is not strange
that the general also insisted that secularism was the driving force
of Turkish democracy, and that the Turkish state must remain united.

It is part of the EU's requirements for admission that Turkey
diminish the role of army generals in politics, yet no criticism was
made of general Ozkok's intervention, and the Americans ignored his
criticism of their failure to curb Kurdish activists from Turkey who
operate in Iraq. Both the EU and the US are comfortable with the role
of the military in politics, which ensures that Turkey remains
secular and pro-West. It is interesting that though the general is
critical of the Turkish government's EU programme, he has said
nothing so far against its outrageous recent plan to rewrite Turkish
history and retrain imams to comply with EU demands to entrench
secularism. And although the government's intervention in the
country's educational system for purely political reasons is far from
democratic, neither the EU nor the US has objected to this
totalitarian offensive on another people's cultural and religious
rights. To their shame, the nationalists who are now rightly
resisting EU invasion and their government's acquiescence have failed
to object to its pro-secularism bias and policies.

Interestingly, western politicians and media frequently describe
prime minister Recep Tayip Erdogan's regime and party (the Justice
and Development Party) as `Islamist' or `pro-Islam'. Adopting this
false line clearly enables them to maintain their pressure for
continued secularism in politics and public policy. But secularism is
only one part of the EU's many requirements for admission. Respect
for human rights and ethnic minorities also figure prominently. But
nationalists (and indeed others) believe that the EU is not exercised
about the fate of Kurds, as it is not about the human rights of all
Turks, and that it is using both issues to keep Turkey out and
probably to weaken it by causing its division into ethnic states.
This is becoming increasingly clear to many Turks of different
backgrounds and beliefs; as a result the government is coming under
severe pressure to stand aloof. As Turkey should stay out of the EU
in the higher interests of its religion and cultural values, so the
pride of the Turkish people will be assuaged if Turkey's exclusion
from the EU depends on its own decision rather than on a rejection by
Brussels.