The Daily Star, Lebanon
Oct 1 2005

Turkey is still far from ready to have a seat at the EU negotiating

By Hratch Varjabedian
Commentary by
Saturday, October 01, 2005

The European Union will start membership negotiations with Turkey on
October 3, more than 15 years after Turkey's application to become a
full member of the European Economic Community in 1987.

Turkey's rapprochement with Europe started long before, however, when
the Ottoman Empire reached the gates of Vienna in 1697 only to suffer
a major defeat and be forced to sign the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699
which put an end to its westward expansion. Turkey has been known as
the "sick man" of Europe ever since, but its efforts to integrate in
Europe started gaining momentum again in the 1950s.

EU leaders decided during their December 2004 summit that Turkey was
ready to sit at the negotiating table for full membership. However,
many prominent European politicians, such as former French president
Valery Giscard d' Estaing, staunchly oppose Turkey's membership of
the EU.

The vast majority of European citizens in countries such as France
and Austria also oppose Turkish membership and express concern at the
dire consequences of such an event.

A look at the current situation of Turkey on the political, economic
and social levels explains these concerns. Territorial disputes with
neighboring countries, rule by the military, a record of repression
of minorities and human rights violations, economic underdevelopment
and low indicators of human development render Turkey unable to match
up to EU member countries and unsuitable for membership.

Politically, Turkey continues to be an invader of Cyprus' territory,
a neighboring country and a member of the EU. Despite pressures from
EU leaders to the contrary, Turkey still refuses to officially
recognize the Republic of Cyprus and instead is the only country to
have recognized the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Democracy and the rule of law are common victims in Turkey, where
despite pretenses of a secular democracy, occasional outbreaks of
violence and gross violations of human rights attract the attention
of the world media, reminding the world of Turkey's true character.

Turkey's repression of its Kurdish population and other minorities in
the country continues despite some reforms. Freedom of expression is
often curbed; recognition of the Armenian Genocide and statements in
favor of Turkey's withdrawal from Cyprus are considered punishable
crimes under the newly reformed Turkish Penal Code.

Despite increased international pressures and recognition by the
world community of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, Ankara continues to
practice an official policy of denial. Countries recognizing or
planning to recognize the Armenian Genocide are threatened, an
official blockade is still applied against Armenia and lands
rightfully belonging to Armenians, namely Western Armenia, are still
occupied in Eastern Turkey. In an attempt to conceal the Armenian
identity of these lands and erase traces of Armenian existence on
them, Turkey regularly destroys centuries-old Armenian monuments.

Economically, Turkey suffers from high unemployment rates, large
government debt and impoverishment, especially in the central parts
of Anatolia. Life in these regions is still primitive and poor in
comparison to most European cities.

In the case of full membership, the EU would have to make large
investments to put Turkey's economy on a par with that of other
member countries. Unemployed Turkish citizens would spill in their
millions across the border to Europe.

Turkish values, beliefs and lifestyles fundamentally differ from
those of Europe; the two parties have gone through a completely
different course of development over the centuries. Respect for human
rights, freedom of thought and expression and the value of an
individual human being are the values on which the EU is based. In
Turkey, these are more often victims than values.

Turkey is still far from ready to have a seat at the negotiating
table for EU membership. Now that the negotiations are set to start
however, EU leaders should demand real and tangible changes from
Turkey. The future will show just how much Turkey is prepared to do
for EU membership.

Hratch Varjabedian is an Armenian journalist in Lebanon. He wrote
this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.