Alien issues fan flames of nationalism

Helena Smith in Istanbul
Monday October 3, 2005
The Guardian

Turkey could face a nationalist backlash if long-awaited talks over joining
the European Union fail, leading commentators said yesterday after protests
in the capital, Ankara, by thousands of Eurosceptics.

Protesters took to the streets in a foretaste of domestic difficulties that
are likely to afflict Turkey's protracted accession process. Although
organised by the ultra-right Nationalist Movement party, the rally is
believed to have attracted growing numbers of Turks who feel aggrieved at
the way they have been treated by the European Union.

"A lot of people, including those who have always been very supportive of
the EU are sick and tired," said Cengiz Aktar, a prominent political
commentator. "Certain Europeans keep changing the rules of the game and,
frankly, it's outrageous." As a result, he said, the predominantly Muslim
country was being pushed into a "defensive nationalism" on the eve of a day
Turkey had long dreamed of. "From now on, there will be a maelstrom of
nationalist outbursts which won't be good for anyone."

In sharp contrast to the euphoria that had greeted the EU's decision last
December to open talks with Ankara, Turks across the political spectrum
voiced concern yesterday at a host of perceived injustices meted out to them
by Europe.

Their main concerns are that the negotiations are open-ended, and that
Turkey could be forced to make concessions without any guarantee that the
nation of 70 million people will be allowed to join the club. "When, a year
ago, I asked my students how they felt about the EU they were terribly
enthusiastic and excited," said Cuneyt Yuksel, who teaches international law
at the Bosphorus University. "Now, pro-European sentiment has definitely
lessened. People are much more suspicious about Europe's intentions and they
don't understand because they really believe that Turkey can contribute
something to the EU."

Support in recent opinion polls has fallen from 73% to 63%. Almost all of
the ambivalence has been generated by three issues, analysts say: Cyprus,
Turkey's ethnic Kurdish minority, and the Armenian genocide 90 years ago.

In each case, the EU has demanded that Ankara take steps that the majority
of Turks strongly oppose - recognising Greek-run Cyprus, giving the Kurds
more rights, and accepting that up to a million Armenians were deliberately
killed during the break-up of the Ottoman empire. Until recently, all three
were taboo topics, rarely ever discussed openly.

"Turks can accept Europe's intervention on issues that are political and
economic, but on these issues they feel it is totally unjust and unfair,"
said Ihsan Dagi, a political science professor at Ankara's Middle East
Technical University. "Turks see the EU as a means to improve their lot.
They cannot understand what relevance the Armenian question, for example,
has for Turkey's quest to join the EU."

All three issues had proved to be ammunition for traditional-minded
opponents of EU accession within Turkey, say observers.

"These are highly sensitive subjects for the Turks who unfortunately get
very easily offended," said one EU diplomat. "Invariably, it's reaction to
them that feeds the nationalists which, in turn, upsets the Europeans - a
vicious circle.",7369,1583522,00.html