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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EUROFILE: For the Turks, Europe Can Be Foreign Place




The people of Turkey have something in common with Russians and Britons. When they talk about Europe, many refer to it as a foreign place, a continent of which they are not an integral part. "We live here; Europe is over there."


Thinking of Europe as somewhere foreign is in some ways entirely natural for people who live on the continent's periphery. At various times in their history, Greeks and Spaniards have felt the same sentiments, though nowadays both nations seem very much in the European mainstream.


But what a country's people think, and what a country's political and business leaders think, are often very different things. For example, there is a broad consensus among Turkey's secular establishment, political and military, that their nation does indeed belong to Europe.


One representative of this establishment, former Turkish Foreign Minister Ilter T?rkmen, points out that, even before the creation of Kemal Atat?rk's secular republic in the 1920s, Turkey was oriented toward Europe. "The Ottoman Empire was a European power and a member of the Concert of Europe. It will be a historical irony if Turkey is now kept outside Europe -- and Europe means, today, the European Union," he says.


As the EU made all too clear at its Luxembourg summit last December, however, it will be a miracle if Turkey is admitted to the club anytime in the next two decades. The effect of the Luxembourg declaration was to plunge EU-Turkish relations to probably their lowest level.


Among the EU's various objections to Turkish membership, two invariably stir controversy: the Turkish state's policy toward its ethnic Kurds; and Turkey's overall human rights record. In Turkish eyes, neither argument amounts to much.


According to T?rkmen, the 14-year-old war raging in southeastern Turkey between government forces and Kurdish separatists is comparable to Spain's crackdown on Basque terrorism. Spain, he says, was not denied EU membership because of its policies toward the Basques.


This is not very convincing. After the death in 1975 of dictator Francisco Franco, who had ruthlessly suppressed the Basque national identity, Spain's new democracy went out of its way to extend the hand of reconciliation to the Basques.


There is extensive self-government in the Basque Country, whereas there is none in southeastern Turkey. Basque culture and the Basque language are allowed full self-expression in Spain, whereas the Kurds of Turkey have a long way to go before they could be said to enjoy the same rights.


Concerning human rights, T?rkmen contends that his country has made progress. In particular, he notes Turkey's acceptance of the compulsory jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.


Yet only last month, Turkey's highest court ordered the closure of a political party, Welfare, which won the largest number of seats in the 1995 national election. Having formed a coalition government in 1996, Welfare was forced out of power last June by the armed forces in a "soft coup."


It is difficult to see how the EU could admit a country where the military regards itself as entitled to push out a government and where significant restrictions on freedom of speech remain in place.


In principle, Turkey belongs to Europe, and Europe needs Turkey. In practice, Turkey must do more to show that it deserves to be there.