Turkey Under More Scrutiny

The EU’s tug of war with Turkey over human rights continues. This weekend attention has been focused on an academic conference held at Istanbul Bilgi University to discuss issues arising from and surrounding the massacre of Armenians which took place following the collapse of the Ottoman empire.

The most surprising thing in fact may have been that the conference was held at all. As the Chronicle of Higher Education Reports:
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Unwanted

There’s nothing better for livening up all this dull, wonkish chatter about the German elections than a bit of CDU-bashing. So, how shall I bash them today? Oh, I know! How about this: they’re a shower of xenophobe racists.

Yes, yes; not exactly news, is it? What is news, though, is that the Union appears to value xenophobia even more than it does winning elections.

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Austria Would Prefer Not To

Earlier this year, Eurobarometer started asking members what they thought about future EU expansion. The results (which can be found here, as a pdf) were pretty interesting.

52% of Europeans support membership for Croatia, while only 34% oppose it. (War criminals? What war criminals?) And 50% support membership for Bulgaria. But only 45% support Romania coming in. Which is a bit embarrassing, given that the EU has already firmly committed to Romanian membership, even if it might be delayed for a year.

Still, the Romanians can take comfort; they’re well ahead of Serbia (40%), Albania (36%) and Turkey (dead last, with 35% of Europeans supporting Turkish membership and 52% against).

Where this gets interesting — in a Eurovision-y sort of way — is when you start to break it down by country.
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The Case Of Orhan Pamuk

While EU foreign ministers are tucked nicely away in Newport (my paternal grandmother was born there) for their ?Gymnich? summit at which trying to get Turkey accession negotiations off the ground on October 3 will be one of the top priorities, and while MEPs pass the buck to the Commission and the Council on the thorny problem of Turkey’s interpretation of a customs agreement, back in Turkey itself best selling author Orhan Pamuk has been charged by a public prosecutor for “denigrating” the nation in comments about Turkish history which appeared in a Swiss newspaper several few months ago. And what did the comments refer to: the Armenian genocide, about which, of course, Turkey is still in denial. Randy McDonald has the story:

Myself, I’m on the record as believing that the Turkish refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide is rooted in Turkish insecurities dating back to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, when it seemed quite possible that Turks might lose a viable homeland. This is understandable even if it’s still repellent; this can be worked around.”

“The prosecution of Pamuk, however, is, besides being a crime in itself, a spectacular mistake. A country that prosecutes one of its most famous writers because he agreed with the historical consensus that, yes, there was an Armenian genocide really doesn’t strike me as the sort of country capable of living up to the requirements of European Union membership. I very much doubt that a European electorate already predisposed to reject the idea of Turkish membership in the EU will be more generous than me. Tell me, please, how exactly “Turkish identity” is compromised by the recognition that a previous Turkish state committed genocide? Denial’s one possible explanation, but it’s not a sufficient explanation.”

“For the time being, all I’ll say is that Turkey’s recognition of the Armenian genocide in some form should be a prerequisite for Turkish membership in the European Union. I wish Pamuk well in his upcoming court case–hopefully that will change something in his homeland.

Let me just second Randy here: recognition of the Armenian genocide should be a prerequisite.

Two on Turkey

With Turkish accession one of the most important issues facing the European Union, people interested in the question could do much worse than read these two recent, and reasonably short, books that focus on the country: Crescent and Star, by Stephen Kinzer, and The Turks Today, by Andrew Mango. Both illustrate and explain contemporary Turkey, and both have accession as a theme throughout their books.
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Erdogan, no champion of free speeech

The owner of a satirical magazine sued for publishing drawings of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s head on the bodies of animals accused the premier of intolerance on the opening day of his trial Tuesday.

Erdogan has done things like this for a while now, but I haven’t seen any mention of it in the western media. I only learned of it because I read The Comics Reporter by Tom Spurgeon.

This is of course not the only thing wrong with Turkish democracy. They’ve made significant progress in the last years, but it’s not certain they’ll be sufficiently democratic in a decade or whenever negotions will end.

Erdogan has in the past presented himself as a champion of free speech, frequently alluding to the four-month jail term he served in 1999 for reciting what the courts deemed an inflammatory poem.

Last year a court also ordered the left-wing newspaper Evrensel to pay 10,000 new Turkish lira (US$8,000/-6,000) for a cartoon which portrayed Erdogan as a horse being ridden by one of his advisers.

Earlier this year, he sued an 80-year old veteran journalist Fikret Otyam who criticized government attempts to criminalize adultery by saying the premier had reduced politics to the “level of the crotch,” seeking 5,000 new Turkish lira (US$3,200/-2,850) in compensation.

Agenda 2020.


New Europe?
Late Thursday night, the European Council approved, as widely expected, the Commission’s recommendation to open membership negotiations with Turkey, largely without imposing additional conditions to be met prior to the beginning of the talks on October 3, 2005. “The time to start negotiations with Turkey has come,” Commission President Jos? Manuel Barroso said. Council President, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, will discuss the EU proposals Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, over breakfast on Friday.
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Turkey recommended for EU accession talks

The European Commission has recommended that accession talks for Turkey should begin, but hasn’t laid out any dates for the process:

Commission officials are reporting on the progress Turkey has already made, along with Bulgaria and Romania.

The final decision on Turkey rests with the leaders of all 25 EU member states in December – with accession years off.

The Commission’s recommendation is a milestone in an increasingly impassioned debate.

The decision was reached by a “large consensus” among commissioners, one EU official said, but no vote was taken.

There was also no recommended date to start negotiations with Turkey.

More from The Scotsman/PA, EU Business, Reuters and EU Observer.

Update: The full text of Romano Prodi’s speech can be found here and I’ve copied it below, so you can click on the ‘continue reading’ link to see it as the English HTML link on the site doesn’t seem to be working (pdf and doc links are).
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Opening the Sublime Porte just a crack

The European Commission won’t release its report on the possibility of opening accesion talks with Turkey until 6 October. But after expansion commissioner G?nter Verheugen’s comments yesterday, the report will not be much of a surprise. ‘There are’, said Verheugen, ‘no further barriers‘ to beginning talks.

(All the links to outside sources in this post, incidentally, are to German-language sites. At the moment there’s nothing about this on the FAZ English-language site, but you might check there later in the day if you can’t read German.)

In the comments to my recent post on the NPD’s electoral gains in Brandenburg, Otto suggests that the German CDU step up its resistance to a possible Turkish entry. Apparently the Union is paying attention to Otto, for party chief Angela Merkel was prompt to announce that she will seek allies elsewhere in Europe to keep the Turks draussen vor der T?r. And taking up most of the front page of the print edition of today’s Die Welt — the reliably right-wing sister paper to the Bild-Zeitung, but unlike Bild intended for those who can read words of more than one syllable — are ‘Ten Reasons Why Turkey Should Not Be Allowed to Join’.

Strangely enough my first reaction to this all-out onslaught by the Union was one of compassion and concern. ‘Bloss keine Panik, Leute!’, I wanted to say, giving their well-coiffed heads a reassuring pat. For you see, Turkey is not about to join the EU after all. All that the Commission has done (and indeed, officially it hasn’t even done that yet) is to say it’s all right to start talking with the Turks about the possibility of an eventual accession. In those talks Europe will, among other things, negotiate with the Turks the conditions and timeline for a possible entry. There is no guarantee that Turkey will accept (or fulfil) the EU’s conditions. And accession, if it comes at all, will not be for many years.
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