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The World Press on...Turkey


Home Page > Articles in English > The Press On Turkey


Send in the Troops

Americans, Stay Out...Please

The European Union Snubs Turkey


Hürriyet (independent), Istanbul
The Guardian (liberal), London
L'Express (centrist newsmagazine), Paris
The Daily Telegraph (conservative), London
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (conservative), Frankfurt
The Independent (liberal), London
Frankfurter Rundschau (liberal), Frankfurt
Eleftherotypia (liberal), Athens
Die Tageszeitung/taz (left-wing), Berlin
Süddeutsche Zeitung (conservative), Munich
Der Standard (liberal), Vienna
Die Zeit (liberal weekly), Hamburg
La Stampa (centrist), Turin
Neue Zürcher Zeitung (conservative), Zurich
Sabah (independent), Istanbul
Tercüman (conservative), Istanbul
(center-right), Istanbul
Milliyet (liberal), Istanbul
(liberal), Istanbul


From the October 2003 issue of World Press Review

Send in the Troops

By Tekla Szymanski

It would be tantamount to a “resurrection of a big mistake,” snapped Fehmi Koru in Zaman (July 22, 2003). At issue was the U.S. request for the deployment of Turkish troops in northern Iraq to help American forces oust Kurdish militants. Turkish cooperation would ease the strained relations between the two NATO allies that went sour in March after the Turkish Parliament blocked a U.S. attempt to open a northern front on Iraq from Turkish soil. The ensuing dispute sundered decades of mutual confidence. The Turkish Parliament will decide at the end of August or in early September whether to draft a bill to authorize the deployment of Turkish troops.

The media regarded the U.S. request with suspicion. “The government has to find an answer to the public that is asking ‘sending the troops for what?’ ” wrote Fikret Bila in Milliyet (Aug. 1), under the headline “Vietnam Syndrome.” Bila went on to say: “Turkey is aiming to mend relations with the United States and wants to be a contractor, a notion that will never be acceptable to the Turkish public.” But on Aug. 8, Bila opined: “Turkey’s national interests would be served by Turkey’s having a say in Iraq’s political restructuring, in Iraq’s gaining stability, and in the preservation of Iraq’s territorial integrity.”

Sami Kohen, writing in the same paper (Aug. 2), asserted, however, that it was “a correct approach for the government not to rush its decision.”

Other commentators pointed to the fact that it was obvious that the United States was keen to smooth over the major row between the two countries, but they also cautioned that a deployment of Turkish troops in Iraq would not be in Turkey’s best interests. Nevertheless, “America Wants Us!” cheered a headline in Radikal (July 29). The common tenor among Turkish columnists was that now that things were not going as planned in Iraq, the Bush administration was coming under increased pressure “to view Turkey in a different light,” according to Sedat Ergin in Milliyet (July 29). “It is a fact that Turkey will remain in the heart of a region where enormous U.S. strategic interests lie,” Ergin concluded. “The two sides have seen that they have no choice other than walking hand in hand once again.”

Koru, writing in Zaman (July 22), voiced what many Turkish commentators seemed to suspect: “The U.S. is trying to share with others the responsibility of being an occupying force in Iraq.” And Hürriyet’s Ferai Tinc (Aug. 4) mused: “Imagine what the reaction would be if Turkish troops entered Iraq to support an occupation force….Iraq is not Afghanistan [where Turkish troops are already stationed]. A Turkish troop presence in Iraq would do more harm than good—unless the Iraqi people invite [us].”

An editorial in Radikal (Aug. 7) warned that by sending Turkish troops to Iraq without a United Nations mandate, “Turkey would become an occupier. A potential U.N. decision must be awaited.”

Such a U.N. decision would also eliminate the need for Parliament to act. Hürriyet, however, concluded in an editorial (Aug. 7): “We would go to Iraq for the sake of tranquillity.” And Milliyet’s editors added (Aug. 7): “Turkey cannot be a bystander.”






From the May 2003 issue of World Press Review

Americans, Stay Out...Please

By Tekla Szymanski

Until well after the eleventh hour, it seemed that yet another U.S. ally had lined up with countries refusing to assist in the war on Iraq. But on March 20, 2003, the first day of the fighting, the Turkish Parliament reversed its earlier stance, voting 332-202 to grant overflight rights to U.S. planes en route to the war's northern front in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

In the same session, Parliament passed a second resolution authorizing Turkish troops to enter northern Iraq to create a buffer zone the government said was designed to deliver "humanitarian aid" to Kurdish refugees. Most observers believed it was intended to stem the flow of Kurds into Turkey as well as to curb any Kurdish moves toward declaring an independent state in the midst of the war. Ankara held out until the following day before granting access to Turkish airspace as it negotiated with Washington over its desire to establish a beachhead against a possible move for Kurdish independence.

By press time, Turkish soldiers were reported to have massed along the border, waiting for orders to enter northern Iraq. "The authority to make war in Iraq has passed to the Turkish government," Muharrem Sarikaya cheered in Sabah (March 21). Tercüman's Cengiz Candar disagreed (March 21), saying that with the passing of the overflight resolution, the Turkish government had, in fact, transferred its authority to the military.

Opening up Turkey's airspace fell far short of Washington's original request for the deployment of 62,000 U.S. soldiers in Turkey—a request that Ankara had flatly rejected on March 1. Turkish lawmakers tried to undo what they had gambled away—a substantial aid package, promised by the United States in return for Turkish assistance in the war. The debt-ridden country had been promised up to US$30 billion in cash and loan guarantees as compensation for letting U.S. soldiers deploy on its soil, but Turkish lawmakers could not be swayed.

Ankara's defiance had stunned the United States and opened up a deep rift between the longtime allies. Turkish politicians, in turn, were flabbergasted by the U.S. refusal to offer monetary aid in return for military assistance, as agreed upon on March 20. Sabah (March 21) quoted former Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis: "We thought that America was compelled to get our support. We never believed that America had a Plan B. We were badly mistaken."

Many commentators blamed incoming Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's new government for Turkey's ill-advised change of mind. "The memorandum was brought before Parliament as a half pregnancy," snapped Cengiz Candar in Tercüman (March 20). Candar lashed out at lawmakers who consider themselves competent negotiators but "politically act most clumsily." According to Gungor Mengi, writing in Vatan (March 20), "Turkey lost this war....We lost everything."

The breach with the United States could have lasting repercussions. Milliyet's Hasan Cemal scolded (March 20) the Islamist government for being "incompetent," and warned that Turco-American relations had been "badly injured." That might be an understatement, for this could turn into the biggest crisis between the two allies in the past 50 years.



The European Union Snubs Turkey

By Tekla Szymanski

December 2002: Istanbul’s independent Hürriyet ran a reproduction of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” and asked whether Turkey would again be turned away from Europe’s Christian table. It was. On Dec.13, delegates from the 15 members of the European Union met in Copenhagen and crushed Turkey's hopes that they would set a date to start negotiating admission to their exclusive club. In stark contrast, seven Eastern European countries—Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, all formerly part of the Soviet Union, as well as Malta and Cyprus—have just received the green light, after they fulfilled Europe's rigid economic and political pre-membership requirements. All of them had submitted their requests to join only 10 years ago.

Turkey, a member of NATO, has waited 40 years to become a part of Europe. Toward that end, it has undertaken crucial domestic reforms—abolishing the death penalty and taking steps to improve its human-rights record. It wasn’t enough to convince the delegates at the Copenhagen summit.

The issue has divided the European press. Former French President Valérie Giscard D'Estaing, who is overseeing the efforts to draft a new European Constitution, fueled the debate when he remarked that Turkey “does not belong in Europe” and its acceptance would spell “the end” of the union. He was echoing the sentiments of many in Europe, who fear that Turkey’s entrance would allow thousands of Turks to pour into the West in search of jobs, driving wages down.

London The Guardian (liberal), Dec. 13: Perhaps the [Turkish] Islamists have really changed. … Yet it seems probable that two very different projects are still under way in Turkey, the one to make the country more Islamic, and the other to make it less so, and that both have now seized on Europe as a means to their ends. The suspicion must be that the Islamists' hearts are not in [the E.U.], and that the secularists' need for both an icon and an ally has led them to overlook the real obstacles to union with what is indeed a Christian club. Totting up improvements in human rights or democratic practice is not the point. Turkey is an unfinished drama in which Europe's role has become even more central than it was before. But whether it will or should end with the country's incorporation into the E.U. is an open question. —Martin Woollacott

Paris L'Express (centrist newsmagazine), Dec. 12: The Turkish problem already divides—and will continue to divide—the French, and undoubtedly also other citizens of Europe. …One thing is certain: Turkey should be assisted economically…. But Turkey is not Europe!… [It] never belonged to Europe…. There is a European culture, but there is no such a thing as European-Turkish culture. We French have heard of Francis Bacon, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Goethe, Mozart, Sibelius, Beethoven, Verdi, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and many others. We are not aware, however, of any personality who represents Turkish civilization. We are ignorant about it, which proves that Turkey belongs to another cultural sphere…. If we admit Turkey, we will give up the historic-geographical criterion that will prevent Georgia, Azerbaidjan, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, but also Lebanon and Israel from claiming their right to become part of Europe tomorrow…. The borders of this kind of “Europe” would stretch from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean! …Is that what we want? The stakes are so considerably high that governments alone cannot decide on those issues. It is essential and vital that the citizens decide by referendum on which kind of Europe they want. —Claude Allègre

London The Daily Telegraph (conservative), Dec. 14: Why should not Turkey's credentials eventually be accepted? I fear there is only one reason…: Turkey is not a European country. In taking that fact seriously, we don't necessarily fall into cultural bigotry and racism. Turkey has a traditional pull towards both Central Asia and the Middle East. With Turkey in the E.U., our borders will include Iran and Iraq….The creators of the European project were mostly Christian Democrats who had a great historical aim—to reconcile Germany and France, and to end the wars that helped destroy Europe's power in the world.… If you break away from history and apply purely universal criteria for membership—democracy, minority rights, etc.—so that Israel could be admitted now, Egypt in due course, and even, who knows, one day, a liberated Iraq, you will have destroyed the slim possibility of Europe's being a true community. I respect the Turks and admire Islam, but I do not think we should ever break down the walls and admit this particular Trojan horse. —John Casey

Frankfurt Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (conservative), Dec. 16: Europe is a society of peoples who have forged common values over many centuries and have freely joined together under the perception of these values being under threat. Turkey does not belong in this Europe.

London The Independent (liberal), Dec. 13: With Turkey, we are at least back to the big issues of Muslim inclusion and north-south divisions.…Once you start expanding membership at the rate the E.U. is doing now, most of the objections to accept Turkey—that it is insufficiently advanced economically, that it is half a Middle Eastern, not a European country, that it will upset the balance because of its size—fall away. Indeed, a Mediterranean country of Turkey's size is needed all the more if the balance between north and south, now tilting uncomfortably towards the north-east and Berlin and away from London, Madrid, and even Paris, is to be kept….Anyone who wants to enter a club so sorely in need of fresh blood as the E.U. should have their name put on the waiting list immediately, and not be asked to go to the back of the queue at the tradesman's entrance….You can blame the mistakes over Turkey on the system of rotating presidencies in the European Union, which has left a small inexperienced country such as Denmark in charge of the operation at such a moment…. But the real reason, I fear, lies much deeper. It is that Europe cannot cope with what it has on its plate now, never mind what it will have after enlargement.…[The E.U.] is an institution that has lost its way, that is increasingly divorced from, if not actually an obstacle to, the lives of ordinary citizens. —Adrian Hamilton

Frankfurt Frankfurter Rundschau (liberal), Dec. 16: The European Union has agreed to consider Turkey's acceptance into the E.U. When and how that will happen depends on Turkey…The country is in need not only of economic reforms. Turkey is far away from fulfilling E.U. requirements for membership, which call for a well-functioning market economy as prerequisite for joining the E.U. Turkey will need to undergo deep and unpopular reforms. The new government can count on its majority in Parliament to push those changes through. Whether it has the courage to do so, however, is an entirely different matter.

Athens Eleftherotypia (liberal), Dec. 15: The newly formed Turkish government was dealt its first diplomatic blow on an issue that it defined as very important. It suffered an additional defeat when Cyprus slipped right out of its hands. Now, Cyprus has become an E.U. member and it has been relieved from Ankara’s three decade-long whims…. Nevertheless, the big question is whether politicians and military officials will have the wisdom and maturity not to let Turkey embrace extreme measures … Athens seems prepared to stand by [Turkish ruling Justice and Development Party leader Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s side and support his government’s goal to move closer to Europe. [Greek Prime Minister Costas] Simitis rushed to show his support for Erdogan, reminding him that Greece, as the next country to hold the E.U. presidency, could lend a helping hand to Turkey. —Kyra Adam

Berlin Die Tageszeitung (left-wing), Dec. 13: Only when the Turkish elite establishes a European style of Islam will the country find its place within the E.U…. To point fingers at the Islamic character of a state, however, is not a good enough reason to block its acceptance into the E.U. Islam in itself is Arabic in its roots, but it has always adjusted itself to its surrounding cultures. As such it can be “Europeanized” as well…. This kind of Euro-Islam would embrace secular democracy, individual human rights, a civil society, tolerance, and cultural and religious pluralism…. Turkey, however, is far away from this form of Islam. Its secularization is superficial and has stemmed from “a revolution from the top.” …Turkey has a lot of homework to do before it will fit into Europe. To call Europe a Christian Club, however, cannot change the fact that Turkey has to fulfill certain requirements. A European, rather than an Islamist Turkey, could become part of Europe. Islam does belong to this reformed Turkey—but only with a European-Islamic character.
—Bassam Tibi

Munich Süddeutsche Zeitung (conservative), Dec. 13: The ideological debate whether Turkey—tomorrow, the day after, or maybe never—will adopt Western democratic standards, the rule of law and of a civil society, is only one side of the coin. The other side is that European countries need to ask themselves how many neighbors they want to allow to move in….Turkey has every right to want to be part of the E.U. But the 25 E.U. members have a similar right to refuse. …Stretching Europe's Eastern borders eastward to Kurdistan could cause the Union to fall apart.

Vienna Der Standard (liberal), Dec. 10: [By allowing Turkey to join the European Union, we would be] taking on too much. Enlargement to the east is a historic task, which will last well into the next decade, and thus will take up all our energies.

Hamburg Die Zeit (liberal weekly), Dec. 12: What is European identity? Was it shaped by the Enlightment, by language, by our beliefs? Does religion unify us? The Catholic Spaniards have as much in common with the Protestant Finns as the Anglo-Saxons have with the Orthodox Greeks. Nevertheless, they all happily gather in Brussels and worship the Western Alliance of European states. Why should the Muslim Turks not be able to take part?…Opening the door for Turkey will also do a lot of good for the strained German-Turkish relationship. A clear E.U. perspective for Ankara will stop the tide of Turks coming to Germany….Do we share the same values? Many Turkish officers have problems with our values, but so does Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who adjusts the rules of law in his country to fit his needs. If the Euro-euphoria of many Turks is any indication, they should become members of the E.U., whereas the British would have to be asked to leave….It would be a historic foolishness to stem this euphoria in the Muslim world. …The E.U. doesn't need to fear a new border with Iraq and Iran. Or does it want to leave world politics solely in the hands of the Americans? …Turkey is an important player in the region and with it in its midst, Europe's foreign policy would gain tremendous weight….There is only one reason to deny E.U. membership to Turkey: its economy. The per-capita income in Turkey is 22 percent below E.U. average….This crisis, however, could mean a new chance for Turkey. And what could be a better incentive for the E.U. than Turkey's knocking on its doors in order to remake itself as well?
—Michael Thurman

Turin La Stampa (centrist), Dec. 12: Long, long before the Poles, Hungarians, or the Baltic states could imagine that they would one day become part of the E.U., and even before the Spanish, Portuguese, or the Austrians were thinking about it, Turkey had presented its request for admission into what was then called the European Economic Community. For 40 years, fearful of giving offense, yet unable to accept it, Europe neither said “yes” nor “no”... Few express their thoughts with absolute clarity, but one could say that those saying “no” to Turkey's acceptance into the E.U. have a “federal” conception, a homogeneous and compact image of Europe's future. Those saying “yes” to Turkey see Europe as an open space with few rules in common, but much liberty and diversity within. The naysayers believe in completing the process of integration. For the supporters, neither geography nor cultural identity defines borders—because in this era of globalization, borders no longer exist.... Compromises may be worked out over time. But if there really were more realistic and farsighted political minds in Europe, we could hope for an expansion of European boundaries to include Turkey, and to recreate today, based on the founding nations, a new nucleus of nations.

Zurich Neue Zürcher Zeitung (conservative), Dec. 14: Despite disappointments on the economic front—traceable ultimately to an expensive military campaign against the Kurds—indications are that Turkey is entering a phase of political revitalization. Elections have brought to power a party of moderate Islamists, who seem committed to pressing democratic and human rights reforms. Western politicians in favor of E.U. membership for Turkey see the obvious practical advantages, but that is not necessarily true of public opinion. Some Turks, while fed up with waiting, point out with new self-confidence that reforms are needed anyway. Politics would be easier if both sides discarded their complexes.


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