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Old 04.10.2005, 13:04   #1
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The Irish Times
October 3, 2005

Turkey has been knocking on Europe's door since 1963 but doubts are
growing as to how much ordinary Turks want to join the EU, reports
Nicholas Birch in Istanbul

Turkey's pro-Europeans have long looked forward to EU membership
talks as the consummation of a 40-year courtship.

But Turks are still unclear whether they'll be getting a marriage
contract, or a jilting.

Assured by the EU on December 17th last year that it met the political
criteria for accession, Turkish anger has been mounting for months
as European countries have questioned its Europeanness.

Now doubts are growing here as to how deeply ordinary Turks want the
European Union.

Such ambivalence is not new. Bringing Turkey into line with European
civilisation was central to the vision of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk,
the country's authoritarian founder.

Yet neither he nor his subjects ever forgot that independence in 1923
was plucked from the hands of invaders, sponsored by western powers
led by Britain and France.

For a long time, the prospect of EU accession has been the only thing
bridging the deep divisions in Turkish society.

A mixed bag of religious conservatives, liberals and nationalists,
Turkey's ruling party was a symbol of the new consensus. However,
increasingly overt European hostility to Turkey's accession bid in
recent months has only deepened Turks' innate suspicions of European

Back in December 2004, when Brussels gave Ankara a date to start
negotiations, polls showed 75 per cent of Turks supporting EU

That figure has now dropped to about 60 per cent. "The EU will never
accept us", Emin Colasan, a columnist for the mass-market daily
Hurriyet wrote yesterday.

"They will use us just as they have done up to now, belittling us,
forcing us to take decisions based on their interests."

Faced with Austrian insistence that the negotiating framework for
accession talks contain the possibility of a "privileged partnership"
rather than full membership, Turkish leaders warned last Friday that
they could walk away for once and for all.

Analysts say the temptation for the Turkish government to tone down
its staunch support for the European project must be growing. "If
prime minister Tayyip Erdogan stood up today and said 'Turkey is a
proud country and we've had enough of being humiliated', his support
would surge," says liberal political columnist Sami Kohen.

Fearful of the staunchly secular army, which is suspicious of its
roots in political Islam, Turkey's Justice and Development Party
(AKP) government has no choice for the moment but to carry on.

Some in the West are afraid the present atmosphere may strengthen the
hand of extreme religious groups in Turkey. Didn't Turkey's current
prime minister once notoriously say "thank God, I am for shariah
Islamic law "?

It's a suggestion ridiculed by Turks, who point out that no overtly
Islamic party in Turkey has ever won more than 20 per cent of the vote.

Polls consistently show 90 per cent of Turks support the country's
secular system.

"Turks are secular not just because they are afraid of the generals",
says Fulya Ertekin, a student in Istanbul. "They are secular because
they have no memory of any other system, and no inclination for
anything else."

What is far more likely, Turkish analysts say, is that growing European
hostility will lead to a surge in radical Turkish nationalism.

The foundations have always been there, thinks historian Aykut Kansu.

"Turkey," he says, "is a country that has normalised ultra-nationalist

The trouble is, argues political scientist Hakan Yavuz, that they may
already have been activated by issues like the European Parliament's
call last Wednesday for Turkish membership to be conditional on its
recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide.

"When a lot of Turks look at the EU, they see calls for better
rights for the Kurds, greater freedoms for the country's religious
minorities", he says.

"For them, that's worryingly reminiscent of western plans to divide
the country up in the early 20th century." He has no doubt that the
victims of a nationalist backlash will be Turkey's Kurds.

It's a very pessimistic attitude, but not uncommon.

Back in March, controversial columnist Mine Kirikkanat questioned
western fears that the huge sales of Hitler's Mein Kampf in Turkey
had anything to do with growing anti-Semitism.

"Turks put Kurds in the place of the Jews targeted in Hitler's book,"
she wrote in the liberal daily Radikal, "and find in its ideology of
hatred a suitable foundation for their growing feelings that enough
is enough."

She was referring to the immense anger many feel at the increasing
Kurdish separatist violence in southeastern Turkey.

Others point out that while organised crime has long been the scourge
of Turkish cities, it is only recently that Turks and the populist
media have begun specifically accusing the gangs of being Kurdish.

Nobody is suggesting Turkey is on the verge of an ethnic civil war,
but tensions are undoubtedly high.

Bahadir Kaleagasi, Brussels representative of Turkey's powerful
pro-European business lobby TUSIAD, thinks the EU would do well to
step very carefully as negotiations continue.

"If Turkey has been transformed for the good over the past six years,
it's thanks to the EU", he says. "But if present European attitudes
do not change, the EU could rapidly become a destabilising force."
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