Friday, December 17, 2004

Talking Turkey

The BBC reports that the EU and Turkey have reached a compromise that moves the process of accepting the latter's application for membership slightly forward:

The EU and Turkey have struck a deal over an EU demand that Turkey recognise Cyprus before membership talks begin.
The compromise agreement clears the way for Turkey to start negotiations in October next year to enter the EU.
For those that think the EU's acceptance of Turkey would be a good thing, this sounds like good news. There is some evidence that the dialogue with the EU is having a positive effect on Turkey's democratic evolution, as indicated by this report by Freedom House. But, as the report also notes (beginning on page 3), there are several defects that should give Western commentators pause:
The Turkish state has a mixed record on attention to women, non-ethnic Turks, and people with disabilities.


The Turkish establishment traditionally mistrusted civic groups and controlled them tightly. However, as these groups have gained strength since the 1980s and state-societal relations have developed more recently through encouragement by the EU, civic groups have become more engaged in public policy. [...] Still, the government is selective about which groups gain full disclosure of draft laws, and many groups accuse it of listening but not taking responsive action.


While Turkey's constitution establishes freedom of the media [...] journalists specifically, have been the victims of the penal code's provisions against aiding and abetting an illegal organization and insulting the state and state institutions, among others, despite recent reforms limiting their scope. Fines, arrests, and imprisonment are the punishments regularly allotted to media and journalists who, for example, criticize the military or portray Kurdish activists in too positive a light.


Torture and ill-treatment by officials continue to be an issue in Turkey. The Erdogan government has declared a zero-tolerance policy toward torture, and it appears to be backing up its position
with new detention laws and, as of April 2004, a policy forbidding police from entering the room when doctors examine alleged torture victims.
All of these concerns, however, are merely background to the question of Turkish occupation of Cyprus, which is the real sticking point for EU membership. Cyprus was admitted into the EU as of May 2004, but the rejection, in April, of the UN proposal to unify Greek and Turkish Cypriots has resulted in continuing tension. Specifically Turkey has refused to recognize the island nation. As noted by the London Times:
But because the UN blueprint was not endorsed by both communities, Cyprus entered the EU divided on May 1, with the Turkish Cypriots effectively excluded from membership pending a settlement.

Their breakaway state is recognised only by Turkey whose 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus are regarded as occupying part of EU territory.

In the run-up to the EU summit, the Greek Cypriots had dangled a veto threat over Turkey, hoping to win concessions from Ankara, including its formal recognition of Cyprus.

Greek Cypriots argued it was absurd that Turkey refused to recognise an EU member, whose agreement it needed to begin accession talks.
So, the compromise sounds like a step in the right direction. However, the BBC report is disturbingly vague on what exactly this compromise consists of. Specifically, what does it mean that the Turkish Prime Minister "insisted signing the protocol was not a formal recognition of Cyprus"? A close inspection of the actual language of the statement suggests that this compromise is merely a bureaucratic expedient to smooth over legitimate questions about Turkey's commitment to freedom:
As a result of meetings between Turkey and the EU, the paragraph in the final declaration of the EU summit about Cyprus was changed.

In the revised paragraph, it was said, "the European Council welcomes Turkey's statement to sign the protocol regarding the adaptation of the Ankara Agreement, taking account of the accession of the ten new Member States."

In the first draft prepared by the Netherlands, which holds rotating EU presidency, it was said, "the European Council welcomes Turkey's decision to sign the protocol regarding the adaptation of the Ankara Agreement, taking account of the accession of the ten new Member States."

As a result of the change, the European Council welcomed Turkey's "statement" to sign the agreement instead of Turkey's "decision" to sign the agreement.
So, Turkey has not actually decided to acknowledge the sovereignty of Cyprus, it has merely verbally stated that it will do so. A subtle point, perhaps, but indicative of continuing intransigence. For further support of the thesis that Turkey may not be fully ready to join European civilization (such as it is) consider this statement by Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktas:
"Turkey guarantees and recognizes Cyprus Republic of 1960. The whole issue is about which Cyprus that Turkey will recognize," said President Rauf Denktas of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) on Friday.

Speaking to reporters prior to his meeting with TRNC Parliament Speaker Fatma Ekenoglu and leaders of political parties having seats at the parliament, Denktas said regarding EU Summit, "Greek Cypriot side firstly asked for a written commitment from Turkey for recognition but now they seem to accept verbal commitment. There has been a struggle in Cyprus for 40 years. EU has crowned this 40 years of mistake."

Denktas said, "Turkey's recognition of Greek Cypriot side means it accepts all murders by Greek Cypriots, their occupation of the island and the cruelty they made on Turkish Cypriots. Naturally this cannot be accepted."


When recalled of Greek Cypriots' and Greece's pleasure with the developments, Denktas said, "if they are pleased, this means we are not pleased."
To be sure, this statement may not be indicative of Turkey's policy toward Cyprus, but one should bear in mind that it is Turkish troops that established and continue to support the Northern Republic, and only Turkey recognizes this state as noted in the Times article above. As I pointed out here, back in April, the similarities between Turkey's occupation of Cyprus and Israel's occupation of the West Bank are undeniable and, if anything, Israel looks better by the comparison. If the EU continues to proceed with admission of Turkey despite the latter's obvious deficiencies, the prospects for peace and justice do not look promising.

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