Milwaukee Journal Sentinel November 10, 2002
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
BY PHILIP TERZIAN
When Turkey's American admirers talk about their favorite country, it all sounds familiar.
Turkey, they say, is a secular, Muslim, non-Arab state with its feet planted firmly on both sides of the Bosporus. It is geographically critical to NATO and the West, close to oil supplies, friendly to Israel and the United States and vital to U.S. strategic interests.
That this sounds familiar is simple, and compelling: Everything that is said about Turkey used to be said about Iran. And there is one more instructive parallel: Both Turkey and Iran are authoritarian states. This uncomfortable truth about Iran's late shah and his secret police was politely ignored when Iran's importance in the Cold War was discussed. Yes, the shah is not as democratic as we may like, it was said, but at the crossroads of East and West, he is an essential bulwark against communism.
Read The Wall Street Journal on Turkey, or William Safire in The New York Times, or listen to U.S. Reps. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) or Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), and you could easily mistake Turkey for the shah's Iran.
That it is a "democracy" answerable to its army is seldom mentioned. Neither is heard a discouraging word about Turkey's abysmal human-rights records, its rampant corruption, its sclerotic political leadership. Of course, Iran never invaded and occupied a democratic neighbor (Cyprus) or imposed a destructive economic blockade on another democratic neighbor (Armenia); but Turkey's status as an opportunistic ally is secure.
Turkey, however, stands at a crossroads. Since it is now certain that the democratic Republic of Cyprus will be admitted to the European Union in the next few months -- regardless of the Turkish military occupation of the northern third of the island -- Turkey is more determined than ever to join the E.U.
From the Turkish standpoint, this is a matter of national pride and principle: If the European Union is prepared to admit Cyprus, it should be willing to invite Turkey to join the club. Yet the problem is that admission to the E.U. demands that certain conditions be met, which Turkey fails to do.
A member state must be a full-scale, functioning democracy; it must embark on wide-ranging economic and political reforms; it must respect the human rights of minorities; it must not preside over the brutal and illegal military occupation of a fellow E.U. member.
Simply put, if Turkey is genuinely interested in joining the European Union, the present Turkish state will have to be transformed.
Now, Turkey's American friends are nervous about that country's recent elections. The relentless advocacy of politicians like Lantos and Wexler is easily purchased. Whenever Congress shows signs of recognizing the Turkish genocide against Armenians, Ankara threatens the safety of Turkey's tiny Jewish community.
Now, Lantos and Wexler are sponsoring legislation that would demand Turkey's admission to the E.U. on the basis of its warm relations with the United States and Israel. But the recent Turkish elections beg an interesting question: Will a government run by an Islamist party remain friendly to those two countries? The answer is not clear.
In one sense, the electoral triumph of the Justice and Development Party is not good news for the United States. Even the preceding Turkish government was lukewarm about a war against Iraq, which would necessarily agitate Turkey's Kurdish minority. Despite assurances to the contrary, a Turkish government dominated by a reformed Islamist government is likely to take an even dimmer view of the pre-emptive invasion of a Muslim state.
In the larger sense, however, the elections might be salutary. The Turkish electorate was not affirming Islam last weekend so much as throwing the rascals out. The nationalists who dominated the government of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and his predecessors were not just massively corrupt and economically incompetent. Because of their abuse of human rights and relentless hostility toward neighboring democracies, they had also managed to convert their country into a global pariah.
While Turkey's American friends ignore inconvenient facts, Turkey's neighbors in the region and Europe know the nature of the state. This is not just a matter of historic injustice -- Turkey's official denial of the mass murder of Armenians, for example -- but of present circumstances as well. The Turkish judiciary is still seeking to ban the Justice and Development Party on spurious grounds, and its leader, Recep Erdogan, is forbidden to hold office because he once recited a religious poem in public.
As always, in Turkey, it's up to the army. If the general staff is interested in joining the European Union on Europe's terms, it will encourage the new Islamist government to initiate reforms and turn its back on the country's self-destructive nationalism.
Democracy and military dictatorship cannot coexist, even in Turkey. zian