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Thursday, May 15, 2003

Our Opinion

Coming to Terms with Turkey


It’s taken less than a week for some — if not all — of the excitement to wear off in Cyprus. At last count, about 350,000 Cypriots (mostly ethnic Greeks) had crossed the increasingly irrelevant Green Line dividing the island. Nonetheless, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statements in support of Rauf Denktash, made during the former’s visit to the occupied north on May 9, has suddenly added considerable unease to the euphoria that reigned until recently. Despite the change in mood, however, we think there’s no real reason for people to repress their joy, anticipation, or genuine optimism about a final resolution to the island’s arbitrary division.

It’s true that Mr. Erdogan declared his support of Mr. Denktash’s demand for an independent Turkish Cypriot state: it’s just that we don’t believe him. We’re not calling him a liar; we simply think that he’s under extraordinary pressure from various constituencies, both internal and external — and some more powerful and “dynamic” than others — and that he’s got to steer his government among the many shoals that endanger it. In any case, people would be seriously misjudging circumstances if they perceived Mr. Erdogan’s latest statements as yet another example of Turkish intransigence over Cyprus and Greece.

And what kinds of pressure do we think are being applied to Turkey’s prime minister? The New York Times reported on a particularly egregious example on May 8. What stood out in Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz’s “critical remarks” about the Turkish parliament’s refusal to allow the US invasion of northern Iraq from Turkey was not the criticism per se as the specific target of its collateral damage: the leadership of the Turkish armed forces. We quote: “I think for whatever reason, they [Turkey’s military heads] did not play the strong leadership role that we would have expected.” Anyone vaguely familiar with modern Turkish history cannot but shudder at the frightening implications of Mr. Wolfowitz’s grotesque “grievance.” It was about as thinly veiled, and blatant, a call for military interference in Turkey’s political and democratic processes — as well as a clear criticism of the Turkish military for not reverting to its “traditional” and thoroughly undemocratic role — as one could make.

Meanwhile, on May 10, Kathimerini reported Greek defense minister Yannos Papantoniou’s remarks that violations of Greek airspace by Turkish jet fighters had intensified recently. Interestingly, Mr. Papantoniou did not blame the Turkish government, but argued that these actions supported the notion that the “Turkish military was operating outside the control of the Turkish government.” Finally, in an article in its Sunday magazine last week, New York Times reporter Deborah Sontag suggested that Mr. Erdogan was not aligned with Rauf Denktash on the issue of Cyprus; rather, as Mr. Denktash’s policy had the approval of the Turkish military, Mr. Erdogan was simply, and prudently, biding his time.

One would, of course, have to be a resident of cloud-cuckoo land to expect the current US administration to restrain Turkey’s military leadership or to actively support Mr. Erdogan’s government. Despite Mr. Bush’s public statements exalting democracy, his record, unfortunately, speaks more eloquently than all of his pre-packaged oratory.

Which brings us back — always and invariably — to the European Union. It is only through Turkish accession to the EU that the Turkish military will be definitively remanded to its barracks. The ultimate constitutional delimitation of the Turkish armed forces to their professional military responsibilities will constitute a significant step, not only toward a comprehensive resolution of the Cyprus issue but toward a deep and wide-ranging rapprochement between Greece and Turkey. That is why we call upon the Greek government to lead the campaign for Turkish membership of the European Union as strongly and with the same determination and commitment as it led the campaign for Cypriot membership.

Once again, this is not to suggest that Turkey be given a free pass into the EU. Mr. Erdogan’s government has to prove that it firmly supports authentic democratic processes and just as firmly defends the human rights of all its citizens. Turkey’s troops must also vacate Cyprus. In the event, supporting Mr. Erdogan and his government in their efforts to join the EU is even more important in the aftermath of Mr. Wolfowitz’s remarks and the Turkish army’s apparent muscle-flexing. The Greek government has been transparently clear about its support of Turkey’s EU candidacy. It must now also join the battle to fight the racist prejudices surrounding it. As it is, Greece has no choice: it’s either the European Union for Turkey or waiting for the next inevitable, and disastrous, brasshatted regime so beloved by Mr. Wolfowitz.

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