Thursday, October 13, 2011

Turkey: A Country of Contradictions

Jonathan Fryer

In foreign policy terms, Turkey is the new kid on the block: assertive in its support of the Arab Awakening and determined to be acknowledged as a major regional player. The previous policy of maintaining friendly relations with all its neighbours has been replaced by a more principle-based diplomacy, in which both Israel and Syria have started to feel Ankara’s disapproval.

Domestically, Turkey has been registering economic growth rates of which most European governments can only dream. Infrastructure is being upgraded, new universities are popping up all over the country and the energetic young workforce is gaining new skills, as Turkey wins new markets abroad. So the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has much of which it can be proud.

However, there are many contradictions in its policies which are a dampener to enthusiasm among foreign observers. Though recent steps towards recognising the rights and injustices relating to minority communities are welcome, Turkey still has not gone far enough in admitting that it is a multicultural society whose long-term success can only be guaranteed by the recognition, even celebration, of that diversity. Whereas the concept of ‘one country, one people, one language’ served its purpose in the construction of the Turkish Republic, it is now out-dated, even harmful.

Mr Erdogan has made some concessions to Turkey’s Kurdish minority, including granting some linguistic and cultural rights, though much more needs to be done. Moreover, the return to armed conflict is a huge mistake – by both sides in the dispute – as there can never be a military solution to the Kurdish question. That can only come about through dialogue and compromise, in which Abdullah Ocalan must be a participant.

Until the Kurdish issue is settled it is unlikely Turkey could be admitted into full membership of the European Union, to which some European countries (notably Austria, Cyprus, France and Germany) are currently opposed. But that should not stop countries such as Britain that are firmly in favour of Turkey’s eventual membership, arguing the case, so that Turkey one day is embraced into the European family to which it belongs.

The writer and broadcaster Jonathan Fryer lectures part-time at SOAS. This is a summary of remarks he made at a recent meeting organised by FPC and the Centre for Turkey Studies and Development in the House of Commons.

1 comment:

Alan Constable said...

This assessment of contradiction seems less well understood within the EU and is now ignored completely in the US as Turkey has succombed to hosting the radar base in Malatya.

The Ergenekon and Sledgehammer coup trials maybe originally had a minimal base in reality but are now purely revenge against any previous opponents. The EU's acceptance of the detention of Gen (ret) Basbug is shortsighted failing to judge the actual conditions of the specific country in question against a utopian ideal based on European norms, sadly lacking here.

Students are held indefinitely without charge for simply protesting in favour of a free education. The journalist issue is well documented but continues. Tuncay Ozkan has been held now for three years without charge simply for organising anti-government rallies (that gained up to one million protestors at a time) before the 2007 elections.

Now the government proposes to reduce defence time to 15 minutes in these trials. It also proposes to reduce the opposition's parliamentary time to one MP per party at 10 minutes in each debate.
Their special arrangments for the changes to the president's term are now unconstitutional and similar to Russia's shenanigans.

Democracy is not limited to free elections. Nor is it limited to having the mechanisms such as local government and allowing NGOs. It is more than ruling in the name of your supporters, oppressing the rest and destroying every last vestage of opposition.

A closer inspection of the reality in Turkey is required.