Books on Turkey
Update No: 115 - (21/12/06)
Papal visit a great landmark
Turkey is a crucial country for more reasons than one. It bridges Europe, Asia
and the Middle East, it has a secular state, rare in the Islamic world and it
offers a model for the whole region to follow.
The visit of the Pope was a landmark event, more especially as he had ruffled
feathers by some tactless remarks in September about Islam. It was rather an
extraordinary lapse for an astute man to make. He made amends with great aplomb
by conducting himself with dignity and manifest good will throughout his
four-day visit, November 28-December 1.
Pope Benedict XVI took the most momentous steps of his pontificate on November
28th. They carried him, as he said, across a "bridge", from one world
to another: from Europe to Asia, from Christianity to Islam, from the tender
embrace of Catholic Europe - the Italian state sent him on his way with
ministers and high officials, they closed Rome's airport and escorted him out of
Italian airspace with air force fighters - to a nation that has left no possible
doubt that it views his arrival with the greatest diffidence.
For weeks the Vatican had been bracing itself for a nasty snub: the Prime
Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, a devout Muslim whose wife does not go outdoors
without a headscarf, would be away in Latvia at the Nato summit, it was
explained, and could not meet Benedict.
But the Pope is a head of state, and Turkey's sights are still set on the
European Union; why give more ammunition to those countries - the Austrians and
French and Germans - who want the Turkish shadow banished from the EU? And so an
airport meeting was arranged at the last minute. They sat, Benedict and Erdogan,
under a portrait of Ataturk, father of the modern Turkish state. They exchanged
gifts, a painting for the Pope, a medal for the Turk. And they had a little,
sotto voce chat.
Afterwards Mr Erdogan briefed the press on what they had said. "I welcomed
him," he said, "and said that I hoped his visit would be fruitful for
world peace... As you know, we never build upon hate, but I gave my condolences
for the murder" - of an Italian Catholic priest, in February - "in the
city of Trabizon. But I said that this should not be seen as a Muslim doing this
to a Catholic."
Papal approval for EU bid just as Merkel changes her mind
All quite unexceptionable. But then he pounced. "I asked the Pope for
his help with our application to join the European Union," said the sly Mr
Erdogan. As everybody in Turkey and many people elsewhere know, the Pope (when
he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) is on the record as strenuously opposing
Turkey's joining the EU, because its Muslim religion made it too "strongly
contrasted" with Christian Europe.
Still, the Prime Minister popped the question: would the Pope help? Yes,
according to the Prime Minister. "And the Pope said, as you know we are not
political, but we will help Turkey's case."
Is that what Benedict said? Is the Holy See going to give Turkey's EU
application an obliging shove? It took about three hours for an embarrassed
Vatican to produce its own version. Then out it came, a scrupulous, lawyerly,
clause-by-clause clarification. The Pope "has neither the power nor the
specific political duty to intervene on this precise point," said the
spokesman, Federico Lombardi, in a written statement. "But he sees
positively and encourages the passage of dialogue for the inserting of Turkey in
the EU, on the basis of specific common values."
The reply hauled the Pope back from a position 180 degrees distant from his
stated view on the subject to the carefully finessed, multiply interpretable
type of ambiguity which is the Holy See's favourite diplomatic ground.
A very much more important ally in the matter was secured in December, Angela
Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany. She has reversed her opposition to Turkish
entry into the EU. She now backs it. As Germany is assuming the EU presidency in
January this is a timely accession of an ally, indeed.
The French presidential hopeful, Nicholas Sarkozy, opposes Turkish membership,
as does former president Giscard. So do many of the French. But the whole matter
is most unlikely to come to a head for decades. Plenty of time for a change of
Cyprus issue and the Kurds
The Turks need to change their stance too, notably on Cyprus. It is trying
to have a quid pro quo with the EU that is a non-starter. It is prepared to lift
its trade embargo with the Greek Cypriot ports if the EU does its own with
Turkish Cypriot ones. It would be tantamount to a de facto recognition of the
Turkish Cypriot entity.
Nothing can come of this. Ankara is not in a strong bargaining position here. It
will have to bend sooner or later.
Either it wants Northern Cyprus or EU entry. It cannot have both. Moreover, it
will have to end its military presence there. The EU will never admit a new
member that is in occupation of some territory of a member state, which Greek
Cyprus is, even though their political leaders behaved hypocritically over the
UN referendum on the island's future.
Ankara will also have to moderate its policies towards the Kurds, which are
discriminated against in many ways. That the EU could have leverage here is
doubtless what has made Merkel change her mind
An important plus here is that the Kurds have announced a unilateral peace
declaration from October 1st. They are extending an olive branch. Ankara should
capialise on the initiative.
Turkic Union conference
An even more important development has taken place than the Papal visit or
the Merkel volte face or the Kurdish peace move,
The results of the November 17th summit of the leaders of Turkic-speaking
nations exceeded the expectations of many diplomats and political analysts. The
presidents of Azerbaijan, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey took the first steps
toward the creation of a Turkic commonwealth, giving an enthusiastic endorsement
to efforts aimed at strengthening energy and security ties.
The four leaders, along with Turkmenistan's envoy to Turkey, gathered at the
Turkish Mediterranean resort city of Antalya for the summit, the eighth such
gathering of its kind, but the first held in five years. Officials from
Uzbekistan, who had been slated to attend, ended up boycotting the event due to
a breakdown in relations with Turkey, which has been critical of the human
rights record of the dire Uzbek regime.
The participants signed a declaration committing the Turkic states to strengthen
economic and transport ties, while stressing "the importance of the joint
fight against terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, drug
smuggling, weapons smuggling, human smuggling and other organized crimes."
The statement also endorsed the concepts of Turkey's accession to the European
Union, and a peace settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that leaves the
territory under Azerbaijan's control.
"We declare that we support a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict in accordance with the principle of the territorial integrity of
Azerbaijan, and that we will further support fraternal Azerbaijan in this
dispute," Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said.
The four leaders underlined both the "increasing importance of the Caspian
Basin for the energy security of Europe" and the "strategic importance
of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan [BTC] oil pipeline opening and the [expected]
completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum [BTE] natural gas pipeline." These
offer Kazakstan alternative routes for its energy exports to Russian ones.
They also stressed the importance of the possible addition of trans-Caspian
transportation routes to both the BTC and the BTE. Sezer stressed in his opening
speech the importance of involving energy-rich Turkmenistan in the summit
process, and vowed that Ankara would work to facilitate energy exports from the
Caspian Basin to Europe via Turkey. Turkic leaders underlined in the Antalya
declaration that "increasing energy cooperation would positively and
directly contribute to economic and political stability" in Eurasia.
Nazarbayev springs a surprise
Kazakhstan is the key player here in that it has truly vast energy resources
- and other mineral ones for that matter. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev
took observers, and even many participants, by surprise by proposing the
creation of a Turkic parliamentary assembly. Nazarbayev went on to nominate
former Turkish president and prime minister Suleyman Demirel to serve as the
proposed assembly's first chairman.
Nazarbayev's proposal was indicative of his interest in exploring the
feasibility of a full-blown Turkic commonwealth. "We have to discuss
it," Kazakshtani Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev
told EurasiaNet, referring to the commonwealth possibility.
It would appear that Nazarbayev, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and
Kyrgyzstani leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev now see closer cooperation as a way to
leverage the collective influence of "200 million Turks," as
Nazarbayev put it, in pursit of specific policy aims.
"The problem of one Turkic-speaking nation must be the problem of other
Turkic-speaking nations," the Anatolia news agency quoted Aliyev as saying.
Observers interpreted his comments as meaning Turkic states should collectively
push for results in Turkey's EU accession process and Azerbaijan's Karabakh
peace talks that are satisfactory to Ankara and Baku respectively.
Momentous consequences for Europe and others
If the Turkic states actually opted to coordinate diplomatic action, they
might have the collective muscle to alter the existing equilibrium in many
In the case of Turkey's troubled drive to join the EU, for example, a Turkic
commonwealth could influence Brussels' decision-making calculus by playing the
energy card, letting it be known that a rebuff of Ankara could hinder the EU's
access to Central Asian energy supplies.
Kyrgyzstani diplomats also stressed that closer cooperation would enhance
Bishkek's international profile. Kanat Tursunkulov, a top Kyrgyz Foreign
Ministry official, said President Bakiyev's attendance at the summit, despite
the "recent troubles" in Bishkek, underscored the Kyrgyz government's
position that closer cooperation among Turkic states is a top political
US wants Turkey admitted to EU
A leading US official on December 4th warned the European Union against closing
the door on Turkish membership of the 25-nation bloc, saying such a move would
be a major "strategic miscalculation."
US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, told reporters
in Brussels that Washington firmly backed Ankara's drive to join the EU, New
"We see this as a strategic decision. Turkey is a European country. Europe
cannot be complete without Turkey ...we hope that the various problems between
the two can be overcome," Burns said at a meeting of the Organisation for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The US envoy said the EU's decision last year to open accession talks with
Turkey - "a major secular Muslim democracy" - was one of the most
important decisions made by Europe at the beginning of the 21st century.
"Closing the door (on Turkey) could be a major strategic
miscalculation," Burns warned, adding that building bridges between the
West and the Islamic world was a key challenge. "Turkey is the
bridge," he underlined.
The US has a long history of supporting Turkish positions, even against EU
member Greece, as America has important political, strategic, military and
economic ties with Turkey.
Burns' comments came after the European Commission cautioned Germany and France
against giving new ultimatums to Turkey over opening its ports to Cypriot
vessels, saying experience had shown such deadlines did not work.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac have called
for tougher conditions on Turkey's bid to join the EU, and a spokeswoman for EU
enlargement chief Olli Rehn said Turkey's relations with Cyprus could only be
solved in the context of a comprehensive United Nations deal.
Experience had shown that when it came to Turkey's dealings with Cyprus,
"strict deadlines do not produce results," the spokeswoman Krisztina
Nagy said. "We need to look for a balanced solution," Nagy said. The
commission called for a partial freeze in Turkey's EU membership talks after
Ankara refused EU demands for opening its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot
But Nagy said the EU must also keep Turkey's accession process alive given the
country's "strategic importance" to the EU, and the European
Commission on December 7 said a last-minute Turkish offer to open one port and
an airport to Greek Cypriot traffic appeared to be a "significant
move" although details of the initiative were still unclear.
Echoing similar views, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told
reporters in Berlin that Turkey appeared to be showing a "cautious
readiness to make concessions."
If these proposals were constructive they represented "positive
elements" to be taken into consideration by European Union foreign
ministers who meet in Brussels this week and by the bloc's leaders who gather in
the Belgian capital for an EU summit on December 14th-15th.
Plans to continue coordination with Syria
Syrian President, Bashar Assad, held talks on December 6th with Turkish Prime
Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the latest regional developments, mainly in
Iraq and Lebanon, news reports said.
Both leaders "stressed the necessity to push efforts to reduce current
tensions in the region and the importance of cooperation among states in the
region to secure security and stability in it," SANA news agency reported.
They agreed to "continue coordination and consultation on all issues in the
region and issues of mutual interest," the report added. Erdogan had flown
into Damascus earlier on December 6 and was greeted at the airport by his Syrian
counterpart Mohammad Naji Otari. His trip comes just days after a visit to Iran,
in what appeared to be the latest drive by Ankara to shoulder greater
responsibility for regional stability.
Erdogan had said his talks in Damascus would focus on many of the same issues he
discussed over the weekend in Tehran, including rising tensions in Lebanon, the
insurgency in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has since departed
for Turkey, SANA added.
On December 5th, US President George W Bush's nominee to become secretary of
defence, Robert Gates, praised Turkey's role as a constructive partner in the
Middle East. In a statement made on the eve of his visit to Syria, Erdogan
stressed the importance of coordination and cooperation among Iraq's
neighbouring countries, especially Turkey, Syria and Iran. Both leaders
continued talks at a lunch before Erdogan departed for Turkey, SANA added.