Professor of political science, Tennessee Technological University
On October 3, 2005, Turkey’s1 longstanding Kurdish problem2 potentially entered a new phase when the European Union formally initiated accession negotiations with Turkey.3 Although this process promises to be long and arduous, it also represents a watershed opportunity for the solution of Turkey’s Kurdish problem. The Copenhagen Criteria required for EU membership mandate the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and protection of minority rights. There is no bargaining on these criteria. Turkey is required to accept them for entry into the EU. For all Turkish citizens (ethnic Turks and ethnic Kurds alike) who want to fulfill Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s ultimate goal of achieving contemporary civilization4, EU member- ship for Turkey would be a win/win situation because it would guarantee truly democratic Kurdish rights within the confines of Turkey’s territorial integrity.
Turkey’s EU candidacy would also help put the lie to the clash-of-civilizations thesis5 of inevitable war and even Armageddon between the Christian West and Islamic East. As a member of the EU, Turkey would offer the Muslim world an attractive moderate model of cooperation and prosperity with the West that would benefit all. In addition, young, hardworking Turkish immigrants will help solve Europe’s population problem of a zero growth rate not being sufficient to support the EU’s welfare states. Furthermore, Turkey’s geostrategic access to the gas and oil supplies of the Middle East and Central Asia will make Turkey invaluable for the EU’s future energy needs as well as providing alternative energy routes to Europe.
However, the Turkish EU candidacy should not be supported naively. Kerim Yildiz is the executive director of the Kurdish Human Rights Project in London and a member of the Board of Directors of the EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) promoting Turkey’s EU candidacy as a way to solve the Kurdish problem. Yildiz has aptly demonstrated the many pitfalls that Turkey, the Kurds and the EU must face along the way.6 On the one hand, Yildiz optimistically declares that “for the Kurds, the stipulations in the field of minority and human rights attendant to the accession process offer unparalleled scope to achieve long-term justice and security.
Already, the prospect of accession has triggered rapid and extensive legislativereforms since 2002.”7 On the other hand, Yildiz warns, “questions must be asked as to whether Turkey has truly changed her colours, and whether the EU’s decision to open accession talks was based on a genuinely objective appraisal of Turkish progress on democratization and human rights.”8
Recent Turkish reforms to meet EU- mandated criteria sometimes appear to be merely paper concessions, tokens or simply sham measures. Similarly, in December 1991, Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel declared that “Turkey has recognized the Kurdish reality.”9 Two years later, the new prime minister, Tansu Ciller, broached the “Basque model” as a potential formula for solving Turkey’s Kurdish problem after a meeting with the Spanish prime minister.10 Then, in December 1999, the former prime minister, Mesut Yilmaz, declared that “the road to the EU passes through Diyarbakir,”11 the largest city in Turkey’s southeast and long considered the unofficial capital of the historic Kurdish provinces in Turkey. Finally, in August 2005, the current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, declared that Turkey had a “Kurdish problem,” had made “grave mistakes” in the past, and now needed “more democracy to solve the problem.”12 Unfortunately, none of these official governmental declarations led to any concrete results.
Similarly, a century ago, the English diplomat Sir Charles Eliot contrasted the theoretical and real worlds of Turkish laws:
If one takes as a basis the laws, statistics and budgets as printed, it is easy to prove that the Ottoman empire is in a state of unexampled prosperity. Life and property are secure; perfect liberty and toleration are enjoyed byall; taxation is light, balances large, trade flourishing. Those who have not an extensive personal acquaintance with Turkey may regard such ac- counts with suspicion and think them coloured, but they find it difficult to realize that all this official literature is absolute fiction, and for practical purposes unworthy of a moment’s attention.13
WHAT IS NEW TODAY?
In September 2006, Camiel Eurlings, a Dutch parliamentarian and the Turkey rapporteur of the EU Parliament, submitted a new draft report approved by the Parliament’s Foreign Relations Commit- tee.14 The Eurlings Report harshly criticized Turkey and concluded that it was not ready for EU membership. Specifically, the report complained that the pace of Turkish reforms had slowed down since 2005.
Significant further efforts were required in regard to fundamental freedoms and human rights, in particular with regard to freedom of expression, women’s rights, religious freedoms, trade-union rights and cultural rights, as well as further measures against torture. In addition, a dispute over the rights of new EU member (Greek or Southern) Cyprus to use Turkish sea and airports threatened to result in what Olli Rehn, the EU Enlargement Commissioner, termed a “train crash” in Turkey’s EU candidacy talks. Turkey refused to accede to the EU demands on Cyprus as long as the EU failed to honor its own pledge to reduce the isolation of the Turkish community in (Turkish or Northern) Cyprus.15 In November 2006, the EU Commission released its new Progress Report on Turkey which would guide its policies towards it in the following year. This new report basically reiterated the oft-repeated criticisms — already broached by the earlier Eurlings Report cited above — that Turkey was dragging its heels in implementing required political reforms and demanded significant improvements in 2007 if Turkey were to remain on track to join the EU.16 In December 2006, the EU appeared close to suspending accession negotiations in several sections because of the Cyprus imbroglio.
A year after EU accession talks began in 2005, only one-third of Turkey’s population — dramatically fewer than merely a year earlier — still believed their state should join the EU.17 This negativity was mirrored in the EU itself, where a survey in June 2006 showed that 55 percent of the population opposed Turkish membership. In Austria, where memories of the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 still linger, 81 percent opposed Turkish membership. Turkey’s nationalist-statist domestic elite has joined its nationalist-xenophobic counterparts in the EU to oppose Turkey’s EU candidacy. In Turkey, this has led to disillusionment, a slowdown, and even regression in the EU-required reform and harmonization process.
During the 1990s, Article 312 of the Turkish Penal Code notoriously could make mere verbal or written support for Kurdish rights cause one to be charged with “provoking hatred or animosity between groups of different race, religion, region or social class.” Yasar Kemal, one of Turkey’s most famous novelists, and Aliza Marcus, a Reuters correspondent and U.S. citizen, were indicted in 1995 for violating these provisions through acts that came to be known as “thought crime.”
The EU harmonization process led to a new Penal Code entering into force in June 2005. Despite some improvements regard- ing women’s rights and the theoretical curtailment of torture, the fundamental problem of putting state security before the rule of law and individual rights remained. This problem has been egregiously illustrated by Article 301, under whose terms even the recent Nobel-Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk was prosecuted for denigrating “Turkishness.” Since it has gone into effect, the vagueness of Article 301 has been used by extreme nationalists and statists to accuse writers, scholars, and intellectuals of treason and subversion.
Indeed, in the case of Elif Shafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul, Article 301 has even been used to prosecute the author for remarks made about the Armenian massacres by a fictional character. Much more seriously, Hrant Dink, the recently assassinated Armenian-Turkish writer and editor, was given a suspended prison sentence for violating Article 301 in a piece he wrote about the Armenian issue. Dink was assassinated on January 19, 2007, apparently by an extreme Turkish nationalist, in part, because of the passions aroused by Dink’s conviction for violating Article 301. Although nobody has yet actually been imprisoned for violating Article 301, its mere presence and the suits that have occurred have placed a chilling effect over freedom of speech and press in Turkey.
Indeed, it is difficult to see how Article 301 represents any improvement over its predecessor in the Turkish Penal Code, Article 312.
New Anti-Terrorism Law (TMY)
During the 1990s, Article 8 of the Anti- Terrorism Law also notoriously made it possible to consider academics, intellectuals and journalists, when speaking up for Kurdish rights, to be engaging in terrorist acts: “Written and oral propaganda and assemblies, meetings and demonstrations aimed at damaging the indivisible unity of the Turkish Republic, with its territory and nation are prohibited, regardless of the methods, intentions and ideas behind such activities.” Under these provisions, practically anybody could be imprisoned for advocating a political solution to the Kurdish problem, and hundreds were.
The new Anti-Terrorism law (TMY) that entered into force in 2006 represents a step backwards and constitutes an affront to the rule of law. Its definition of terrorism is too vague, overly broad, and lacking in clarity concerning the nature of the crime. Article 6 of the new law has the potential to make anybody who expresses an idea contrary to the official state ideology guilty of being a “terrorist,” even when the accused may be completely opposed to the use of violence. Under Article 6, “terrorist offenses broadened to include the carrying of an emblem, signs or placards of a terrorist organization and attempting to conceal your own identity during a demon- stration. Indeed, mere criticism of the law can result in an accusation of “terrorism.” Info Turk declared that even the “Turkish media criticized the government’s proposal,. . . saying the draft [of the TMY] defined too many actions as terror and could easily be misused.”18 The Cumhuriyet newspa- per devoted its front page to criticizing the proposed law: “The reforms passed in the European Union process will be erased by a definition of terror that encompasses all crimes. . . . There is nothing left out in the definition.”19 Furthermore, Article 7 of the TMY too broadly defines the offense of “financing terror” to include providing funds “directly or indirectly” knowing they would “entirely or partially” be used to commit terror crimes. Under such definitions, it will be difficult for the ordinary, law-abiding Turkish citizen to regulate his/her behavior so as to avoid criminal liability. Finally, according to Nalan Erkem, a lawyer for the Izmir Bar Association’s Prevention of Torture Group (IOG): “The arrangements the draft (TMY) makes with regard to access to an attorney take away all of the rights of the defendant. . . . While it opens the way for torture and mistreatment, the draft also aims to prevent lawyers from proving their existence.”20
The fundamental legal problem regard- ing the definition and protection of minori- ties in Turkey stems from the definition of the term “minority” in the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), under which the West first recognized the new Republic of Turkey. According to this treaty, only non- Muslims such as Greeks, Armenians and Jews were granted minority status in Turkey. The seemingly obstinate refusal in the modern Republic of Turkey to admit that its citizens of Kurdish ethnic heritage constitute a minority can be understood in light of the old Ottoman principle that Islam took precedence over nationality among Muslims and that only non-Muslims could hold some type of officially recognized minority status.
This interpretation can be further understood against the background of the gradual disintegration of the Ottoman Empire before the onslaughts of various nationalisms during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Indeed, the modern Republic of Turkey itself was established only after a long and terrible struggle against the invading Greeks, who were pursuing their Megali idea of a greater Greece after World War I, with British encouragement, and a lesser but still serious war against the Armenians, pursu- ing their goal of a greater Armenia also with tacit allied backing. Finally, the Kurds themselves, during the Sheikh Said rebel- lion of 1925, were seen as trying to destroy the new secular republic by reinstating the caliph and creating a Kurdish state in the southeast of Turkey.21
Even today this concept of minority prevails within Turkey. For example, Necmettin Erbakan, who became modern Turkey’s first Islamist prime minister in July 1996, declared: “We have bonds of brotherhood. There is nothing more absurd than ethnic differentiation among Muslim brothers.”22 Articles 14, 26, 27 and 28 of the current (1982) Turkish constitution allow Turkish authorities to incriminate nonviolent expressions of ethnic identity simply on the basis that they are contrary to the constitutional definition of “Turkish” and a danger to the integrity of the state. In 2005, for example, Professors Baskim Oran and Ibrahim Ozden Keboglu were prosecuted for simply arguing in a report regarding EU harmonization laws and commissioned by the prime minister’s own office, that “Turk” is an identity of only one ethnic group and that Turkey also includes other ethnic groups such as “Kurds.”
Given the present Turkish position, even Kurdish names containing the com- mon Kurdish letters “w,” “x” and “q” cannot be officially recognized and used because children can only be given names that use the Turkish language’s alphabet, in which these three letters do not appear. In addition, therefore, the Kurdish New
Year’s holiday “Newroz” is referred to by the government as “Nevroz.” Ironically, of course, the letter “W” appears on the door of virtually every public toilet in Turkey. Finally, Article 49(9) of the constitution still mandates that no language other than Turkish can be taught as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at institutions of training or education. The recent theoretical legalization of Kurdish language classes was in practice prevented by overly onerous technical requirements.
In November 2006, Hans Jorg Kretscher, the outgoing head of the EU Commission in Ankara, called on Turkey to recognize the identity of the Kurds and supported the notion of Turkiyeli [of Turkey] as a replacement for the term “Turk.”23 He also declared: “It is necessary to recognize the identity of the Kurds, to recognize that Kurds are Kurds, and Kurds are not Turks. They are Turkish citizens, and they want to be Turkish citizens, but they are Kurds. You cannot deny that.” General Yasar Buyukanit, the new chief of the General Staff, however, refused to countenance the concept of the Kurds as a legally protected minority, replying: “Approaches based on race are a shame in this century. Such approaches are an insult to the Turkey of Kemal Ataturk. . . . Ataturk would have been deeply saddened if he had lived through these days.”
While nobody can for sure say what Ataturk’s position would be, it is not neces- sarily given that he would support the extreme Turkish nationalist position today on the Kurdish issue. Given his documented determination to see Turkey become a modern country and part of the West, it is entirely possible that in today’s world a leader of Ataturk’s mettle would recognize the tremendous progress Turkey has made since his times — to the extent that loyal particularisms are no longer inconsistent with Turkish territorial integrity — and thus support Kurdish demands for their rights within Turkey as being in contemporary Turkish self-interest. In other words, the Kurds should not so easily dismiss the founder of modern Turkey as their inveterate enemy and even consider adopting him on occasion as one of their rallying points.
Indeed, to do so might emphasize Kurdish loyalty to Turkey and begin to attract more support from ethnic Turks. Abdullah (Apo) Ocalan himself, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), agreed with this idea when I interviewed him in March 1998: “I agree that if Ataturk were alive today, he would change Turkey’s policy.”24
Compounding the problem of Turkey’s definition of a minority, even the Kurds decline to pursue official minority status within Turkey. Rather, they seek to be recognized as a “constituent people” of that state. This presumably would imply that, along with the ethnic Turks, the Kurds are equal stakeholders in the Republic of Turkey. Minority status, although guaranteeing full democratic rights, would imply less than full equality as co-founders and co-owners of the Republic of Turkey.
Turkey’s longstanding mindset against Kurdish identity will not end by mere verbal declaration. This Turkish prejudice against the legitimacy of the Kurdish identity reminds one in some respects of the former prejudice against African-Americans in the United States.25 Although the United States still has to make progress on this issue, the genuine reforms it has instituted during the past half- century and the resulting stronger state of the nation might serve as a useful model for Turkey.
The EU Commission’s unwillingness to address the Kurdish problem as a cohesive issue is also troubling. Instead, the EU implicitly seems to agree with Turkey that the Kurdish problem is just a terrorism issue or at most a limited human-rights problem. If the EU prematurely accepts Turkey as a member, it will damage its own human-rights commitments and jeopardize its long-term credibility. It is to be hoped that Turkey’s EU candidacy can be promoted in such a manner as to genuinely help solve its Kurdish prob- lem within the confines of Turkey’s territorial integrity as well as creating a healthy democratic Turkey that will benefit all of its citizens, as well as the EU.
In the past, we were told that France was too unstable to make democracy work,26 while Germany was too authoritarian.27 Today, however, we see how these charac- terizations eventually proved untrue. The same can be said for other states such as Spain, Italy and Japan. A similar evolution is possible for Turkey. This great state can make democracy work for all its citizens, and the entire world will be better for it.
1 For background analyses on Turkey, see Feroz Ahmad, The Making of Modern Turkey (Routledge, 1993); Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (Oxford University Press, 1968); and Erik Zurcher, Turkey: A Modern History (I.B. Tauris, 1997).
2 For background analyses of the Kurdish problem in Turkey, see Henri J. Barkey and Graham E. Fuller, Turkey’s Kurdish Question (Rowman & Littlefield, 1998); Michael M. Gunter, The Kurds and the Future of Turkey (St. Martin’s Press, 1997); Kemal Kirisci and Gareth M. Winrow, The Kurdish Question and Turkey: An Example of a Trans-state Ethnic Conflict (Frank Cass, 1997); and Paul White, Primitive Rebels or Revolutionary Moderniz- ers? The Kurdish National Movement in Turkey (Zed, 2000). See also David McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds (I.B. Tauris, 1996), pp. 395-444.
3 For background analyses of Turkey’s EU candidacy, see Harun Arikan, Turkey and the EU: An Awkward Candidate for EU Membership? (Ashgate Publishing Company, 2006); Michael Lake, ed., The EU & Turkey: A Glittering Prize or a Millstone (London: The Federal Trust for Education and Research, 2005); and Sedat Laciner, Mehmet Ozcan, and Ihsan Bal, European Union with Turkey: The Possible Impact of Turkey’s Membership on the European Union (Ankara: ISRO Publication, 2005).
4 Andrew Mango, Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey (Overlook Press, 2000), pp. 219, 479, 527, and 538.
5 This term was coined by Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, Summer 1993, pp. 22-49. Also see his further elaboration, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Simon & Schuster, 1996).
6 Kerim Yildiz, The Kurds in Turkey: EU Accession and Human Rights (Pluto Press, 2005). See also the background papers for the second and third international conferences sponsored by the EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) on “The EU, Turkey, and the Kurds,” European Parliament, Brussels, September 19-20, 2005: by Hans Branscheidt, “Turkish Accession to the European Union: Human Rights and the Kurds”; and Kerim Yildiz et al., “Third International Conference on EU, Turkey and the Kurds,” European Parliament, Brussels, October 16-17, 2006.
7 Yildiz, Kurds in Turkey, p. 20.
9 “Kurdish Reality Recognized,” Ankara Anatolia in English, 1505 GMT, December 8, 1991, as cited in Foreign Broadcast Information Service — West Europe, December 9, 1991, p. 55.
10 Barkey and Fuller, Turkey’s Kurdish Question, p. 137.
11 “Yilmaz: Road to EU Passes through Diyarbakir,” Turkish Daily News, December 17, 1999.
12 “The Sun Also Rises in the South East,” Briefing (Ankara), August 15, 2005.
13 Charles Eliot [Odysseus], Turkey in Europe (2nd ed. 1908; Reprint. Edward Arnold, 1966), p. 130.
14 The following discussion is largely based on “Heading for a Crisis in Turkish-EU Ties?” Briefing (Ankara), September 11, 2006, pp. 7-14.
15 In 2004, the Turkish Cypriots supported a UN plan to end the longstanding Cyprus dispute, but the Greek Cypriots refused. Nevertheless, the EU went ahead with rewarding the Greek Cypriots with EU membership, while the Turkish Cypriots remained economically isolated and ostracized. Turkey argued that the situation resulted in a biased and hypocritically unfair situation.
16 Commission of the European Community, Commission Staff Working Document: Turkey 2006 Progress Report (Com  649 final), November 11, 2006.
17 Simon Hooper, “Turkey Caught at a Crossroads,” CNN, October 25, 2006.
18 “New Anti-Terror Law: End of the Timid Democratisation,” Info Turk, No. 333, May 2006, citing New Anatolian and other media, April 19, 2006. (http://www.info-turk.be/index.html#Activists).
20 O. Korket, “Anti-Terror Schemes May Encourage Torture,” BIA News Center, April 26, 2006, as cited in Info Turk, No. 333, May 2006 (http://www.info-turk.be/index.html#Activists).
21 On the first major Kurdish rebellion in the Republic of Turkey, see Robert Olson, The Emergence of Kurdish Nationalism and the Sheikh Said Rebellion, 1880-1925 (University of Texas Press, 1989).
22 “Prosperity Party Leader Interviewed,” Ankara Show Television in Turkish, 2030 GMT, January 31, 1994; as cited in Foreign Broadcast Information Service — West Europe, Febuary 3, 1994, p. 41.
23 The following citations and discussion are largely based on “EU, Buyukanit Clash on Ethnic Identity,” Turkish Daily News, November 4, 2006.
24 See Michael M. Gunter, “Abdullah Ocalan: We Are Fighting Turks Everywhere,” Middle East Quarterly 5, June 1998, p. 81. In his writings published since his capture, Ocalan has continued to argue similarly, much to the chagrin of most of his followers and surprise of his enemies, who all are probably too narrow-minded to appreciate the possibilities in such a position.
25 On the historic racial situation in the United States, see C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (Oxford University Press, 1957).
26 Mark Kesselman, “France,” in Mark Kesselman, Joel Krieger et al., European Politics in Transition (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002), p. 246.
27 Christopher S. Allen, “Germany,” in ibid., p. 323.