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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why Turkey's EU accession talks should end

Over five years ago (my goodness, has it been that long?) I wrote my masters thesis on some of the changes happening in Turkey and the importance of the continued involvement of the military in politics to preserve Turkey's sacred secularism. All this was discussed within the context of EU accession talks looked upon skeptically by generals and enthusiastically by the government who knew that EU-mandated 'reforms' would eventually curb the influence of their nemeses in uniform.

(I don't expect anyone to read the entire document that is gathering dust in my storage unit and on my parent's shelf in Ankara, so the thesis is summarized in an article (found here) published the subsequent year.)

Almost exactly one year ago, I published another two-part article that expressed grave concern over a referendum that resulted in a further decrease in the Turkish military's involvement in politics. From an outsider's perspective perhaps you might think that's a good thing. As a 50% outsider, 50% Turk, I 100% do not. Although not uniquely responsible, that referendum could not have happened without strong support from the west. Many western leaders even congratulated Erdogan on the results, praising the "vibrancy of Turkish democracy" that it showed. I only hope that this was 'diplomatic speak' that included some embedded secret code exposing what this truly means for Turkey.

So today I'd like to turn my attentions back to the west - specifically the European Union. I will be thanking them for their pigheadedness, periodic xenophobia, and overall lack of desire to ever have Turkey included in their midst. Congratulations to the EU on being used as tools of a highly effective incumbent Turkish political machine that arguably never wanted to join in the first place.

Five years ago I wrote that "it is the Turkish military’s stabilizing role in politics that troubles Europeans because they overlook the fact that it is the military they attempt to reform that is the protector of the democratic ideals they want to perpetuate." This lack of understanding of Turkey's (shall we say former?) style of democracy - one that promoted democratic participation while at the same time curbing fundamentalism - has been systematically and wholeheartedly exploited by Prime Minister Erdogan and his political cronies.

Even before Turkey's military brass resigned en masse this July, it's influenced had been seriously waning thanks to 'reforms' championed under the guise of EU accession and culminating in the aforementioned game-changing referendum of 2010. This left many Turks throwing their hands up in the air in despair and others (foolishly) hoping that the EU would come to the rescue after having seen the true nature of Turkey's Islamist leaders and, subsequently, the follies of their ways. Alas, no such luck.

To their credit, a few European leaders (not to mention Obama) have potentially seen the writing on the wall. Although it's been a while since we've heard similar rhetoric from him, British PM David Cameron expressed anger at the slow pace of negotiations with Turkey in mid 2010. Undoubtedly he sees the massive cultural and political expansion of Turkey into the Arab world as troubling. Potentially useful if Turkey chooses to play in the European proverbial sandbox... potentially disastrous if they choose instead to settle in the actual sandbox to the south.

I used to be afraid of what Arabs would think of me (as someone who looks/speaks like a Westerner) after the Iraq war started, only to realize that all I had to do was tell them I was Turkish... voila, we were instant family! "I love [insert name of stereotypical Turkish melodrama here]! It's my dream to go to Turkey!"

Gone are the days of Turkish isolationism towards the Arab world (not a terrible trend in my opinion - I'm a fan of dealing with your neighbors whomever they may be). Unfortunately, gone also are the days where Turkey was seen as a natural partner with the west. Cameron must have sensed that the EU is losing Turkey. Very savvy of him, albeit a little late in the game.

Of course it is easy to blame Erdogan for incessant manipulation and his fundamentalist sheep for devouring his every populist word. Trust me, it's easy - I've done it before. But quite frankly, I would expect nothing less of any intelligent, politically adept, power-hungry Islamist given the right opportunity. His ability to control all parts of government, and now the military, is awe-inspiring and terrifying; but he didn't do this alone. By effectively hiding behind the EU's initial support to his brand of 'moderate Islam' and their desire to see the military's role decreased, he was able to build what appears to be an unstoppable empire. All this while continuing to have the overt support of many in the west, including (until recently) many in the western media. Quite an impressive accomplishment when you think about it.

He needed the Europeans' help in achieving his vision of utter domination of Turkish politics and integration of fundamental Islam into all facets of life. Ironically, he probably suspected (as I did at the time - hence the thesis) that the EU never wanted Turkey in their midst in the first place, so selectively agreeing with their calls for political military reform played right into his hands.

Given the political chaos that has characterized the EU essentially since it's inception and the general malaise towards Turkey among Europeans, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that they've been an easy pawn for the politically savvy Erdogan.

But it's time for a change. Enough is enough.


Dear EU,

Please end accession talks for Turkey. Now. Today.

Turkey's economy is stronger than yours and you don't seem to realize how much you and your declining birth rates need us anyways. Despite this, if your people/politicians don't want Turkey for whatever reason and it's unlikely that accession will ever take place (c'mon, don't deny it), don't continue negotiations. Doing so only perpetuates a situation whereby you are being manipulated for the political gain of Islamic fundamentalists in Turkey and potentially even fomenting more anti-European sentiment among the immigrant populations in your own countries... don't you see the irony?

Don't worry, I will still stop by periodically to enjoy your food, public transportation and funny accents. You won't get rid of me that easily.

Yours truly,