- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2004

ISTANBUL — Nerves were on edge ahead of a European Commission decision today on whether to recommend opening membership talks with Ankara, with many Turks smarting at outspoken opposition to the move from European capitals.

“In the ‘60s, when hippies were coming to Istanbul, we thought that all Europeans were like them. Now we’re being judged by the Turks that have gone to Europe to work there, but they’ve got us wrong,” said Suleyman Yazici, owner of a business that imports machinery from Germany.

Ferai Tinc, a columnist for the leading daily paper Hurriyet, took issue with suggestions that predominantly Christian Europe should not open its doors to mainly Muslim Turkey.

“I’d like to remind the Europeans that Islam is a European religion — in some nations, it’s the second or third religion,” she said.

“Unfortunately, people aren’t informed about our secularism, and they like to look to the immigrants who couldn’t manage to integrate — not the ones that could.”

Mrs. Tinc argued that the Turkish republic was founded on European values more than 80 years ago, while the latest EU entrants are little more than a decade removed from the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union and its satellite states.

But, she said, she welcomes that human rights reforms forced on Turkey as conditions for being considered for EU membership.

“Europe has to be proud of helping to promote democracy and human rights here, but also should be aware that this population will bring dynamism to an aging Europe,” she said.

More than 30 percent of Turkey’s 70 million people are younger than 15, and education must rise rapidly up the list of priorities. In southeastern Turkey, a campaign only recently has begun to get families to send their daughters to school.

Standing on the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn — a waterway separating the old Istanbul from the modern business hub — fishermen of all ages gaze across the Bosphorus Strait to the Asian part of the city.

One of the regulars is Ercan Tokuzoglu, in his late 40s, who has been unemployed for 10 years and still has family in Germany, where he once lived.

“It will be a bit difficult to get into Europe. We’ve got a lot to do. I hope we’ll make it, but it’s going to be difficult from all angles. Our society is very different,” he said.

Nearby, Emver Ari said he was in debt and trying to put his daughter through college on a shoeshiner’s wages, but he thought EU membership for Turkey would benefit everyone.

“Turks are good people. I think Europe has a need for us. Our culture is very hospitable and peaceful, and we always share what we have with others, no matter how little we have,” he said.

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