- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2002

Understanding Turkey

The two members of the Turkish parliament chose their words carefully, eager not to be misunderstood.

Among the things that changed after September 11 was the way Turkey was seen in the West.

"Turkey is being understood as a good model for that part of the world," said Tayyibe Gulek, a member of the Democratic Left party. "It is a secular country with a good functioning democracy. We wish it hadn't taken the terrible events of September 11 for people to become aware of it."

Since the terrorist attacks on the United States and the war in Afghanistan, many Americans have tried to come to grips with Islamic countries with an explosive blend of religious fanaticism and political turmoil.

But in Turkey, lawmakers enforce such a strict separation of religion and politics that they even banned a female legislator from wearing a head scarf in parliament. Her action was seen as an attempt to display Islamic fundamentalism in the legislature.

Emre Kocaoglu, a member of the Motherland Party, added, "The tragic events of September 11 has given an education to our friends. Both of our countries have had their crisis. Yours was a terrorist crisis, and our is an economic crisis."

Mr. Kocaoglu and Miss Gulek, who met this week with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, were among a large delegation of business executives and legislators who accompanied Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit on his Washington visit this week.

Mr. Ecevit's primary discussion with President Bush centered on trade issues. The prime minister was also due to meet with the International Monetary Fund to discuss $10 billion in loans to help Turkey's ailing economy.

The main concerns of Mr. Kocaoglu and Miss Gulek were explaining Turkey's progress on human rights and other civil matters. Turkey, in its quest for membership in the European Union, has changed more than 1,000 articles of its civil code and adopted 37 constitutional amendments, they said.

Mr. Kocaoglu, a member of the parliamentary human rights committee, said, "Human rights violations are being reported more frequently and the violators are being punished."

He said both the public and the press are more aware of human rights abuses and police are being trained to respect human rights.

Miss Gulek, vice chairwoman of the Council of Europe's human rights committee, said Turkey is reforming its prisons to meet European standards.

Critics, however, say Turkey still has serious human rights problems. Amnesty International wrote Mr. Bush to urge him to raise human rights issues in his meeting with Mr. Ecevit.

"Despite recent progress, significant obstacles remain before Turkey satisfies international standards for freedom of expression, protection against torture and prosecution of those who commit human rights violations," said Amnesty Director William F. Schulz.

On the economy, Miss Gulek said the new government has worked hard to privatize state-owned firms and reform the social security system.

"The laws we have passed are an indication of how bad things got," she said.

Terrorism in Nepal

Terrorism is certain to be a top agenda item when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell visits the Himalayan kingdom today, said a former Nepalese ambassador to the United States.

"The U.S. government takes terrorism as an issue that needs to be addressed in totality," Ambassador Damodar Prasad Gautam told Agence France-Presse yesterday.

He also said his government should explain the actions it is taking to combat terrorism and "not ask for anything" from the United States.

"Making better relations is more important than receiving U.S. donations on one issue or another," he said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Arjun Jung Bahadur Singh told reporters that Nepal will discuss its measures to combat Maoist rebels trying to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

He called on the United States to wage a war on poverty in South Asia as it was doing against terrorism in Afghanistan.

"We appreciate the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism," he said, "but we would appreciate it if the U.S. also plays a leading role to create a similar coalition against other evils in South Asia like poverty."

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