- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

NICOSIA, Cyprus The statement was blunt: Turkey is not a European country and its admission by the European Union would lead to that organization's demise.
Valery Giscard d'Estaing, a former French president now in charge of drafting the EU's future constitution, made the statement 12 days ago, and it was more than a jolt.
It was a blow to Muslim Turkey's self-esteem and to its aspirations an ominous portent in its relations with the European Union and its future role on the continent. In effect, it implied the possibility of this key ally's rejection by what one Turkish politician described as "a Christian club."
Turkey "has a different culture, a different approach, a different way of life. It is not a European country," Mr. Giscard said, adding that Turkey's capital, Ankara, "is not in Europe" and "95 percent of its population lives outside Europe."
[The boundaries of "Europe" as a cultural space have varied during history, but a common definition of its geographic limits is that Europe extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to Russia's Ural Mountains, Ural River and the Caspian Sea in the east, and from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains in the south. However, Europe and Asia are not completely separated by water or mountains, and some geographers insist they are part of the same continent.]
Distinctions of culture as cited by Mr. Giscard d'Estaing or based on religion have often been mentioned by European officials behind closed doors, but never in public. In Brussels, the seat of the European Commission, Turkey's candidacy has often been described as a "delayed-action bomb."
A number of officials feel that Turkey would be too cumbersome with its huge area, population of 66 million, high birthrate, Islamic faith and low standard of living.
Despite its small toehold on the west bank of the waterway between the Black and Mediterranean seas, Turkey has been considered a "European power" for several centuries, is a member of NATO and of the Strasbourg, France-based Council of Europe, a deliberative body without significant influence.
In 1999, Turkey was officially accepted as an EU candidate, but no date was set for its membership negotiations.
More important, Mr. Giscard d'Estaing, head of the European Union's constitutional convention, said the draft in progress does not include Turkey. It stops at the European Union's expansion from the present 15 members to 25 by 2004, plus two more countries Bulgaria and Romania some time later.
"We are basing everything on a Europe of 25 plus two period," he was quoted as saying Nov. 8 in the liberal French daily Le Monde. He said if Turkey was allowed to join, Middle Eastern and North African countries would follow, "and it would be the end of the European Union."
"Giscard drops an EU bombshell on Turkey," was a banner headline in the English-language Cyprus Mail.
The Turkish delegate to the constitutional convention promptly branded the blunt chairman as a "Christian fundamentalist." The European Union's enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen said he favored Turkey's desire to join the wealthy club, but without a date for negotiations.
"The remarks of President Giscard have created a credibility gap in the mind of Turkish citizens," he said.
The French government quickly distanced itself from the statement of its former president. Some EU officials demanded his resignation. In Turkey, an irate editorial writer asked: "If Jews can be Europeans, why not Turks?"
Nonetheless, the impact of Mr. Giscard d'Estaing's statement lingers on, and with it considerable soul-searching and an examination of the country considered to be in both Europe and Asia.
The question asked by politicians is mainly about the timing of the outspoken Frenchman's interview a few weeks before the European Union's summit in Copenhagen, at which Turkey hopes to hear a definite date for its membership-application talks.
Complicating the issue are the recent parliamentary elections won in Turkey by the Justice and Development Party, described as having strong Islamic roots.
Although its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said after the election he would lead the party "toward Europe," many of its members are said to be more interested in ties with Muslim states than with aloof Europeans.
The elections prompted the conservative Greek daily Kathimerini to conclude: "The triumph of political Islam and the ruin of traditional political forces constitutes a milestone in Turkish politics, rather than a political changeover."
To Soli Ozel, professor at Istanbul's Bilgi University, the last elections "were not about Islam or whether Turkey would turn its back on modernizing and secularism. They were about realigning Turkey's politics, an eruption of popular wrath against the established parties."
However, Bulent Ecevit, Turkey's outgoing prime minister, warned that the elections threatened the secular system.
Significantly, the day Mr. Giscard d'Estaing made his controversial statement, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, chief of the Turkish general staff, reiterated that the army was committed to protecting the country from the dangers of radical Islam.
The Turkish armed forces regard themselves as the ultimate guardian of the secular republican system, founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Since 1960, the army has intervened three times to curb feuding politicians as well as to keep leftist or Islamic groups from holding political power.
The purges conducted by the military after the last temporary takeover in 1980 were massive and uncompromising, but generally considered to be salutary.
The Turkish army is regarded as a unifying, and even civilizing, force. It takes peasants in from remote areas, teaches them to read and write, and instills in them a feeling of patriotism.
In recent years, Turkey has been plagued by economic crises, the Kurdish revolt in the south of the country, and stinging criticism from the European Union of its prison conditions and human rights record.
Last August, the Turkish parliament abolished the death penalty except in times of war a measure applauded across Europe.
While the United States regards Turkey as a trusted and loyal ally, in Europe Turkey's historical reputation as "the scourge of Christendom" largely remains, mainly as a result of centuries of Turkish conquests that were stopped only at the gates of Vienna in 1683 by a massive charge of Polish cavalry.
Late in the 19th century, the decaying Ottoman Empire was known as "the sick man of Europe."
An influx of Turkish "guest workers" in Western Europe during the past two decades now numbering an estimated 2 million, mainly in Germany has convinced many Europeans that Muslim Turks do not assimilate well.
Contributing to West European criticism of Turkey is the presence of a Turkish expeditionary corps in northern Cyprus following a 1974 invasion triggered by a Greek militarist coup trying to link the eastern Mediterranean island with Greece.
Under the army's protection, the Turkish Cypriots have established the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey.
Greece and the Greek-Cypriot government in the southern part of the island say the Turkish army's presence blocks efforts to find a solution to the ethnic feud.


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