- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2005

Next Monday, Turkey will most likely start talks to enter the European Union. Yet the question remains whether Turkey’s Sisyphean past will change going forward. In December, EU leaders agreed that Turkey had met all the criteria to start accession talks. But today, they disagree over whether it was a good idea at all. Those who oppose Turkey’s membership still cite problems ranging from geography to culture, from religion to population. However, the most recent problems have arisen because of Cyprus.

The Cyprus problem is almost four decades old, but for the first time a U.N.?backed peace plan was put on referendum in April. Turkish Cypriots, who were promised full EU membership, accepted the plan; the majority of Greek Cypriots opposed it. The EU did not see the referendum as an obstacle to Greek Cypriots’ full membership, so they joined in May. When the EU decided in December to start talking with Turkey about accession, Turkey extended its customs union agreement to the 10 new members of the EU, including Greek Cypriots. However, the Turkish government issued a statement saying it would not recognize the Greek Cypriot administration.

Finally, the EU member states agreed on a statement that during its membership talks, Turkey should recognize the Greek Cypriot administration as the sole representative of the island, and that not recognizing it could sidetrack Turkey’s membership. Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos objected, saying it would be a bad decision to attach the full recognition of his country to the solution of the Cyprus problem. Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan also made clear that the EU declaration contains a new condition, and accused the bloc of “rude” diplomatic conduct by their own standards. No end appears in sight.

Many think that Turkey’s EU membership would most likely be derailed over Cyprus, and question the promises the EU made to Turkish Cypriots. Maybe the Europeans will keep their word to the Turkish Cypriots and lift sanctions. Before the referendum, the EU promised them one thing after another, and now, hardly anyone in the EU remembers that Turkish Cypriots live on the island too. Alas, a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said, “Neglecting the Turkish Cypriots, their status, rights and expectations, is a grave injustice.”

In the midst of pessimistic forecasts, it may also be the perfect time to acknowledge the Greeks’ success in shaping the international politics. Greek philosophers and politicians have been a major building block of Western culture. Turkey’s story seems like a metaphor straight out of Greek mythology — Sisyphus, whose eternal punishment is to push a rock up a steep hill, only to have it roll to the bottom every time he gets it almost to the top. Now Turkey is at the top. The EU has successfully contributed in Turkey’s democratization efforts. The country has gone through tremendous reforms to hasten its acceptance in the EU. Muslim Turks want to roll down the hill — to the other side. They wondered for decades what was there, and they want to prove their determination to keep up with the demands of the EU. When the rock starts rolling down the other side, those who predicted a “clash of civilizations” would be proven false.

In the aftermath of September 11, Turks became perfect candidates to be the “absurd” heroes of Western civilization, bringing them an unimaginable “happiness.” But it is hard for people to accept that happiness is their destiny after such a long wait. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said recently that many are trying to provoke Turkey’s relationship with the EU; some, both inside and outside, want to try to push the rock back to the bottom of the hill, where it started.

In fact, one of the many other reasons to stall Turkey’s membership was a perception that Americans will use it as a “Trojan horse” within the EU, to delay the development of an independent European foreign and defense policy, or simply to weaken their European partners.

But the Trojan horse may be implanted by the most unexpected. Greece’s gift to the EU has been the Greek Cypriot administration without resolving the Cyprus problem. Inevitably, the issue will hijack Turkey’s accession talks. In the meantime, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said recently that a European Turkey is in everyone’s interest, and he even warned the EU against backing away from its promise and instead negotiating a “privileged partnership” with Turkey rather than full membership. If he means what he says, Mr. Karamanlis could end up pushing Sisyphus (that is, Turkey) over the hill and proving that Cyprus won’t be the Trojan horse.

But for now, neither side seems willing to prepare a celebration for this giant step forward in our common history next Monday. Even the most pro-EU Turks say their acceptance isn’t essential; they will have to wait and see what the course of kismet holds for them. And that kismet will determine the 21st century’s fate.

Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

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