- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2006

Two things happened last week that are crucial to understanding the realities of the new world order shaping up in and around Turkey.

First, the European Commission’s much-anticipated annual Turkey report was made public, stating that unless Turkey fully recognizes Greek Cyprus in less than two months, accession talks will come to a hold. With this final push on Cyprus, Europeans should be expecting Turkey to voluntarily withdraw its pursuit of EU membership.

Second, Bulent Ecevit, Turkey’s five-term premier, passed away. He was best known for intervening in Cyprus in 1974 to liberate Turkish Cypriots and for asking for a five-year freeze on Turkey’s commitments with the then-European Economic Community in 1978.

The freezing of commitments is important when added to the tens of thousands of people who attended Mr. Ecevit’s funeral on Saturday. As they sent the “Cyprus hero” to his final destination, the message of the people was clear: Turks will not abandon the Turkish Cypriots. The latest Eurobarometer poll shows that just 35 percent of Turks say they trust the European Union — down from nearly 80 percent two years ago. It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out the impact of Cyprus on that number. The crowd at Mr. Ecevit’s funeral chanted “Turkey is secular; will remain secular” — implying that the Islamist government’s majority in the Turkish parliament will end with the next national election.

It’s one thing for secular Turks to be suspicious of Islamist leader Recep Tayip Erdogan’s intentions about the future of the regime, but no one can claim he is willing to give up Cyprus to join the EU. So it is just a matter of time before the EU starts freezing certain chapters of the accession negotiations with Turkey, which means Turkey’s aspirations will be in crisis mode by the New Year.

Crisis is also a time — if well used — to open new opportunities. I’ve professionally supported Turkey’s EU drive for over a decade. I say no more, not with this treatment any longer.

First, Turks should not feel hopeless when the long engagement period with the EU ends without a marriage. The present time shows it is in fact to Turkey’s benefit not to push to join. It should not, however, be the party to withdraw from negotiations. After all, the EU has no recourse when Turkey continues to refuse to recognize Greek Cyprus. Who with any common sense could assume that the EU will impose economic sanctions or launch a military operation against Turkey over this issue? European leadership decided to keep Turkey on the hook, but not with the aim of making it an equal partner in the EU. Their decision should be heard and respected.

Turkey does not necessarily have to loudly announce its new aspirations. But one thing is clear: There is an emerging strength in Turkish democracy. As more and more people align themselves with democratic principles, it becomes impossible for Ataturk’s Turkey to turn into a dictatorship or an Islamist state. The regional dynamics make it vital for Turkey to increase its cooperation with the Muslim Middle East. The environment may make its Muslim identity even more important. It should, however, be well known that there is no chance for Wahabi radical ideology to find a “permanent” base on the Anatolian land. Unfortunately, it is possible that those radicals may reap the benefit of the environmental and emotional storm while accepting that EU no more.

In the meantime, the Turkish leadership should focus on policies that will keep the economic growth sustainable. If Russia is a giant producer of gas, Turkey should be the country in the region that is the major conveyor and transporter of energy. After all, politics is not about fairness. In a world of power politics, Russia is doing nothing wrong when it charges different countries different prices for gas. A possible strengthened cooperation with Russia, however, has the potential to force Europe to start taking Turkey seriously.

Turks should also start using this time efficiently in redefining their identity. Currently, Europeans respect the Iranian regime more than the secular Turkish government.

It should also be made clear that when the Turkish parliament decided not to ally with the United States to invade Iraq, it was not an approval of a dictatorship or human rights abuses. Turkey cannot be held responsible for the state of affairs in Iraq today. In the same manner, Turkey’s strengthened relationship with Russia should not be interpreted as a move against democracy in the trans-Caspian region.

Turkey should extend its aspirations to China to create new business opportunities for its growing economy. It should draw inspiration from Japan, a country that kept its culture and traditions while building a strong high-tech industry.

Finally, there should be no doubt that this new Turkey will continue to be a strong ally of the United States in the region, helping to bring security and stability to Iraq, trying to positively impact the Iranian regime’s ideology and continuing to inspire Muslims in the broader region to accept that democracy is the answer while coping with crisis.

Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

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