In a strange twist of fate Turkey’s long-term foe Greece has emerged as the most committed European supporter of Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, EU. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit may be forgiven for thinking: with enemies like this, who needs friends?
A report recently issued by the European Commission has indicated that Turkey’s accession to the EU looks unlikely in the foreseeable future, angering the Turkish leadership, which feels that it has done its utmost to comply with entry requirements.
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou was the first to telephone his Turkish counterpart after the disappointing report was made public and assured him that Greece would do its best to rally the 15 EU member countries behind Turkish aspirations during the upcoming EU Summit in December.
With the Greek Prime Minister taking on the mantle of the revolving EU Presidency from January 1, Greece will be well placed to attempt to draw its prodigal son into the fold.
Such effusive Greek support for its ancient nemesis isn’t as surprising as it might have been just a decade ago. Relations between the two Mediterranean adversaries have been slowly warming over the last few years after a positive U-turn in relations sparked by Greece’s spontaneous humanitarian aid and assistance to Turkey after the 1999 earthquake.
It should be said, though, that Greece is hardly acting altruistically in backing Turkey’s entry bid. It is more a case of “if you can’t beat ’em join ’em” from the point of view of Athens. A disgruntled Turkish government in the pocket of the U.S. holds little appeal for the Greek leadership, which still eyes Turkey with suspicion.
The U.S. has been advocating Turkey’s membership of the Union but with the cooling of relations between America and Europe over Nato and Iraq, America’s clout with its allies across the pond isn’t as strong as it was. Several European countries are still angered by U.S. President George W. Bush’s insistence upon Americans being excluded from the jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court.
America has been waving the carrot of EU membership to Turkey as one of the incentives to get Ankara on its side in any war with Iraq. Turkey’s strategic location bordering Iraq means that it could be an important player and the US is anxious to keep it sweet.
Turkey has further been helpful to the Bush administration in Afghanistan by taking over peacekeeping duties. It is also seen as a staunch predominantly Muslim ally of the US in its War on Terror, its role countering accusations from some quarters that the Bush administration is waging war on Islam.
But Turkey’s woes don’t end with Europe’s rejection. Since Ecevit’s public falling out with Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the Turkish president, early last year, when the Turkish Lira experienced an unprecedented dive, the country’s fragile economy–propped up by the IMF–is still struggling to recover.
At that time Turkish banks collapsed, businesses folded and over one million Turks lost their jobs. Economic instability is one of the reasons why Turkey is hovering at the bottom of the list of EU applicants but not the one cited by the report focusing more on Turkey’s poor human rights record.
Ankara has, in fact, been working hard to put right its poor image with regards to human rights and against much internal opposition has managed to eradicate the death penalty, one of the main sticking points for the powers that be in Brussels.
With elections set for next month, the Turkish leadership is concerned that the electorate of its secular state will become embittered by the European snub and turn in even greater numbers to the Islamist Justice and Development Party, or HADEP, the Kurdish party, both of which are an anathema to the current Kemalist government.
If this was not enough to interrupt the slumber of the ailing Ecevit, the spectre of his country being one of the main players in a war with its Iraqi neighbour is more than a good reason.
Like a mesmerised fly being drawn into a red, white and blue spider’s web, the Turkish government has been given little choice but to give its support to the Bush administration and its plans for the region.
Turkey maintains that it wants no part of such military adventurism, and has urged the U.S. to avoid aggression, but at the same time it needs the goodwill of U.S. and American-led financial institutions to keep its economy afloat.
Ecevit said last Friday: “If a military operation is realised we will be involved in it whether or not we want to be. This will bring many problems to Turkey.”
Apart from fearing that war with Iraq would mean an untenable drop in tourism and foreign investment, Turkey’s main concern is that the Kurds in the north of Iraq will grab the opportunity to declare their own state adjoining the Iraqi/Turkish border. Such a state, Turkey maintains, would inflame its own Kurdish separatist movement, which it has been fighting since 1984, and pose a geopolitical threat to its security.
Far from being figments of an overheated imagination, the Turkish fears could well be founded. Leaders of two opposition Iraqi Kurdish groups, the PUK and the KDP, have put aside their enmity, and drawn up a draft constitution for a Kurdish state in the event that the U.S. invades Iraq and destroys the current regime.
Turkish dailies reported last week that Kurdish and Arabic were nominated as the proposed state’s official languages in the draft, which also pinpointed the oil-wealthy city of Kirkuk–not currently under Kurdish control–as the new capital.
Representatives of the Kurdish groups have been quick to assert that the draft resolution is not a precursor to a state but Turkey remains rightly sceptical.
It has even gone as far to warn that in the event that a Kurdish state were to be announced, Turkey would be forced to defend the interests of northern Iraq’s Turkoman minority and to secure its borders. It refuses to rule out using military force to do so.
The U.S. is quick to allay Turkish concerns by stressing that Iraq would maintain its integrity once a regime change has been effected, but experts believe that the country could well split up into three with Shias in the south, Sunnis in the centre and Kurds in the north. Most agree that this would be a recipe for turmoil and, perhaps, civil war.
In spite of its declarations of wishing to see Iraq run as a democracy, the U.S. may have other plans for a post-war Iraq.
An October 11 article in the New York Times says that leaks from Washington indicate that the U.S. is preparing for a lengthy occupation of Iraq, with a U.S. military commander in charge. Such a commander would mirror the role adopted by General Douglas MacArthur in Japan after that country’s surrender in 1945.
This imperialist arrangement would mean that America would have control over the Iraqi oilfields–the second richest in the world–and would set about prosecuting followers of Saddam for alleged war crimes.
Iraqi opposition groups are naturally bristling over this leaked report, which means that they would be pushed aside and left without political clout. In the meantime, the heavy-hearted Iraqi people are going about their daily lives under the ever-growing cloud of war, while Baghdad prepares to defend itself against a possible U.S. attack.
In an attempt to avoid hostilities at the 11th hour, Iraq has finally agreed to open its doors to unfettered weapons inspection, including Saddam Hussein’s palaces. It has invited groups of journalists to view the facilities which the U.S. has shown in satellite images saying that they were suspicious, and it has even invited representatives of the U.S. to come and look round for themselves.
However hard the Iraqi leadership tries to address America’s concerns, the U.S. merely heaps more scorn upon its efforts.
It’s clear that the Iraqi leadership does not want war with the U.S. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of the Bush administration. Bush’s recent words that war is not inevitable are beginning to ring ever more hollow.
The House and the Senate have given the American leader a bi-partisan green light to use any necessary force and U.S. troops and military hardware are being strategically positioned around the region.
Turkey may soon discover that there are no winners here, with the exception of U.S. self-interest and furtherance of its hegemony that is. Turkey has little to gain and could soon find itself deeply mistrusted by the Arab/Moslem world, already irritated by its close ties with Israel, and by Europe.
Of course, there is always its newfound buddy Greece but you know what they say about Greeks bearing gifts.
LINDA HEARD is a writer, editor and Arabist, who has lived and worked for most of her life in the Middle East.
She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org