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  • Turkish Politics
  • Donald M. Payne (bio)

In the face of the US political and strategic quagmire in Iraq, Turkey—a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally—seems oblivious to the consequences of its actions and ignores its promises to fully democratize its own society. A military incursion in February 2008 into one of the most stable parts of Iraq, Kurdistan, introduced another worrisome aspect to the entire Iraq problem and threatens that country’s timid steps toward stability. Though it ended a day after the visit to Ankara of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Turkey’s action demonstrates the growing tendency toward unilateral intervention by some governments. The right of any country, Turkey included, to defend itself against terrorist acts is not questioned here. What is questioned is the casual resort to the use or the threat to use of military force outside national borders with no visible limitations, even when it is well established that the problems of Turkey lie within its own borders and with its own Kurdish minority. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party fighters reportedly have a presence in northern Iraq. Turkey should have coordinated with the government of Iraq and Kurdish authorities before it launched its military strikes inside a sovereign country. This behavior raises questions as to whether Turkey’s quest to join the European Union as an equal partner is genuine.

I have followed closely developments in Turkey and have been supportive of the country’s quest to join the European community of nations. Toward this end, the election of Recep Tayyip Erdogan as prime minister and his effort to end the dual power system that has afflicted modern Turkey are to be [End Page 1] applauded. Yet the threat of regression and the determination of the military elite to behave as the “regime’s arbiter” cannot be ignored. Indeed, until and unless the role of the Turkish military is brought under civilian control we should harbor no illusions about true democracy in that pivotal country.

The US focus on the war on terror has led to a policy by which authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records are being embraced as long as they cooperate in our antiterrorist ventures. Undeniably, Turkey played a significant role in keeping Soviet expansionism in check and made its contribution to world peace during the Cold War. Its military contribution to the Korean conflict has been duly recognized and rewarded. But the Cold War is over and Turkey, in my opinion, has not kept pace with democratization and social equality. Turkey has not seen a need to find a just resolution of the Cyprus issue, end its occupation of Cyprus, and abide by the rule of law as defined in numerous United Nations resolutions that rightfully condemned its aggression.

Reforms required to be undertaken and applied before Turkey can join the EU are clearly established. First and foremost among such reforms is bringing the Turkish military under civilian control. For more than sixty years, Washington turned the other way each and every time the military decided to intervene in the political life of the country and excused its presumptive role as the “guarantor” of the constitutional order. Though justified in pursuing terrorists associated with armed groups, successive Turkish governments have not seriously attempted to find a just peace with Kurdish groups inside Turkey.

Turkey faces a number of serious challenges in its effort to meet the criteria for becoming an EU member. Intellectuals are dragged before courts for such incomprehensible crimes as “offending Turkism” or the personality of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk or for wearing the wrong head gear. Time and again, prominent literary figures, among them the Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, were accused of offending “Turkism.” Even scholars in US and European universities have been charged with “seditious” acts for expressions that in all democratic states would be viewed as nothing more than free speech and an honest attempt to correct the country’s history of the past eighty years. Pamuk’s “crime,” for example, involved his mentioning in the acclaimed novel Snow the existence of Armenian and Greek remnants on Turkish soil. [End Page 2] Correcting history, or offering another interpretation of it, should not be a crime under any...


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Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2019
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