- Purchase/rental options available:
Mediterranean Quarterly 15.1 (2004) 1-7
[Access article in PDF]
Turkey's Role in a Changing Middle East Environment
Following the war in Iraq, the Middle East has entered a new era in which Turkey has significant contributions to make. Turkey's role in a changing Middle East environment is a function of what it represents in this volatile geography as a European, democratic, and secular country that is attached firmly to the principles of a free-market economy and has valuable and unique experience in implementing reforms, modernity, and regional cooperation.
In many respects, 2004 promises to be a momentous year for Turkey. Four international events involving Turkey may seem rather technical but are part and parcel of currents that have broad implications.
- A North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit will be held in Istanbul in May 2004. It will convene just as a defining step will be needed in empowering the alliance to expand its role and scope. NATO will need the requisite instruments to remain a bulwark of peace, security, and transatlantic cooperation. We are confident that the Istanbul summit will make a lasting contribution to transatlantic harmony and cooperation.
- Turkey will be able to contribute to the European Union Intergovernmental Conference, which will decide on the future of the enlarged Europe.
- The foreign ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) will meet in Istanbul at a time when the winds of change are blowing in full force and at a time of new perspectives in Iraq and in Palestine. [End Page 1]
- And last but not least, determined and sustained Turkish reforms will hopefully culminate in a European Council decision in December 2004 to open EU accession negotiations with Turkey.
Turkey Brings Europe to the Doorstep of the Middle East
Turkey's EU membership process has implications for the future not only of Turkey and Europe but also of the Middle East. Turkey's EU membership will mean that Europe has achieved such maturity that it can incorporate a major Muslim country into its fold and demonstrate that the EU stands for common values and institutions rather than a common religion. For Turkey, EU membership will mean anchoring a more than century old Western vocation into the highest standards of democratization, good governance, and integration. For the world, this would be evidence that civilizations line up in terms of their democratic traditions, and not on the basis of religion. The message of reform, modernity, moderation, and integration represented by Turkey's EU membership will be spread to the wider international community.
For its part, Turkey is committed to taking this EU step. Membership in the EU can do for Turkey what it did for Greece, Spain, and Portugal. In this regard, my government has been enhancing individual rights and liberties at a time when these are restricted elsewhere due to security concerns. We are determined to provide for our citizens the highest standards of democracy, human rights, and economic prosperity. We have already complied with the political criteria in terms of legislative modifications that were established at the European Council's December 2002 session in Copenhagen. There is also a strong emphasis on implementation of these reforms. Meanwhile, Turkey's economic reform program is moving forward at full speed. We have already begun to reap its fruits.
Taken as a whole, these improvements should be enough to start accession negotiations, as was agreed in Copenhagen. In pursuing our objective of membership we will let our actions speak for themselves and expect to be judged and responded to accordingly. [End Page 2]
This goes also for issues that are not considered under the Copenhagen political criteria. One such example is the Cyprus issue. Concerning the island of Cyprus, I believe two points need to be stressed:
- It is not fair to expect resolution of the problem unilaterally by the Turkish Cypriots or Turkey.
- Both the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey have been working relentlessly to promote an environment conducive to a just, lasting, and viable settlement.
The United Nations secretary-general's plan presented to the parties was...