In a famous essay, one of the most acute self-critical reflections to emerge out of any of the youthful revolts of the 1960s, Murat Belge – a writer unrivalled in his intelligence of the political sensibility of his generation – told his contemporaries on the Turkish left, as yet another military intervention came thudding down over more than a decade of ardent hopes, that they had misunderstood their own country in a quite fundamental way.They had thought it a Third World society among others, ready for liberation by guerrilla uprisings, in the towns or in the mountains. The paradox they had failed to grasp was that although the Turkey of the time was indeed ‘a relatively backward country economically … and socially’ – with a per capita GNP similar to that of Algeria and Mexico, and adult literacy at a mere 60 per cent – it was ‘relatively advanced politically’, having known ‘a two-party system in which opposing leaders have changed office a number of times after a popular mandate, something which has never happened in Japan for example’. In short, Turkey was unusual in being a poor and ill-educated society that had yet remained a democracy as generally understood, if with violent intermissions – Belge was writing in the aftermath of the military putsch of 1980.
A quarter of a century later, his diagnosis still holds. Since the end of the Kemalist order stricto sensu in 1950, Turkey has on the whole been a land of regular elections, of competing parties and uncertain outcomes, and alternating governments. This is a much longer record than Spain, Portugal or Greece – even, as to alternation, Italy – can boast of. What accounts for it? Historians point to earlier moments of constitutional debate or parliamentary contest, from late Ottoman times to mid-period Kemalism. But, however respectable in memory, such episodes were too fragile and fleeting to have been much of a foundation for the stability of a modern Turkish democracy now approaching its seventh decade. An alternative approach is more conjunctural, emphasising the tactical reasons for Inönü’s feint towards democracy in 1946, and the miscalculations that ensued from it in 1950. But that leaves unanswered the question why thereafter democracy became so entrenched that even serial military interventions could not shake its acceptance as the political norm in Turkey. A more structural explanation is needed.
During the Second World War, Inönü had steered his country in much the way Franco had done Spain, tempering political affinity and passive assistance to the Nazi regime with a prudent attentisme allowing for better relations with the West once it looked as if Germany would be defeated. But after the war the situation of the two dictatorships, though equally anti-Communist, differed. Spain was at the other end of Europe from the USSR, while Turkey was geopolitically a front-line state in the Cold War, with a long history of hostilities with Russia to boot. So there was both a more pressing desire in Washington and a more pressing need in Ankara for a close understanding between the two than there was in the case of Madrid, and so for a better ideological and institutional alignment of Turkey with the West.
That in itself, however, would not have been enough to bring democracy to Turkey. American tolerance, even welcome, of authoritarian regimes in the Free World – so long as they were staunch military and political supporters of Washington – would be a constant feature of the Cold War. Within a decade, after all, Franco too was hosting US bases. What really set Turkey apart from Spain was something deeper. The Spanish dictatorship was the product of a bitter civil war, pitting class against class, social revolution against counter-revolution, which the Nationalist crusade had needed German and Italian help to win. There were still a few guerrillas in the mountains resisting the regime in 1945. After the war democratisation was an unthinkable option for Franco: it would have risked a political volcano erupting again, in which neither army nor church nor property would have been secure.
Thirty years later, his regime had accomplished its historical task. Economic development had transformed Spanish society, radical mass politics had been extinguished, and democracy was no longer hazardous for capital. So completely had the dictatorship done its work that a toothless Bourbon socialism was incapable even of restoring the republic it had overthrown. In this Spanish laboratory could be found a parabola of the future, which the Latin American dictators of the 1970s – Pinochet is the exemplary case – would repeat, architects of a political order in which electors, grateful for civic liberties finally restored, could be trusted henceforward not to tamper with the social order. Today the Spanish template has become the general formula of freedom: no longer making the world safe for democracy, but democracy safe for this world.
Turkey could become a democracy so much earlier than Spain, a more advanced society – let alone other countries as economically and socially backward in 1950 – because there was no comparably explosive class conflict to be contained, nor radical politics to be crushed. Most peasants owned land; workers were few; intellectuals marginal; a left hardly figured. The lines of fissure in society, at that stage still concreted over, had to do with ethnicity more than class. In these conditions, there was small risk of any upsets from below. The elites could settle accounts between themselves without fear of letting loose forces they could not control. That degree of security would not last. In due course there would be both social and ethnic turbulence, as popular unrest made itself felt, and when it did so, the state would react violently.
But, sociologically speaking, the basic parameters set by the first election of 1950 have remained in place to this day. Turkish democracy has been broken at intervals, but never for long, because it is anchored in a centre-right majority that has remained, in one form after another, unbroken. Across four historical cycles, an underlying stability has distinguished Turkish political life. From 1950 to 1960 the country was ruled by Adnan Menderes as premier, at the head of a Democratic Party whose vote, 58 per cent of the electorate at its height, was never less than 47 per cent, still giving it four-fifths of the seats in the National Assembly and control of the presidency, at the end of its lifespan.
The birth of the party marked the moment at which the Turkish elite split, with the growth of a bourgeoisie less dependent on the state than in the prewar period, no longer willing to accept bureaucratic direction of the economy, and eager for the spoils of political power. Its leaders were all former members of the Kemalist establishment, typically with stakes in the private sector: Menderes was a wealthy cotton planter, Bayar – president after 1950 – a leading banker. But its followers were, overwhelmingly, the peasant masses who formed a majority of the nation. The recipe of its rule was a paradox rare in the Third World: a liberal populism, combining commitment to the market and an appeal to tradition in equal measure. In its deployment of each, rhetoric outran reality without quite losing touch with it. On coming to power, Menderes’s first key move – he didn’t even consult parliament – was to dispatch troops to Korea, earning high marks in Washington, entry into Nato and a spate of dollars. His regime used American assistance to supply cheap credit and assure high prices to farmers, building roads to expand cultivation, importing machinery to modernise cash-crop production, and relaxing controls on industry. In the slipstream of the postwar boom in the West, growth accelerated and per capita incomes jumped in the countryside.
This alone would have been enough to secure the popularity of the Democratic government. But Menderes played not just to the pocket, but to the sensibility of his rural constituency. Sensing his isolation after the war, Inönü had already started to edge away from Kemal’s policies towards religion. The Democrats were a good deal less inhibited: new mosques shot up, religious schools multiplied, instruction in Islam became standard in state education, calls to prayer were to be heard in Arabic again, brotherhoods were legalised and opponents denounced as infidels. The equation of Turkish with Muslim identity, for long a tacit substratum of Kemalism, acquired bolder expression. This was enough to antagonise sectors of the elite committed to official versions of secularism, but it did not signify any break with the legacy of the late Ottoman or early republican state. Menderes, indeed, went further than Inönü had ever done in erecting Kemal as an untouchable symbol of the nation, putting him in a mausoleum in Ankara and making any injury to his memory a crime punishable with severe penalties at law.
More gravely, the integral nationalism of the interwar period was given a new impetus when Menderes – solicited by Britain – took up the cause of the Turkish minority in Cyprus, reclaiming rights of intervention in the island relinquished at Lausanne. In 1955, as a Three-Power Conference on its future was meeting in London, his regime unleashed a pogrom against the Greek community in Istanbul. Formally exempted from the population transfers of 1923, this had dwindled rapidly under state pressure, but still numbered more than 100,000 in the mid-1930s, and remained a prosperous and lively part of the city’s life. In a single night, gangs organised by the government smashed and burned its churches, schools, shops, businesses, hospitals, beating and raping as they went. Menderes and Bayar, lurking in the suburb of Florya, boarded a train for Ankara as flames lit up the night sky. It was Turkey’s Kristallnacht. Continuities with the past were not merely ideological, but also personal. In 1913 Bayar had been an operative of the CUP’s Special Organisation, responsible for ethnic cleansing of Greeks from the Smyrna region, before the First World War had even begun. Within a few years, only a handful of Greeks were left in Istanbul.
This time, however, there was shock in the press and public opinion, and unease even in establishment quarters at Menderes’s methods. In 1957 he cruised to a third electoral victory, but with external debt, the public deficit and inflation now running high, his economic performance had lost its shine, and he turned to increasingly tough repressive measures, targeting the press and parliamentary opposition, to maintain his position. Over-confident, brutal and not very bright, he eventually set up a committee to investigate his opponents, and imposed censorship on its proceedings. He had consolidated his power by taking Turkey into the Korean War and, a decade later, inspired by students in Korea who had just overthrown Syngman Rhee, whom the war had been fought to defend, students in Ankara took to the streets against his move towards a dictatorship. The universities in Ankara and Istanbul were shut down, to no avail, amid successive nights of rioting. After a month of disturbances, detachments of the army finally intervened. Early one morning Menderes, his cabinet and deputies were arrested, and a committee of some forty officers took over the government.
The coup of 1960 was not the work of the Turkish high command, but of conspirators of lesser rank, who had been planning to oust Menderes for some time. Some had radical social ideas, others were authoritarian nationalists. But few had any clear programme beyond dissolution of the Democratic Party, and retribution for its leaders, who were tried on a variety of charges, among them responsibility for the pogrom of 1955, for which Menderes was executed, though Bayar spared. In the army itself, a large number of conservative officers were purged, but the high command soon reasserted itself, crushing attempts to take matters further. In a temporarily fluid situation, in which the military were not united, a new constitution was produced by jurists from the universities, and ratified by referendum. Designed to prevent the abuses of power that had marked Menderes’s rule, it created a constitutional court and second chamber, introduced proportional representation, strengthened the judiciary, guaranteed civil liberties and academic and press freedoms. It also, however, created a National Security Council dominated by the military, which acquired wide-ranging powers.
With these institutions in place, the second cycle of postwar Turkish politics was set in motion. As soon as elections were held, it became clear that the voting bloc put together by the Democrats, though at first distributed across a number of successor formations, still commanded a comfortable majority of the country. By 1965, this was consolidated behind the Justice Party led by Sülyman Demirel, which alone took 53 per cent of the vote. Thirty years later, Demirel would still be in the presidential palace. A hydraulic engineer with American connections – Eisenhower fellowship; consultant for Morrison-Knudsen – who had been picked for bureaucratic office by Menderes, Demirel was no improvement in personality or principle on his patron. But the fate of his predecessor made him more cautious, and the constitution of 1961, though he would tamper with it, limited his ability to reproduce the same style of rule.
In power, Demirel like Menderes benefited from fast growth, distributed favours in the countryside, made resonant appeals to village piety, and whipped up a virulent anti-Communism. But there were two differences. The populism of the Justice Party was no longer liberal. The 1960s was a period of development economics throughout most of the world, and the authors of the 1960 coup, vaguely influenced by Nasserism, were no exception to the rule, seeking a strong dirigiste state. Demirel inherited a turn towards standard import-substituting industrialisation, and for electoral purposes made the most of it. The second change was more fundamental. However burning the resentment of his cadres at the army for dethroning the Democrats, and however close to the secularist bone his religious histrionics might come, at any sign of unrest in the barracks Demirel quickly deferred to the military.
This in itself, however, was not enough to secure a dominance of the political scene otherwise comparable to that of Menderes. The Republican People’s Party, trounced three times in the 1950s, posed little challenge. When Inönü finally shuffled off the stage in the early 1970s, the party was taken over by Bülent Ecevit, who briefly attempted to make it a centre-left alternative, before collapsing into the arms of the military as figurehead of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, and ending up as a fossil of plaintive chauvinism. The mechanics of coalition-building in a parliament which no longer delivered the first-past-the-post landslides of old, made him premier four times, but the Kemalist bloc he inherited never came near winning an electoral majority of the electorate, sinking to a mere 20 per cent of the vote by the time he finally exited the scene.
The danger to Demirel lay elsewhere. The new constitution had allowed a Workers’ Party to run candidates for the first time. It never got more than 5 per cent of the vote, posing no threat to the stability of the system. But if the Turkish working class was still too small and intimidated for any mass electoral politics, the Turkish universities were rapidly becoming hotbeds of radicalism. Situated, uniquely, at the intersection between First, Second and Third Worlds – Europe to the west, the USSR to the north, the Mashreq to the south and east – Turkish students were galvanised by ideas and influences from all three: campus rebellions, Communist traditions, guerrilla imaginations, each with what appeared to be their own relevance to the injustices and cruelties of the society around them, in which the majority of the population was still rural and nearly half was illiterate. Out of this heady mixture came the kaleidoscope of revolutionary groups whose obituary Belge was to write a decade later. In the late 1960s, as Demirel persecuted left opinion of any sort, it was not long before some took to arms, in scattered acts of violence.
In themselves these were little more than pinpricks, without significant impact on the political control of the Justice Party. But they lent energy and opportunity to movements of a much more threatening character on its other flank. In 1969, the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Action Party (MHP) was created by Alparslan Türkes, a colonel who as a young officer during the Second World War had been an ardent pro-Nazi, and was one of the key movers of the coup in 1960. Adopting fascist methods, it swiftly built up paramilitary squads – the Grey Wolves – far stronger than anything the left could muster, and boasted a constituency twice its size. Nor was this all. As Demirel tacked towards the military, and the elasticity of the political system expanded, a less accommodating Islamism emerged to outflank him. In 1970 the National Order Party was launched by Necmettin Erbakan, like Demirel an engineer, but at a higher level – he had held a university chair – and with more genuine claims to piety, as a member of the Sufi order of Nakshibendi. Running on a more radically Muslim ticket than the Justice Party could afford to do, and attacking its subservience to American capital, his organisation – redubbed the National Salvation Party – took 12 per cent in its first test at the polls.
The turbulence caused by these unruly outsiders was too much for the Kemalist establishment, and in 1971 the army intervened again. This time – as invariably henceforward – it was the high command that struck, with an ultimatum ousting Demirel for his failure to maintain order, and imposing a technocratic government of the right. Under martial law, trade unionists, intellectuals and deputies of the left were rounded up and tortured, and the liberal provisions of the constitution cancelled. Two years later, the political scene was judged sufficiently purged of subversion for elections to be held again, and for the rest of the 1970s Demirel and Ecevit seesawed in coalition governments in which either Türkes or Erbakan, or both, held casting votes, and populated the ministries under their control.
At the time, the Grey Wolves looked the more formidable of the newcomers to the system, rapidly capturing key positions in the police and intelligence apparatuses of the state, from which terror could be orchestrated with paramilitary gangs outside it. Few terms have been as much abused as ‘fascism’, but there is little question that the MHP of these years met the bill. Therein, however, lay its limitation. Classically, fascism – in Germany as in Italy or Spain – was a response to the threat of a mass revolutionary movement that the possessing classes feared they could not contain within the established constitutional order. Where such a movement was missing, though clubs and squads might be useful for local intimidation, the risks of entrusting supreme power to any extra-legal dynamism of the right, welling up from below, were generally too high for traditional rulers. In Turkey a protean revolutionary force had emerged, attracting not just firebrands in the universities, but recruits from the religious and ethnic minorities, local support from groups of workers, even sympathisers in the educated middle class. But though it was capable of ascendancy in particular neighbourhoods or municipalities, it was never a mass phenomenon. A student-based movement, however dedicated its militants, was no match for a heavily armed state, let alone a conservative electoral majority.
Much of the traditional fabric of Turkish society was meanwhile coming apart, as migration from the countryside threw up squatter settlements in the towns, still not far removed in ways of life and outlook from the villages left behind – ruralisation of the cities outrunning urbanisation of the newcomers, in the famous formula of Serif Mardin, dean of Turkish sociologists – but without the same communal bonds. Though from the turn of the 1970s the postwar boom was over, industrialisation by import substitution was artificially prolonged by remittances from Turkish workers abroad and a ballooning foreign debt. By the end of the decade this model was exhausted: compared with Menderes’s, Demirel’s brand of populism ended in larger deficits, higher inflation, wider black markets and lower growth. Deteriorating economic conditions were compounded by increasing civil violence, as the far right stepped up its campaign against the left, and a medley of revolutionary groups hit back. Worst affected were Alevis – communities suspected of a heterodoxy worse than Shiism – who became victims of the latest pogrom against a minority, the Grey Wolves acting as the Special Organisation of the day.
The tipping point, however, came from another direction. In September 1980, an Islamist rally in Konya, resounding to calls for restoration for the sharia, refused to sing the national anthem, in open defiance of Kemalist prescriptions. Within a week, the army struck, closing the country’s borders and seizing power in the small hours. Under a National Security Council headed by the chief of staff, parliament was dissolved and every major politician put behind bars. Parties were shut down, deputies, mayors and local councils dismissed. A year later, martial law would be declared in Poland, to a universal outcry in the West – a torrent of denunciations in editorials, articles, books, meetings, demonstrations. The military takeover in Turkey met with scarcely a murmur. Yet compared with that of Kenan Evren – commander of the Turkish Gladio – the rule of Jaruzelski was mild. No fewer than 178,000 were arrested, 64,000 were jailed, 30,000 stripped of their citizenship, 450 died under torture, 50 were executed, others disappeared. Europe’s good conscience took it in its stride.
Mass repression was not the gateway to a dictatorship in Turkey, but to a democratic catharsis of the kind that would become familiar in Latin America. Evren and his colleagues had no compunction about the wholesale use of torture, but equally they understood the importance of constitutions. A new charter was written, concentrating power in the executive, introducing a 10 per cent threshold for representation in the legislature, and eliminating excessive civil liberties, especially those which had permitted ‘irresponsible’ strikes or calumnies in the press. A referendum in which any discussion of this document was forbidden duly ratified it, installing Evren as president. In 1983 elections were held under the improved rules, and parliamentary government returned. The way was now paved for a third cycle of centre-right politics.
The new premier was Turgut Özal, like Demirel (to whom he owed his rise) a provincial engineer with a background in the US, whose initial move from bureaucratic and managerial positions into a political career had been made via the National Salvation Party, of which his brother was a leading light. A year before the coup, Demirel had put him in charge of the stabilisation plan on which the IMF insisted as a condition of bailing Turkey out of its financial crisis – a standard deflationary package that had run into stiff trade-union opposition. When the military seized power, they retained his services, and once popular resistance was crushed, Özal’s hands were no longer tied. He could now implement the reductions in public spending, hikes in interest rates, scrapping of price controls and cuts in real wages that international confidence required. A financial scandal in his team, forcing him to resign in 1982, saved him from continuing association with the military junta when elections were held the following year. Creating his own Motherland Party, with the tacit backing of all three of the now banned formations of the previous right – populist, fascist and Islamist – he carried off an easy victory with 45 per cent of the vote, giving him an absolute majority in parliament.
Squat and unprepossessing in appearance, crude in manner, Özal always had a touch of a Turkish Mr Toad about him. But he was a more considerable figure than Demirel or Menderes, with a quick, sharp mind and a coherent vision of the country’s future. Coming to power at the turn of the 1980s, the hour of Thatcher and Reagan, he was a local equivalent in neoliberal resolve. The import substitution model, with its web of administered prices, overvalued exchange rates, bureaucratic licences and subsidised public sector, all that Kemalist statism had thought to develop over the years, started to be dismantled, to give free rein to market forces. There were limits: privatisation of state enterprises was more talked about than enacted. But overall, economic liberalisation was pushed through, with highly satisfactory results for Turkish capital. Exports trebled in value. New enterprises sprang up, profits rose and wages declined. Amid accelerating growth, and a general climate of enrichissez-vous, a contemporary consumerism arrived for the middle class.
At the same time, Özal more openly exploited religion to consolidate his position than any of his predecessors. He could do this because the junta had itself abandoned military traditions of secularism, in the interests of combating subversion. ‘Laicism does not mean atheism,’ Evren told the nation. In 1982 confessional instruction was made obligatory in state schools, and from now on what had always been tacit in official ideology, the identification of nation with religion, became explicit with the diffusion of ‘the Turkish-Islamic synthesis’ as textbook doctrine. Özal, though an arch-pragmatist, was himself a member of the mystical Nakshibendi order – he liked to compare them to the Mormons, as examples of the affinity between piety and money – and used state control of religion to promote it as never before. Under him, the budget of the Directorate of Religious Affairs increased 16-fold: five million copies of the Koran were printed at public expense, half a million pilgrims ushered to Mecca, seventy thousand mosques kept up for the faithful. The devout, the dynamic and the epicurean all had reason to be grateful to him.
In the spring of 1987, Özal capped his project to modernise the country by applying for Turkish entry into the European Community, the candidature that is still pending twenty years later. In the autumn he was re-elected premier, and in 1989 took over the presidency when Evren retired. From this peak, it was downhill. Economically, a trade deficit and overvalued currency combined with electorally driven public spending to send inflation back to pre-coup levels, triggering a wave of strikes and choppy business conditions. Corruption, rife during the boom, now lapped the presidential family itself. Politically, having gambled that he could keep the old guard of politicians out of play with a referendum banning their re-entry into the arena, which he then lost, Özal was faced with the rancour of a reanimated Demirel. Increasingly abrupt and autocratic in style, he made Turkey into a launching-pad for American strikes against Iraq in the Gulf War, in defiance of public opinion and against the advice of the general staff, and got no economic or strategic reward for doing so. Instead, Turkey was now confronted with an autonomous Kurdish zone on its south-eastern borders, under American protection.
Each of the three cycles of centre-right rule had seen a steady weakening of one of the pillars of Kemalism as a historical structure: its compression of religion to a default identity, restricting its expressions to the private sphere. Now it was not just secularism, as officially defined, but also statism, as an economic outlook, that was eroded. Özal had gone furthest in both directions, confessional and liberal. Yet the deeper foundations of the Kemalist order lay untouched. Integral nationalism has remained de rigueur for every government since 1945, with its invariable toll of victims. After the Greeks in the 1950s and the Alevis in the 1970s, now it was the turn, once again, of the Kurds. The radicalisation of the late 1960s had not left them unaffected, but so long as there was a legal Workers’ Party, or a lively set of illegal movements in the universities, Kurdish aspirations flowed into a more general stream of activism. Once the coup of 1980 had decapitated this left, however, the political reawakening of a new generation of Kurds had to find its own ways to emancipation.
On seizing power, Evren’s junta had declared martial law in the south-east, and rapidly made any use of the Kurdish language – even in private – a criminal offence. Absolute denial of any cultural or political expressions of a collective Kurdish identity covered the whole of Turkey. But in the south-east, social and economic relations were also explosive: the proportion of landless peasants was high, and the power of large landowners, long complicit with the state, was great. In this setting, one of the Kurdish groups formed in Ankara just before the coup found the natural conditions for a guerrilla war. The PKK, initially sporting Marxist-Leninist colours, but in actuality – as time would show – thoroughly pragmatic, launched its first operations across the Syrian and Iraqi borders in the spring of 1984.
This time the Turkish state, facing a much more disciplined and modern enemy, with external bases, could not crush the movement in a few months, as it had done during the risings of 1925 and 1937. A prolonged war ensued, in which the PKK responded to military terror with pitiless ferocities of its own. It was 15 years before the army and air force finally brought the Kurdish insurgency to an end, in 1999. By then, Ankara had mobilised more than a quarter of a million troops and police – twice the size of the American army of occupation in Iraq – at an annual cost of $6 billion. According to official figures, at least 30,000 died, and 380,000 were expelled from their homes. Actual victims were more numerous. The number of internal refugees was unofficially estimated at three million. The method of deportations was old, the destination new, as the army burned and razed villages in order to concentrate the population under its control, in a Turkish version of the strategic hamlets in Vietnam: invigilated slums in the regional cities.
This was the other face of Özal’s rule. In his last years, he started to speak of his own half-Kurdish origins – he came from Malatya in the east – and to loosen the most draconian laws against the use of Kurdish as a language. But on his sudden death in 1993, Demirel grabbed the presidency, and torture and repression intensified. The rest of the 1990s saw a succession of weak, corrupt coalitions that reproduced the trajectory of the 1970s, presiding over a disintegration of the political system and economic model of the preceding decade, as if the hegemony of the centre right was fated to repeat the same parabola every generation. Once more public debt soared, inflation took off, interest rates rocketed. This time deep recession and high unemployment completed the debacle.
In the last year of the century a moribund Ecevit returned to office, boasting of his capture of the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, a figure out of Dostoevsky: abducted by Mossad and the CIA in Africa and delivered in a truss to Ankara, he was soon profusely expressing his love for Turkey. By now public finances were in ruins, the price of necessities out of control. The final economic crisis was triggered by an undignified dispute between the president, now a former judge, and the premier, livid to be taxed with the corruption of his ministers. Dudgeon at the helm of the state led to panic on the stock market, and collapse of the currency. Meltdown was avoided only by an emergency IMF loan, extended for the same reason as to Yeltsin’s Russia: the country was too important an American interest to risk a domestic upheaval, should it founder. The fall of the government a few months later brought the aftermath of the Özal years to a close.
Elections in the autumn of 2002 saw a complete transformation of the political scene. A party that had not even existed eighteen months before swept the board. The AKP (the Justice and Development Party), running on a moderate Muslim platform, won two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly, forming a government with the largest majority since the time of Menderes. Its victory was widely hailed, at home and abroad, as the dawn of a new era for Turkey: not only would the country now be assured stable government, after years of squabbling coalition cabinets, but – still more vital – the prospect of a long overdue reconciliation of religion and democracy. For the central plank of the AKP’s electoral campaign was a pledge to bring Turkey into the European Union, as a country made capable of meeting the EU’s long-standing criteria for membership, above all the political sine qua non of the rule of law and respect for human rights. Within a month of their victory, AKP leaders had secured a diplomatic triumph at the Copenhagen summit of the EU, which gave Turkey a firm date, only two years away, for starting negotiations for its accession to the Union, provided that it enacted sufficient political reforms in the interim. At home the general change of mood, from despair to euphoria, was dramatic. Not since 1950 had a fresh start, inspiring so much hope, been witnessed.
The novelty of AKP rule, widely acclaimed in the West, is not an illusion. But between the standard image, to be found in every bien-pensant editorial, opinion column and piece of reportage in Europe, let alone America – not to speak of official pronouncements from Brussels – and the reality of what is new about it, the distance is considerable. The party is an heir, not a founder, of its fortune. When the ban on pre-1980 politicians was lifted in 1987, the landscape of the late 1970s re-emerged. Özal and Demirel disputed the mainstream centre-right vote, traditionally hegemonic, but weakened in the 1970s by the rise of fascist and Islamist parties on its far flank. These now duly reappeared, but with a difference. Türkes had dropped much of his earlier ideological baggage, his party now touting a synthesis of religion and nation in the style of a more generic Turkish chauvinism, with somewhat greater – though still quite limited – electoral success as time went on.
Erbakan, on the other hand, became a major force. The popular constituency for Islamism was much larger, and he proved a formidable shaper of it. By 1994 he had created far the best grass-roots organisation of any party, based on local religious networks, powered by modern communications and data systems. In that year, his – renamed – Welfare Party showed its mettle by capturing Istanbul, Ankara and a string of other cities in municipal elections. Town halls had never been of much importance in the past, but the new Welfare mayors and their councillors, by delivering services and charitable works to communities that had never known such attention before, made them into strongholds of popular Islamism.
Behind this success lay longer-term changes in society. Outside the state education system, religious schools had been multiplying since the 1950s. In the market, the media were moving steadily downscale, the tabloid press and commercial television propagating a mass culture that was, as everywhere, sensationalist and consumerist, but with a local twist. By dissolving the distinctions, on which the Kemalist compression of Islam had depended, between private life (and fantasy) and admissible public ideals or aspirations, it favoured the penetration of religion into the political sphere. The post-Ottoman elites could afford to look down on a popular culture saturated with folk religion so long as the political system excluded the masses from any real say in the government of the country. But as Turkish society became more democratised, their sensibilities and beliefs were bound to find increasing expression in the electoral arena. The Muslim vote had existed for nearly fifty years. By the mid-1990s it was much less inhibited.
On the heels of its municipal triumphs, the Welfare Party got a fifth of the national vote in 1995, making it the largest party in a fragmented assembly, and soon afterwards Erbakan became premier in a precarious coalition government. Unable to pursue the party’s agenda at home, he attempted to strike a more independent line abroad, speaking of Muslim solidarity and visiting Iran and Libya, but was rapidly called to order by the foreign policy establishment, and within a year ousted under military pressure. Six months later the Constitutional Court proscribed the Welfare Party for violating secularism. In advance of the ban, Erbakan formed the Virtue Party as its reincarnation. In the summer of 2001, that in turn was banned, whereupon – never short of inspiring names – he formed the Felicity Party to replace it.
This time, however, he could not carry his troops with him. A new generation of activists had come to the conclusion that Erbakan’s erratic style of leadership – veering wildly between firebrand radicalism and unseemly opportunism – was a liability for their cause. More important, the repeated crackdowns on the kind of Islamism he represented had convinced them that to come to power it was essential to drop his anti-capitalist and anti-Western rhetoric, and present a more moderate, less explicitly confessional face to the electorate, one that would not affront the Kemalist establishment so openly. They had already challenged Erbakan for control of the Virtue Party, and in 2001 were ready to break away from him completely. Three weeks after the creation of the Felicity Party, the AKP was launched under the leadership of Tayyip Erdogan. Mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1998, he had been briefly jailed for an inflammatory verse and was still ineligible to run for parliament, but few doubted the practicality of his ambitions. His proven skills as orator and organiser assured his domination of the new party.
The spectacular scale of the AKP’s victory in 2002, catapulting it into power, was an effect of the electoral system rather than of any overwhelming support at the polls. The party got no more than 34 per cent of the vote, far below the scores achieved by Menderes, Demirel or Özal at their height. This was transmuted into 67 per cent of seats in the Assembly by the number of other parties that fell below the 10 per cent bar – only the still extant Kemalist RPP cleared it, with 19 per cent. The result was more a verdict on the kind of democracy the constitution of 1980 had installed in Turkey rather than a tidal vote of confidence in the AKP: a combined total of half the electorate was disenfranchised by the threshold for representation in parliament.
Yet the party’s disproportionate control of the legislature also corresponded to a new reality. Unlike any of its predecessors, it faced no credible opposition. All the parties associated with the debacle of the later 1990s had been wiped out, other than a hastily resuscitated RPP, without any positive programme or identity, surviving on fears that a neo-Islamism was about to take over the country. A new cycle of centre-right dominance had begun, not discontinuous with the past, but modifying it in one crucial respect. From the start, though it mustered less numerical support than its forerunners at a comparable stage of the cycle, the AKP enjoyed an ideological hegemony over the whole political scene that none of them had ever possessed. By a process of elimination, it was left in all but sole command of the stage.
This structural change was accompanied by an alteration in the character of the ruling party itself. Since its roots in the Islamism that arose outside the establishment after 1980 were plain, and its turn towards a more moderate stance in coming to power no less clear, the AKP has been widely described by admirers in the West as a hopeful Muslim equivalent of Christian Democracy. High praise in Europe, the compliment has not been well received by the AKP, which prefers the term ‘conservative democracy’, as less likely to provoke Kemalist reflexes. But the comparison is mostly misleading in any case. There is no church for the AKP to lean on, there are no welfare systems to preside over, no trade unions in its tow. Nor does the party show any sign of the internal democracy or factional energies that were always a feature of postwar German or Italian Christian Democracy.
Still, there are two respects in which the AKP could be said to correspond, mutatis mutandis, to them. If its electoral base, like theirs, includes the peasantry, which still comprises 30 per cent of the population in Turkey, it draws more heavily on a teeming underclass of urban slum-dwellers which scarcely existed in postwar Europe. But the dynamic core of the party comes from a stratum of newly enriched Anatolian entrepreneurs, completely modern in their approach to running a profitable business, and devoutly traditional in their attachment to religious beliefs and customs. This layer, as distinct from the big conglomerates in Istanbul as local notables in the Veneto or Mittelstand in Swabia were from Fiat or the Deutsche Bank, is the new component of the centre-right bloc commanded by the AKP. Its similarity to the provincial motors of the German or Italian parties of old is unmistakeable.
So too is the centrality of Europe – the Community then; the Union now – as ideological cement for the party. In Turkey, however, this has been much more important, politically speaking, for Erdogan and his colleagues than it was in Germany or Italy for Adenauer or De Gasperi. Entry into the EU has, indeed, to date been the magical formula of the AKP’s hegemony. For the mass of the population, many with relatives among the two million Turks in Germany, a Europe within which they can travel freely represents hope of better paid jobs than can be found, if at all, at home. For big business, membership of the EU offers access to deeper capital markets; for medium entrepreneurs, lower interest rates; for both, a more stable macro-economic environment. For the professional classes, commitment to Europe is the gauge that Islamist temptations will not prevail within the AKP. For the liberal intelligentsia, the EU will be the safeguard against any return to military rule. For the military, it will realise the long-standing Kemalist dream of joining the West in full dress. In short, Europe is a promised land towards which the most antithetical forces within Turkey can gaze, for the most variegated reasons. In making its cause their own, the AKP leaders have come to dominate the political chequerboard more completely than any force since the Kemalism of the early republic.
To make good its claim to be leading Turkey into Europe, the AKP took a series of steps in the first two years of its rule to meet norms professed by the Union. A reduction in the powers of the National Security Council, underway before it came to office, and of the role of the military in it, was in its own interest, as well as that of the population at large. Of more immediate significance for ordinary citizens, the State Security Courts, a prime instrument of repression, have been closed down. The state of emergency in the south-east, dating back to 1987, has been lifted, and the death penalty abolished. In 2004, Kurdish MPs jailed for using their own language in parliament were finally released. Warmly applauded in the media, this package of reforms secured the AKP its European legitimacy.
The larger part of the popularity of the new government came, however, from the rapid economic recovery over which it presided. The AKP inherited an IMF stabilisation programme as a condition of the large loan Turkey received from the fund in late 2001, which set the parameters for its stewardship of the economy. The ideology of the Welfare Party out of which it came had been not only anti-Western, but often anti-capitalist in rhetoric. The European turn of the AKP purged it of any taint of the first. Still more demonstratively, it put all memories of the latter behind it, adopting a neoliberal regimen with the fervour of a convert. Fiscal discipline became the watchword, privatisation the grail. The Financial Times was soon hailing the AKP’s ‘passion for selling state assets’. With a primary budget surplus of 6 per cent, and real interest rates at 15 per cent, subduing inflation to single figures, business confidence was restored, investment picked up and growth rebounded. From 2002 to 2007, the Turkish economy grew at an average rate of some 7 per cent a year. Drawn by the boom, and fuelling it, foreign capital poured into the country, snapping up 70 per cent of the Istanbul stock market.
As elsewhere, the end of high inflation relieved the condition of the poor, as the price of necessities stabilised. Jobs, too, were created by the boom, even if these do not show up in official statistics, where the rate of unemployment – more than 10 per cent – appears unaffected. But jobless growth in the formal sector has been accompanied by increased employment in the informal sector, above all casual labour in the construction industry. Objectively, such material gains remain rather modest: real wages have been flat, and – given demographic growth – the number of paupers has actually increased. Ideologically, however, they have been enough, so one acute observer argues, for the AKP to make neo-liberalism for the first time something like the common sense of the poor.
But how deep does popular belief that the market always knows best ultimately run? Fiscal discipline has meant cutting social spending, on services or subsidies, making it difficult for the AKP to repeat at national level the municipal philanthropy on which its leaders thrived in the 1990s, when the Welfare Party could deliver public benefits of one kind or another directly to its constituents. The Turkish state collects only about 18 per cent of GDP in taxes – even by today’s standards, a tribute to the egoism of the rich – so there is anyway little government money to go around, after bond-holders have been paid off. To hold the mass of its voters in the cities, the AKP needs to offer something more than the bread – it is not yet quite a stone – of neoliberalism. Lack of social redistribution requires cultural or political compensations. There were also the party’s cadres to be considered: a mere diet of IMF prescriptions was bound to leave them hungry.
The pitfalls of too conformist an adherence to directives from abroad were illustrated early on, when the AKP leadership attempted to force a vote through parliament inviting American troops across Turkey to attack Iraq, in March 2003. A third of its deputies rebelled, and the motion was defeated, to great popular delight. At this stage, Erdogan was still outside parliament, having yet to get round the previous ban on him. Possibly harbouring a residual sense of rivalry with him, his second-in-command, Abdullah Gul, acting as premier, may not have pulled out all the stops. Two months later, Erdogan had entered parliament and taken charge. Once premier, he rammed through a vote to dispatch Turkish troops to take part in the occupation of Iraq. By this time it was too late, and the offer was rejected by the client authorities in Baghdad, nervous of Kurdish reactions. But Erdogan’s ability to impose such a course was an indication of the position he has come to occupy in the AKP’s firmament.
In his person, in fact, lies a good deal of the symbolic compensation enjoyed by the mass of the party’s electorate for any material hardships. Postmodern political cultures, ever more tied to the spectacle, have spawned a series of leaders out of the entertainment industry. Erdogan belongs in this respect with Reagan and Berlusconi: after an actor and a crooner, who could be more popular than a striker? The product of a working-class family and religious schools in Istanbul, Erdogan started out life as a professional footballer, before moving up through the ranks of the Welfare Party to become mayor of the city at the age of 40. Along the way, he found time to burnish his private sector credentials, amassing a tidy fortune as a local businessman. Neither humble origins nor recent wealth are new for leaders of the centre right in Turkey. What distinguishes Erdogan from his predecessors is that unlike Menderes, Demirel or Özal, his route to power has not been through bureaucratic preferment from above, but grass-roots organisation from below. For the first time, Turkey is ruled by a professional politician, in the full sense of the term.
On the platform, Erdogan is a figure of pregnant native charisma. Tall and powerfully built, his hooded eyes and long upper lip accentuated by a brush moustache, he embodies three of the most prized values of Turkish popular culture. Piety: legend has it that he always prayed before bounding onto the pitch; machismo: famously tough in word and deed, with subordinates and enemies alike; and the common touch: manners and vocabulary of the street-stalls rather than the salon. If no trace of democracy is left in the AKP, whose congresses now rival United Russia in acclamations of its leader, that is not necessarily a black mark in a tradition that respects authoritarianism as a sign of strength. The weaknesses in Erdogan’s public image lie elsewhere. Choleric and umbrageous, he is vulnerable to ridicule in the press, suing journalists by the dozen for unfavourable coverage of himself or his family, which has done well out of the AKP’s years in power. A son’s gala wedding adorned by Berlusconi, a daughter’s nuptials glad-handed by Musharraf, have shut down half Istanbul for their festivities. A son-in-law’s company has been handed control of the second largest media concern in the country. At the outset, the AKP enjoyed a reputation for probity. Now its leader risks acquiring some of the traits of a tabloid celebrity, with all the attendant ambiguities. But Erdogan’s personality cult remains one of the party’s trump cards, as that of Menderes, no less vain and autocratic, was before him. Simply, the audience has moved from the countryside to the cities.
When elections came again in 2007, the ranks of the AKP had been purged of all those who had rebelled against the war in Iraq, relics of a superseded past. Now a homogeneous party of order, riding five years of growth, a magnetic leader in charge, it took 47 per cent of the vote. This was a much more decisive victory than in 2002, distributed more evenly across the country, and was treated in the West as a consecration without precedent. In some ways, however, it was less than might have been expected. The AKP’s score was six points lower than that of Demirel in 1965, and 11 points below that of Menderes in 1954. On the other hand, the ex-fascist MHP, flying crypto-confessional colours too, won 14 per cent of the vote, making for a combined vote for the right of 61 per cent, arguably a high tide of another kind. Indeed, although – because of the vagaries of the electoral threshold – the AKP’s share of seats actually fell, despite the increase in its vote by more than a third, the MHP’s success handed the two parties, taken together, three-quarters of the National Assembly: more than enough to alter the constitution.
In its second term of office, the AKP has altered course. By 2007 entry into the EU was still a strategic goal, but no longer the same open sesame for the party. Once the Anglo-American plan to wind up the Republic of Cyprus had failed in 2004, it was faced with the awkward possibility of having to end Turkish military presence on the island, if the country was itself to gain entry into the EU – a price at which the whole political establishment in Ankara has traditionally baulked. So, after its initial burst of liberal reforms, the party decelerated, with few further measures of real significance to protect civil rights or dismantle the apparatuses of repression, testing the patience even of Brussels, where officialdom has long been determined to look on the bright side. By 2006 even the Commission’s annual report on Turkey, a treasury of bureaucratic euphemisms, was here and there starting to strike a faintly regretful note.
Soon afterwards, in early 2007, Hrant Dink, an Armenian-Turkish journalist repeatedly prosecuted for the crime of ‘denigrating Turkishness’ (he spoke of the Armenian genocide), was assassinated in Istanbul. Mass demonstrations protested his murder. A year later, the extent of the AKP’s response was to modify the charge in the penal code under which Dink had been prosecuted, with a grand alteration from ‘denigrating Turkishness’ to ‘denigrating the Turkish nation’. Twenty-four hours after that change had been made, on May Day 2008, police launched an all-out assault on workers attempting to commemorate the killing of trade unionists in Taksim Square in 1977, after the AKP had banned the demonstration. Clubs, tear-gas, water cannon and rubber bullets left 38 injured. More than five hundred were arrested. As Erdogan explained, ‘When the feet try to govern the head, it becomes doomsday.’
Shedding liberal ballast, once Europe moved down the agenda, has meant at the same stroke pandering to national phobias. In its first term, the AKP made a number of concessions to Kurdish culture and feeling – allowing a few hours of regional broadcasting in Kurdish, some teaching of Kurdish in private schools. These involved little structural change in the situation of the Kurdish population, but combined with selective use of state patronage in Kurdish municipalities, and a more ecumenical rhetoric, were enough to treble the party’s vote in the south-east in 2007, taking it to the national average. Since then, however, the government has tacked heavily towards the traditional military approach to the region. For soon after its failure to get the scheme it wanted in Cyprus, it was confronted with a revival of PKK guerrilla actions. On a much smaller scale than in the past, and more or less disavowed by Öcalan, these now had the advantage of a more secure hinterland in the de facto autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan, after the American march to Baghdad.
In time-honoured fashion, the Turkish high command responded by stepping up repression, throwing more tanks and gendarmes into the south-east, and pressing for cross-border attacks into northern Iraq. Mobilisation of state and para-state agencies to crush the guerrillas was accompanied by a hurricane of nationalist hysteria in civil society, fed by fears of the long-term example of Kurdish autonomy in Iraq, resentment that for the first time in a century the country was having to give an account of itself to opinion in Europe, and the miseries of provincial life for unemployed youth, a prime recruiting ground of the MHP. In this storm, Erdogan and his colleagues took the same course as Demirel, accommodating the military – Turkish jets and troops were soon attacking across the frontier into Iraq – and upping chauvinist rhetoric. By the winter of 2007, Turkish cities were draped from one end to the other with national flags hanging out of windows or balconies; young people were replacing photographs of themselves with the crescent on a red field in Facebook; night after night, television news was reduced to solemn images of Erdogan and Gul, at the head of a phalanx of army commanders, presiding at the funeral of soldiers killed in the south-east, mothers sobbing over their coffins, intercut with troops high-stepping through Diyarbekir to stentorian chants of ‘One Flag, One Nation, One Language, One State’. A comparable intensity of integral nationalism has not been seen in Europe since the 1930s.
The AKP’s embrace of this jingoism involves no renunciation of its own objectives. If nation continues to trump religion as the master discourse of society, without contradicting it, the party has much to gain and little to lose by doing the same. Tactically, its adjustment has an obvious logic. The economic outlook for Turkey is worsening. The trade deficit is huge, the influx of foreign funds covering it is mostly hot money that could exit at the first sign of trouble, inflation is in double digits again. Should the boom evaporate, showing muscle on the security front is a well-tried electoral alternative. Strategically, so this calculation goes, giving the military all it wants in the battle against terrorism can enable the party to work towards its own goals on other terrain.
These have been two-fold: to bend society into a more consistently observant mould, and to capture the branches of the state that have resisted this. The priority given to these underlying aims, at the expense of liberal reforms, can be seen from the AKP’s determination to control the presidency by installing Gul in the post. The move raised military and bureaucratic hackles, put down by the easy electoral victory of 2007. Its political significance lay in the party’s refusal to nominate any independent personality with democratic credentials, which would have yielded it political gains of another kind, in which it was not interested. Its attempt to plant a pious incompetent as governor of the Central Bank failed, but indicates its general line of action, a colonisation of the state by trusted minions, which has been proceeding apace at lower levels. Operating in parallel, the movement led by the exiled mystagogue Fethullah Gülen – preaching an Islam impeccably pro-business, pro-modern, pro-American – has created an Opus Dei-like empire, not just controlling newspapers, television stations and hundreds of schools, but now permeating all ranks of the police.
Bids to bend civil society to the will of the ruling party have followed a similar pattern. Rather than making any effort to rescind the mass of punitive articles in a penal code still modelled on that of Italian Fascism, Erdogan tried to pass a law criminalising adultery – three years in jail for straying from the marriage bed – desisting only when it became clear that this was too much for even his warmest admirers in Europe. The battle front has now shifted to female headgear. After failing to secure a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that the Turkish ban on headscarves in public buildings, including universities, was a violation of basic rights, the AKP-MHP bloc passed two constitutional amendments abolishing it last February, which the Constitutional Court has since struck down.
The issue of scarves offers a perfect illustration of the warped dialectic between state and religion in the Turkey bequeathed by Kemal. Denial of the right of young women to wear what they want on campus is an obvious discrimination against the devout, excluding them from public higher education. Licensing the headscarf, as any secular girl from a provincial background will tell you, prompts fears of the reverse: brutal social pressure to wear it, on pain of ostracism or worse. The AKP is in no position to dispel such fears, since its record in office and the style of its leadership have been so persistently arrogant and bullying. Likewise, contemporary Kemalism is in no position to claim that the state must be kept inviolate from any expression of religion, since it maintains at public expense a vast directorate propagating just one faith, Islam, while curtailing the activity of all others. The successive waves of political pietism that have surged up since the 1950s, of which the AKP is only the latest, are the logical revenge on its own duplicity. A genuine secularism would have cut the cord between state and religion cleanly and completely, creating a space for the everyday rejection of all supernatural beliefs. How far it has failed to do so can be judged from the verdict of David Shankland, one of the most sympathetic analysts of Turkish faith and society, not to speak of the statesmanship of Erdogan himself: ‘There is not the slightest doubt,’ he writes in Islam and Society in Turkey, ‘that it is now dangerous for a man or woman to deny openly belief in God.’ The army itself, supposed bastion of secularism, regularly describes those who have fallen in counterinsurgency operations as ‘martyrs’. Nation and religion remain as structurally interdependent in latter-day Kemalism as they were when the Gazi first established the state.
But because that interdependence could never be openly acknowledged, a tension that has yet to abate was created within the Turkish political system between an elite claiming to be secular and movements claiming to be faithful, each side accusing the other of want of tolerance. The AKP has not broken, but reproduced this deadlock. Before taking office, Erdogan famously told his followers that democracy was like a tram: we will take it to our destination, and then get off. The remark has sometimes been interpreted as a revelation of the hidden intention of the AKP to use a parliamentary majority to install a fundamentalist tyranny. But its meaning can be taken as something more banal. Power, not principle, is what matters. Erdogan is no doubt as devout an individual as Blair or Bush, with whom he got on well, but there is little reason to think that he would risk the fruits of office for the extremities of his faith, any more than they would. An instrumental attitude to democracy is not the same either as hostility or commitment to it. Elections have served the AKP well: why abandon them? Religious integrism would bar entry to Europe: why risk it?
The temptations, and pitfalls, for the party lie elsewhere. On the one hand, the AKP is under pressure from its constituency – above all the dedicated core of militants – to show results in the long-standing struggle of the believers for more public recognition of their faith and its outward symbols. Its credibility depends on being able to deliver these. On the other hand, the unprecedented weakness of any opposition to it within the political system has given its leaders a giddy sense that they enjoy a new freedom of action. The military and the bureaucracy, certainly, remain a potential threat: but would the army dare to stage a coup again, now that Turkey is on the threshold of the Union, and all Europe is watching? The outcome of the recent crisis, in which the Constitutional Court failed by one vote to ban the AKP for breaching secularism, suggests that latter-day Kemalism is willing to wound, but afraid to strike.
Whether the AKP, which has hit back with accusations of a plot against it – whose labyrinthine details conspicuously avoid the killing of Dink or crimes in the south-east under its watch – shows greater resolve remains to be seen. For the moment, it has the upper hand, with big business solidly behind it. A triumphant appeal to the electors, sweeping away the constitution of 1982, is one possibility. The hubris that took Menderes to his end is another. What is clear is that the latest cycle of centre-right rule in Turkey has entered a critical phase, at which its precursors stumbled. If the AKP’s position is now stronger than that of its forebears, it is not impregnable.
Whatever the immediate outcome of the conflict between them, the latest versions of Islamism and Kemalism derive from the same founding moment as their predecessors, even as each seeks sublimation in Europe. So too do the principal potential obstacles to Turkish entry into the EU. In Turkey, these are generally held to be European racism and Islamophobia, or the prospect of the country’s future weight in the European Council as its largest member. Perhaps equally relevant, though less often mentioned, is the calculation that if Turkey is admitted, it will be difficult to refuse entry to Ukraine: not quite as large, but more democratic, with a higher per capita income, yet a country which Romano Prodi once explained had as much chance of joining the EU as New Zealand. Such resistances are not to be minimised. But the more intractable difficulties lie within the country itself. Three of these command the rest. They have a common origin in the integral nationalism that issued, without rupture or remorse, from the last years of an empire based on conquest.
The first, and in theory most pointed, obstacle to entry is Turkey’s continued military occupation, and maintenance of a political dependency, in Cyprus. Refusal to recognise a member-state of the European Union, while demanding entry into it, requires a diplomatic sangfroid that only a former imperial power could allow itself. However eager Brussels is to welcome Ankara, the legal monstrum of Turkey’s position in Cyprus lies still unresolved between it and accession. The second obstacle to ready incorporation in Europe is the domestic situation of the country’s minorities. These are not small communities. Kurds number anywhere between nine and 13 million, Alevis ten to 12 million, of whom perhaps two to three million are Kurds. In other words, up to a third of the population suffers systematic discrimination for its ethnicity or religion. The cruelties visited by the state on the Kurds are well advertised, but the position accorded by society to Alevis – often viewed as atheists by the Sunni majority – is even lower. Neither group forms a compact mass subject to uniform ill-treatment. There are now more Kurds in the big cities than in the south-east, many of whom no longer speak Kurdish and are intermarried with Turks, while Alevis, concentrated only in a single mountain enclave, are otherwise dispersed throughout the land. But that neither comes near the equality of rights and respect which the Copenhagen criteria of the EU nominally enjoin is all too obvious.
Finally, there is the Armenian genocide, its authors honoured in streets and schools across the country, whose names celebrate the murderers. Talat: a boulevard in Ankara, four avenues in Istanbul, a highway in Edirne, three municipal districts, four primary schools. Enver: three avenues in Istanbul, two in Izmir, three in occupied Cyprus, primary schools in Izmir, Mugla, Elazig. Cemal Azmi, responsible for the deaths of thousands in Trabzon: a primary school in that city. Resit Bey, the butcher of Diyarbekir: a boulevard in Ankara. Mehmet Kemal, hanged for his atrocities: thoroughfares in Istanbul and Izmir, statues in Adana and Izmir, National Hero Memorial gravestone in Istanbul. As if in Germany squares, streets and kindergarten were called after Himmler, Heydrich, Eichmann, without anyone raising an eyebrow. Books extolling Talat, Enver and Sakir roll off the presses, in greater numbers than ever. Nor is all this merely a legacy of a Kemalist past. The Islamists have continued the same tradition into the present. If Talat’s catafalque was borne by armoured train from the Third Reich for burial with full honours by Inönü in 1943, it was Demirel who brought Enver’s remains back from Tajikistan in 1996, and reburied them in person at a state ceremony in Istanbul. Beside him, as the cask was lowered into the ground, stood the West’s favourite Muslim moderate: Abdullah Gul, now AKP president of Turkey.
An integral nationalism that never flinched in exterminating Armenians, expelling Greeks, deporting Kurds and torturing dissident Turks, and which still enjoys wide electoral support, is not a force to be taken lightly. The Turkish left, consistently among its victims, has shown most courage in confronting it. Politically speaking, the ‘generation of 78’ was cut down by the military coup of 1980, years of imprisonment, exile or death killing off any chance of a revival of popular attraction or activism on the same scale. But when the worst of the repression lifted, it was this levy that produced a critical culture without equal in any European country of the same period: monographs, novels, films, journals, publishing houses that have given Istanbul in many respects a livelier radical milieu than London, Paris or Berlin. This is the setting out of which Orhan Pamuk – not exempt from friendly criticism in it – along with other leading Turkish writers, comes.
If there is a blind spot in the outlook of this intellectual left, it is Cyprus, about which few know much and most say less. But on the other two most explosive issues of the time, its record has been exemplary. Defence of the Kurds has for decades been at the centre of its imagination, producing one leading writer or director – often themselves Kurds – after another, from Yasar Kemal, Mehmet Uzun or Yilmaz Güney (Yol), to such recent films as Handan Ipekçi’s banned Big Man, Little Love (2001) and Yesim Ustaoglu’s Journey to the Sun (1999). As for the fate of the Armenians, it has been the object of a historical conference in Istanbul – cancelled under political pressure at two universities, held at another – a bestselling memoir (now in English: Fethiye Çetin, My Grandmother), a novel (Elif Shafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul), iconoclastic reportage (Ece Temelkuran’s Deep Mountain), and many columns in the press (Murat Belge, in Radikal).
But above all, the outstanding work of the historian Taner Akçam has put the realities of the Armenian genocide, and their deep deposits in the Turkish state, irreversibly on the map of modern scholarship. His path and taboo-breaking study was published in Turkey in 1999. A collection of key essays, From Empire to Republic: Turkish Nationalism and the Armenian Genocide, appeared in English in 2004, and a translation of his first book as A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility in 2006. Himself a prisoner, then exile of the military repression of 1980, Akçam has been repeatedly threatened and harassed even abroad, where North American authorities have collaborated with their Turkish counterparts to make life difficult for him. Inside Turkey, the issue of the genocide remains a danger for anyone who speaks of it, as the charges against Pamuk and the killing of Dink – both under AKP rule – make plain.
Outside Turkey, there has long been a school of historians, headed by the late Stanford Shaw, that reproduced the official mythology of the Turkish state, denying that anything remotely like genocide ever occurred on Ottoman soil. Bald negationism of this kind has lost academic standing. Later versions of this school prefer to minimise or relativise, in tune with the approach of the Turkish academic establishment, rather than repress altogether the fate of the Armenians. Intellectually speaking, these can now be regarded as discredited margins of the literature, but even such treatment as is to be found in the best historians of modern Turkey working in the West offers a painful contrast with the courage of Turkish critics themselves. In the most distinguished recent authorities, evasion or euphemism are still the rule. In the terse two paragraphs granted the subject in Osman’s Dream, Caroline Finkel’s massive 550-page history of the Ottoman Empire published in 2006, we read that ‘terrible massacres took place on both sides.’ As for genocide, the very word is a misfortune, which not only ‘bedevils any wider understanding of the history of the fate of Ottoman Armenians’ – not to speak of ‘Turkish foreign relations around the world’ – but ‘consigns Armenia, which borders Turkey … to a wretched existence’.
If we turn to Sükrü Hanioglu’s limpid Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire, a single paragraph tells us that ‘one of the most tragic events of the war was the deportation of much of the Armenian population of Anatolia’, in which ‘the finer details’ of the government’s decision that advancing Russian armies must be denied ‘crucial assistance’ from ‘Armenian rebels’ were unfortunately not observed in practice, leading to the unforeseen consequence of ‘massive loss of life’.Andrew Mango’s acclaimed biography Atatürk (1999) is even more tight-lipped. There we are told that ‘Eastern Anatolia is inhospitable at the best of times,’ and if its Armenians were ‘deported’, it was because they were drawn to the Russians and had risen against Ottoman rule. No doubt ‘the Armenian clearances’ were ‘a brutal act of ethnic cleansing’, but the CUP leaders had ‘the simple justification: “It was them or us.”’ Any comment? Just a line. ‘The deportations strained Ottoman communications and deprived Anatolia of almost all its craftsmen.’ German railroad traffic was going to be strained too.
Even Erik Zürcher, the Dutch historian who has done more than any other scholar to bring to light the linkages between the CUP underground and Kemal after 1918, could only allow himself, in his classic Turkey: A Modern History, the cautious subjective avowal that, while it might be ‘hard, if not impossible’ to prove beyond doubt, ‘this author at least is of the opinion that there was a centrally controlled policy of extermination, instigated by the CUP.’ That was in 1993. A decade later, in his revised edition of 2004, the same passage reads: ‘it can no longer be denied that the CUP instigated a centrally controlled policy of extermination.’ The alteration, though its wording has gone astray (denials continue to be heard, from chairs and columns alike), is testimony to the impact of Akçam’s work, to which Zürcher pays generous bibliographical tribute, and expresses a welcome shift in what a leading historian of Turkey feels can finally be said. But it would be unwise to overestimate the change. The reason for the pattern of evasions and contortions to be found in so much Western scholarship on Turkey that is otherwise of a high standard lies in the familiar fear of foreign – or expatriate – researchers, in any society where truth is at an official discount, that to breach national taboos will jeopardise access, contacts, friendships, at the limit bar them from the country altogether.
Where awards or consultations are concerned, there is yet greater cause for prudence. Zürcher’s later edition marks an advance over his earlier version where Armenians are in question. But where Kurds are at issue, it moves in the opposite direction, forthright statements in 1993 – ‘Turkey will have to become a binational state, with Kurdish as its second language in the media, in education and in administration. The south-east will have to be granted some sort of far-reaching autonomy with Kurds governing and policing Kurds’ – vanishing in 2004. Since then, Zürcher has been awarded a Medal of High Distinction by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and become an adviser to the EU Commission. Scholarship is unlikely to benefit from either honour. Nor are political brokers often brave speakers. It would be wrong to condemn the compromises of Western historians of Turkey, even of such an independent spirit as Zürcher, out of hand. The constraints they confront are real. But the pressures on Turks themselves are much stronger. Greater safety warrants less escapism.
The one signal exception in the field confirms the rule. Donald Bloxham’s Great Game of Genocide, which came out in 2005, is the work not of an Ottomanist but of a comparative historian of extermination, with no professional connections to Turkey. Its ill-chosen title gives little sense of the clarity and power of this work, a succinct masterpiece on the killing of the Armenians, illuminating both its national context and its international aftermaths. The treatment of the CUP’s genocide by accredited historians in the West forms part of Bloxham’s story, but it is the attitude of states that moves centre stage in his account. Of these, as he shows, the US has long been the most important, as the Entente power that never declared war on the Ottoman Empire in 1916-18, and whose high commissioner to Turkey from 1919 to 1927, Admiral Bristol, advocated further ethnic cleansing after it. Since America contained Greek and Armenian communities that needed to be silenced, it was there that the casuistries of later negationism were first developed in the interwar years, before they had much currency in Europe. By the 1930s Hollywood was already cancelling a movie of Franz Werfel’s novel on Armenian resistance to massacres in Cilicia, after charges from the Turkish Embassy that it was a calumny.
Since 1945 Turkey has, of course, acquired far more importance for the US as a strategic ally, first in the Cold War and now the War on Terror. In the last twenty years, increasing pressure from the Armenian community, today much more salient than in the 1920s, and the emergence of an Armenian scholarship that has pioneered modern study of the exterminations of 1915-16 in the West, have made repression of the question more difficult. After previously unsuccessful attempts to get resolutions on it through Congress, in 2000 the House International Relations Committee voted for a bipartisan resolution condemning the Armenian genocide, while carefully exempting the Turkish Republic from any responsibility for it. Ankara’s response was to threaten withdrawal of American military facilities in Turkey, trade reprisals, and to talk of a risk of violence against Americans in Turkey – the State Department even had to issue a travel advisory – if the resolution were passed by Congress. Characteristically, Clinton intervened in person to prevent the resolution getting to the floor. In Ankara, Ecevit exulted that it was a demonstration of Turkish power.
Last year, the same scenario was repeated. This time, the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi – another Democratic champion of human rights – pronounced herself in favour of a resolution with 191 sponsors. But as soon as a string of party notables headed by Madeleine Albright intervened, she heeded the pleas of the State and Defense Departments, and killed any vote on it. In the background, Turkish threats were now combined with bribes in a drive to stop the resolution. Some $3.2 million were spent by Ankara on a lobbying campaign orchestrated by Richard Gephardt, the former Democratic Majority Leader in the House, who had supported the resolution in 2000, when he was not yet on the Turkish payroll.Meanwhile, major Jewish organisations – AIPAC, ADL and others – far from expressing any solidarity with the victims of another genocide, were closeted with Gul in Washington, discussing how to deny it. Ideology plays its part in this: the uniqueness of the Nazi destruction of the Jews as a moral patent not to be infringed. But there is also the close military and diplomatic relationship between Israel and Turkey – IDF jets train in Turkish airspace – that has led Tel Aviv to undertake, in the words of a sympathetic observer, ‘a concerted effort to educate American Jewry on the strategic significance of Turkey’. Not all consciences have been stilled quite so easily. Other Jewish voices have been raised against such collusion, but to little effect so far.
Pressure from Ankara is not confined to Congress. Under Evren, an Institute of Turkish Studies was set up in the US, funded by Turkey, to encourage the right sort of research about the country in American universities. Though not all were willing to accept money from such an obviously official source, quite a few scholars did so in good faith. Among them was the leading Ottoman historian Donald Quataert, whose writing could not by any stretch of the imagination be described as other than sympathetic to his subject, and who became chairman of the institute’s board of governors, a supposedly independent body. When, however, he published in late 2006 a review of Bloxham’s work, acknowledging its force and conceding that the fate of the Armenians ‘readily satisfies the UN definition of genocide’, he was promptly forced to resign by the AKP’s point-man in Washington, Ambassador Nabi Sensoy – a diplomat whose good religious connections go back to Özal, under whom he served as chief of staff – under threat of financial lock-down, if he did not.
In Brussels, Turkey’s candidature to the EU puts a wider set of issues on the agenda than in Washington. Here, the situation of Turks themselves, in principle of Kurds, by extension of Cypriots, is the object of attention, not the fate of Armenians. In practice, the Commission’s priority has been to get Turkey into the Union at the least possible cost: that is, causing as little difficulty as it can for the AKP government, represented as a torch-bearer of progress, held back from fully realising EU norms only by a retrograde judicial and military establishment. Annual reports on the country’s advance towards membership, invariably dwelling much longer on economic than political requirements, chalk up performances in privatisation and torture in the same imperturbable idiom: ‘proceeds were significant, but the agenda is not yet finished’; ‘the Turkish legal framework includes a comprehensive set of safeguards against torture and ill-treatment. However, cases still occur.’ Shortcomings are noted, but the road always leads upwards.
Naturally, all potential sticking-points are excluded from these bland memorials. Cyprus? The rubric ‘Regional Issues and International Obligations’ does not even mention Turkey’s refusal to recognise a member of the European Union it seeks to enter. Commissioner Olli Rehn, a boyish Streber from Finland with sights on his country’s presidency, has told Cypriots they should ‘stop complaining against past injustice and rather work on future solutions with a pragmatic approach’ – naturally, one that accepts occupation by Ankara in the wider interests of Brussels. After all, as the Commission’s Turkey 2007 Progress Report can relate with satisfaction, among other merits, ‘Turkey has offered to train Iraqi security forces,’ and demonstrated ‘close alignment with EU Common Foreign and Security Policy’.
Kurds? Wherever possible, avoid mention of them. In the words of an authoritative study by two leading jurists of the record of the AKP in power and the way the EU has covered it, the Union tends to use ‘the term “situation in the south-east” as a euphemism for the Kurdish issue’. EU leaders have not only ‘singularly failed to issue any statement’ on the Kurdish question, or ‘promote any democratic platform or meaningful discourse about it’, but ‘the glossy picture of an overall dynamic towards democratisation, respect for human rights and pluralism painted by the Commission belies the reality that Turkey’s attitude towards the granting of minority rights and the Kurds shows little sign of genuine change’.Embarrassed by such criticisms, the Commission’s latest report makes a weak attempt to meet them. Kurds and Alevis, well aware that its main concern is that they not rock the boat of accession, remain unimpressed.
Armenians? Their fate has no bearing on Turkish membership of the Union. The ‘tragedy of 1915’, as Rehn puts it in a now standard euphemism, can form part of ‘a comprehensive dialogue’ between Ankara and Erevan, but Brussels must keep clear of it. Widely regarded inside Turkey as an honorary consul for the AKP, Rehn is perhaps exceptional even in the ranks of the current Commission for vulgar self-satisfaction and Tartufferie. His mission statement, Europe’s Next Frontiers (2006), replete with epigraphs from pop songs, and apothegms like ‘defeatism never carries the day’ or ‘the vision thing is not rocket science,’ ends with a naff conceit of his prowess on the football field: ‘Don’t tell the goalie, but I tend to shoot my penalty kicks to the lower left-hand corner. After all, it is goals that count – even in European integration.’ Such are his skills at ‘democratic functionalism’, we are told. Who could be surprised to learn, from the same mind, that ‘the Commission’s role in the accession process can be described as the friend who tells the truth’?
The Barroso Commission is not, of course, either an independent, or an isolated, centre of power. It reflects the outlook of the European political class as a whole. When the Parliament in Strasbourg, theoretically less subject to diplomatic constraints, was told by the Dutch MEP Camiel Eurlings, rapporteur on Turkey, that recognition of the Armenian genocide should be a condition of its accession to the Union, it was predictably the Green delegation, led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, that sprang into action to make sure the passage was deleted, confirming the general rule that the more any political group talks about human rights, the less it will respect them. The reality is an establishment commitment to Turkish membership that brooks no cavils. Emblematic is the Independent Commission on Turkey, hailed by the admiring head of the Open Society Institute in Istanbul as a ‘self-appointed group of European dignitaries’ (its members included one former president, two former prime ministers, three former foreign ministers, not to speak of Lord Giddens) which ‘has been a beacon of how Europe can be very fair and diligent in the pursuit of the truth, and as such has gained much praise both in Europe and in Turkey’. Its findings can be imagined.
A fuller handbook is offered by the Federal Trust’s volume The EU and Turkey: A Glittering Prize or a Millstone? (2005). No rewards for guessing the answer, but as one glowing prospectus follows another, with a decorous sprinkling of ifs and buts, more candid language occasionally breaks through. Opening the collection, its editor, Michael Lake, a former representative of Brussels in Ankara, salutes the ‘noble, even heroic’ role of the Turkish Association of Businessmen and Industrialists in propelling the historic process of reform of Turkey. With its entry into the Union, he points out, Europe will acquire a ‘strategic asset of the first quality’. Closing the volume, Norman Stone deals briskly with the Armenian question. The motives of those who raise it require examination: ‘Is it that hostility to Israel leads them into an effort to devalue Israel’s strongest argument?’ Not to put too fine a point on it: ‘Why do we have to talk about such things nowadays?’
Respectable opinion in Europe generally avoids such bluntness. Mainstream liberalism puts it more tactfully. In Mark Mazower’s words in the Financial Times, but variants can be found galore, ‘what happened to Armenians’ should be moved ‘out of the realm of politics and back into history’. Let scholars dispute, and the caravan of state pass on. The difficulty with such disinterested advice, of course, is that the Turkish Republic has always treated the fate of the Armenians as an affair of state, and continues to do so. As Bloxham writes, ‘Turkey has persistently lied about its past, bullied its minorities and other states in furtherance of its falsehoods, written the Armenians out of its history books’ – as well, of course, as spending large sums of public money to ensure that their fate stays ‘out of politics’ in the West, as Mazower and others would wish it.
Such well-wishers are liable to be ginger in their use of terms. Joschka Fischer would delicately allude to ‘the tragedy of the Armenians’, Timothy Garton Ash speaks in the Guardian of their ‘suffering’, the circumlocutions most acceptable to Ankara. It is true, of course, that ‘genocide’ is among the most devalued terms in contemporary political language. But if it has been debased beyond any originating imprecision, that is due principally to the very apologists for Nato, claiming genocide in Kosovo – five thousand dead out of a population of a million – who are now most vehement that the term not be allowed to compromise fruitful relations with Turkey. Historically, however, as has often been pointed out, the jurist responsible for defining the notion of genocide for the postwar United Nations, Raphael Lemkin, a student at Lvov at the time of the Istanbul trials of 1919, was first prompted towards it by the killings of the Armenians by the CUP, just across the Black Sea.
Not coincidentally, another who noted their extermination was Hitler, who had a first-hand witness of it among his closest associates in Munich. The former German consul in Erzerum, Max von Scheubner-Richter, reported to his superiors in detail on the ways they were wiped out. A virulent racist, who became manager of the early Nazi Kampfbund and the party’s key liaison with big business, aristocracy and the church, he fell to a shot while holding hands with Hitler in the Beerhall putsch of 1923. ‘Had the bullet which killed Scheubner-Richter been a foot to the right, history would have taken a different course,’ Ian Kershaw remarks. Hitler mourned him as ‘irreplaceable’. Invading Poland 16 years later, he would famously ask his commanders, referring to the Poles, but with obvious implications for the Jews: ‘Who now remembers the Armenians?’ The Third Reich did not need the Turkish precedent for its own genocides. But that Hitler was well aware of it, and cited its success to encourage German operations, is beyond question. Whoever has doubted the comparability of the two, it was not the Nazis themselves.
Comparison is not identity. The similarities between the two genocides were striking, far closer than in most historical parallels. But they were not complete, and the differences between them are part of the reason for the enormous contrast in contemporary reaction to them. Both campaigns of extermination were launched in secrecy, under cover of war; their perpetrators were aware they were criminal, and had to be hidden. Both required special organisations of killers, controlled by political leaderships operating informally between apparatuses of party and state. Both involved selective participation by military officers. At elite level, both combined ideologies of secular nationalism with doctrines of Social Darwinism. At popular level, both drew on ancient religious hatreds, targeting groups already victim of confessional pogroms before the war. Both involved a process of escalation from local killings to systematic extermination. Both draped their actions under the guise of deportations.
The differences between them lay essentially not in scale or intent, but in the greater instrumental rationality, and civil participation, of the CUP compared with the Nazi genocide. Jews in Germany numbered less than 1 per cent of the population, no threat to any regime. Nor was there any state that attempted to use Jewish communities in Europe for political or military ends. The Nazi destruction of the Jews was ideologically, not strategically or economically, driven. Although there was wholesale seizure of Jewish property, the proceeds were monopolised by those in power, without any large-scale benefit to the mass of the population, and the costs of extermination, when the struggle in the East was already being lost, were a deadweight on the German war effort. The Turkish destruction of the Armenians, although fuelled by ethno-religious hatred, had more traditional economic and geopolitical objectives. More than ten times the relative size of the Jewish community in Germany, the Armenian minority in the late Ottoman Empire not only possessed lands and capital on another scale, but compatriots across the border, in a Russian Empire that saw Armenians as potential recruits in its own schemes of expansion. When war came, fear and greed in Istanbul combined in more time-worn fashion to detonate annihilation. Both participants and beneficiaries of the cleansing in Anatolia were more numerous, and its structural consequences for society greater. One genocide was the dementia of an order that has disappeared. The other was a founding moment of a state that has endured.
But if these are real distinctions between the two catastrophes, the contrast in the way each figures in the European imaginary is so complete as all but to numb judgment. One has become the object of official and popular remembrance, on a monumental scale. The other is a whisper in the corner, that no diplomat in the Union abides. There are some presentable reasons for the difference. One genocide occurred within living memory in the centre of the continent, the other a century ago in its marchlands. The survivors of one were far more literate than of the other, and left more personal testimonies. But since the Armenian genocide was denounced by the Western powers when it occurred, as the Judeocide was not, and there were more third-party witnesses – official ones at that – of the killings as they occurred, something more is needed to explain the vastness of the discrepancy. What that might be is plain as day. Israel, a pivotal ally in the Middle East, requires recognition of the Judeocide, and has secured massive reparations for it. Turkey, a vital ally in the Near East, denies that genocide of the Armenians ever occurred, and insists no mention ever be made of it. The Union, and its cortege of belles âmes, follow suit.
This is not remote history, best left to antiquarians. The implacable refusal of the Turkish state to acknowledge the extermination of the Armenians on its territory is not anachronistic or irrational, but a contemporary defence of its own legitimacy. For the first great ethnic cleansing, which made Anatolia homogeneously Muslim, if not yet Turkish, was followed by lesser purges of the body politic, in the name of the same integral nationalism, that have continued to this day: pogroms of Greeks, 1955/1964; annexation and expulsion of Cypriots, 1974; killing of Alevis, 1978/1993; repression of Kurds, 1925-2008. A truthful accounting has been made of none of these, and cannot be without painful cost to the inherited identity and continuity of the Turkish Republic. That is why leaders of the AKP relentlessly pursue the same negationism as their predecessors, with the same threats and yet more dollars. For all the tensions between them as traditions, Kemalism and Islamism have never been chemically separate. Erdogan and Gul, too, are at home in the official synthesis between them, the ‘Turkish nation’ which, in what passes for a reform in Brussels, they have made it a crime to insult.
How, then, does Turkish membership of the Union now stand? The conventional reasons for which it is pressed within the EU are legion: militarily, a bulwark against terrorism; economically, dynamic entrepreneurs and cheap labour; politically, a model for regional neighbours; diplomatically, a bridge between civilisations; ideologically, the coming of a true multiculturalism in Europe. In the past, what might have been set against these considerations would have been fears that such an elongation of the Union, into such remote terrain, must undermine its institutional cohesion, compromising any chance of federal deepening. But that horse has already bolted. To reject Turkish membership on such a basis would be shutting the door well after there was any point in it. The Union is becoming a vast free range for the factors of production, far from an agora of any collective will, and the addition of one more grazing ground, however large or still relatively untended, will not alter its nature.
In Turkey itself, as in Europe, the major forces working for its entry into the Union are the contemporary incarnations of the party of order: the bourse, the mosque, the barracks and the media. The consensus that stretches across businessmen and officers, preachers and politicians, lights of the press and of television, is not quite a unanimity. Here and there, surly voices of reaction can be heard. But the extent of concord is striking. What, if the term has any application, of the party of movement? It offers the one good reason, among so many crass or spurious ones, for welcoming Turkey into the Union. For the Turkish left, politically marginal but culturally central, the EU represents hope of some release from the twin cults and repressions of Kemal and the Koran; for the Turkish poor, of chances of employment and elements of welfare; for Kurds and Alevis, of some rights for minorities. How far these hopes are all realistic is another matter. But they are not thereby to be denied. There is another side to the matter too. For it is here, and perhaps here alone, that notions that Europe would gain morally from the admission of Turkey to the EU cease to be multicultural cant. The fabric of the Union would indeed be richer for the arrival of so many vigorous, critical minds, and the manifest dignity and civility, that must strike the most casual visitor, of so many of the ordinary people of the country.
It would be better if the EU lived up to some of the principles on which it congratulates itself, and were to greet the entry of a Turkey that had evacuated Cyprus, and made restitution for its occupation of it; that had granted rights to the Kurds comparable to those of Welsh or Catalans; that had acknowledged the genocide of the Armenians. Its record makes clear how remote is any such prospect. The probability is something else: a Union stretching to Mount Ararat, in which ministers, deputies and tourists – or ministers and deputies as tourists: the Fischers, Kouchners, Cohn-Bendits enjoying their retirement – circulate comfortably by TGV between Paris or Berlin and Istanbul, blue flags with golden stars at every stop on the way, from the monument to the extermination of the Jews by the Brandenburg Gate to the monument to the exterminators of the Armenians on Liberty Hill. Former Commissioner Rehn could enjoy a game of football in the adjoining park, a few metres from the marble memorials to Talat and Enver, while bored young soldiers – fewer of them, naturally – lounge peacefully in Kyrenia, and terrorists continue to meet their deserts in Dersim. Turkish dreams of a better life in Europe are to be respected. But emancipation rarely just arrives from abroad.
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