Encouraging Political Dialogue within Turkey

Lord Hylton

I have visited Turkey at intervals since 1994, as an informal observer of elections and other sensitive events. This spring I was present at the local elections in south-east Turkey.  The nationwide results got much more media coverage than local elections here.

Since 1984, despite various ceasefires, there has been a prolonged, armed uprising by some members of the Kurdish minority (15% or more of the whole population).  This, and problems connected with Cyprus and Armenia, have delayed Turkey’s application to join the EU.  Turkey is constituted as a unitary state, which means that Kurds, Laz, Suryanni  and other minorities have little or no local autonomy or language rights.  The criminal justice system is heavily weighted against terrorism and offences against national unity and identity.  Turkey has strong military and secular traditions, as well as Islamic ones, the latter being reflected in the present government.

It seems to me that serious dialogue, at all levels, is now need to allay potential frictions between the traditions mentioned above.  Dialogue should consider the constitution and the need for decentralization in a large country with a rising population.  It should make proposals to enable all the various minorities to feel fully at home within Turkey.  Language and cultural issues maybe the key to this.  I trust that the EU, together with Turkey’s NATO allies, will help to encourage the most widespread dialogue throughout the country.

4 comments for “Encouraging Political Dialogue within Turkey

  1. Croft
    22/05/2009 at 12:23 pm

    I realise this may be approaching this back to front but is Turkey as presently constituted viable as either an EU candidate or a state. Setting aside the structural breaches of EU cultural norms (free press, free speech, non harassment of political parties and so on) I’m thinking on the much more fundermental aspect of the ethnic communities that clearly want no place in Turkey – language rights or not. An opportunity was badly missed post WW1, with the never ratified Treaty of Sèvres that was supposed, to create a Kurdish state in land now split over eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, western Iran and some small parts of other states. I find it difficult to see, as the Kurds have been struggling to escape from modern Turkey since the beginning, that granting proper rights can possibly undo the entrenched feeling nor perhaps should it. People(s) have to want to belong to states they should not be compelled however nicely.

  2. Len
    22/05/2009 at 4:24 pm

    Lord Hylton – I always find Turkey interesting, and certainly it seems to be one of the west’s most valuable allies in the middle-east, which has the potential to be one of the most unstable places on the planet in the next century. I’m not really surprised about local elections having more news coverage there; I could be wrong, but I get the impression that countries new to democracy generally celebrate it more and are more interested in politics (and thus the media would be too)!

    I read about the PKK, and the Turks going into Iraqi land to hunt out members of the organisation, and I did wonder about the Kurds in Turkey itself, so that was illuminating.

    What do you think of the likelihood of Turkey joining the EU, given media hype about the Turks feeling lukewarm about it? I see the geopolitical reasons for Turkey joining, but I also see that there will be drawbacks to the job market in the (relative) short term. I sometimes wonder if it would be possible for a staggered entry to the EU, beginning with agricultural subsidies for example, then moving slowly upwards through economic integration then finally finishing with the Schengen agreement. That would hopefully soften the impact on particularly the poorer eastern Turks confronted with a rich EU at their fingertips.

    Also, can I ask what you think of the (supposed) start of change towards the Russian sphere of influence?

    • Lord Hylton
      02/06/2009 at 11:55 am

      Len – Apologies for delay in replying. I think it will take Turkey a long time to enter the EU, but talk to your MP about a staged entry.

  3. senex
    27/05/2009 at 7:33 pm

    I think perhaps Europe needs Turkey more than Turkey needs Europe? They have a great deal of self-sufficiency and a historical gravitas that makes them a serious player on the world stage. A country of wonderful archaeology!

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