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.