Maureen Freely: Why not look at Europe from Turkey's view?

Click to follow

Continue with the other favourite line - that Turkey has no place in a "Christian club". Not only is this a slight to the 15 million European Muslims already living in the EU - it ignores Turkey's long service in that other Christian club, Nato.

In Germany, France, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands, through which millions of Turkish guest-workers have passed over the last 40 years, there is the spectre of an immigrant flood. But the agreement Turkey reached with the EU last December stated immigration would be subject to severe limits only to be lifted when Turkey's economy (which grew last year by 9 per cent) was deemed sufficiently strong.

Even in countries friendly to Turkey - and Britain is its staunchest supporter - there is a worrying fondness for the "two-Turkey" thesis. By this line of reasoning, half of the country is racing Westwards, while the other half - the part closest to Syria, Iraq, and Iran - is mired in its old, Eastern ways.

While it's true that Turkey is a land of many contrasts, it is not and never will be a game of two halves. To give just one example, most of Turkey's Kurds live in the east. If they look poor on television, it's because the region is only just emerging from the Turkish army's long conflict with the PKK. If they support Turkey's EU bid, it's because they dream of a social democratic future in which all Turks, whatever their ethnic origins, can prosper.

If modern Turkey has one great untold story, it is the growing grassroots movement to embrace its diverse ethnic roots, and to face - albeit haltingly - the less beautiful chapters in its history. Though the EU has played a central role in this process, it was born in Turkey: where the EU has been effective, it has served as carrot, stick, and midwife.

But there is one highly sensitive matter it has handled very badly. A bit of history here: at the end of the Ottoman Empire, there were more Christians living in Anatolia than Muslims. But by the 1920s, when the Republic of Turkey was founded, they were pretty much all gone. Anatolia's Greeks were exchanged for Greece's ethnic Turks following an agreement overseen by the Allied powers. The Turkish state has never acknowledged what most of Europe holds to be true - that between one and two million were systematically killed or perished on forced marches; they say "only" a few hundred thousand died during the wartime chaos.

That the official line was underwritten by the penal code became world news last month, when a public prosecutor charged the novelist Orhan Pamuk with the "public denigration of Turkish identity" for asserting in a Swiss newspaper that "a million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed and no one dares to talk about it except me".

By and large, British politicians saw this for what it was: another attempt by anti-EU nationalists in the judiciary to spoil Turkey's chances. The question was not whether Turkey the Islamic monolith was ready for EU entry but whether the government, constrained as it was by the army and other powerful state institutions, was strong enough to deliver its promises.

But for vote-hunting conservatives in Germany, France, and Austria, this was yet another opportunity to hammer home the racist message that Turks (barring the occasional Lone Voice like Pamuk) were "not like us".

Though voices in Britain are more moderate, there is still a mind-boggling lack of interest in what Turks themselves have to say. So - to give just one example - there was glancing interest last spring in the government-condoned closure of a conference organised in Istanbul by Turkish scholars to depoliticise the Armenian question and open it up to serious, non-partisan study. There were tiny mentions of the attempt to ban by court order their second attempt to hold the conference last weekend. But you will need a fine-toothed comb to find mention of the conference itself - which was a resounding success.

Only a hundred demonstrators turned up to throw a few eggs - in Turkey, this was viewed as a humiliation for the nationalists. The burning issue last Monday was not the Armenian question but whether or not Turks had the right to discuss it. The important news for Europe should have been that, whether or not their penal code gave Turks the right, there was more than one Turk daring to break a 90-year taboo.

There was, however, no mention of this watershed last Wednesday, when the European Parliament made a resolution pinning Turkish entry on an acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide. Once again, the Christians tell the heathens what to do.

Ask Turks what it's like to be lectured to by sanctimonious Europeans who don't do their homework, and they'll tell you: it's like the end of the First World War, when the Allied occupiers were preparing to parcel out most of what is now modern Turkey to its neighbours. Or put it this way: for historical reasons, they don't trust us. For obvious reasons, they don't like being insulted.

If we fail to bring Turkey into the European fold, and if Turkey - angered, misunderstood, and disrespected - moves away from social democracy, we have only ourselves to blame.

Comments