Philip Robins: Another year of frustration for Turkey

From a speech to the Royal Institute of International Affairs by the director of the programme on contemporary Turkey at Oxford University
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This year will be a massive year for Turkey. But isn't every one? Since the mid-1990s, Turkey has had an insurgency at home and war on its borders; two financial crises and a devastating series of earthquakes; a "post-modern" coup against an Islamist-led government. And a European Union that has uhmmed and ahhed about the nature of future relations.

The failure to find a political solution to the Cyprus problem by 1 May will see a divided island join the EU. That will further complicate Ankara's relations with the Union, rendering it less likely that the Europeans will name a date for accession negotiations with Turkey at the December summit.

And if there were not sufficient problems to the west, Turkey will have to deal with the fallout in Iraq. Ankara fears that ethnic federalism in Iraq will encourage secessionist tendencies on the part of the Kurds. Turkey's palpable jumpiness over the issue may yet get it into trouble with the US.

Turkey turns its attention to these crucial issues with its house divided. A tense atmosphere pervades the relationship between the military and the democratically elected "post-Islamist" Justice and Development Party (JDP) government. It has helped to politicise foreign policy as rarely seen in the past.

If 2004 looks to be a year of frustrations, Turkey may be saved from disaster. The EU is determined relations should not spin out of control, even if there is no Cyprus settlement. In a year's time, the same issues may remain on the table. In that case, we can look forward to 2005 being a massive year for Turkey too.