19 October 2006

1161) Article 301 will Prevent a Train Wreck

On the evening of the Troika meeting in Luxembourg, I was watching television in Le Royal Hotel where the Turkish delegation was staying. France’s latest undertaking was being discussed in a program joined by four journalists. . .

The point that caught my attention was the effort of the Le Monde writer, who was defending the French parliament’s decision to criminalize the denial of the alleged Armenian genocide, to mention Turkey’s Article 301 whenever he was trapped. The words of the journalist, whose views on this subject were contrary to those of his own newspaper, were summed up as follows: We may be limiting thought, but we want those who reject a crime against humanity to be punished. Turkey, who is trying to teach us about freedom, punishes those who talk about the genocide. There’s no difference between us in regards to putting limits on thought. Moreover, we are doing this as a moral obligation.

The fact that the journalists, who previously thought Turkey was right, could not find anything to say after this attack seemed very meaningful to me. In the discussion an Arab and Muslim journalist, whom in some circles in Turkey can’t tolerate, defended Turkey, but that’s another story.

The program was very educational in respect to showing how important it is to take Article 301 away from the hands of Turkey’s opponents in Europe. Today our strongest argument against France is the prohibition of thought in a country that is identified with freedom of thought. However, the existence of Article 301, with its sensational applications, unfortunately weakens the argument. Moreover, no matter how much we say that anything can be discussed in Turkey and conferences on the genocide claim are even being held, from the outside Turkey is seen as a country with prisons full of journalists and intellectuals, as Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has said.

Another interesting point was a claim made the next day by diplomats I spoke with in the context of the Troyka meeting that it was necessary for similar reasons to resolve the Article 301 issue as soon as possible. According to them, changes to be made in Article 301 are very significant in order to avoid a train wreck with the European Union. The scenario in the minds of these people who are constantly struggling on this issue with their peers is as follows: The contents of the progress report to be announced by the Commission on Nov. 8 are vital. Under current conditions there are three alternatives, ranging from good to bad:

The first improbable alternative is that the parties involved in the Cyprus dispute agree within the framework of Finland’s proposal and the Commission recommends continuation of negotiations in its report.

The second alternative is that due to Turkey’s refusal to open its ports to the Greeks, the report will recommend the suspension of some negotiation topics related to the free circulation of goods until Turkey fulfills its responsibilities.

The third alternative is a recommendation by the Commission for full suspension of negotiations in the case that Turkish ports aren’t opened.

The first alternative is ideal. The second doesn’t look too bad with a postponement of a solution to the Cyprus issue and a continuation of negotiations for some time. The worst alternative, which can be termed a train wreck, is the third. Consequently, the third alternative must somehow be prevented. It is believed that this can be done only if Turkey has done its part on the subject of political reforms, with Article 301 in particular. Actually, even if the Commission doesn’t make such a recommendation, members have the right to curtail negotiations. However, for this to happen, at least nine countries must say yes, and no one sees it as probable that the Greeks can muster this number.

According to diplomatic calculations, completion of political reforms will be beneficial in two ways: It will both increase Turkey’s strength to resist pressure on the Cyprus issue and strengthen the hands of countries supporting Turkey. Of course, the only barrier in front of these results is pressure from the calendar. In other words, if amendments are going to be made to Article 301, it is important to do it before Nov. 8.

The problems arising from Article 301 itself, which has become a symbol, or its implementation don’t only make the European Union uncomfortable. Gul said, “This doesn’t become Turkey and it shows our country as more backward than it is.” For this reason, when he said in Luxembourg that Turkey wouldn’t make the same mistake as France, which is being perceived as a promise, it makes his audience more comfortable. In this case, what’s left is to explain this equation to Turkey. What do you say, is it an easy matter?



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