01 November 2006

1194) Europe: Blackmailing Turkey

Two events taking place simultaneously and seemingly carefully calibrated don't, necessarily, point to a conspiracy. However, columnists are like sleuths who can always smell the rat in places where regular people wouldn't bother to look or stick their nose.

One can't help getting a fishy feeling when these two events happened in two European capitals boasting the heaviest concentration of Armenian émigrés; and especially when the target of these extra-ordinary events happened to be none other than Turkey, loathed and despised by the Armenian diaspora the world over as their bete noir. . .

The first cut was made by the Swedish Academy in Stockholm charged with awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature. In what smelled shamefacedly like a political award rather than one conferred on pure merit, the academy awarded this year's prize to Orhan Pamuk, the most controversial of Turkish writers and novelists. Pamuk was adopted by the European conservatives and leftists alike as their new “Salman Rushdie” the day he scorned his country and its history, for its amnesia on the alleged “massacre,” nay “genocide,” of the Turkish Armenian minority during World War I.

The second, much worse, and much more cruel, thrust came the same day from the French parliament in Paris, when it adopted, with much élan and bravado, a resolution calling it a crime to deny the Armenian “genocide” at the hands of the Turks. Wonder of wonders, France, the celebrated land of Liberte having such a massive hiccup over its Fraternite with the Armenians as to be ready to discard one of the cardinal pillars of the French Revolution.

This is the same French parliament that banned the innocuous Muslim hijab from French government schools because that little piece of cloth bruised the French national sensitivity on its treasured trophy of Liberte. But sacrificing that icon for the Armenians is apparently worth the price to the deputies in charge of the French national conscience.

The mass-circulating Turkish national daily Hurriyet pithily encapsulated the essence of French national somersaults when it intoned in banner headlines on its front page that the national slogan of France should henceforth be Liberte, Egalite, Stupidete.

But was it really a sudden groundswell of concern and camaraderie for the Armenians, who have been around in Europe for almost a hundred years, that moved the French parliament to legislate something not only against the basic grain of French civil society but that may sound to Turkish ears as a virtual declaration of war?

The Armenians have been flaunting their presence in Europe and also abusing it with impunity, largely because of its governments playing the Good Samaritan to them out of Christian fraternity against Muslim Turks. Armenian thugs and hired assassins have stretched this hospitality beyond the limits by targeting and assassinating Turkish diplomats in Europe and around the world. No other diplomatic corps in modern times has been made to pay a price like the Turkish Foreign Service, which has lost dozens of its bright and intelligent people to the bullets of Armenian goons and assassins.

And yet the molly-coddling of the Armenians never translated itself into such a brazen act of re-writing history as the move last week by the French parliament to denunciate Turkey for its perceived “genocide” of the Armenians mandatory. Why?

It all fits into an emerging pattern of zeroing in on Turkey and barricading it from all around now that it has entered the sensitive zone of negotiations on the terms of its candidacy for the European Union. Turkey is vulnerable and on the defensive. So the gloves are coming off, one by one, and more than the gloves, it's the knives that are being sharpened to gore it, of which the French initiative is the initial salvo, or only the tip of the iceberg.

The bottom line for Christian Europe is that it doesn't want Muslim Turkey to become part of Europe, which is at the heart of an ongoing campaign to keep Turkey out of this exclusively Christian club, notwithstanding Turkey's nearly half-century-old craving to be accepted as part of Europe. Ankara was the first to stand in the queue as an applicant (or supplicant?) for European membership, as soon as the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1960 to launch the European Community, the harbinger of today's European Union.

Europe's allergy to Turkey isn't of recent origin; it goes back centuries, especially those centuries of Ottoman domination of the European landscape, when half the continent owed allegiance to the Porte in Istanbul. Europe has never forgiven Turkey for those Ottoman centuries, no matter how modern Turkey may pretend to distance itself from its Ottoman past. Seared into the European psyche are those centuries when the Ottoman Turks laid siege to Vienna, not once but twice, and lost their bid on both occasions, not because of the bravery or tenacity of its European defenders but because of the tactical blunders of the Turkish commanders and leaders, and the treachery of fifth-columnists in their ranks.


Turkey, vis-à-vis Europe, suffers, in fact, from a double-jeopardy syndrome: its Ottoman past and its Muslim moorings. It's an unenviable country in a sense. Much of the Muslim world thinks that Turkey is more European than Islamic and, thus, gives only passing marks to its Islamic orientation. However, Europe is firmly wedded to its perception that Turkey is basically Islamic and, because of it, unworthy of belonging to Europe.

Europe's apprehension of Muslim Turkey is also rooted in the history of the past 1,000 years, predating the rise and glory of the Ottoman Empire. According to European historians, the Turks were responsible for igniting the Crusades because the “Turkish hordes” from Central Asia were closing in on Constantinople, the cradle of the Eastern Roman Empire in Byzantium.

So, opposition to Turkey's European candidacy is strongest among the countries that provided the bulk of the Crusaders: France and Germany.

French President Jacques Chirac as recently as last year questioned Turkey's fitness to become part of Europe. So did Cardinal Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI last year. The German pope brazenly heaped scorn on Muslim Turkey's bid to join a group of Christian nations and voted a loud no to it. He didn't soften his opposition to Turkey, and the Muslim world as a whole, even after donning the mantle of the pope. Delivering a sermon at Cologne Cathedral in Germany last year, Benedict hectored Muslims and pointed the finger at them for the “new barbarism” of Islamic terrorism.

Benedict repeated his tirade against the Muslims even more provocatively last month, in his native Bavaria, when he quoted from the rant of a Byzantine monarch to denigrate the personality and mission of the Holy Prophet of Islam.

This act of roping in Turkey and corralling it is deliberate. It's blackmail, pure and simple, of a country that has made it a question of honor for itself to become part of the European Union. So Turkey is being teased and tested and its will to resist, or succumb to, the incessant European demands is being put to the knife's edge. Its laws, customs, even social mores and etiquettes are being questioned. Its freedom to try its nationals deemed guilty of sullying national dignity -- an essential attribute of sovereignty in Europe and elsewhere -- is being dragged through the mud with impunity, if not with a barely disguised sense of contempt.

The Armenian question is of extreme sensitivity to Turks of all persuasions. So it's being dusted off the back shelf of history and given a new gloss, all to embarrass Turkey to the hilt and drive it into a corner, knowing well that Turkey's options are limited and its handicaps are too many to give it room to maneuver.

Pamuk's trial, last month for insulting Turkey's national honor and history was made a cause celebre by European governments. The Turkish government was bamboozled and hounded until it relented and let Pamuk off the hook on a mere technicality. But perceiving that as insufficient punishment for Turkey, the Swedish Nobel Academy has now caused an even greater embarrassment by conferring the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature on a writer whose name rang hardly any bells in European ears until his trial made him a hero.

The nagging scrutiny and testing of the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on this and other sensitivities is acute, all the more because the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) represents the largely Muslim sentiment of Turkey, which was never as enthusiastic about joining the European club as its Westernized minority.

However, a greater embarrassment and trial is to the account of the Turkish military establishment, which has been the most vocal champion for belonging to Europe. As the flag-bearer of Kemalist modernism, the Turkish army took the lead in piloting Turkey towards the door of Europe. But the passage is proving to be replete with trap doors.

Ironically, the Turkish military is being made to pay a very stiff price for its infatuation with Europe. For one, its freedom to deal with the rebellious Kurds has been severely clipped, to the extent that the ringleader of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, can't be hanged because Turkey has been compelled to scratch the death penalty from its statutes.

But the Turkish army's sensitivity on the Armenian “massacre” or “genocide” is much greater than on the Kurdish question. Those in Europe turning the screws on Turkey are well aware of it and are testing the Turkish generals' patience to beyond the limits, hoping, perhaps, that the prime movers of pitching Turkey's tent in Europe would, in sheer exhaustion and despair, throw up their hands, one day, and fold up the tent, saying “to hell with Europe.”

However, political pundits and soothsayers are at one that the ultimate test of Turkey's patience to put up with Europeans' hectoring and arm-twisting will come in November, when Pope Benedict is slated to visit Turkey.

It was a Turkish man, Mehmet Ali Ağca, who had made an attempt on the life of Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II. The cynical desperados in Europe, seized with an irrepressible urge to keep the door of Europe shut on the Turks, could be hoping for some such violence against Benedict, too, in Turkey, which would effectively seal its chances to ever get into Europe. Needless to say that Turkey will be under a giant microscope for the duration of Benedict's visit.

Of course, Turkey has itself to blame, too, for where it is today in its tortuous quest for joining Europe. Its European obsession is becoming a nightmare; its dignity and honor are increasingly at stake while the bar for entry is being raised higher, to its utter discomfort. It is for the Turks themselves to decide if they're getting a decent bargain or simply being made to grovel at the portal of Europe like an unwelcome mendicant. Only they can decide if it is worth it, given the spate of calculated affronts and humiliations in the works against it.

November 1-2, 2006
Karamatullah K. GHORI
ANKARA - TDN Guest Writer

*Karamatullah K. Ghori was Pakistan's ambassador to Turkey until 2000. He can be contacted at k_k_ghori@hotmail.com

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