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The Washington Times Prints AHI Letter
October 12, 2005—No. 91
(202) 785-8430

The Washington Times Prints AHI Letter

Washington, DC—On October 12, 2005, The Washington Times published AHI Executive Director Nick Larigakis’ letter to the editor, on page A20, responding to Helle Dale’s article “At the crossroads.” The text of the letter appears below, followed by The Washington Times article to which the letter responds.

October 5, 2005

Letters to the Editor 
The Washington Times 
3600 New York Avenue, N.W. 
Washington, D.C. 20002

Dear Editor:

Helle Dale's Oct. 5 Op-Ed column, "At the crossroads," is another example of attempting to invoke the "Christian vs. Muslim" element as it relates to Turkey's accession into the European Union. Although I'm sure there are many, on both sides, who would like to use this argument, the simple truth is that there are basic fundamental prerequisites for gaining membership into the union. Turkey falls short in many.

Isn't Turkey occupying Cyprus? Isn't Turkey refusing to recognize Cyprus, an EU member state? Isn't Turkey violating its neighbor's borders in the Aegean? Isn't Turkey restricting religious freedom of minorities in Turkey? Doesn't the military establishment heavily influence the Turkish government? Does the Turkish economy meet the EU criteria?

The writer says that "each time the desired goal [of Turkey becoming an EU member] has seemed to be within reach, a new obstacle has sprung up..." Why is this? Frankly, this is the question that needs to be addressed. Some of the reasons are mentioned above.

Regarding U.S. interests, no one is advocating dismissing Turkey. However, you can't have one set of standards for Turkey and another for U.S. allies in the region. The argument of Turkey's strategic importance has been diminished greatly since the Cold War, as proved by its actions in the war in Iraq. Even buying into the argument that Turkey is important, the only way U.S. interests would be served would be if Turkey lent itself in this capacity. Its well-documented historical record proves otherwise.

Finally, in the interest of regional stability and dispute resolution, the United States should promote Turkey's emergence as a fully democratic state able to complete the EU accession process and participate fully in the economic opportunities presented by the regional climate. The process, however, will require fundamental changes in Turkey's governmental institutions, a significant improvement in its human rights record, religious freedom record, the settlement of the Cyprus problem and its acknowledgment of the borders in the Aegean Sea established by treaties.

When U.S. policy focuses on these issues and Turkey finally complies, then and only then will U.S. interests, Turkey's interests and European interests be better served.


Nick Larigakis 
Executive Director 
American Hellenic Institute

The Washington Times


By Helle Dale

Turkey used to be a dreaded invader of Europe, but these days it is more like a patient suitor. For 43 years, since signing an association agreement, Turkey has been waiting to become a full-fledged member of the Europe Union. But each time the desired goal has seemed to be within reach, a new obstacle has sprung up along the way.

Meanwhile, numerous other countries have moved ahead to join the European Union with great fanfare. In fact, the European Union (and its previous incarnation, the European Economic Community) has grown from six to 25 members and now encompasses most of Western Europe, Scandinavia, Central and Eastern Europe. Even the Balkans is inching toward inclusion in the EU. Yet, leaving Turkey behind would be a mistake of monumental proportions.

There is no doubt Europeans are decidedly reluctant to let Turkey into their club. When asked, Europeans will tell you that Turkey is not politically or economically ready for EU membership. Underlying these factors, however, are centuries of history, culture, ethnicity and religion, as well as the existential question—"what is Europe?"—which Europeans are finding hard to answer. (The French and Dutch rejections of the European Constitution have not made this any easier.) Whatever Europe is, though, most Europeans clearly feel today that Muslims are not Europeans.

On Monday, it almost happened again. Long-awaited Turkish EU membership talks that had been set for Oct. 3 were stalled by the government of Austria, which raised last-minute objections and suggested that the EU should consider the option of "privileged partnership" for Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected the idea out of hand, and again deadlock threatened.

Why Austria? Perhaps because the Austrians and the Turks have centuries of violent history between them, going back to 1683 when a great Roman Catholic Army fought the Ottoman Turks back at the gates of Vienna and halted Turkish advance.

Many today wonder if the Turks are back to finish the job of Muslim expansion into Europe, fearing a "clash of civilizations." A recent poll by the German Marshall Fund recorded that Europeans are deeply divided and confused about Turkish membership with as many as 40 percent continent wide being in doubt. In Germany, Angela Merkel, leader of the Christian Democrats and the country's most likely next chancellor, has come out categorically against Turkish membership. Former Dutch European commissioner Frits Bolkestein a few weeks back warned of the Islamisation of Europe, and said that if Turkey becomes an EU member "The relief of Vienna in 1683 will have been in vain." History casts a long shadow on the European continent.

But if the past is prologue, it does not have to be destiny. Turkey is geographically as well as historically at a crossroads, having spent the 20th century in a drive toward modernity and secularization started by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state. Mr. Erdogan's government itself has demonstrated great determination to adopt the reforms demanded by the EU as criteria for membership, including minority rights for Turkey's Kurdish minority, abolition of the death penalty, military reforms aimed at reducing its influence on governance. The drive toward the EU is itself transforming Turkish society.

At the meeting between the Muslim and Christian worlds, Turkey has a pivotal role to play, and it is very much to the long-term advantage of Europe and the United States to anchor this populous, Western-oriented, Muslim country in our economic and political systems. As a NATO ally, Turkey remains strategically vital, though it is obviously not to be taken for granted as the Bush administration found in the run-up to the Iraq War. A Turkey cut adrift, disaffected by the rejection of Europeans, and bordering the Middle East and the unstable Caucasus region, is not a happy prospect.

Will there be more roadblocks for Turkey in the future? It is entirely possible, as there is the possibility that Turkey might not join in any of our lifetimes. Even as President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso welcomed the opening of talks on Monday, stating that "A stable, modern and democratic Turkey is an objective we should support actively in the European Union and in Turkey," he also added, "Of course the road towards Turkey's accession will be long and difficult. Accession, as for every country, is neither guaranteed nor automatic." Only the most ardent suitor would find words like these to be an encouragement.


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