Die Visumspflicht der Europäischen Union für Bürger der Türkei ist Unsinn. Sie sollte endlich fallen
Von Gerald Knaus
Süddeutsche Zeitung, 26. April 2012
Jedes Jahr bemühen sich Hunderttausende Türken um ein Visum, um in die Europäische Union reisen zu können; im Jahr 2010 waren es mehr als 625000. Meist erhalten sie Visa, die zur einmaligen Einreise berechtigen und nur für wenige Tage gültig sind; manchmal wird ihnen die Einreise gänzlich verweigert. In jedem Fall sehen sie sich und ihr Land ungerecht behandelt. Zu Recht.
2008 begann die EU einen Prozess zur Liberalisierung der Visabestimmungen für die Staaten des westlichen Balkans. Diesen Ländern überreichte sie sogenannte Roadmaps, Fahrpläne. Diese definierten eine Reihe von Reformen als Vorleistung für die Reisefreiheit: Fälschungssichere Dokumente und ein besserer Grenzschutz gehörten dazu wie Asylgesetze nach EU-Standards und die Achtung der Menschenrechte. Auch sollte die Zusammenarbeit lokaler Sicherheitsbehörden mit jenen aus den EU-Staaten enger werden, umorganisierte Kriminalität, Menschenschmuggel und illegale Migration besser bekämpfen zu können. Am Ende wurde die Visumpflicht für Mazedonien, Serbien und Montenegro, Albanien und Bosnien aufgehoben. Mit der Türkei jedoch verweigert die EU bislang selbst Gespräche darüber, wie Türken die Einreise zu erleichtern wäre.
Dabei wäre es, folgt man der Logik, höchste Zeit, auch der Türkei eine Roadmap wie vor vier Jahren den Balkanländern zu geben – das Land ist schließlich mit der EU durch eine Zollunion und durch die Beitrittsverhandlungen bereits auf das engste verbunden. An diesem Donnerstag treffen sich die EU-Innenminister in Luxemburg. Sie sollten dort ihre bisherige Visumpolitik gegenüber der Türkei überdenken.
Die derzeitige Politik hat zwei große Schwächen. Zum einen läuft sie den rechtlichen Verpflichtungen der EU zuwider und wird von immer mehr Gerichten in Frage gestellt – vom Europäischen Gerichtshof und in den EU-Mitgliedsstaaten, auch in Deutschland. Zum anderen verhindert sie eine Sicherheitspartnerschaft im beiderseitigen Interesse.
Beginnen wir mit der Rechtslage. Im August 2011 ordnete das Amtsgericht im oberpfälzischen Cham die sofortige Freilassung eines türkischen Staatsbürgers aus der Haft der Bundespolizei an. Der Betroffene verfügte über kein Visum und war aus Tschechien eingereist, um in Deutschland ein Auto zu kaufen. Das Gericht befand, dass der Betroffene sich auf die Visumfreiheit gemäß der sogenannten Standstill-Klausel berufen könne.
Das Gericht bezog sich auf ein Zusatzprotokoll zum Assoziationsabkommen zwischen der damaligen Europäischen Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft und der Türkei von 1963. Es besagte, dass “die Vertragsparteien untereinander keine neuen Beschränkungen der Niederlassungsfreiheit und des freien Dienstleistungsverkehrs einführen werden”. Der Autokauf des Türken sei eine erweiterte Dienstleistung, urteilten die Richter. Als das Protokoll 1973 in Kraft trat, gab es übrigens in elf der 27 heutigen EU-Mitgliedsstaaten keine Einreisebeschränkungen für Türken, auch nicht in Deutschland. Diese wurden erst 1980 eingeführt, unter Verletzung der Standstill-Klausel.
Im Februar 2009 entschied der Europäische Gerichtshof, dass die türkischen Lastwagenfahrer Mehmet Soysal und Ibrahim Savatli als Dienstleister kein Visum benötigten, um nach Deutschland einzureisen. Das Münchner und das niederländische Verwaltungsgericht Haarlem stellten 2011 in zwei getrennten Verfahren fest, dass türkische Touristen und Geschäftsleute kein Visum benötigen. Im Januar 2011 sprach das Amtsgericht Hannover einen inhaftierten Türken frei, der ohne Visum eingereist war. Im Juni 2011 kam ein Gutachten des Wissenschaftlichen Dienstes des Bundestags zu dem Schluss, es dürfte durch die Entscheidungen des Europäischen Gerichtshofs endgültig geklärt sein, “dass türkische Staatsangehörige visumfrei in das Bundesgebiet einreisen und sich ohne Aufenthaltstitel dort aufhalten dürfen.”
Solche Entscheidungen häufen sich derzeit vor deutschen und niederländischen Gerichten. Auch Leyla Demirkan, eine türkische Jugendliche, die ihren deutschen Stiefvater und ihre türkische Mutter besuchen wollte, als diese wegen einer Krankenhausbehandlung des Mannes in Stuttgart war, erhielt kein Visum von Deutschland. Ihr Fall, der nun vor dem Europäischen Gerichtshof verhandelt wird, könnte die Visumspflicht bald gänzlich zu Fall bringen.
Experten wissen das, doch in vielen europäischen Innenministerien wird dies lieber verschwiegen. Dort hält man die visafreie Einreise von türkischen Staatsbürgern für ein Sicherheitsrisiko – auf jeden Fall sei sie den Bürgern schwer zu vermitteln. Das sind wenig rationale Argumente, wie überhaupt die derzeitige Politik der EU angesichts der Sicherheitsinteressen Europas irrational ist.
Erst vor kurzem haben die europäischen Innenminister wieder einmal darauf hingewiesen, dass die Sicherung der griechisch-türkischen Grenze eines der größten Probleme der Schengenzone ist. Im vergangenen Jahr wurden dort mehr als 61000 illegale Einwanderer aufgegriffen – vor allem Afghanen, Algerier und Somalier. Und keine Türken. Tatsächlich verlassen inzwischen mehr Türken Deutschland, als Menschen aus der Türkei ins Land kommen. Oft vergessen wird auch, dass das Durchschnittseinkommen in der Türkei über dem aller jener Balkanländer liegt, deren Bürger bereits ohne Visum reisen dürfen.
Die EU braucht keine Visumpflicht für türkische Bürger. Sie braucht stattdessen die enge Zusammenarbeit der Türkei mit der EU-Grenzagentur Frontex, um die illegale Einwanderung nach Griechenland zu stoppen. Würde die Europäische Kommission der Türkei eine Roadmap wie den Staaten des Westbalkans anbieten, wäre dies ein Anreiz für eine solche Zusammenarbeit. Von einem Liberalisierungsprozess mit klaren Vorgaben könnten alle Seiten profitieren. Die angestoßenen Reformen würden auch die Menschenrechtslage in der Türkei verbessern und das Vertrauen zwischen der Türkei und der EU wiederherstellen. Dies ist einem Szenario vorzuziehen, in dem der Europäische Gerichtshof den Mitgliedsstaaten die Aufhebung der Visabeschränkungen schlicht auferlegt.
Es geht um gemeinsame Sicherheitsinteressen und um den Respekt vor bestehendem Recht. Beides ist im Interesse der EU-Innenminister. Und vor allem im Interesse der Bürger Europas.
Gerald Knaus, 41, ist Vorsitzender der Europäischen Stabilitätsinitiative (ESI) und leitet das Visa Roadmap Turkey Projekt von ESI und der Stiftung Mercator.
In early February 2008 one of the Malatya victims’ lawyers, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, published a series of four articles entitled “The Deep State is smiling at me in the Malatya massacre case” (see below).
From the beginning of the trial, wrote Cengiz, there were signs that some people were unhappy about the strong legal team that had come to the defence of the victims’ interests:
“We first went to Malatya a few days before the first hearing. Then we realized that there had already been a local media campaign against me and the legal team. It was quite surprising to see the hostility towards us … In addition to that, when we looked into some of the details in that news we came to the conclusion that some of the information contained in these pieces could not have been gathered without intercepting our telephone conversations and electronic communication.”
The trial had started on a bad note. In addition to the indictment, there were 32 additional files prepared with the help of the police. Remarkably, only 8 of them dealt with the crime, while the rest contained information about Christians in Malatya. Umut Sahin, general secretary of the Association of Protestant Churches, later told us:
“At the beginning there was an attempt to turn the trial against the murderers of Christians into a trial against Christians. That is why these folders contained information from the victims’ computers: what articles and books they read, their bank details. But there was nothing from the computers of the murderers.”
So what can one say about the way the Malatya trial has unfolded since 2007? Already the length of the trial has proven to be encouraging for the victims’ legal team. As lawyer Erdal Dogan told ESI in October 2009:
“Initially some wanted to finish the Malatya court case as quickly as the Santoro murder case in Trabzon. The indictment was short and focused only on the 5 main suspects. But here this did not work. We succeeded in bringing many details to the attention of the court. We urged them to conduct further investigations. We have seen that the prosecutors and judges changed their attitude during the trial. This is already a success.”
In 2006 the trial into the killing of Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in Trabzon closed after nine hearings, which took place between 15 May and 14 October 2006. Santoro’s 16 year old murderer was sentenced to 10 years and 5 months behind bars. A court of appeals later confirmed the verdict. Nobody investigated the question whether somebody else might have incited a 16 year old (and provided him with a weapon) to kill a priest of a church that had already been a target for ultranationalist groups before.
Further reading on Malatya:
Here are a few recommendations for those who want to know more about the case.
First, media which regularly cover the Malatya trial in English online:
There was a time not long ago when pro-globalization authors argued that the forces of international economic integration would soon make national boundaries redundant. Recently, others have suggested the opposite: that globalization is making national boundaries, at least those between rich and poor societies, all the more impenetrable. In fact, reality is more complex and more interesting than any of the latest grand theories would suggest. When it comes to policing their borders, rich societies face real choices; these choices can produce very different outcomes.
Comparing the choices made in recent years by the member states of the EU with those made by the US has been the topic of a seminar held this week at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The seminar, co-organised by ESI, featured Europeans, Americans and Mexicans, lecturers on Mexican politics at Harvard, experts in border management and technologies, columnists, officials working for Mexican institutions, and private sector representatives. Our opening question was: can anything be learned from comparing the EU and the US approaches to border management? Our hypothesis, based on our work in Southeast and Eastern Europe, is that there is plenty that the EU and the US can learn from each other.
Let me start with the conventional wisdom embraced by many of those who study trends along the US-Mexican border since the early 1990s. In a world without strong boundaries, migration pressures cannot be contained, the argument goes. In response to illegal migration pressures and the threat of organised crime, the militarisation of boundaries between rich and poor countries becomes the natural political response to popular feelings of insecurity. As Joseph Nevi writes in Operation Gatekeeper – The Rise of the “Illegal Alien” and the Making of the US-Mexico Boundary,
“Intensified policing efforts are taking place along a variety of international boundaries between South Africa and Mozambique, Spain (Ceuta and Melilla) and Morocco, and Germany and Poland. Such efforts are parts of a war of sorts by relatively wealthy countries against ‘illegal’ or unauthorized immigrants. Yet at the same time, these same countries are increasingly opening their boundaries to the flows of capital, finance, manufactured goods and services.”
This is only an apparent contradiction, Nevin argues. It is natural that rich states seek to increase the benefits and limit the costs of transnational integration. This then leads to the creation of fortresses (‘Fortress America’ or ‘Fortress Europe’) and ‘gated communities’ of wealthy societies. A good illustration of this trend is, of course, the increase in the number of border agents in the US, which has gone from 450 in 1925 to 1,110 in 1950, 1,803 in 1975 and 9,212 in 2000 (Operation Gatekeeper, p. 197). Edward Schumacher Matos estimates that today it is close to 20,000. What these numbers show is that the effort to control the southern boundary of the US is a relatively recent phenomenon. One hundred years ago there was no serious concern about unauthorized entry across the US-Mexican border. Along the Arizona-Mexico border in 1900, one expert notes, “there was no need for coyotes, guides to sneak illegals through the border; there was no border markings (save a few stone pillars here and there), no immigration control and thus no illegals.” (OG, p.26)
Today, the situation has changed considerably. The stretch of boundary between San Diego and Tijuana, writes Nevins, “is perhaps the world’s most policed international divide between two nonbelligerent countries.” For unauthorized migrants, the US-Mexican border is harder to cross now than at any point in history. At the same time, trade between the US and Mexico has grown sharply. Increasing commerce and more militarised boundaries – in an age of global insecurity, claims Nevins, such is the global trend.
Except, of course, that this is not the case.
Not only is there no militarised border between Germany and Poland; today, there is no physical boundary at all. When Poland joined the EU’s Schengen zone in 2007, border installations were dismantled. When Romania joins Schengen sometime in 2011, Germany’s external boundary will de facto shift from Poland’s Eastern border to the Prut River between Romania and Moldova. (To be admitted into Schengen, Romania has had to make significant investments in its ability to control its Eastern boundary.) Having crossed the Prut, you will be able to travel all the way to Gibraltar in southern Spain.
The promise is simple, and it has been made to other countries before: if Moldova carries out reforms that enhance the ability of Moldovan institutions (police, border guard, the ministries of justice and interior) to partner with EU institutions in fighting common threats, the EU will lift its visa requirements. Turn yourself into a partner, the logic goes, and your citizens can travel to the EU much more easily.
It is important to underline that every one of these steps has been controversial, debated, and held up by concerns about security (this includes the next big step, the expansion of the Schengen area to Romania and Bulgaria, currently put into question by France). Likewise, the debate on visa free travel for Turkish citizens promises to be intense. At every stage, Europe’s border revolution has been contested; and at no stage can further progress simply be taken for granted.
However, those who focus on the political debate of the moment would do well to look at the trajectory of Europe’s border revolution. Very soon after Schengen was created by five European countries in 1985, concerns increased in France. The fact that the idea of a borderless EU core (which led to Schengen) had been a Franco-German brainchild did not stop France from delaying implementation of the Schengen convention for many years even after it officially entered into force in September 1993, with French leaders citing concerns about the security implications of letting people enter France from Belgium or the Netherlands as late as in 1996. The fact that Italy had been a founding member of the EU did not make it any easier for it to join Schengen: the process actually lasted for over a decade, from Italy’s application in 1987 to its eventual entry in 1997.
It is also useful to reflect on what has happened in Albania in the past two decades. At our seminar at Harvard, I began my presentation with a video clip of Albania’s collapse into chaos in 1997:
It is not only Albanians but also the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina who will enjoy the right to visa free travel in coming days for the first time in almost two decades. Bosnia-Herzegovina? In the early 1990s Ed Vulliamy was a reporter there, covering the country’s collapse into war, and then writing up his experiences in Seasons in Hell. At the time, Bosnia was the scene of massive ethnic cleansing, genocidal violence and collapsing institutions, and Ed’s book captured the sheer horror of it in Central Bosnia:
“By the middle of the Saturday afternoon, more than 30,000 escapees from the bloody mayhem left behind in Jajce – and the pitiful ramshackle remnants of an army, some 7,000 soldiers -had crossed the new, retreated Bosnian front at Karaula and now jammed every square of Travnik … The soldiers wandered aimlessly among them and their beasts and wagons, as lost and destitute as the civilians. It was like some woeful landscape from Tolstoy, or a war from another time: the life of a country town and its surrounding villages uprooted and driven out by war, with all its flotsam and jetsam. And another 15,000 were still out there, trapped by gunfire on the front … “
Since then Bosniaks have returned in significant numbers to Jajce; Travnik has a multiethnic police; and Bosnia’s crises are political and non-violent. Bosnia’s crime rate is below that of the Baltic states (which joined the EU in 2004); its police forces work; and its citizens feel safe crossing the former frontlines. These lines – which many had expected in 1995 to harden into Cyprus-style militarised internal boundaries – have since become basically invisible to the traveller. A decade ago, Bosnia did not control its own boundaries. Since then it has received ample praise (including by the US State Department) for its record on fighting human trafficking.
Ed Vulliamy: from Bosnia to Amexica
I mention Ed Vulliamy not only because his book is a useful reminder how far Bosnia (and the Balkans) have come since the 1990s, but also because Ed has since moved to the US and written a book about a very different war. As he tells his readers in Amexica – War Along the Borderline (2010), “I have been a reporter on many battlefields, yet nowhere has violence been so strange and commanded such revulsion and compulsion as it does along the borderline.” The borderline Ed writes about is that between the US and Mexico; the war he refers to is the “narco war” wreaking havoc on communities from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico.
While Europe has dismantled and made more porous thousands of kilometres of borders (by taking apart the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall, abolishing border controls within the Schengen system, lifting visa requirements for Central Europeans, extending Schengen to the East, and, most recently, lifting visa requirements for the Balkans), the US has done the opposite. As Ed writes,
“In 1994 the United States initiated Operation Gatekeeper in San Diego, Operation Hold the Line in El Paso, and another similar operation in the Rio Grande Valley. Since then … the border has become, and continues to become, a military front line, along which run more than six hundred miles of fence enhanced by guard posts, searchlights, and heavily armed patrols. In places where there is no fence, there are infrared cameras, sensors, National Guard soldiers and SWAT teams from other, specialist law enforcement columns, like the Drug Enforcement Administration … from the other side, apart from the tidal wave of drugs and migrants smuggled across the border, there are the killings …”
Vulliamy takes his readers to Ciudad Juarez, “the world’s most murderous city”, on the Mexican side of the border opposite El Paso. Juarez saw 2,657 people killed in 2009 (the total number of people killed in Mexico since President Calderon launched a military offensive against the drug cartels in December 2006 has now exceeded 23,000).
Vulliamy notes that one in five Mexicans either visits, or works in, the US at one time in his life. He describes the economy that has developed around the narco-trade and the gun shows in Arizona and Texas. He estimates that there are more than 6,700 arms dealers within a half day’s drive from the border in the US (three dealers per mile of frontier) and that between 90-95 percent of weapons seized in Mexico’s narco war originate from the US. As a June 2009 report by the US Government Accountability Office notes, although the violence in Mexico “has raised concern, there has not been a coordinated US government effort to combat the illicit arms trafficking to Mexico that US and Mexican government officials agree is fueling much of the drug-related violence.” Ed also writes about the paradoxical effect of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has seen business ties increase and the border harden.
Death in North America
Not long ago every book or article about the Balkans started with references to killings and cults of irrational violence. The same is true today in descriptions of the US-Mexican border. One book Operation Gatekeeper starts with a description of the owner of a gas station/cafe in Ocotilio Wells, 90 miles east of San Diego in California:
“On one bulletin board he had tacked up photographs of seven or eight cadavers: all of them young Mexican men he had discovered in the arroyos between Ocotillo Wells and the nearby Border. … “They was all shot. In the back.”
Another book by John Annerino, Dead in their Tracks – Crossing America’s Desert Borderlands in the New Era (2009) includes a “comprehensive border death toll” (2003: 336 people died trying to cross the US-Mexico border; 2004: 214; 2005: 241; … 2007: 237). It opens with a glossary of key terms for the border:
“I have used the terms bajadores (bandits, take-down crews or kidnappers), bandidos (border bandits), burreros(drug mules), caza-migrantes (migrant hunters), contrabandistas (smugglers), coyotes (people smugglers), narcotraficantes (drug traffickers), pistoleros (gunmen), polleros (“chicken dealers” or people smugglers) and raiteros (drivers who shuttle imigrants from pickup points).”
Annerino also points out just how lucrative smuggling people across the border has become, describing the scene in the Mexican border town of Altar:
“This afternoon I count roughly 500 people walking the streets and church plaza, so I start running the numbers … If the crossing fee is closer to $ 2,500 per person, or the coyote increases the $ 1,500 fee to $ 2,500 or more during the border crossing which I am told is common, get out your calculator and do the new border math. A recent Associated Press report put Arizona’s human smuggling revenues at $ 2.5 billion a year.”
And as another author, Luis Alberto Urrea, describes in Across the Wire – Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border, focusing on the Tijuana region, paying this amount does not guarantee safe passage:
“If the coyote does not turn on you suddenly with a gun and take everything from you himself, you might still be attacked by the rateros. If the rateros don’t get you, there are roving zombies that can smell you from fifty yards downwind – these are the junkies who hunt in shambling packs. If the junkies somehow miss you there are the pandilleros – gang-bangers from either side of the border who are looking for some bloody fun. They adore “tacking off” illegals because it is the perfect crime: there is no way they can ever be caught”
Now, beyond the sheer human tragedy in all these descriptions, there is a poignant policy question raised by all these accounts: is this border regime, are these changes – the militarisation that has taken place in recent decades – actually in the interests of those in the US who are concerned about security? Just take a look at a recent article in the New York Times from summer 2010 for another horrific description of trends along the border (The Mexican Border’s Lost World):
“Never a particularly pretty place, the border is at its ugliest right now, with violence, tensions and temperatures all… on high. Once thought of by Americans as just a naughty playland, the divide between the United States and Mexico is now most associated with the awful things that happen here. In towns from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, drug gangs brutalize each other, tourists risk getting caught in the cross-fire, and Mexican laborers crossing the desert northward brave both the bullets and the heat. Last week, a federal judge in Arizona blocked portions of new far-reaching immigration restrictions that she said went way too far in ousting Mexicans. Meanwhile, National Guard troops are preparing to fill in as border sentries. All these developments are unfolding in what used to be a meeting place between two countries, a zone of escape where cultures merged, albeit often amid copious amounts of tequila. The potential casualties at the border now include a way of life, generations old, well-documented but decaying by the day.”
After all, European citizens are as concerned about illegal migrants as those in the US. There are right wing parties in many European countries. The amount of illegal drugs entering the EU is comparable (in fact, according to UN figures, even higher) to those that enter the US.
And yet, in a process driven by interior ministers and focused on increasing security, the EU’s response to concerns about events on the other side of its Eastern border has been very different from that pursued by their US counterparts. This has been the European border revolution of the past three decades, which ESI has set out to analyse and understand.
This was not a project of humanitarians … it was a conscious decision that new thinking was required to ensure security in an age of globalisation. It was a process controlled by interior ministers, in which critical questions were asked at every stage. As French Foreign Minister, Herve de Charette, put it in September 1995, explaining France’s unwillingness to lift its controls at the Belgian (!) frontier:
“If it seems, as it is the case, that our citizens’ security depends also on the border controls, it is understood that we have to keep them.”
In the end, however, the dramatic transformation of Europe’s border regimes continued.
Is any of it relevant to debates in North America? Certainly the consensus at the Harvard seminar was that it is worth exploring in more depth. At the very least it suggests that even under conditions of globalisation policy makers have choices – and that there is more than one way in which to think about creating secure borders.
PS: Next steps forward
The Harvard seminar turned into a very informative meeting, and out of it emerged an agenda for further steps.
First, it is necessary to establish a network of scholars and policymakers in the US and in Mexico who had worked on the border issues, including those who had done any comparative work. (If you read this and if you are interested in becoming part of such a network please write to firstname.lastname@example.org and Gerald_Knaus@hks.harvard.edu)
Second, there is a need to present the complex politics and security logic behind the recent EU border revolution; this was not after all a humanitarian transformation, nor was it at any moment easy. In fact, the revolution is far from over, as the dramatic events in recent months along the Greek-Turkish border have made clear (not to mention the EU’s Southern border). How will the EU respond to the challenge of Turkey when it comes to freedom of movement and travel?
Third, there is a need to better understand the US policy process, the politics as well as the technocratic arguments which most shape the debate.
Fourth and most importantly there is a need to understand how the current status quo along the US-Mexican border is working and how it is failing; and for whom it is working and who is losing.
Particularly the comparison in relations between the US and Mexico and the EU and Turkey promises to be revealing in what it tells us about US and European soft power, about the choices facing rich countries and about the politics behind border management. For more, watch this space; and stay tuned to the ESI “Border Revolution website”.
A few facts as background to inform a serious debate on comparative border experiences. Look at GDP per capita (in PPP) in 2009 according to the IMF. On the one side of the border wealthy countries:
USA (46,000 USD per capita)
Germany (34,000 USD per capita)
On the other side poorer countries:
Poland (18,000 USD pc), which has joined the EU in 2004
Mexico (14,000 USD pc)
Turkey (12,000 USD pc)
Romania (12,000 USD pc), which has joined the EU in 2007
Albania (7,000) USD pc), which has visa free travel since end 2010
As for the relative size of the populations concerned:
USA: 311 million vs. Mexico: 112 million
EU 15: 398 million
EU 27: 500 million
Poland: 38 million (visa free access since the early 1990s)
Eastern Balkans (Romania/Bulgaria): 30 million (members of the EU since 2007)
Western Balkans: 25 million (visa free travel since late 2009 and 2010)
Turkey: 73 million
Is Turkey’s Balkan policy today inspired by a post-modern vision of the world?
A pre-modern one? And does it matter how we call it?
On 16 October 2009 Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu gave a presentation in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was a remarkable speech and a good starting point to understand the outlook of the people making Turkish foreign policy today. It also raises important question about the future of both Turkish foreign and domestic policy.
Davutoglu notes, first, that the destiny of the Balkan region is to be “either a story of success or a story of failure”: “either the Balkan region will be the center of everything or it will be the victim of everything.” Next, Davutoglu notes, the one time in history when the Balkan region was not a victim of history was under the early Ottoman Empire:
“the Balkan region became the center of world politics in the 16th century. This is the golden age of the Balkans. I am not saying this because we inherited the Ottoman legacy, but this is a historical fact. Who ran world politics in the 16th century? Your ancestors. They were not all Turks, some were of Slav origin, some were of Albanian origin, some were even converted Greeks, but they ran world politics. So, Mehmet Pasha Sokolovic is a good example. If there was no Ottoman state, Mehmet Pasha would be a poor Serb who lived just to have a small farm. At that time there was no developed farm in that part of the world. But because of the Ottoman legacy he became a leader of world politics.”
Davutoglu reminds his audience that in Ottoman times Salonika was a thriving trade center. Ottoman Belgrade was a pivotal center on the Danube with “hundreds of mosques and churches.” And then there was Sarajevo: “Sarajevo is a miracle, like the miniature version of this heritage. If you understand Sarajevo you can understand all of Ottoman history.”
Davutoglu’s speech concludes with the promise that the golden age of the Balkans can be recaptured:
“Like in the 16th century, which saw the rise of the Ottoman Balkans as the center of world politics, we will make the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Middle East, together with Turkey ,the center of world politics in the future. This is the objective of Turkish foreign policy, and we will achieve this. We will reintegrate the Balkan region, the Middle East and the Caucasus, based on the principle of regional and global peace ,for the future, not only for all of us but for all of humanity.”
It is this claim which has alarmed some audiences. Is this a messianic call for a new Turkish imperialism? Is this a cover for a hidden Islamist expansionism? One of the 2009 cables from the US embassy in Ankara refers to this speech as an illustration of a dangerous (and Islamist) foreign policy. Turkey’s Balkan policy is pursued, the cable reads,
“… with Rolls Royce ambitions but Rover resources, to cut themselves in on the action the Turks have to “cheat” by finding an underdog like Haris Silajdzic, [the former Bosniak member of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina].”
“The leaked memo explains that for the neo-Islamic AKP ruling party in Turkey, this new approach provides a relatively low cost and popular tool to demonstrate influence, power, and the “we’re back” slogan, for the Turkish public … This “back to the past” attitude so clear in Davutoglu’s Sarajevo speech, combined with the Turks’ tendency to execute it through alliances with more Islamic or more worrisome local actors, constantly creates new problems.”
In fact, Davutoglu does promise his audience in Sarajevo that a new golden age can be reached by “reinventing the Ottoman legacy”:
“People are calling me neo-Ottoman, therefore I will not refer to the Ottoman state as a foreign policy issue. What I am underlining is the Ottoman legacy. The Ottoman centuries of the Balkans were success stories. Now we have to reinvent this.”
But what, in his speech, is the actual strategy to achieve this Balkan revival? Is it the recreation of an alliance of Muslim countries – a vision so much feared in Greece in the early 1990s? Is this a call for neo-Ottoman imperialism, which would most likely trigger counter-alliances, splitting the Balkans along religious lines or competing axes? What is the “spirit of the Balkans” that the region needs to rediscover in Davutoglu’s view and what are the tools that he recommends to do so?
It is here that one gets to the most interesting part of the speech, and it is one that the US cable seems to miss entirely. In order to experience another golden age, Davutoglu tells his audience, the Balkans must “create a new multicultural co-existence through establishing a new economic zone.” He then explains in detail the true secret of historical greatness:
“Multicultural existence is very important because the rise of a civilisation can only be understood through analysing the urban structures and the cultural life in cities. If a city is uniform it means that civilisation is not so diversified. It is an inward looking, closed society. Before there was a Roman Empire, the city of Rome was only inhabited by Romans. But later, when the Roman Empire was established Rome became a cosmopolitan city. Similarly, Istanbul and all other Balkan cities used to be multicultural. We lived together, and because of this strong cultural richness there was an increase in interaction.”
This is a remarkable interpretation of South East European history to be offered by a Turkish foreign minister. The history of the early Turkish Republic was shaped by the memories of the tragic decades of the collapsing Ottoman state. As Eric Zurcher has shown so well, the early Turkish Republic was constructed by people from the Balkans and from Istanbul (there were very few Anatolians among the elite in the first decades of the Republic). The construction of the Kemalist state reflected the traumatic experience of a disastrous failure, the notion that a diverse, multicultural, society (such as the late Ottoman Empire) was an impossibility, that multiculturalism, to use a modern term, was doomed to failure. So the young Turks came to embrace the ideology of nationalism, like other peoples of the Balkans had done before them. The founders of the republic also pushed for the exchange of populations in peace negotiations with Greece in 1923. As one member of the Turkish delegation in Lausanne, Riza Nur, wrote in his memoirs:
“The most important thing was the liberation of Turkey from elements which, through the centuries, had weakened her either by organising rebellions or by being the domestic extensions of foreign states. Hence making the counntry uniformly Turkish … was a huge and unequalled responsibility.”
“Those who carried out the massacres in Srebrenica are barbaric people, who did not tolerate cultural differences. The spirit of Sarajevo is a spirit of coexistence, the spirit of living together. So how does Turkey look at the Balkans? We want to see a new Balkan region, based on political dialogue, economic interdependency and cooperation, integration and cultural harmony and tolerance.”
The vision of an interdependent South East Europe, on the other hand, is consistent with earlier writings of Davutoglu. In 2001, Davutoğlu authored “Strategic Depth” (Stratejik derinlik: Türkiye’nin uluslararası konumu), as he was about to move from academia into a job as chief foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In Davutoğlu’s book the arguments in favour of a renewed relationship between Turkey and it near-abroad are laid out in full. During the Cold War, Turkey’s geopolitical influence was used as a trump of the Western Block, writes Davutoğlu. After the fall of the USSR it was necessary to re-interpret Turkey’s geopolitical role, “overcoming the strategy of conserving the status quo … In this understanding Turkey has to redefine its position … and gain a new understanding within the international framework.” Turkey’s new geopolitical position, he argues, “has to be seen as a means of gradually opening up to the world and transforming regional into global influence:”
“In fact, Turkey is both a European and Asian, Balkan and Caucasus, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean country.”
Photo: Emil Sanamyan (Armenian Reporter)
Davutoğlu’s book offers a first articulation of what was to become the AKP government’s “zero problems with neighbours” doctrine.
“It is impossible for a country experiencing constant crises with neighbouring states to produce a regional and global foreign policy … Relations with these countries have to be detached from the long and difficult process involving polities and bureaucrats. A broader basis, focused largely on intra society relations, including economic and cultural elements, must be found … A comprehensive peace plan and a package to develop economic and cultural relations have to be put into place simultaneously to overcome security crises with the closest neighbours.”
Looking to the Caucasus and the Middle East, regions with authoritarian regimes, he stresses the power of functional integration:
“Particularly in our region, where authoritarian regimes are the norm, improving transport possibilities, extending cross-border trade, increasing cultural exchange programs, and facilitating labour and capital movement … will help overcome problems stemming from the role of the central elites.”
Increase trade relations, remove (visa) barriers to freedom of movement between people, privilege soft power, emphasize a common history … such have been the core principles of Turkish foreign policy, not only towards Syria and Iraq but also towards Georgia, Russia or Greece (for more on Davutoglu and others writing on this see the ESI picture story on Turkish Foreign Policy). This is not the most spectacular part of Turkey’s foreign policy (unlike the much hyped mediation efforts, or the much denounced fall-out with Israel) but it may well be the most important in the long term.It also appears sustainable, reflecting the interests of what Kemal Kirisci has called in his essay the foreign policy of Turkey as a “trading state”.
What is striking in Davutoglu’s approach is its interpretation of history: the key reference point is not the agonising experience of the (painful, particularly in the Balkans) creation of nation states but the confident memory of a multi-ethnic Empire. It is a memory that inspires the belief that policies of integration can work, that multiethnic, multireligious cities are signs of progress, expressions of the success of a civilisation, and not of its vulnerability or failure. In late Ottoman Istanbul 40 percent of the population were Christians. In late Ottoman Salonika the largest population group were Sephardic Jews.
Ironically, this approach when applied to the Balkans also supports an escape from the burdens of recent history. In another speech in Sarajevo in December 2009 Davutoglu tells his audience that the Balkans are
“a region of immense history, rich culture and, I believe, a great common future. Naturally, one cannot forget the tragedies of the recent past. Indeed, we should bear in mind the sufferings of the last two decades, in order to ensure that they are never allowed to happen again. However, we cannot live with these tragedies in mind forever. We must move on and the Balkans has moved on.”
Neither the memories of the tragedies of the early nor those of the end of the 20th century should hold the region and its people hostage.
Now many are likely to question this post-modern interpretation of Ahmet Davutoglu’s commitment to multi-culturalism. For Balkan skeptics this approach is not post- but pre-modern, a barely veiled appeal to what in the end is a religious community (the Ottoman millet or the Islamic umma) to replace modern national identities. As one Albanian commentator noted, claims by Turkish officials that Albanians and Turks belong to “one nation” are troubling:
“What nation? Because according to any universally accepted definition of the nation, Turks and Albanians cannot be one nation. Unless, that is, we substitute the modern concept of the nation, with the concept of the milet of Ottoman times, when the inhabitants of the empire were not divided according to their ethnicity, but were classified according to their religion, thus including Albanians of the Muslim faith in the same millet as Turks, Chechens, Arabs, etc, and those of the Orthodox faith in the so-called Rom millet alongside Greeks, Serbs, Bulgarians and so on.”
In this view Europeanisation is a process that moves Albania in a more or less straight line away from the multiculturalism of the Ottoman period, through the modern nation-state, to European integration. In the case of Albania, Piro Misha notes, the Ottoman legacy is part of a past that must be left behind. It cannot serve as an inspiration for the future:
“Allow me to add that the reason why integration into NATO and the EU is of such historical importance for the Albanian Europhile elites, is not simply related to considerations about the country’s economic development or security, but is also related to the fact that (in their eyes) this integration will make the country’s march towards Europe practically irreversible, thus eliminating once and for all the fear of sliding back into the past. This is the reason why every step taken in this direction constitutes a step away from the influence of the Ottoman legacy, much in the same way as we are moving away with every passing year from the influence of the much shorter period of Enver Hoxha’s rule.”
Here, then, is the key question for the future of Davutoglu’s project in the Balkans: can Turkey reassure the people in the Balkans who reject the nationalist visions of the early 20th century and have instead embraced the post-modern vision of a European Balkan, integrated in a region without borders under the roof of a European Union of (relatively) tolerant and (more or less) pluralistic nation-states? (Note that this is a European Union which is having to cope with the fact that as a result of decades of successful trade and peace and freedom of movement its cities – London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin – are indeed multireligious, again!) Can Turkey’s leaders present Ankara’s vision of interdependence as not only not in competition but as compatible and even complementary to the other integration project ongoing in the Balkans today – the project of European enlargement?
There are three obvious things which those who are both fascinated and confused by the new Turkish approach might watch as they try to figure out how much post- and how much pre-modern ingredients are wrapped up in Davutoglu’s appeal to restore a new Balkan spirit:
The first is the ongoing transformation of Turkey itself. Depending on how Turkey develops, economically, socially and in terms of accepting its own pluralism, its experience will either serve as an inspiration or as a threat. Central to this will be the question whether Turkey actually comes to terms with its own minorities: whether it is able to accept Turkish Christians as full citizens; whether it will allow the opening of the Orthodox Seminary in Halki; whether it will translate the vision, once sketched by Erdogan, of an upper civic identity (ust kimlik) based on Turkish citizenship coinciding with a lower identity (alt kimlik) based on ethnicity, religion or any other criteria people might chose, into a viable model.
A Turkish state at conflict with its own citizens of Greek, Armenian, Kurdish, Arab origin cannot in the long term inspire confidence among its neighbours. Recent years have certainly seen some encouraging trends (more in upcoming ESI reports). I have seen many a Balkan visitor expecting to find a country in the throes of an Islamic revival, having read the accounts of Turkey sceptics based in the US or in Ankara itself, struck by the vibrant and open society they find when they visit Istanbul, Ankara or the coast.
Of course, people in (highly secularized) Balkan societies will also watch closely whether Turkey is moving towards a more religious or simply a more pluralist model of society; one in which religion (including Islam) might well be practiced more openly than before, but in which secular lifestyles will also be able to thrive.
The third issue to watch concerns another vision of ongoing integration, one which Davutoglu did not mention in Sarajevo, but which has been central to Turkey’s own developments since 1999: the process of EU integration. For in reality it is this – the idea of all of South Eastern Europe and Turkey eventually joining the EU – which holds out the only credible path to actually realise the post-modern promise inherent in Davutoglu’s vision of multiethnic open cities and societies linked in peaceful commerce.
It was EU integration and enlargement that recreated such an open and integrated space in Central Europe in the past 20 years, not neo-Habsburgianism or political visions of Mitteleuropa. It was ideas of functional integration under a common European roof that transformed the Baltics in the past two decades, not nostalgia for the Hanseatic league or the age of Swedish imperialism. If Ahmet Davutoglu would have made a reference to the process of EU-integration – one that in fact today affects all of South East Europe (including Turkey) – in his Sarajevo speech this would have gone some way towards reassuring Balkan skeptics.
But even in its absence, the reality is that a commitment to a policy of interdependence and integration, a policy that promises to look to the future rather than to the bitter (recent) past, is a novel and promising approach to come from Ankara. If this translates into support for pluralism and multiculturalism inside Turkey it will be all the more credible outside. Then a new golden era – in Turkey and in the Balkans – is indeed possible, and even skeptical Balkan citizens might not begrudge Ahmet Davutoglu’s references to a golden age of Ottoman tolerance and economic integration … .
(it is not only myth, of course: read here about late Ottoman Izmir/Smyrna. Or the account by Gabriel Arie, director of the school set up by the Alliance Israelite Universelle in Izmir, in 1893, who had come from Bulgaria: “What strikes a Bulgarian when he enters Turkey is, before everything else, the air of freedom that one breathes.” (quoted in Andrew Mango’s biography of Ataturk). Of course, there is enough material to also support the counter-myth of the late Ottoman state as a repressive prison for its various people; an all-too familiar story for those in the Balkans who grew up with the theory of the Turkish yoke as the source of all evil – but honestly, which reference would you want policy makers to refer to more when talking about the future: the memories of Moorish Cordoba or those of the crusading Spain of Phillip II?).
Reading this today also suggests that without a strong economic base (in Turkey) all notions of future regional influence are bound to be pipe-dreams. Even for the late Ottoman Empire it was in the end the economy (and demography) stupid …
“The reasons for the Ottoman Empire’s ultimate failure to sustain its viability thus are manifold. It lacked the manpower, the money and the industrial base to compete successfully with European powers. The prerogatives of the European states under the system of Capitulations severely limited its room for manoeuvre in the economic sphere. The religiously over determined division of labour between a vastly increased state apparatus, dominated by Muslims and a modern industrial and commercial sector completely dominated by Christians under foreign protection meant that economic growth could hardly be tapped by the state to increase its resources. At the same time the explosive growth of the number of protected Christians and of their wealth created the social and cultural space in which separatist nationalisms could blossom. By the time the Ottoman elite tried to counter these with emotional appeals to a shared Ottoman citizenship and patriotism in the 1860s, it was already too late. Sultan Abdülhamid’s emphasis on the Islamic character of the state during his rule in the 1880s and 1890s served to further alienate the non-Muslims. The Young Turk movement, which emerged in the 1890s and held power between 1908 and 1918, was born out of a Muslim reaction against the perceived failure of the sultan’s regime to stop the weakening of the Ottoman state and the encroachments of foreigners and local Christians. When external circumstances gave them the opportunity to act independently, identity politics, or solving the ethnic issue, took priority over increasing the financial and human resources of the state.”
I have spent the past month travelling through the Balkans (Skopje, Tirana, Pristina, Belgrade) and visiting Sweden, Bratislava and Chisinau. I presented on and drafted texts about a lot of different issues: debates in Greece and Macedonia about identities; debates in Turkey about Turkish Christians and their rights; debates in Germany about Islam and Turks; Swedish, Slovak and European debates on the future of Balkan and Turkish enlargement. In all these seemingly unrelated debates there was one common thread, however, always leading back to the question of what is at stake in the future of EU enlargement today: why enlargement matters.
For some time I have wondered whether the current discourse on the importance of South East European enlargement, its significance for the European project (and not just for the 20 some million people of the Western Balkans) has not become stale, unconvincing, full of wooden language and cliches.
If EU enlargement is to go ahead and not to turn into an agonizing technocratic exercise, in which very few people actually believe, a different narrative is needed. European leaders and thinkers have lost the vision of enlargement, and it is vital to recapture it (on the charge that this might be too elitist a way to think about this political project more later).
To try to explain this let me start from where I sit at this moment: in a cafe on the pier of Izmir, looking out at at the Aegean Sea and Mount Pagus.
The Destruction of Smyrna
If you arrive today in Izmir, the leading city of Aegean Turkey with 2 million inhabitants, the standard guidebooks tell you little. To quote what I first read, arriving here three days ago: “despite a long and illustrious history, most of the city is relentlessly modern – even enthusiasts will concede that a couple of days here as a tourist are plenty”; this is a city “not entirely without interest” due to its natural setting and ethnological museum. No wonder most of the tourists who flock to the Aegean coast do not pause here on their way to Ephesus or the coastal resorts.
One century ago Izmir, then known as Smyrna, boasted 11 Greek, 7 Turkish, 4 French and 5 Hebrew local daily newspapers; it had a Greek population of some 320,000, at least twice that of Athens at the time; it was famous for its large Jewish, Armenian, European and Turkish quarters; and it was reknown for a cosmopolitan business elite which included multilingual Levantine families (to find out more about who these go here: www.levantineheritage.com) ; a city which had
“long been celebrated as a beacon of tolerance – home to scores of nationalities with a shared outlook and intertwined lives. It was little wonder that the Americans living in the metropolis had named their colony Paradise; life here was remarkably free form prejudice and many found it ironic that they had to come to the Islamic world to find a place that had none of the bigotry so omnipresent at home.” (Giles Milton)
Even skeptics, of which even then there were many in Europe, were vulnerable to the appeal of Smyrna:
“Visiting European intellectuals were fascinated to observe such a racially mixed city at close quarters. When the Austrian savant, Charles de Scherzer, had visited Smyrna in 1874, he brought with him a most negative image of the Turks, yet he went away with all his preconceptions shattered. “In matters of religion”, he wrote, “they are – contrary to their reputation – the most tolerant people of the Orient.”
And yet, as we all know, one century ago cities like these – fin-de-siecle Czernowitz or Vilnius, Wraclaw, Vienna or Prague, late Ottoman Thessaloniki or Istanbul – lived under a dark shadow, cast by the dominant ideology of the age: romantic nationalism.
Early 20th century Smyrna was a majority-Christian city located in majority Muslim Anatolia, a land increasingly torn by religious and ethnic hatreds. At that time European leaders were about to “turn off the lights” for a century and allow a descent into collective madness. Those decisions were taken in Berlin, Vienna, Moscow and Paris, but they directly impacted on Istanbul, Athens and the people of Smyrna
In today’s terms Smyrna was “multicultural”: many communities living side by side, interacting, mingling, while preserving with some pride their own identities. It was multicultural at a moment in European history when the future belonged to nationalists, promising ethnic purity, the creation of nation states, and the need to assimilate or expel minorities, not to tolerate differences and live with them. It was an age which looked at pluralism with suspicion, where minorities were increasingly looking nervously to their mother countries for protection, and were simultaneously viewed by their co-citizens as fifth columns and security threats.
All of this was already clearly apparent in Anatolia at the time, where hatreds were fueled by the military defeats of the Ottomans in the Balkan wars in the early 20th century.
When the Ottomans lost control of all of Macedonia during the six-week long Balkan war in autumn 1912, a large number of Muslim refugees was expelled from the Balkans. This led the leaders of the Ottoman Empire to cast aside all ideas they might have had as late as 1908 about creating an Ottoman citizenship, and to embrace instead an increasingly racist and exclusivist vision of their state as a land of the Turks.
Anatolia’s hatreds erupted again during World War I. And they exploded into a savage war with the 1919 Greek invasion to annex Western Anatolia and the atrocities committed by the Greek invading army, dreaming of recreating a Byzantine Empire. This is a complex, but familiar story with one key theme: the idea that brutalities were permitted to destroy multiethnic life in order to create modern nation-states.
And thus it came that in September 1922 multicultural Smyrna literally went up in flames. 70 percent of the city burnt down following the reconquest by Turkish soldiers. The entire Christian population fled in terror. The destruction of Smyrna coincided with the uprooting of all of Anatolia’s Greek population.
And just as many of the Muslim refugees who had streamed into the Ottoman Empire following the Balkan wars had come from Macedonia, so many of Anatolia’s (and Smyrna’s) Greeks were directed to settle in Greek Macedonia following the tragic loss of their homeland.
More on that, and on the relationship between the debate on multicultural democracies and enlargement in Europe today, in my next entry.
“Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond. An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people. Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full measure of contributions from all citizens”
German President Christian Wulff speaking to the Turkish Parliament on 19 October 2010.
“At the same time, we expect that Christians in Muslim countries be given the same rights to practice their beliefs in public, to educate new religious leaders and to build churches.”
This is, in fact, one of the most baffling problems of Turkey today.
Given that Turkish politicians are (rightly) noting that the EU should not be discriminating against people or indeed countries just because they are Muslim it is all the more remarkable that so little is done to improve the position of Turkey’s Christians. This seems one area where it should be easy and painless to do the right thing for Turkey’s citizens without paying a big domestic political price. In addition this would be a real boost for Turkey’s international image: initiatives such as opening the Halki Seminary (near Istanbul) for Orthodox clergy, addressing the Patriarch by his official name (Ecumenical) or allowing the small groups of Christians the right to set up churches or register associations would be widely noted and praised outside the country. So why is this proving so hard?
“Due to amendments made within the framework of EU harmonization laws (2004-2008 amendments), restrictive provisions in the Law on Associations and the Law on Foundations were eliminated and non-Muslim groups achieved the means of obtaining legal personality, even if not in an entirely satisfactory form. Whereas there were previously verdicts indicating that foundations and associations could not be established on behalf of a congregation, today some foundations and a number of associations in various provinces established by non-Muslims are in operation. While this unquestionably represents a step forward, it cannot be said that these associations and foundations fully meet the needs of the congregations in question. Turkey’s laws and legal practices are in conflict with the main model in Europe, which is that religious communities and institutions are recognized as such and “allowed to register and obtain legal personality, without having to go [indirectly] by way of other institutional arrangements.”"
“In its present state, the legislation that provides for non-Muslim groups to gain legal personality is confusing and open to potential abuse. In reality, granting non-Muslim groups the possibility of establishing an association limited to the purpose of “founding a church” creates ambiguity regarding the legal status of these associations.”
But the real explanation – and the reason behind these technical problems – is political.
In order to anwers this question ESI has set out to do extensive research over the past two years, which is going to be published soon on our website. We focused on two groups in particular, both tiny in terms of numbers: Turkey’s Orthodox Greek community (largely in Istanbul) and Turkey’s tiny Protestant community.
One of the most striking things in this matter (which will also be explored more in our report) is the position of the Turkish Armed Forces, supposed guardians of Turkish secularism. In May 2009 Emruhan Yalcin, a retired captain in the Armed Forces and graduate of the Turkish Land Forces Academy, who has spent some years in Germany in the 1990s, published a whole book on the Halki Theological School in May 2009. Its title: “The Last Crusader Fortress” (Son Hacli Kalesi). The final chapter of the book is as clear: “Why the Theological School on Heybeliada should not be opened”. For Yalcin the reopening of the Theological School “has to be evaluated as a political demand symbolizing Hellenic and Orthodox aspirations” Religious education of “men who are enemies of the Turks” will
“transform Istanbul under the roof of a cultural and tourism centre into a Vatican-style religious city with the status of a state, dividing Turkey and building on the divided parts, following the framework of the “Megali Idea”, a Great Byzantine Empire.”
“several commanders appointed by the general staff … openly mentioned that the Phanar patriarchate is an enemy institution seeking to destroy Turkey. … In these speeches it has been mentioned that Christians are continuing their missionary activities by which they aim to destroy the Turkish state. It is openly mentioned that those who support the European Union are traitors.”
This is striking indeed: Turkey, a founding member of the Council of Europe, a member of NATO and a candidate for accession to the EU has a military that teaches young Turks that Christians are trying to destroy the Turkish state!
Such views are not only prevalent in the Armed Forces, of course: it is noteworthy, however, how in Turkish civil society, in the media, in academia and in the arts such views are increasingly challenged. This too is a sign of a deeper change and it dates to the most recent years. This also means that Wulff’s views on this issue will be welcomed not only by Turkey’s minorities. Recent years have seen legal changes to improve the position of Christians. They have also seen a new debate emerge attitudes and policies behind discrimination in the past decades.
It is noteworthy that the almost complete destruction of the Greek population of Istanbul took place in a period of peace, in a Turkey already member of both the Council of Europe and NATO. It was the result of specific politics pursued and expressing a specific mindset.
In 1940 there were still more than 100,000 Greeks living in Istanbul. In 1965 the Turkish census asked (for the last time) questions about the mother tongue of people living in Turkey. It found that there were then 127,037 who spoke Greek (48,096 as their first and 78,941 as their second language). In 1965 there were still 42 Greek primary and 6 Greek secondary schools, attended by 6,002 pupils.
Table: Istanbul and its Greek population
1,200 – 5,000
By the end of the 1970s the total population of Greeks in Istanbul had fallen to below 8,000. In 1991, the year Bartholomew became patriarch, the number of students in all Greek schools in Istanbul was 415. Today it stands at 220.
Note that this means that even if recently things improved, there is an obvious need for the state to be more proactive. In fact, there is a risk today that both the Greek community and the Orthodox Church might disappear in Istanbul by the time the Turkish republic celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2023.
This week the German President will also meet with the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew. They are likely to get on well. Perhaps Christian Wulff will then also be able to quote Bartholomew when he returns to Germany, to convey his message that Turkey’s aspiration to be accepted as a full member of the European Union is also in Europe’s interest. In September 2008 the patriarch told the European Parliament:
“Turkey is a country that belongs to the big European family. … We are interested in this as citizens as well as a religious minority. … For accession to the European Union, some set criteria and European values must be respected. In Turkey, we can see efforts being made in this direction, to modernise the country and to fully implement the EU regulations in the national law.”
When a journalist asked him “do you think the process to bring Turkey closer to the EU can help its modernisation?” he responded:
“I am sure it can. In addition, I think the fact that we are a country with a very large Muslim majority should not be a problem, because the European Union sets itself as a reality that respects cultural and religious diversity.”
How better could Turkey advance its intereststhan by embracing both the message and the man, who is after all also a Turkish citizen, born in Turkey, who even served in the Turkish military?
And what could be a better message for Wulff to take back to Berlin and to share with his Christian Democratic friends?
UPCOMING ESI REPORT (soon to be found on the ESI website):
Turkey’s Greeks in Istanbul
Turkish Protestants and the Future of Ultranationalism
“I got your newsletter about the Armenian issue and wanted to tell my personal experience with it. I heard lots of stories about the issue and follow the issue as a individual. My parents told me the following Story. My grandma is saved during the “incident” in Sason, she “became” muslim and was named “Naze” and thereafter she is married to my grandpa. All her relatives probably were killed.
Once a man who was involved in killing her family was guest of my grandpa and she was supposed to server dinner to him. We do not know anybody of her family. I sometime bump into people whose ancestors are from Sason in Germany and UK. It is a pattern of many similar stories. As I returned to Istanbul I planned to visit Hrant Dink and speak to him about my personal story and possibly contribute to Agos in some way. I was in Istanbul as he was killed. I only could join his obsequies.
I hope the whole or part of the ancestor of the Armenians and Greeks who suffered because of nationalistic nonsense, will be again a part of peaceful Anatolia one day.”
““Most people in Turkish society have no idea what happened in 1915, and the Armenians they meet are introduced as monsters or villains or enemies in their history books,” she said. “Turkey has to confront the past, but before this confrontation can happen, people must know who they are confronting. So we need the borders to come down in order to have dialogue.”
And how did she deal with the issue of terminology? Dan Bilevsky writes:
“Ms. Cetin published a memoir about her grandmother in 2004. She said she purposely omitted the word “genocide” from her book because using the word erected a roadblock to reconciliation. “I wanted to concentrate on the human dimension,” she said. “I wanted to question the silence of people like my grandmother who kept their stories hidden for years, while going through the pain.”
“As I have written before, this resolution is a perfect example of political usage of human rights discourse, which is inherently in conflict with the spirit of defending human rights. It came forward with political force, and it was stopped by political force. It has no potential to contribute to anything. But the Turkish way of stopping it is deeply embarrassing.
Turks do not discuss the substance of the resolution, and they just threaten American politicians to halt its passage. All Turkish governments have done this, and this government has just followed what others did in the past. They gave a billion dollars to lobbying firms and made alliances with anyone who would support them for their “cause.” Turkish governments threatened arms manufacturers with embargos, and in return these arms dealers pressured the US government. Some see this as a strength and confirmation of the importance of Turkey. It is like silencing someone with the threat of using physical violence against someone who said to you that you are rude. It is really tragicomic.
Turks do not care how they stopped the passage of this resolution. Did we convince American congressmen that what happened in Turkey in 1915 was not genocide? No. Did we stop them by saying: “This is none of your business. We ourselves are discussing it, and we will find a peaceful way with our Armenian brothers to solve this problem, just stay out of this”? No. Everyone knows what American congressmen think about this matter, but we want them not to say what they are actually thinking. And some Turks call this “power”; for me it is just an indication of weakness, sorry.”
“The reason Ankara won the battle was because important newspapers such as The Washington Post and The New York Times picked up the “genocide” story and humiliated the House of Representatives with columns and editorials such as the one written by Krauthammer. Yet, this was not a sight any believer in Turkey’s version enjoyed. Yes, these articles opposed the Armenian resolution. But none of them believed Turkey’s version of history about “the events of 1915.”
Turkey won an important battle but ended up losing the war. Just like Krauthammer’s, most of these articles argued that what happened in 1915 was genocide. But Turkey was geo-strategically too important an ally to offend in the middle of mayhem in the Middle East. In other words, the opposition to the genocide resolution had nothing to do with the sudden discovery of new historical facts proving correct the Turkish version of history. The discussion was only about Turkey’s geo-strategic importance and bad timing.”
Orhan Cengiz Kemal in his latest piece also underlines what, in his view, is the real priority:
“Another thing this resolution would do is to kill democratic discussion in Turkey on the Armenian question all together. Do not forget, we had an “apology campaign” last year. Including myself, more than 30,000 Turks signed the petition apologizing to Armenians for the great tragedies that happened to them while the Ottoman Empire was falling apart. We couldn’t imagine something like that happening in Turkey without some people being assassinated. Thanks to the Ergenekon case, no one was killed or hurt during this campaign.
Turkey has made serious progress since we had the first Armenian conference in 2005 at Bilgi University. This conference caused much tension and anxiety back then. However, when I looked at this week’s Turkish newspapers I was able to see at least a dozen columns encouraging Turks to confront their past.
Confronting 1915 is one of the most important and most difficult parts of the democratization of Turkey. Some would like to live with these lies officially created and protected in Turkey. Some believe if Turkey confesses what happened in the past it would be devastated. The day Turkey confronts this first “sin,” the shadow that has darkened our last hundred years will disappear. The spirit that created 1915 has never died. It has continued taking lives and sucking our blood up until today. When Turkey confronts its past not only will it serve justice but will also get rid of this ghost that wants to keep Turkey hostage forever. I wish this kind of unwise interference would not postpone Turkey’s confrontation with its past.”
“This is a comedy. For God’s sake, can history be looked at like this? Is it a politician’s job to look at history? Can those who gave a ‘yes’ vote in that assembly find Armenia’s place on the map? … The decisions that are made there do not bind us. With its history, its culture, its civilization, Turkey is a very big state. This country is not a tribal state. I am saying openly, the decision of the foreign affairs committee will not hurt Turkey at all. But it will hurt countries’ bilateral relations and interests to a large degree. We will not be the ones who lose. Those who think small will. Those who act with revenge and hostility will lose.”
“It was telling of the atmosphere surrounding this issue in Ankara that Murat Mercan referred to the happenings in the US Congress as ‘American comedy’ and Suat Kinikliogly said ‘we will show them that we are not a banana republic’. It is worthy of attention that when Davutoglu was asked ‘will you pull back soldiers from Afghanistan? Will you close Incirlik?’ he did not say ‘there is no need to go that far’ he said such issues would be considered, together with the opposition”
“According to us, the current borders with Turkey are not legal. Historically, Western Armenia is ours … Armenia and Turkey have never agreed on the current borders … If Turkey will continue using Western Armenia as it does now it will have to pay for its use since 1915.”
Kadri Gursel writes in the daily Milliyet (7 March 2010) under the title “If that resolution passes no one will survive”. This looks at possible domestic political repercussions expected by the recognition of genocide by the US:
“If the resolution passes, AKP cannot get away. To save itself AKP will sacrifice Turkey-America relations. It will do this in the name of saving Turkey’s hurt pride and for the sake of showing a harsh reaction. So if the resolution passes, Turkey-US relations cannot survive … The resolution passing in the US congress would be a breaking point. The Armenian diaspora and Armenia will have won the battle they have been waging for 10 years to get “international recognition for genocide”. And Turkey will have lost the struggle to prevent “genocide recognition.” Resolutions in other parliaments will follow. … If this resolution passes the House of Representatives, the Turkey-Armenia normalization cannot be saved. When ‘Turkeys pride’ cannot be saved, neither can the ‘democracy axis’ because extreme nationalism will rear its head. Turkey’s relations with the West cannot be saved either.”
Gursel also notes:
“Unfortunately we have to take the reckless approach of ‘If it would only pass and we could get rid of it”, which has been voiced frequently in the past few days, seriously because recklessness is contagious.”
Ismet Berkan had presented such a position in an article in Radikal a day before (on 6 March 2010) under the title “If it would only pass and we be rid of it”. Berkan explains how in 30 years working in the media he has seen the same tensions return every year between February and April:
“I am bored of this by now. And I am sure everyone else who had to follow it for years is too. I remember the politician who told me in the 1980s ‘If it would only pass and couldn’t take Turkey-US relations hostage every year”. If it would only pass and end…. If there was no more theatre played, pretending as if Turkey-US relations are coming to a breaking point in the first months of every year. …The solution for this issue is not preventing the resolution. The solution lies with talking about the 1915 events openly … Supposedly it was not a “genocide” but a “forced deportation”. Ok, well, where did the Anatolian Armenians go? Did they evaporate? Did they get on rockets and move to the moon? Go to a village in Sivas and ask a villagers what happened to the Armenians. The villager will answer. Ask in Corum. In Maras. In Mus. In Bitlis. In Izmit.”
Engin Ardic explains in Sabah (6 March 2010) that the recurrent drama seems ridiculous because in the end the resolutions never pass:
“and then when it does not pass there will be screams about how we won and survived again. So if it does not pass the American Congress you are not responsible for forced deportation? … Since the US congress did not accept it, it did not happen …? So what if they accept the resolution? Are you going to declare war to America? Are you going to get out of NATO? Boycot American goods?”
On the same day, Bugun newspaper (on 6 March 2010 lays out the “risk scenarios” and makes a list of what it describes as “the issues that make the US need Turkey.” Included in this compilation is the leverage Turkey has over fueling needs and cargo headed to US troops in Iraq, the possibility of Turkey canceling military equipment tenders, the importance of Turkey in the nuclear crisis between Turkey and the US, the risk of Turkey not supporting the process of the US pulling out of Iraq in 2011. “The US has already been informed that the protocols signed between Turkey and Armenia will not pass the Turkish parliament,” the newspaper adds before concluding, under the subheading “who would loose”: When the risk scenarios are analyzed .. it is apparent that the US also seriously needs Turkey. The base of the strategic partnership or model partnership between Turkey and the US can collapse because of the Armenian genocide resolution”.
“(Some people say) ‘In any case every year 1915 is referred to as ‘the tragedy’ or ‘the great catastrophe.’ So why does it matter if it is called genocide?’ It matters a lot. First, the word ‘genocide’ has been turned into such a dynamite between Turks and Armenians that it being ignited will cause great damage. The Armenians will not be satisfied and comforted. They will instead have joy over a victory and ignite even more active campaigns and policies against Turkey. And on our side there will not be the feeling that “the balloon burst and hell did not break loose’ instead there will be a huge sense of victimisation, internal and foreign policy balances will turn upside down … Not just Turkish-American relations and mutual interests but many other things will be dynamited. A political earthquake of the magnitude of 9 in the Caucasus will shake the world. There is nothing to be underestimated about the ‘genocide’ claim. “
Then he explains that the gunpowder of the word ‘genocide’ can only be moistened through the development of Turkish-Armenian relations. “Don’t those who say ‘just rip up the protocols’ see this?”
Sami Kohen writes in Milliyet on 6 March that his is a test for the Obama administration: “If he succeeds in this he will prevent a serious crisis between Turkey and the US”. But, he adds at the end “it would not be rational to get mad at the Committee decision and sever cooperation or end initiatives that are in Turkey’s national interests.”
“Americans are great at interfering in others’ business. The last 50 years of world history is a history of US interference in some place or another. Americans invented the most refined methods to get results by using coups, insurgencies, economic depressions, political disruption. The Armenian resolution is an example of the US habit to interfere in other countries … the negotiations that have been ongoing with Swiss mediation for the past two years have led to positive developments between Turkey and Armenia that could result in leaving the problem behind us … Washington must not loose Turkey, which is intent on solving its problems with its neighbors trade a few thousand votes in California.”
“The House of Representatives has decided to make a problem from the past into a problem of the present. On Thursday, the House foreign affairs committee is set to launch its fruitless annual effort to declare that the 1915 massacre of over a million Armenians by Ottoman Turks was genocide. As in the past, the resolution isn’t likely to get very far. But this year, it portends great damage to the Obama administration’s attempts to rescue a fragile Turkey-Armenia reconciliation.
To be clear, the overwhelming historical evidence demonstrates that what took place in 1915 was genocide. But while some U.S. lawmakers feel strongly about the Armenian genocide resolution, most realize that no moral good can come from a label applied almost a century later. They support the resolution only to score points with the highly organized Armenian-American lobby. And they know full well that pressure from Turkey, which remains a critical U.S. ally, ultimately will prevent passage on the House floor.
The cynicism of this effort is matched only by the cynicism of the Armenians and the Turks. For Armenians, the genocide issue is of paramount concern, and Armenian populations in Europe have even supported laws punishing Armenian genocide deniers. Yet in 2007, Yerevan State University awarded an honorary degree to the No. 1 Holocaust denier in the world: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian president not only invited fellow deniers to Tehran for a “conference,” but he has systematically called for the destruction a member state of the United Nations. This clearly didn’t bother Armenian politicians who, in the interest of fostering ongoing friendly ties with neighboring Iran, decided to honor him. They must have been disappointed, though, when Ahmadinejad skipped a trip to Yerevan’s Armenian Genocide Memorial, citing important obligations in Tehran. Maybe he values his country’s relations with the Turks, or maybe he doesn’t believe there was an Armenian genocide any more than a Holocaust.
And what of the Turks? You’d think they’d be careful about throwing around a word like genocide. On the contrary, in a country where a Turkish citizen can be jailed for arguing that the Ottoman massacres were genocide, Turks will hurl that accusation at almost anyone else. The speaker of the Turkish parliament recently declared that the killing of 400 Azeris by the Armenians during the 1992 Nagorno-Karabakh war was genocide. Turkish politicians have on numerous occasions accused Israel of genocide in the occupied territories. And last year, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Chinese of committing genocide in Xinjiang, where interethnic riots killed 200 people. (He did, however, deny that the Sudanese government’s actions in Darfur were genocidal, on the grounds that “Muslims do not commit genocide.”)
The Turks, Armenians and the United States all dilute the meaning of the word genocide by playing politics with it. But the U.S. alone has the power to help broker an agreement that would make a meaningful difference in Armenians’ lives, by ending their economic isolation.
The Obama administration has been pushing for a deal that would normalize Turkish-Armenian relations and open the borders between them. Realizing the delicacy of the situation, Obama made a point to avoid “genocide” in his April 2009 statement commemorating the start of the massacres, instead using the Armenian expression “Great Catastrophe.” Unfortunately, Turkish leaders have shown signs of cold feet. And further antagonism would undoubtedly set back the process for years.
With that in mind, the U.S. Congress should drop its annual Armenian genocide resolution. And lawmakers worried about responding to Armenian-American constituents should focus their efforts on helping to mediate a reconciliation that would benefit Armenians. It’d be better if they used their power to end ongoing fights than to pick old ones.”