Debating and understanding Turkey

Pinar Ilkkaracan – The feminist movement and women's rights in Turkey (July 2011)
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Pinar Ilkkaracan: The feminist movement and women's rights in Turkey. Video: ESI / Jonathan Lewis. All rights reserved.

"I said: "how can you say that it is against Islam? Look at this: Malaysia has just passed the law on protection orders!". I could see their faces, I mean, they were really like "Malaysia passed such a law?" That really stopped them! So that was a very interesting experience."

"I don't see Europe as a glorious place to be joined, like many others probably. But we really need it for regional stability and peace but also for global stability and peace. That is themajor reason why I think it's very important. Both for Europe and for Turkey."

Pinar Ilkkaracan (born in 1961) is a women's rights activist and psychotherapist. Founder of the renowned Turkish NGO Women for Women's Human Rights - New Ways, she was one of the driving forces behind a successful campaign to enshrine gender equality in Turkey's reformed penal code. Ilkkaracan also launched an international network of women's NGOs from Muslim countries and worked with the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Read more about Pinar Ilkkaracan.

Asaf Savas Akat – Turkey's miraculous economic transformation (July 2011)
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Asaf Savas Akat: Turkey's miraculous economic transformation. Video: ESI / Jonathan Lewis. All rights reserved.

"I do not think Turkey will become an EU member .... I think Turkey and the EU are on a divergent road, not on a convergent road."

"The visa issue has been an important issue. I can see that from my daily experience from my friends. Not a day in Turkey when you don't have somebody saying awful things about one European government or another."

Asaf Savas Akat (born in 1943) is a well-known Turkish economist. With his clear and straightforward analyses, he is a frequent commentator in the Turkish media. He publishes a column on economics in the centre-right Vatan daily newspaper. Akat was one of the co-founders, and the first rector, of Bilgi University, a private university in Istanbul, where he teaches economics. Read more about Asaf Savas Akat.

Cuneyd Zapsu – Reform drive and EU accession (August 2011)
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Cuneyd Zapsu: Reform drive and EU accession. Video: ESI / Jonathan Lewis. All rights reserved.

"We thought the EU is the best alternative, because we simply wanted our people to have the same human rights and economical development, like you have in any European country. And of course it is a virtuous cycle. Economy and human rights … one goes together with the other one, we do believe – we still believe."

"It is not important that Austria or France will have a referendum whether Turkey can get in or not. It is important whether the Turkish referendum, if we would have one – and I am pretty sure we would have that – would say "yes" to the EU, after what they did to us in the past so many years"

Cuneyd Zapsu, a successful and wealthy businessman from Turkey, was among the founders of the AKP in 2001 and became one of the closest advisers of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Read more about Cuney Zapsu.

Orhan Kemal Cengiz – Human rights of Christians in Turkey (August 2011)
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Orhan Kemal Cengiz: Human rights of Christians in Turkey. Video: ESI / Jonathan Lewis. All rights reserved.

"Turkey has a tradition of excluding non-Muslims."

"There is this concept of "transitional justice". Ssome Latin American countries have this, South Africa, Balkans etc. But Turkey did not have this kind of notion. We have the Ergenekon case, because these bad guys who did all these terrible things tried to topple the government. As a result, we have the Ergenekon case."

Orhan Kemal Cengiz (born in 1968) is a human rights lawyer, columnist and president of the Human Rights Agenda Association, a respected Turkish NGO that works on human rights issues ranging from the prevention of torture to the rights of the mentally disabled. Read more about Orhan Kemal Cengiz.

Umit Cizre – Civil-military relations in Turkey (August 2011)
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Umit Cizre: Civil-military relations in Turkey. Video: ESI / Jonathan Lewis. All rights reserved.

"It is very telling that Turkey actually does not have an operating Minister of Defence that deals with civil military issues."

"The EU was the goal but was also very useful for the AK party government. It was a wonderful package which was passed in 2003, which clipped the wings of the national security council which was almost a parallel government in Turkey."

"Do I think Turkey will become a member of the EU? It should! There's every reason to think that Turkey should become a member of the EU. If Romania is, Turkey should be."

Umit Cizre (born in 1946) is one of the most eminent experts on civil-military relations in Turkey. In 2006 she authored the "Almanac Turkey 2005 – Security Sector and Its Democratic Oversight", the first-ever publication to critically examine this issue and take stock of all the relevant actors. Read more about Umit Cizre.

Mustafa Akyol – Turkish Islam (August 2011)
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Mustafa Akyol: Turkish Islam. Video: ESI / Jonathan Lewis. All rights reserved.

"Until very recently the state wanted to transform everybody into something else. It wanted to transform the Alevis into Sunnis. Transform the Sunnis into non practising secular Sunnis. Transform the Kurds into Turks. And the non Muslim… minimize their population."

"There is an ongoing silent Islamic reformation. Because in the 80s most Islamic pious would say "democracy it is a regime of the unbelievers, it has nothing to do with us". They would not appreciate democracy. They would actually think "Islam is something which rejects democracy". That has changed a lot. How well they understand democracy is a different question – and I think that is a question that will go on for a long time."

"I am consciously optimistic about Turkey's accession to the European Union. I would like to see Turkey as a member of the European Union; would Turkey become a member of the European Union? I am not sure. I want to believe."

"Turkey has its own economy; people are not dying to go to the EU as workers. People know that you can find more jobs sometimes in Turkey than in the neighbouring European countries. Visa is a cultural obstacle. It just tells you as a Turk that you are not welcome, that you are not wanted in this continent."

Mustafa Akyol (born in 1972) is a political commentator, columnist and author. His work focuses on issues relating to Islam and modernity and Turkish politics. He is a frequent guest on Turkish talk shows and at international conferences. Read more about Mustafa Akyol.

Sinan Ulgen – EU-Turkey relations (August 2011)
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Sinan Ulgen: EU-Turkey relations. Video: ESI / Jonathan Lewis. All rights reserved.

"Turkish diplomats who support Turkey's EU accession … have become an endangered species. The reason is that, with so many frustrations and obstacles on Turkey's EU membership, it has become, within the Foreign Ministry, a career path that nobody really wants to take."

"The visa issue now has become more important because the negotiation process has stalled. Both sides are looking to find new areas where they can continue to enrich their relationship and the visa dimension is certainly one very visible element of this strategy."

"This talk about Turkey shifting away from the West is political rhetoric that does not have an economic counterpart. The Turkish economy is very well integrated today with the production structures, it is very well integrated with the European market."

Sinan Ulgen (1966) is a well-known analyst on Turkey and its relations with the European Union. His research and opinion articles have been widely published by international media as well as by think-thanks. As a diplomat in Brussels in the early 2000s, Ulgen witnessed Ankara's first steps on the road to EU membership. Read more about Sinan Ulgen.

Peter Widmann – The German debate on Turkey (November 2011)
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Peter Widmann: The German debate on Turkey. Video: ESI / Jonathan Lewis. All rights reserved.

"We have two debates in Germany. We have a debate on Turkey, on domestic affairs and on foreign policy issues in Turkey. This is a debate mainly taking place in elite media, mainly taking place among the foreign policy elites, taking place among journalists. And there is a second debate which takes Turkey as a projection screen for conflicts in German society. Conflicts about multiculturalism, conflicts about the role of different religions in society and where you can see that Turkey is not seen as an empirical phenomenon but rather as a phenomenon, as an example of an Islamic society."

Peter Widmann (born in 1968) is a lecturer of political science at the European Institute of Istanbul's Bilgi University, where he is responsible for the development of the German Studies section. One of his research areas – aside from political communication, minority politics and racism – perceptions of Germany's Muslim community. Read more about Peter Widmann.

Ignorance, fear and prejudice – do Europeans get Turkey? (ESI event at Bilgi University, Istanbul, 15 November 2011)
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Ignorance, fear and prejudice – do Europeans get Turkey? Video: ESI / Jonathan Lewis. All rights reserved.
Videos from other ESI events on Turkey in 2011
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Videos from other ESI events on Turkey. Video: ESI / ECFR, Das Filmgerät. All rights reserved.


The production of these video interviews has been funded and supported by the European Union

European Commission