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Monday, January 31, 2011

Ways out of the Turkey-EU deadlock has a good and balanced analysis of the current deadlock in the accession negotiations written by Amanda Paul, an analyst at the European Policy Centre (and columnist for Today's Zaman).

Amanda Paul
Amanda Paul
picture from
 Unlike too much of current mainstream media commentary on Turkey-EU relations, Paul does not lay the blame for the current impasse squarely at Turkey's feet. Instead, she points to the mutual failure to reach an agreement on Cyprus as the main stumbling block, noting that:
No doubt some member states will be hoping that Turkey's patience will snap and Ankara will draw a line under its own membership process, but this is unlikely. Contrary to the AKP's recent rhetoric, it needs the EU badly.
And she is less pessimistic than some, pointing out (as I did in my last post) that a lot can still happen:
While the opposition of key member states France and Germany, the economic crisis and the fact that it has almost become socially acceptable to be anti-Muslim are serious problems, they are longer term issues.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Is the Blame Game afoot?

The debate about Turkey's stalled EU-accession negotiations is heating up. I have previously commented on Erdoğan's Newsweek Op. Ed., in which he described the EU in rather harsh terms. Now, in a meeting at Davos Turkey's former top negotiator and current Deputy PM, Ali Babacan (pronounced Baba-Jaan) has warned that the Union is turning into a "Christian club."

File:Ali Babacan - World Economic Forum on the Middle East 2008 retouched.jpg
Ali Babacan at Davos in 2008. Copyright World Economic Forum (

According to the AFP, Babacan remarked that the "open door policy" of the EU is simply "not there" anymore. And that
one of the big themes about why Turkey cannot become a member of the European Union is because it is a Christian club. This is in our view very, very dangerous
There are several ways to interpret these moves, but my best guess is that the Turkish leadership is

Friday, January 28, 2011

Charlie Rose's interview with Stephen Kinzer

I am having trouble finding the time to post in-between grading and teaching. But here is Charlie Rose's interview with Stephen Kinzer for your weekend pleasure. (Clicking on the picture will take you to and the interview.)

The first half of the interview covers Turkey's emerging role in international politics and, among other things, Kinzer there rejects the assumption that Turkey is "turning East."

Friday, January 21, 2011

Weekend reading tips

Here are some fresh reading tips for those wanting to catch up and reflect on Turkey, the EU, Europe and Islam:

James Traub has an extensive biographical sketch of Turkey's Foreign Minister, Ahmed Davutoğlu, in the New York Times Magazine. He ties the FM's visions and personality to broader issue of the orientation of Turkish foreign policy.

On January 6 & 7, the Harvard International Review published an online feature on Turkey, Europe, and Islam. Among others, the issue contains a piece entitled "Europe was yesterday" by Mabel Berezi of Cornell University, which echoes my concerns about the inward direction taken across the European continent. In Berezi's words:
The current European mood is undeniably national and is eerily backward, rather than forward, looking.
The feature also includes an examination of Turkey-EU relations by Bahrı Yılmaz of Sabancı University and a piece on Turkey and European identity by Dimitris Keridis and Constantine Arvanitopoulos (Panteion University, Athens and University of Macedonia, respectively). Jan Rath of University of Amsterdam debates multiculturalism and Raphaël Liogier shows how Islam has become a "scapegoat for Europe's decadence."

I'm hoping to post a commentary on these articles, but that will have to wait until another day. Perhaps then I will be joined in a discussion by any readers who will then also have read and thought about some of them, too.

MEP Andy Duff's dire FT piece

Andy Duff, a longtime critical supporter of Turkish accession in the European Parliament and now also monthly columnist for the Financial Times, has a long and depressing piece in today's FT. The piece reeks of gloom and pessimism; an unsettling fact for supporters of Turkey's EU bid given Duff's privileged position as a long-time EU insider. Efforts by Parliament and the Commission to move forward on the issue are, in his view, now largely symbolic.
The European Commission continues doggedly to pursue its mandate to negotiate on behalf of the EU, and is doing some good work inside Turkey, but actual progress is far too slow to transform the dynamics of integration.

While continuation of the effort is respected by the European Parliament, it is difficult to find MEPs who are still outright supporters of Turkey’s full membership.
In Duff's opinion, it seems, the Turkish quest for EU membership is all but over. A combination of "enlargement fatigue," failure to move forward on reforms in Turkey, the absence of a solution to the Cyprus issue, and rising Islamophobia in EU member states make for a too formidable obstacle. Duff's only suggestion is for Erdoğan to make use of the "one last chance to swallow his pride" and settle the Cyprus issue (on which, by the way, Duff is much more balanced than most).

Monday, January 17, 2011

Erdoğan's Newsweek Op Ed - The Battle of Narratives

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has written an interesting Op Ed for Newsweek today. I am afraid I have to prepare for teaching tomorrow so I do not have time for any more extensive analysis.

But, very briefly, it is clear that Erdoğan is trying to establish what we might want to call a counter-narrative to the hitherto dominant narrative in the EU. On that account, Turkey is the weaker party that is dependent on the EU - I write extensively about this in my forthcoming book - for support and help.

That narrative is arguably an extension of the nineteenth-century image of Turkey as the "Sick man of Europe," which of course is what Erdoğan is playing on in the witty title of his piece. "Turkey: The Robust Man of Europe." Whereas he describes Europe's economies as "stagnant" and its societies as "near geriatric" (ever the soft rhetorical touch...),
The Turkish economy is Europe’s fastest-growing sizable economy and will continue to be so in 2011. According to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development forecasts, Turkey will be the second-largest economy in Europe by 2050. Turkey is a market where foreign direct investment can get emerging-market returns at a developed-market risk. Turkey is bursting with the vigor that the EU so badly needs.
Moreover, Erdoğan attempts to set the record straight on the recently much-discussed new direction in Turkish foreign policy:
Turkey is becoming a global and regional player with its soft power. Turkey is rediscovering its neighborhood, one that had been overlooked for decades. It is following a proactive foreign policy stretching from the Balkans to the Middle East and the Caucasus. Turkey’s “zero-problem, limitless trade” policy with the countries of the wider region aims to create a haven of nondogmatic stability for all of us. We have visa-free travel with 61 countries. This is not a romantic neo-Ottomanism: It is realpolitik based on a new vision of the global order. And I believe that this vision will help the EU, too, in the next decade.
He is here clearly trying to correct or at least modify the emerging narrative that I have elsewhere on this blog baptized (also quite wittily, in my own, humble opinion) "Going East, Young Turk?". It remains to be seen if he succeeds, but it is and will be interesting to follow this battle of narratives.


UPDATE: 2010/01/18
Reactions: The EUobserver presents the Op Ed as an attempt to jump-start the stalled negotiations. The Financial Times interprets the "tirade" mainly as an expression of frustration with their slow pace. But both, in my view, miss the larger narrative dimension. I haven't yet found many reactions in the blogosphere.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Turkey: Proliferation of Koran Translations Pushing Turks to “Verge of Division” |

Very interesting article about the spread of new translations of the Qur'an in Turkey. Are we witnessing a Turkish Reformation?
Koranic scholar Ahmet Tekir estimates that there are now "almost a hundred" translations on the Turkish market. [...] "Nearly a million translations sell each year, costing anything up to $70 a copy: there is money in this for those immoral enough to look to make profit from the Koran."
But it isn't just personal gain that pushes people to offer up new translations, theologians complain. It is also the desire of various religious groups to carve out a niche for themselves in the market. "Each group has a different interpretation of Islam," says Ebubekir Sifil. "Each of them wants to legitimize their interpretation through the Koran. The best way to do that is to translate it." 

Police, Kurdish protestors clash in southeast Turkey (

Clashes between police and demonstrators in southeast Turkey, in conjunction with a trial in which 150 Kurds are being charged with links to Kurdish rebels. Article here: Police, Kurdish protestors clash in southeast Turkey (

Yemen and Turkey Deepen Ties With New Accords -

This just in from the New Your Times: Yemen and Turkey Deepen Ties With New Accords -

Video: Turkey Rising - Sinan Ülgen

A good interview with Sinan Ülgen, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, about Turkish foreign policy. His basic argument is similar to what I have been advancing on this blog: that Turkey is not "turning East" but pursuing a broader foreign policy agenda in the face of EU's cold shoulders, and that it is primarily up to the EU to act so as to rejuvenate the accession negotiations.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Turkish-German row over Cyprus

German PM Angela Merkel criticized the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot leaderships during a trip to the Cypriot capital of Nicosia Tuesday. Praising Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias for his efforts, she chided the Turkish side for not reciprocating.

Unsurprisingly, reactions in Nicosia were as delighted as the Turkish response was angry. According to, the Politis newspaper (whose headline was an exuberant "Angela! Angela!") reported that Merkel's remarks "made President Christofias smile." The Fileleftheros noted that "She didn't mince her words," while the communist party organ, Xaravgi, exclaimed: "We Support You."

Ergoğan, for his part, did not mince his words in responding to Merkel:
I guess Ms. Merkel has forgotten what she has said. It was herself who said that it was wrong to admit southern Cyprus into the European Union. It is also clear that she does not know about history of the Cyprus issue.
It is hard to tell what, if anything this row means for the stalled negotiations but it is unlikely to help. Cyprus is undoubtedly a central obstacle to further progress, albeit not the only one. Nonetheless, my sense is that it is now largely up to Turkey to take some decisive steps toward a resolution - irrespective of the history or who is to blame for the current situation. The obvious matter to be resolved by Ankara being the implementation of the Additional Protocol of the Turkey-EU Association Agreement (ending the blockade of Greek Cypriot ships in Turkish ports).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dutch news - Serious Concerns about Turkish-Dutch Youth

A group of 10 successful Dutch Turks have signed an open letter to the Dutch authorities expressing concern over what they see as the increasing isolation of many Dutch youths of Turkish origin. The group had apparently tried to raise this issue with Dutch authorities but decided to publish a letter in the newspaper De Volkskrant instead when they did not get the desired response.

I am myself increasingly concerned that many European countries are in the midst of a vicious circle in which marginalization and alienation of immigrant communities, an associated radicalization and militancy among (still very small) pockets of especially young Muslims, and growing xenophobia and discrimination in the dominant host societies feed on and exacerbate each other.

The aftermath of the recent failed suicide bomb attack in central Stockholm, Sweden, during the Christmas shopping rush illustrated the negative potential of this dynamic, but also some positive signs from surprising sources. The reactions to the bombing (which left only the bomber dead, as he for some reason detonated his bomb on an empty side street rather than the busy shopping street a block away - the better part of me wants to think that he came to his senses at the last moment, but I don't know if the issue has been determined) in mainstream media outlets were generally measured.

But there were exceptions, such as the columnist in the large Swedish evening paper Expressen, who worried (article in Swedish) that Swedes were in the process of "abolishing" themselves due to the higher birth rates of the Muslim population in Sweden (said population constitutes ca 4.3 % of the total Swedish pop of 9.4 million), describing this demographic scenario as a "war." And the Swedish blogosphere was replete with reactions that were anything but measured. In short, my concern is that if even a failed bomb attack with no casualties (except the bomber) elicits such latent hostility, what if the attack would have succeeded? Or what happens when an attack does succeed?

Many immigrants already feel discriminated against in comparatively liberal and open Sweden - experiments at Stockholm University showing that many employers treat applicants with identical CVs apart from whether they had Swedish or foreign-"sounding" names differently gives credence to such sentiments - and it is reasonable to assume that this increases the alienation of many young men, who are the recruits of choice for militant extremist groups. The thought that it could get a lot worse is not encouraging. Changes in Dutch public opinion following the murder of Theo van Gogh is a warning-sign of what could come.

The positive surprise in the aftermath of the failed bombing in my view came from an unlikely source - the "secret police." SÄPO (the Swedish Security Service) was heavily criticized for a report that they coincidentally published just days after the attack (it had been commissioned in February and completed in the month before the attack), in which they evaluated the threat from militant Islamic extremism as
currently not a threat to the fundamental structures of society, Sweden’s democratic system or Central Government
even though it posed a threat to individuals, especially abroad. This sounds like an entirely reasonable assessment to me. What was even more encouraging was that SÄPO spokespersons continuously rejected calls in the media and elsewhere for more extensive and intrusive surveillance. In one radio interview, the spokeswoman on counter-terrorism was asked why SÄPO did not know about the activities of a person who had traveled to both the UK and the middle east, and responded quite reassuringly that in order for SÄPO to track everyone with the same traveling patterns (the current author would be included in this group!), we would no longer live in the open society that Sweden now is.

(Note - I am not saying that it was a good thing that SÄPO was unable to prevent the botched attack or that they should not survey militant extremists. Just that they were an unexpected voice of sanity in the post-attack debate.)

I won't end with any wise suggestions for how to get out of the negative spiral that we may find ourselves in, merely note my concern over it. Perhaps on another day I will feel more inclined to be constructive.

(Link to the Dutch article courtesy of Turkish Digest.)

UPDATE 2010-01-13: 
In an interview with De Volkskrant, Turkish government minister Faruk Çelik has responded to the open letter, according to, which quotes him as saying:
The fact that Turkish Dutch youngsters still feel they are second class citizens, that they are not welcome and that they are discriminated against, shows the Dutch authorities that they should revise their integration policy.
A part of that which the Netherlands calls integration policy has isolated immigrants, rather than integrated them.

Turkey will be in the EU, says Sweden's foreign minister - Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt continues to express support for Turkey's EU membership bid. As I previously noted, on Dec 10 last year Bildt wrote a NYT op ed together with the foreign ministers of Finland, UK, and Italy in which they expressed their support for Turkish membership.

And in a recent interview with the Turkish TV channel Skyturk, Bildt reiterated his views. As reported by Hürriyet Daily News, Bildt argued that
Historical experience shows that a democracy that knocks on the door of the democratic European Union will at the end of the day never be refused
I think that Bildt is doing an important job - if for no other reason than to let supporters of both continued reforms and eventual EU membership in Turkey know that they have friends in the EU. While I have heard him make the argument in Swedish media on at least one occasion, I have not noticed him being quite as active in Sweden as he has been in international and Turkish media. It may well be that I have missed something, so I don't want to press this point. But it does point to a more general challenge for supporters of Turkish EU membership in EU member states: making the case for a Turkish membership at home.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Europe's new Berlin Wall?

The TurkEU Blog is returning from the dead (or at least the holidays)!

The big recent news is the Greek decision to erect a 12 km long wall/fence along its border with Turkey, to curb immigration flows across the border. The original plan - to build a wall/fence along the entire 200+ km border - was scaled back after heavy criticism from human rights groups and various European commentators. But even this smaller version is receiving criticism from international bodies like UNHCR, Amnesty International, and even the EU. A Commission spokesperson stated (on Jan 3) that
Fences and walls have proven in the past to be really short term measures that don't really help address and manage the migratory challenges in a more consolidated and structural way.
Greece’s Citizen Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis emphasized Monday that the wall should not be seen as being directed against Turkey as such, but was instead a way to "boost mutual cooperation" between the two countries. Exactly how a three meters tall concrete wall and barbed wire fence will serve to further cooperation across the border remains to be seen.

As always, it is interesting to consider European media reactions. Germans, in particular, of course have experiences with big walls and Spiegel Online has a summary of some recent editorials in German newspapers, most of which are critical of the wall, and some of which are quite eloquent in their criticism. But not all. Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung (center-right) makes the EU-Turkey link and
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