ANKARA: Protesters Rail Against ‘Too Many ‘Concessions’

By Amberin Zaman in Ankara

The Daily Telegraph
Oct 3 2005

Tens of thousands of Turkish nationalists staged a huge show of
strength yesterday to protest at what they see as Christian Europe’s
efforts to shut its doors to Muslim Turkey.

Demonstrators flooded the streets of Ankara, the capital, to denounce
the campaign by the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to placate
the country’s critics in the EU.

“The concessions that you have made to the EU are dragging Turkey
toward darkness,” Devlet Bahceli, head of the Nationalist Action Party,
told flag-waving crowds, addressing Mr Erdogan.

“Don’t allow them [the EU] to impose more heavy conditions on
us…Reject those [membership] talks,” Mr Bahceli said.

The high turnout of protesters was a further sign of the wave of
nationalist sentiment sweeping Turkey on the eve of its scheduled
talks on EU membership.

Many Turks question whether Turkey should launch more reforms amid
receding hopes that it will ever become a full member.

The EU’s seemingly endless list of demands are perceived as a plot
to weaken, then dismember Turkey. The proof that such a policy is
Europe’s goal is supposedly demonstrated by its demands that Turkey
grant greater rights to Kurds, acknowledge the 1915 Armenian genocide
and make more concessions on Cyprus.

“The Europeans are playing games with us. Their real ambition is
to weaken Turkey, to make it their slave,” said Mehmet Korkmaz,
an electrician. The irony that tiny Austria, the most vociferous of
Turkey’s opponents, may yet extinguish Turkey’s long cherished EU
dream has been seized on by many. It was the defeat of the Ottoman
Turks at the gates of Vienna in 1683 that marked the beginning of
the decline of their once mighty empire.

But for every Eurosceptic Turk opinion polls show there are twice as
many who are in favour of the EU. Many value the process of integrating
into the EU, with its emphasis on human rights and the rule of law,
over actual membership itself.

Even Mr Bahceli stopped short yesterday of opposing EU membership,
focusing his wrath on the conditions of membership instead.

In the five years that have elapsed since EU leaders officially
anointed Turkey as a candidate for membership, improvements in the
country’s wobbly democracy have been huge.

The Kurds can now publish and broadcast in their previously banned
tongue. The share of education in the national budget has surpassed
that of the military. Capital punishment has been abolished and
marital rape is counted a criminal offence.

Although Turkey has been ruled by a group of former Islamists for
the past three years, there are few signs that it is sliding into
Shar’iah rule. After decades of crisis, the economy is booming.

Given the choice between swallowing their pride and negotiating with
the EU – even without the promise of full membership – or walking
away into an uncertain future, most Turks are still opting for Europe.

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