By Edmond Y. Azadian
The tug of war between Ankara and Brussels continues. Turkey is a candidate for membership in the European Union. It persists in joining the EU, but refuses to abide by its rules and then blames Europe for blocking its entry into the family of Western nations.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan outlined the current standoff in the following manner: “The stance of the European Union is clear to see … 54 years have passed and they are messing us about.” He then criticized Brussels’ failure to keep its promise on everything from a visa deal to aid for Syrian migrants.
For Europe, Turkey is the necessary evil to execute any plan concocted in the West to deal with the crises in the Middle East. But for Ankara, assuming that role comes with the entitlement of joining Europe, a dream which has kept Turkey languishing at the gates of Europe for a long time.
It is characteristic of Turks to conquer nations and usurp their wealth as they have done to the Armenians and the Byzantines. Since Fatih Sultan Muhammed conquered Constantinople in 1453, the eyes of the Ottoman rulers have been set on Europe. But the invasion of Soliman the Magnificent was stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1529, as the Frankish warrior Charles Martel had stopped the Muslim armed expansion to the North at the Battle of Tours in 732 AD.
However, the Turks kept the Balkan nations under their rule for more than four centuries leaving a legacy of death and destruction to this day.
Thus far, Europe has been saved from the menace of Turkification, but no one knows for how long. Turkish leaders do not mince their words. Their intentions are crystal clear. When President Erdogan orders every Turkish family to have at least five children in Europe “who eventually will decide the destiny of Europe,” then the handwriting is on the wall for everyone to see. He also blackmails European leaders by letting them know that if they don’t give in to his wishes, they will no longer walk safely in their streets. Yet, European leaders kowtow to Erdogan driven by a civilized code of conduct.
Turkey is polarized demographically. There is a segment of society that has given the world top notch, world-class literature, such as Orhan Pamuk, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature, and then there is another segment of society, jingoists and religious fanatics living in the backwaters. When the Islamic mobs vote for the likes of Erdogan to assume the powers of a dictator, the first casualties are those in the first segment, with many living in self-imposed exile abroad or languishing in Erdogan’s overfilled jails.
Of course, there is a third segment in between, namely the Kurds, who constitute fully one third of the population and who aspire to autonomy or independence.
But Erdogan is riding high in Turkey, projecting his arrogance towards Europe.
In the current state of affairs, Europeans see very clearly that once they open the floodgates in front of the Turks, the likelihood of European Turkification is more than Turkey’s Europeanization.
On July 15, President Erdogan and his AKP ruling party used the anniversary of the botched coup to flex their muscles. Erdogan needed to demonstrate his bravura to his domestic foes as well as his European challengers. Indeed, a few weeks ago, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s party and Erdogan’s main opponent, has called the putsch a “controlled coup.”
Kiliçdaroglu had walked from Ankara to Istanbul to protest the president’s repressive rule. It was a walk longer than that of Mahatma Gandhi when he protested British rule over India.
Upon arriving in Istanbul, Kiliçdaroglu gave a scathing speech to a crowd of 1.5 million. To outdo this challenge, Erdogan rallied a crowd 5-million strong at the Istanbul Bridge, which henceforth has been renamed the July 15 Martyrs Bridge, to give his fiery speech.
He walked through the crowd, protected by a police force of 25,000. Then he flew to Ankara to continue the commemoration in the parliament, which had been bombed during the coup, at midnight, to a crowd of 170,000.
Erdogan was very defiant in his speech. He said, “We cannot defeat the queen, the king or the sheikhs without defeating the pawns, knights and castles. Firstly, we will rip the heads of these traitors.” Then he added that he would approve the death penalty “without hesitation” if the parliament voted to restore it.
This kind of rhetoric draws Turkey closer to Saudi jurisprudence rather than to Europe.
Erdogan is a man of his word. His tough talk does not offer empty threats; to date, he has detained 155,000 people; 50,000 have been jailed and 140,000 have been dismissed from their jobs, on suspicion of having participated in the coup. Those who have been dismissed include a third of the judiciary, a tenth of the police force, 7,800 military officers, more than 8,000 academics and 33,000 teachers. As well, 942 companies have been seized.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists calls Turkey the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, with 160 detained.
Under Erdogan’s emergency rule, the police do not need any proof to arrest journalists as “terrorists” or “terrorist sympathizers.”
A report by the Venice Commission of the EU found that the constitutional amendments were “a dangerous step backwards” and “degenerative of Turkey’s constitutional democratic tradition.”
Alarmed by those developments, the European parliament voted (477 out of 638 members) to suspend accession negotiations with Turkey, which was a resounding “no” to Erdogan’s dictatorship.
Erdogan has given the EU an ultimatum, that if that body does not continue the negotiation process, then Turkey will simply walk away. However, in a statement, the European Chief Jean-Claude Juncker announced that the EU remained committed to a dialogue with Turkey and asked Ankara to strengthen its democracy, adding at the end, “If Turkey were to introduce the death penalty, the Turkish government would finally slam the door to EU membership.”
Now, it remains to be seen who will blink first. If we remember Erdogan’s standoffs with Israeli leader Benyamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin, it will not be hard to guess his moves.
Turkey’s relations with its neighbors and faraway nations undoubtedly affect Armenia. The Russo-Turkish rapprochement will certainly make it more conduce for Moscow to trample Armenia’s interests. Similarly, Turkey’s admission into the EU will have negative fallout for Armenia. Many pundits and statesmen in Armenia believe that Turkey’s entry into the EU will enforce Ankara to behave with more civility with its neighbors. They also advocate that with Turkey’s admission into the EU, Europe’s borders will extend all the way to Armenia, therefore Ankara will no longer be able to blockade Armenia.
But precedents vigorously discourage such theories. It suffices to mention that Turkey and Greece are members of NATO and yet Ankara continuously bullies Athens, has occupied Cyprus and fellow NATO members cannot budge Turkey from its arrogant position. Therefore, joining the EU can hardly serve Armenia’s interests. Turkey will always force its way, it will try to eat its cake and have it, while Europe looks the other way.