One objection forwarded about Turkey’s EU membership is the prospect that the EU will border the Middle East. The implicit assumption that this objection carries is that the EU is distant to the Middle East and only through Turkey’s membership can it border the region. Nevertheless, even at the present stage, the EU is much closer to Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine with the newly joined Cyprus. Similarly, the Greek islands, Malta, Italy, and Spain, all EU territories, are closer to North Africa than Turkey. Moroccan refugees virtually swim through the Gibraltar to seek asylum in Spain. It is possible to say that Turkish borders are much better defended when considering the ease in crossing the Spain-North Africa or Italy-North Africa boundaries. In line with the terrorism of the 1980s and 1990s, Turkey’s Middle Eastern borders are highly protected and illegal trespassing is at a minimum. Even if we disregard all these facts, it is an established reality that millions of immigrants from the Middle Eastern countries live in the EU countries and that the immigration goes on with a steady increase. In other words, the Middle East is speedily and uncontrollably settling at the heart of Europe. With all these figures, is it possible to say that what protects the EU from ‘meddling’ with the Middle East is a 1000 km-tract of land? With the current state of technology, is the EU hiding behind the pretext of Turkish lands in order to distance itself from the Middle East?
There is no doubt that even if the EU separates itself from the Middle East by oceans, it will still want to be an influential actor in the region, and will not be able to avoid that at any rate. Even now, the Middle East is at the center of the EU’s troubles anyway: The Middle East profoundly affects the EU with oil, terrorism, migration, human trafficking, narcotics, arms proliferation, etc. At the present state of affairs, the EU is affected from problems originating from the Middle East but lacks the means to tackle them. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a typical example. By allocating its vast resources to this region and others, the EU has difficulty in obtaining results. It has been unable to attain a role in the Middle East on par with the US. Neither in terms of impact, nor in prestige, has the EU risen to the status that its efforts warrant. On the other hand, the September 11 attacks and the Iraq War clearly depict that Middle Eastern events are going to affect Europe, just as they do with the rest of the world. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer confirms the vitality of the Middle East in the EU’s interest:
“Before 11 September 2001 attacks I had been skeptical about the EU bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran. But now, it is strategically important… Our security will be defined for at least five decades in this region… whether we like it or not.”
Should the EU fail to play its role as a guide, the Middle East might be reshaped adversely, perhaps even in a way that could harm the EU. At this point, Turkey’s membership may grant the desired means and the power to affect the region. In addition to its Ottoman legacy, Turkey’s cultural links with the region award it with a great boon. Especially with its performance during the Iraq War and the proactive policies it pursued with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, prejudices and misunderstandings about Turkey in the region have decreased. For example, while it was presumed that Turkey had an interest in Iraq’s disintegration and in the rich oil fields in Northern Iraq, Turkey was the most ardent supporter of Iraq’s territorial integrity. With this approach, Turkey gained Arabs’ and the neighboring countries’ respect while advocating the need to avoid further conflict. On the contrary, it urged steps to be taken for integration. In this sense, it can be said that at the center of Turkey’s Middle East approach lies integration and regional cooperation. On the one hand, Turkey increases its commercial, social, and cultural links with the region, and on the other, strives to eschew the eruption of yet another war. It does not find it fit with its national interests and in the interests of the region to have the events in Iraq rerun in Syria and Iran. Thus, it can be said that this approach is in line with the EU’s Middle East policies. To summarize Turkey’s approach regarding the Middle East, it can be said that it has a three-stage integration plan:
1. National Integration: To preserve the national integrity of the region’s countries within the framework of democracy, human rights, minority rights, and free market principles.
2. Regional Integration: To improve relations and lines of communication between the region’s countries, to be followed by cooperation and regional integration. At this stage, integration could be bilateral or trilateral and may eventually cover sub-regions and the Middle East as a whole.
3. Global Integration: The Middle East’s failure to integrate with the global system adversely affects regional stability as much as the world. Many problems in the post-Cold War era are due to the lack of integration between the Middle East and the rest of the world. In this respect, one of Turkey’s basic objectives is to fully integrate the Middle East to the global system.
Having mostly solved its problems with the countries of the region, with its “zero problem with neighbors” motto, the current government’s motion is the strategy that the EU is looking for. Hence, Turkey’s full membership will both present the EU the opportunity to pursue its strategy and also allow it to increase its leverage through a weighty actor like Turkey. Furthermore, Turkey’s full membership would significantly contribute to solving problems originating from the Middle East. Especially with the items of terrorism and drug trafficking, it is very hard for dangers to wither away.
Another worry regarding the Middle East is that Turkey’s EU membership will enable the US to manipulate the EU in the Middle East through Turkey. Some individuals even likened Turkey to a ‘Trojan horse’. However, despite sustaining great economic losses of billions of dollars, Turkey denied access to the American military before the Iraq War and adhered to the EU’s policies.
To sum up, at the present state of affairs, the EU already neighbors the Middle East and is adversely affected by problems emerging from that region. Conversely, it lacks the weight and decisive role that it desires dearly. As a country that knows the region and has a significant role, Turkey will contribute to the EU’s regional policies.
What the Middle East Needs: Democracy and Legitimate/Just Policies
Since World War I, the Middle East has been one of the most problematic regions of the world. Policies that have created the region’s problems with time have been portrayed as the solutions to those problems, creating an impasse. Middle Eastern peoples were first seen as unfit for self-rule, needing guardianship and this culminated in the establishment of authoritarian regimes. Administrations of foreign mandates acted with a focus on security, rather than on education and the economy and were followed by the kings and emirs who were mere clients of the West. While social and economic problems were attributed a secondary status, governments raised barriers at home and much more problems on the international scene to keep their armies and peoples occupied. Much of the resources and energy was reserved for security forces. It is obvious by now how misled these policies were. Middle Eastern peoples did not attain higher living standards under foreign mandate, on the contrary, democracy and administration degraded remarkably. Countries living under colonial rule or their own dictatorships failed to develop, while conflicts did not come to an end.
Now is the time for a new approach. Without disregarding security, social and economic problems need to be addressed:
Economies, in general, have to be more inclusive and productive. Relying on a few items such as oil and natural gas, economic structures hamper the incorporation of society and halt genuine economic development on the one hand, and on the other, leaves decision-making to a select few, causing policies to be more oriented on war and conflict. In a similar fashion, the countries in the Middle East need to allocate their resources for the benefit of the new generations, particularly for education and health. The current situation intensely breeds terrorism and radicalism. While it might appear paradoxical, the solution lies in the improvement of democracy. Having governments elected to office through fair and competitive elections would enable popular will to affect decision-making. While this may at first cause some problems, the masses would ultimately see the need to preserve the decision-making mechanism. In that case, decisions will be more pragmatic and reflective of the peoples’ and the countries’ interests, strengthening national power. Currently, while decisions are taken within a very limited confine, they are also more ideological and much more personal. The capricious attitude of an individual may lead a country to war. The remarkable correlation between democracy and prosperity can be exemplified. The richest Moslem countries of the world are not the oil-rich ones. On the contrary, the largest Moslem economy of the world, Turkey, is perhaps the poorest in terms of energy resources. In contrast to Saudi Arabia and Iraq, Turkey does not even have enough oil and natural gas for self-consumption. In terms of per capita income and economic size, the noteworthy appearance of countries such as Egypt, Malaysia, Iran, and Indonesia on the upper portions of the list proves the point that access to decision-making positively affects economic power. In contrast, that the historical process that brought Iraq to this point is due to the Saddam Hussein regime is an undisputable fact.
The second basic problem is due to the West’s policies towards the Middle East. Western countries that pay great attention to legitimacy and rule of law at home, behave quite differently in the Middle East. For example, while Israel has been developing nuclear weapons for years, the reaction towards Iran, Iraq, and Libya is at best discordant. Similarly, for so many years after supporting the Saddam Hussein regime while it served interests, even with its systematic torturing and gross human rights violations, then invading Iraq with the pretext of Saddam Hussein’s regime and punishing Iraq seems rather unfair. Even as Saddam Hussein virtually publicized his understanding of authority starting from his first days in office and that he used weapons of mass destruction on his own people, the West did nothing. Worse, while all these occurred, he was armed to the teeth by the countries that have now turned against him. While Saddam Hussein’s case is quite telling, it has done great damage to the West’s credibility in the region.
The biggest problem in the relations between the West and the Middle East is the Palestinian question. Since its establishment, Israel has ignored other countries and the Moslem world. Continuously expanding on other countries’ lands, Israel refuses to set its borders under the United Nations systems and constructs settlements at the expense of Palestinians on the lands that it has occupied. This fact is repeatedly raised by international organizations and even occasionally confirmed by Israel. Israeli soldiers “clashing” with Palestinian children is an image taken for granted.
Recently, the most tragic Israeli policy is assassination. It involves attacking a predetermined vehicle as it moves along a street. To kill only one person in the car others in the car or innocent bystanders may be sacrificed. Furthermore, no matter how guilty an individual is, it is a terrorist organization’s method to assassinate someone, not a government’s.
Another Israeli method is to punish a criminal’s family by harming them. Following a suicide bombing or a similar attack, the assailant’s house is bulldozed, sometimes with his family inside. The principle of the individuality of crime, established by humanity thousands of years ago, is violated through such methods, leaving many innocent people dead, homeless, and distrustful towards the rule of law. Such methods hurt the conscience of people all around the world, and foremost that of Moslems countries. Israel acts in an “I’ll do what I want, my affair is no one’s business” mindset. Worst of all, Israel harms itself as well as others. The time has come for a country, which has lived under bombs and clashes since its day of foundation, to question itself.
The greatest negative impact of the Israeli-Palestinian problem is on Moslem populace. The devastation wrought on holy shrines, disregard for the basic principles of law, and the perception that the US and the EU are inert strengthen the sentiment that the West is discriminatory towards Moslem countries. For example, the fact that while Israel possesses nuclear weapons for decades and some Moslem countries, not in possession of these weapons, come under intense pressure for the possibility that they may seek to acquire nuclear weapons, fortifies questions of double standards. Certainly, no reason can justify international terrorism. On the other hand, the creation of a sense of injustice in such a large segment of people and the ascription of a privileged position for some countries to violate international law leaves those people with little options to struggle for their rights and for voicing their opinions. A majority of Moslems fear that should they quarrel with Israel, they would end up like Palestinians and thus, the justice of Europe and the US cannot be trusted.
As a matter of fact, the events in former Yugoslavia augment these fears. From the viewpoint of Moslem countries, at the hands of a well-armed group, thousands of people have been massacred at the center of Europe merely because they were Moslems, unarmed, defenseless, and had nowhere to run. Tens of thousands of Bosnian Moslem women were raped, thousands of people endured inhumane treatment in prison camps. The EU and European countries just watched while all these events took place. The understanding of truth is more important that how it is interpreted and how the European states defend themselves. The general understanding regarding Bosnia is that European countries and institutions have failed.
Another event that increases the sense of despair in relations between the West and Islam is Chechnya. Looking at the policies of violence in Chechnya, people see it unfair that Moscow treats those demanding freedom and those demanding their basic rights as criminals, along with Moscow’s indiscriminate categorization of any opposition as “terrorist.” Human rights violations and extreme security measures in Chechnya are at a paramount. Chechen people are on the verge of annihilation. In this case, Russia’s security should naturally be given attention and those Chechens using terrorism as a tool must be severely punished. However, the existence of security forces that seek to obtain results solely by violence and by the methods of terrorist organizations must not go unnoticed. Warning Moscow in the early 1990s with a rather caustic overtone, the US and the EU have unfortunately not been insistent and congruous in their attitudes. Especially following the attacks of September 11, the US’s and the EU’s shift in their policies to support Moscow’s policies towards the Chechens have created a serious crisis of trust in the international arena. This shift has created the sense that the West is taking self-centered approaches towards terrorism. In other words, the contradictory attitudes of Western countries before and after terror strikes directed against them is received very negatively.
The US’s policies in Iraq following the invasion further consolidates this sentiment. Especially with the images of torture and maltreatment that disrespects even the most basic principles of human rights and international law from Ebu Gureyb and Guantanamo, the hatred targets not only the US, but also the West as a whole. As the scenes from Iraq increasingly resemble those in Palestine, there is a feeling that Western countries are now repeating those mistakes they criticized in the past. The violations in Iraq and Afghanistan create worries that the West has different standards for itself and non-Western countries.
Finally, Nagorno-Karabakh stands out as the event that has lead Moslems to question the West’s sincerity in its claims to justice and legitimacy. Over 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territories are invaded by Armenian forces backed by Russia. Approximately one million people have become refugees. This situation has been dragging on for over a decade and represents a much more severe violation of law than the case of former-Yugoslavia. Furthermore, since the first days of the invasion, US and EU statements that criticize Azerbaijan and support Armenia is viewed as a Moslem-Christian divide by some.
When closely examined, it can be seen that in the post-Cold War era all massacres and human rights violations from Chechnya to Palestine, from Iraq to Afghanistan, and from Bosnia to Karabakh involve Christians and Moslems with the Christians committing, supporting, and inciting the atrocities. The Moslems are the ones who are victimized, invaded, and subjected to cruel treatment and torture.
Of course, we Turks do not view these events as such. We are aware that they are not Christian-Moslem conflicts. However, we can hardly dismiss ever-increasing double-standards. Moreover, these practices that discard Moslem opinion, weaken moderate groups, and strengthen radicals are perceived as discrimination and are reminiscent of the Crusades. In the light of these facts, this position that strengthens terrorism and pushes the masses towards radical groups must be closely scrutinized. The West should not be faultfinding only about the Moslems with their integration to the global system, but should also be critical about its own role. Important responsibilities fall on the EU’s shoulders in this respect. In comparison with the US, EU countries are much more insightful and should they wish to obtain the tools and the power to break this vicious circle, they would easily find them. Turkey’s EU membership would grant the EU the most effective instruments that it seeks. The greatest Moslem economy, and also the most effective Moslem polity, Turkey is obviously in a perfect position to represent Moslems. By taking Turkey as a member, the EU will show that it is not insincere towards Moslems.
To sum up, what the Middle East needs most in the years ahead is democratization and for the West’s policies towards the Middle East to be fair and congruous with the ones that it applies at home. It is clear that whether it becomes an EU member or not, Turkey will have a peculiar position in bringing about both needs.
Relations with Iraq
There is a dire need to address the question of Iraq with the U.S.’s latest operation and the impact that Turkey’s EU membership will have on Iraq’s special position with its oil, terrorism, minorities, etc.
Following Turkey’s membership, the EU will neighbour Iraq. However, it can be said that with the latest events, Iraq is close to the EU as a neighbour and the incidents there seriously affects the EU. From oil to terrorism and migration, from Christian-Moslem relations to global restructuring, the EU is affected just like the rest of the world. Some EU members, such as Britain, even participated in the Iraq War while some others gave logistical support. While there were other members that opposed the war, such as Germany and France, the developments in Iraq constituted much of the agenda in these countries as well, ranging from domestic politics to security. With NATO’s Istanbul Summit in June 2004, many NATO countries also EU members began engaging in Iraq. Contrary to this case, the EU does not have adequate means to steer and influence the events in Iraq that so profoundly affect it. Most importantly, it lacks the support of a country with a strong regional position.
When looking at the Middle East and Iraq, two points of view seem to be in conflict. The first of these, the “hawkish” approach, envisions to transform the Middle East more with the help of military options. If need be, just as in Iraq, it is foreseen that the regimes and leaders of countries such as Syria, Iran, and Libya can be changed and even their borders can be redrawn to fit the needs of religious and ethnic groups. The more “dovish” approach, on the other hand, advocates socio-economic instruments and dialogue. The previously mentioned three-staged Turkish initiative is at the center of this approach. Force may be utilized if need be. However, this force may be employed only in conformity with law, within the confines of legitimacy, and with the consent of regional governments and the international community on a limited basis. Another subject that Turkey has been continuously bringing up is the preservation of national boundaries and regime change without the use of violence. For regimes and leaders are a product of that environment rather than the root of the troubles. In this respect, it is verified that the hawkish approach in Iraq has failed and that forced leader or regime change does not yield any results. Today, Iraq of the post-Saddam Hussein era is arguably more unstable and suitable for terrorism to breed than ever. Inter-ethnic tension is increasing steadily while bombing raids are almost a daily matter. Accordingly, to resort to similar mechanisms in Syria and Iran will be a great disaster for the Middle East, the EU, and the rest of the world. The global system will not sustain such an occurrence.
Coming back to Iraq, the country needs to preserve its security, stability, and integrity first and foremost. All groups in the country, ethnic or otherwise, deserve a balanced representation at the national level. However, efforts aiming to disjoin Iraq should not be supported. Iraqi Kurds have a special role here. While some try to portray Iraqi Kurds and Turkey as opposing parties, Turkey has been Kurds’ greatest support for a long time. Following the First Gulf War, hundreds of thousands of Kurds fled to Turkey from Saddam Hussein’s brutality. Until the Iraq War, Iraqi Kurds were protected by the Hammer Power (Operation North Watch), to which Turkey provided with bases and personnel. In the intermittent clashes between Celal Talabani’s PUK and Mesut Barzani’s KDP throughout the 1990s, Turkey acted as a mediator and extended economic help and technical assistance to Iraqi Kurds. The establishment of TV stations and educational facilities, along with other infrastructure investments, came about with the help of the Turkish government and Turkish firms. The gate with Turkey offers the greatest source of income for Northern Iraq. It must not be forgotten that the oil produced in Northern Iraq is transported to world markets from the Mediterranean via pipelines in Turkey. In short, Turkey has been the greatest supporter of Iraqi Kurds and many Iraqi Kurds are residing in Turkey today. Following the Iraq War, relations with Iraqi Kurds are still going on. Despite some conjunctural statements and tensions, Turkey is one of the most active countries in Northern Iraq. It continues to support the area through the border and by participating in various projects. Turkey’s activities in the region mostly aim for the region’s economic development and greater convergence between Turkish and Iraqi markets.
In the same light, Turkey urges the employment of similar socio-economic instruments for Iraq as a whole. It argues that once the basic infrastructure and security problems of Iraq are solved, increased regional economic and cultural transaction would bring stability to Iraq and to the region.
In political and military matters regarding Northern Iraq, Turkey has a set of priorities. These can be summarized under three headings:
1. Iraq’s territorial integrity must be maintained. Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkmens, Assyrians or any other ethnic or religious groups should not struggle to secede from Iraq and form another state.
2. Regional countries should not become the target of terrorism stemming from Iraq. Especially Northern Iraq should not be a haven for terrorist networks.
3. In administrations at the national and local level, ethnic and sectarian differences must be respected. The inattention towards Turkmens must come to an end.
As a matter of fact, almost all parties (US, EU, Israel, Arab countries including Iraq’s neighbors) officially adhere to these sensitivities. The problem is about fulfilling the word. Despite all official statements, there are countries and groups in Iraq that support secessionist factions. Some allied countries, including the US, strengthen separatists with their words or deeds. Especially the encouragement given to Kurds and Shiites for separation escalates conflict in the country on the one hand, and worsens the possibility of ethnic strife in the years ahead. It is not possible whatsoever for any groups to secede from Iraq and to maintain statehood. Contrary to expectations, disintegration would not even be to the instigators’ benefit. For example, the establishment of a Kurdish state would create a feud between Kurds and Arabs which the region has of no use. The experience from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be recalled and the same mistakes should not be repeated. The Middle East does not need any further divisions and conflicts but new unions and integration. In this framework, neither Kurds, nor Turkmens, nor Shiites, nor any other Iraqi group can afford the luxury to act unilaterally. They should not create hostility amongst themselves or encourage other countries’ intervention by acting unilaterally.
In this respect, it can be said that Turkey has the will and the means to deliver stability to Iraq. The said will has been proven over and over again since the Iraq War. As far as the means are concerned, Turkey’s swelling trade volume with Iraq and its neighbors, its ever-expanding investments in these countries, and its growing relations with their governments reflect Turkey’s power. At this point, Turkey’s power rests on the support it has from the region. Today, the Syrian Prime Minister not only calls Turkey’s policies towards Iraq as “correct and constructive,” but also praises them for being ‘shrewd.’ The relations between Turkey and Syria are developing at an unprecedented scale. Similarly, Iran is increasing economic and political cooperation with Turkey particularly in the field of counter-terrorism. Regarding Iraq especially, the two countries have given their explicit support to Turkey. This grants a vital advantage to Turkey, whose relations with the US and Israel is already robust: regional support.
It is obvious that Turkey can be a major contribution to Iraq. However, the extent of Turkey’s contribution will be determined by economic and political limits. Full EU membership would further widen these limits. Turkey, member of the EU, could make Iraq a less dangerous place.
The Palestinian Question
The events of September 11 and the aftermath once again confirm that the Palestinian question does not only concern Israelis and Arabs. It feeds misunderstandings between civilizations on a global scale, lays grounds for terrorism, and damages international law, stability, and security. Even though it is the US that is greatly harmed from this situation, the special relationship between the US and Israel keeps Washington from acting as an effective catalyst in solving the problem. Meanwhile, Arabs and Israelis have proved time and again that they cannot solve their problems without outside mediation. It is such that almost no one exists on the world genuinely believing that Israelis and Palestinians can co-exist. However, this ‘miracle’ did exist in the past. There was a nation in history that let the two live together peacefully. They were the Turks. During the Ottoman era, there was almost no widespread ethnic clash in the Middle East. Jerusalem functioned as a divine location for many religions and sects while these groups practiced their religions freely under Ottoman rule. But there is no point in resurrecting the Ottoman Empire for the sake of good old days. Many empires came about in history, but few achieved a peace like the peace of Jerusalem. The secret lies in Turks’ understanding of religion and their historical and cultural conditions. Embracing Jews who were fleeing Spain, Turks, never had any anti-Semitic sentiments and clung to their stance until today. Similarly Turkey did not implement anti-Semitic policies in the modern times: First of all, “the Turkish Republic took in hundreds of refugees from Nazi persecution during the 1930s, including leading professors, teachers, physicians, attorneys, artists and laboratory workers as well as thousands more less well known persons.”
As Shaw put it “just as important as providing a haven for Jews who had lived in the Ottoman Empire for centuries was Turkey’s role in helping rescue many Jewish Turks who were resident in Nazi-occupied western Europe during the Holocaust”: The Turkish government not only refused German demands that it turn over the Jewish refugees for internment in the death camps but instead it went out of its way to assist passage into its territory of Jews fleeing from Nazi persecution in Poland, Greece and Yugoslavia as well as in Western and Central Europe. As Kirişçi put it “there are no definite figures for the number of Jews that benefited from temporary asylum in Turkey until their resettlement… However, it is estimated that around 100,000 Jews may have used Turkey as their first country of asylum.” During the Second World War, Turkey was the only continental European country that refused to turn Jews over to Nazi Germany and understandably prides itself with this heritage.
Arabs were ruled by the Ottoman administration in the same spirit, enabling them to keep their language and ethnic roots intact. There are many Turks who were Arabized in due course but Arabs did not face remarkable assimilation. Even though the Ottoman past was discredited first by French and British colonial administrations, and later by nationalist leaders such as Saddam Hussein and Hafez al-Asad, Turks still enjoy great reverence in the region. Especially in the Holy Lands, Turkey is one of the few countries that maintains genuine ties with both parties notwithstanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even though it is a Moslem country and directs the harshest criticisms towards Israel, Turkey has always maintained its credibility vis-a-vis Israel, and Israelis have refrained from replying to criticisms in due harshness. For example, the Turkish Prime Minister at the time, Bülent Ecevit, equated Israel’s operations against Yasser Arafat to “genocide” while Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan labeled Israel’s policy to assassinate Palestinian leaders as “state-sponsored terror.” Even though they claimed that they were “having a hard time in withholding their replies,” Israeli officials did always underline that Turkey was a real ally for Israel in the region. As a matter of fact that neither Ecevit’s, not Erdoğan’s statements are acceptable in terms of diplomacy. It can be said that even the US cannot raise such harsh criticisms against Israel. But both Ecevit and Erdoğan, immediately after their remarks, also stated that they were concerned for Israel as well, and both of them warned Israel about that these Israeli policies in Palestine were also going to harm Israel itself. In other words, it was proven that these censures were not from an enemy, but from an ally.
A similar situation also exists among the public. Many Jews lead their lives in Turkey without any troubles. In contrast to many Moslem countries, or even non-Moslem countries for that matter, anti-Jewish sentiments are very limited. Even though Israeli policies are disapproved, this disapproval does not translate into racism. The criticism is against Israel’s policies, not Judaism. In this respect, as Turkey can function as a mediator between Israel and the Arabs, it can also work to improve the EU-Israel relationship that has been deteriorating for some time. At least Turkey’s full membership would increase the EU’s disposition over the Palestinian question. Meanwhile, trade between Israel and Turkey is steadily increasing. The forecast for the coming year is USD 5 billion. Similarly, in trade relations with Syria and other Arab countries, there is a geometrical progression. Even a closed regime like Syria, in line with its trade relations with Turkey, reduces tariffs and takes steps to increase economic integration. With the ever-increasing commerce with Turkey, a visible opening up is underway in Syria. Turkey-Syria trade volume in the 1990s was about 100 million US dollars. When two countries solved the bilateral political problems, and Syrian government refrain its support from the terrorist activities in Turkey the trade between Turkey and Syria rocketed to more than 1 billion US dollars.
Another project undertaken by Turkey is to interconnect energy lines in the Turkey-Syria-Lebanon-Israel-Jordan-Egypt axis and the modernization and integration of transport routes in the region. Water has been another tool that Turkey has used for integration. The dire need of the region’s countries for water, combined with Turkey’s offer to carry some of its water to the region through pipelines would facilitate further convergence. In this respect, Turkey, that is already sending fresh water to Northern Cyprus via sea-routes, is also going to deliver water to Israel through the Mediterranean. Actually, Turkey’s water pipeline project is much broader. The project that would encompass all of Middle East would bring many countries from Turkey to Saudi Arabia together around their water needs.
While Turkey has partially succeeded in struggling to increase the movement of goods, people, energy and capital between Israel and Arab countries in the past 25 years, it is apparent that without a strong supporter like the EU, it will take a long time for these efforts to fully succeed. With EU membership, as integration will hasten, so will stability and security in this most troubled region gain a strong foothold. The EU would have a new market. In the long run, the aim should be to further integrate Eastern Mediterranean and to liberalize and democratize the lands from Eastern Europe to North Africa. In reaching these goals, Turkey stands out with its relatively strong economy and political system as well as with its cadre that truly believes in these goals and integration.
To summarize, Turkey’s membership will enhance the EU’s projection to solve the Palestinian question. Just as with Palestine and Israel, Turkey can also arbitrate between the EU and the regional parties. Moreover, Turkey’s policy to harmonize the region’s countries and peoples through social and economic instruments is in perfect compatibility with the EU’s outlook and can contribute to the solution of many of the Middle East’s problems, including the Palestine-Israel conflict.
Impact on Relations with Iran
With the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran became the symbol of radical movements in the Islamic world and was perceived as defiance to the West especially by the US. While this may be an overstatement, Iran’s experiences since the Revolution clearly illustrate its failure to integrate to the global system politically and economically. While the role of the US’s containment policies against Iran, as well as the manipulation emanating from Israel cannot be disregarded, neither can Iran’s role. As a matter of fact, Iran does seek integration with the world and promulgates its corresponding will. Some countries, including the US have taken some steps to integrate it to the world system and to make it more receptive to the outside world. However, the lack of determination on the part of the sides, flawed methods, lack of patience, lack of vision, and conjunctural factors failed to deliver success. As a result, Iran was labeled as a member of the US’s “Axis of Evil.” It was reiterated that Iran was the next target after Iraq. Meanwhile, Israel continuously reminded Iran’s intention to produce nuclear weapons and repeatedly threatened to strike Iran. While the Khatami government has shown eagerness to make Iran more liberal and democratic in the recent years, it has failed to achieve that goal. Especially the war with Iraq left the countries’ liberals weakened even further and in a sense helped the revolutionaries to renew themselves. In short, relations between Iran and the West have not normalized since 1979. However, winning Iran is of utmost importance. First and foremost, Iran has a very great strategic location. The only non-Arab country of the Persian Gulf, it has full authority over the Gulf’s eastern shores and serves as a key to liberalization and democratization in the Arab world. In the same sense, as a part of the calculations in the Indian Ocean and south Asia through the Arabian Sea, Iran is also an important country for Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and southern Arabia. Having ethnic, religious, and historical relations with Central Asia, Iran will no doubt deeply affect the region. An important portion Iran’s population is composed of Azerbaijani Turks and as a Caucasian state, it is an indispensable part of the regional equilibrium. In close analysis, it can be seen that Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Persian Gulf, and the Arab world an important segment of the world’s energy resources. In this respect, Iran, itself also an important owner of oil and natural gas, is at the hub of these reserves. Thus, the securing of the Turkey-Iran route and its nearing to the EU would suggest that in the future the EU’s energy needs would be secured.
Iran’s economic potential and the network that it weaves around itself is important to all; Turkey, the EU, and other powers. However, Iran’s prime contribution at the present state of affairs would be to aid inter-civilizational dialogue and the elimination of religion as a source of violence. As it was pronounced before, Iran has become the symbol of a radical interpretation of Islam. Even though it does not support terrorism per se, there is a clear link between many Iranian-based groups and terrorism. Worst of all, occasionally even the Iranian administration has a hard time in controlling these groups. In the same light, many radical groups see Teheran as a source of inspiration. Intentionally or not, Iran has become a center of radicalism. Iran’s retreat from its current symbolic status would first of all be a great spiritual and ideological blow to religious extremism and cast a green light for dialogue between various cultures. There are not many centers to resist a current that would emanate from a wave of positive change in Iran, combined with the one already in Turkey. In other words, the inclusion of Teheran to Ankara would make it much simpler for the integration of the Islamic world to the globe.
The road to Iran’s integration to the world certainly passes from Iran’s attainment of a more open system. A more liberal economy, a regime that is more democratic and respectful towards different opinions, the growth of minority rights and endorsement of human rights are but the first steps to be taken and all of these are of equal importance. Meanwhile, Iran has proven time and again that it will not change due to outside pressure. For Iran to change, help and encouragement should come from those who resemble it. Pressure should come from those perceived as friends rather than foes. Transition should be dictated by necessity. The internal dynamics of Iran, ethnic and religious, need to be in motion. From this perspective, in opening Iran to the West and inspiring its inner dynamics, Turkey is the most suitable country.
First of all, almost half of Iran’s ethnic composition is formed of Azerbaijani Turks. Speaking Turkish and having historical, cultural, religious, lingual, and ethnic ties to Turkey and Azerbaijan, these people are quite open to the change from Turkey. In relaying the change from Turkey to Iran, this group plays a special part. Second, Iranians do not perceive a threat from Turkey. Neither has the Turkish-Iranian border been changed for centuries, nor have the two countries engaged in a fighting ever since. Accordingly, Turkey’s counsel would be received more positively than those coming from elsewhere. Third, Turkey is a Moslem country and is a successful one, moreover, it does what it says it will do. In other words, Turkey is not telling Iran to implement a fantasy. On the contrary, it shares its own experience. Fourth, Turkey does not have an imposing attitude. It gives priority to mutual security and commercial relations. To exemplify, the trade between the two countries has increased dramatically in recent years, along with the construction of an oil pipeline. Fifth, the benefit that Iran can make by expanding its relations with Turkey is great and this fact has been appreciated in the past few years. Turkey is a great market for Iran in all respects and Iran has much to gain by cooperating with Turkish firms in the markets that it tries to access. Sixth, during and after the Iraq War, US policies have alarmed Iran just as they did with Syria. Iran has seen the need to improve its relations with regional powers and has approached Turkey. Iran has been one of the countries that has observed Turkey’s policies with admiration and this has opened the way for cooperation in all fields. As a matter of fact, having been lenient towards the PKK for many years, Iran has conducted military operations in 2004 in line with Turkey’s requests. Also useful to note that as Turkey captured Abdullah Öcalan, the head of the PKK, with the help of the US and Israel, it is getting rid of the remnants of the PKK with the help of Iran and Syria. This case illustrates how Turkey’s regional policies foster cooperation with all parties.
To summarize, Turkey is a very important country in opening Iran to the outside world and setting its inner dynamics into motion. At the same time, Turkey offers itself as a useful example and guide for the attempted transformations in Iran. Bearing in mind the failure of US’s policies in this regard, Turkish partnership would be more than effective for the EU that seeks alternative approaches to Iran. With EU membership, a Moslem-Democrat Turkey could be a true model for Iran and similar countries. It is certain that the EU will also benefit from this affair. While security problems caused by Iran will decline, energy routes will safely lead to Europe from Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Middle East. Furthermore, the Europe-Indian Ocean, Europe-Central Asia, and Europe-Middle East transport lines will become safer. And naturally, the EU will become a more effective actor in the said areas.
Syria has a special status in the future of the Middle East, the solution of the Iraq question, the conclusion of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the repression of radical religious violence. When looking at Syria’s political influence in the Arab world, its importance in shaping the Arab world can be clearly seen. The demise of the Baathist regime in Iraq increases Syria’s predominance on Arab nationalism. In mean time, Syria can be taken as a miniature of the Middle East with its numerous ethnic and religious groups. Also, due to its special relationship with Lebanon, the two countries must be considered together. Despite its complex ethnic and religious setup, Syria and Lebanon have remained relatively peaceful under the Ottoman Empire. With the 20th century, the two have entered a period of much conflict and clashing. While Lebanon is struggling to recover from the wounds of the civil war, the impact of the Iraq War and the resurgence of religious extremism are sources of much worry. Atop these worries, the explicit military threats from the US and Israel make Syria a ‘potential Iraq or Afghanistan’ of the near future. The question that needs to be asked at this point is whether the world, the EU, and Turkey can sustain another Iraq or Afghanistan? While this question is a concern for the world, it is much more vital for the EU and Turkey. For both, Syria and Lebanon are neighbors. While Turkey’s proximity is clear, some in the EU are not yet aware of their neighborhood with Syria. However, there is a narrow stretch of sea between EU-member Cyprus and Syria and Cyprus is much closer to Syria than any other EU member. The short distance through the Mediterranean between the EU and Syria is so marginal that Syrian ports and lands serve as a staging point for immigration and illegal smuggling. No matter how distant some people in the EU would like to think of Syria, the closest EU airfield is only a half-hour’s flight away.
In short, Syria is both Turkey’s and the EU’s neighbor and a development similar to that in Iraq will cause substantial losses on all sides and significantly injure international peace and stability. Just as in the case of Iraq, if the ‘hawkish’ approach in the US, together with the ‘Sharon’ factor in Israel try to integrate Syria to the system by force, this will be a punishment not only to this country but also to the EU and Turkey. As Al-Qaeda does not have a breeding ground in Syria at the moment, just as it had not have in Iraq before the invasion, the organization will choose Syria as its third base of operation after Afghanistan and Iraq. The instability in Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s and its effect on regional turmoil should be forgotten. Syria’s and Lebanon’s complex ethnic and religious setup might offer itself as an even better medium than Iraq for terrorist groups to operate. Hawks claim that they are also aware of these risks but advocate that there is no peaceful way to integrate Syria to the global system. However, the change of administration and the incumbency of Beshar al-Asad in Syria have created the ideal setting for the country’s connection to the international community. The country that has most closely felt this wind of change has been Turkey. Damascus supported leftist groups and later the PKK, one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world, throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s and gave them logistical, technical, and financial support against Turkey. Today, not only has Syria withdrawn its support from these groups, it also seeks avenues of political and economic cooperation with Turkey. This rapid transformation in the relationship between Turkey and Syria has some invaluable lessons. The first reason that improved Turkish-Syrian relations was Turkey’s harsh warning to Syria that it was going to consider Syria’s support for the PKK and Abdullah Öcalan’s residence in Syria as an act of war. Unwilling to risk belligerency, Syria deported Öcalan and signed a document promising not to support terrorism. As a matter of fact, similar threats did also come from the US and Israel and these countries’ armed forces are strong enough to cause worry to the Syrian army. However, neither country has complemented these military threats with any other tangible action. Turkey, while warning Syria of the possibility to use force, made it clear that its intention was not to punish Syria, marginalize it on the global scene, or to dishonor it, but merely to put an end to terrorism. As Syria took steps against terrorism, relations improved, written assurances were exchanged, commercial, political and most importantly social ties were encouraged to foment between the two sides. Syria was given time to adjust to the new status quo and care was taken to avoid any provocation. More than 45 visits have been made on the ministerial level for the last four years in which many accords that are making the legal ground for the bilateral ties inked. While Turkey encouraged the Turkish businessmen to invest in Syria, the Syrian official bodies have granted facilities for the investors. Syria’s new leader Bashar Al-Assad paid his first foreign visit to Turkey in February 2004 and considered the level of Turkish-Syrian relations almost perfect:
“My visit coincides with a period when Syrian-Turkish relations are reaching a peak… We have moved together from an atmosphere of distrust to one of trust. We must create stability from a regional atmosphere of instability.”
In short, Turkey aimed ‘not to beat up the owner of vineyard, but to eat grapes’ as an old Turkish maxim puts it. The Iraq War and the common dangers it delivered have brought Syria closer to Turkey. Investigating ways to liberalize the country and to open it to the world, the new Asad administration tried to work with the region’s countries, especially with Turkey, and expected Turkey in ameliorating its relations with the West. Meanwhile, there was some serious progress in bilateral relations. The leaders of the two countries have exchanged visits. Firstly, effort was made to increase the trade volume, cross-border commerce, and Turkish investments in Syria. These steps are yielding surprisingly great results on such a short amount of time. From tough adversaries, Syria and Turkey have evolved to become close partners. This swiftness both shows Syria’s desire to integrate to the world system, and Turkey’s receptiveness to this desire.
In this respect, it is evident that a Turkey that has become an EU member or is on the verge of becoming one can contribute greatly on the question of Syria and Lebanon. On the one hand, Turkey can bring Syria closer to the EU and the US, play a role in the resolution of the region’s problems, and on the other, promote the EU’s interest in the region. It has to be borne in mind that in some of the provinces of southern Turkey, such as Gaziantep, Adana, Kahramanmaraş, Mersin, Hatay, etc. there are many citizens who have close ethnic, religious, sectarian, and linguistic ties with Syria, along with some families that are dispersed across the border. The advantages that this may have on trade and the influence of Turkish investors in introducing the Syrian market to the EU can be imagined.
As a result, the use of force is not the only option to “tame” Syria. Turkish-Syrian relations offer a priceless experience. Turkey, working with the EU in tandem on the question of Syria, can thwart the possibility of a new Iraq War and can deliver economic and political advantages to itself, Syria, and the EU.
Dieser Beitrag erscheint mit freundlicher Genehmigung von The Journal of Turkish Weekly
 Paul Reynolds, ‘EU’s Turkish Challenge’, BBC News, 6 October 2004.
 ‘Turkey EU Entry As Big As “D-Day”, BBC, 20 October 2004.
 “Alliance to Support Iraq With Troop Training,” http://www.nato.int/docu/update/2004/06-june/e0629b.htm, June 29 2004.
 Salih Boztaş, “İsrail’in Dışlanması Şam’ı Sevindirdi,” (Israel’s Alienation Joys Damascus) Zaman, July 14 2004.
 For the ‘Iraq issue’ and Turkey’s role in the region also see Sedat Laçiner, Irak Küresel Meydan Savaşı ve Türkiye (The Irak ‘Global’ War and Turkey), (Ankara: Roma Press, 2004).
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