Dispatches from Deena Stryker
Turkey’s relationship with the EU has been second-page news for decades: will Europe accept a Muslim nation as one of its own? While Brussels dithered, non-Turkish Muslims were flocking to its shores and crossing its borders almost unimpeded. Turkey is a charter member of the UN, an early member of NATO, and a founding member of the OECD, OSCE, OIC and G-20. After becoming one of the first members of the Council of Europe in 1949, Turkey became an associate member of the EEC in 1963, joined the EU Customs Union in 1995 and started accession negotiations with the European Union in 2000.
Turkey joined NATO in 1952, becoming a bulwark against supposed Soviet expansion into the Mediterranean. [In Western propaganda enemies like the Soviet Union are forever expansionist and aggressive, perhaps a projection of their own way of thinking.—Eds.] However, this majority Muslim country’s transition to multiparty democracy was interrupted by military coups d’état in 1960, 1971, and 1980. as well as by a military memorandum in 1997 that warned Turkey’s Islamists not to betray the secular legacy of its first president, Kemal Ataturk. In 1994, a former professional footballer, Recip Tayep Erdogan, was elected Mayor of Istanbul representing the Islamist Welfare Party in 1994. In 1998, a political speech got him banned from politics for four months, but in 2001, he abandoned openly Islamist politics and founded the moderate conservative AK Party, which he led to three general election victories in 2002, 2007 and 2011, standing down as leader upon his election as President in 2014. Self-described as a conservative democrat, his administration has overseen conservative and liberal economic policies.
Erdogan’s presidency coincided with the influx of Muslim refugees from US wars into Europe, initiating a sharp reversal in Turkey’s geopolitical positioning, from aspiring to EU membership to preying on Europe’s growing desperation. In March, 2016, at the height of the European crisis over the flood of Muslim immigrants landing on its shores from Turkey, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel reached a deal with Erdogan that would see one Syrian refugee legally brought to Europe for resettlement from Turkey for every Syrian refugee sent back to Syria by Turkey. In exchange, Turkish citizens were to be granted visa-free entry to the Schengen zone, which covers most of the EU. This did not happen, enraging Erdogan. Then in July, 2016, a coup against him was thwarted, leading to a major crackdown in Turkey, giving the European Parliament a good excuse to pass a non-binding resolution demanding that accession talks with Turkey be abandoned. This of course caused Erdogan to threaten pulling out of the refugee deal. Now, Erdogan is campaigning for constitutional changes that would vastly increase his power, however, Europe’s leaders refuse to grant permission for his ministers to hold rallies in their countries, in what looks to be the last episode in a relationship heading for divorce.
Breaking with an EU that Turkey has been so keen to join for decades does not, however, leave that country swinging in the wind between East and West. It is said that the coup attempt was thwarted thanks to a tip-off by Russia that enabled Erdogan to evade capture and turn the tables on his opponents. Although this incident came almost on the heels of a Russian military jet being shot down by Turkey over Syria, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was quick to see the advantage of wiping the slate clean.
Since 1952, Turkey had been a member of NATO, continuing a multi-century adversarial relationship with Russia by becoming a bulwark against Soviet expansion into the Mediterranean. Thanks to President Vladimir Putin’s long view of politics, Turkey is now a focal point of US and EU relations with Russia. Shortly after a Russian military jet was shot down by Turkey over Syria, an event that suggested a long-term rift, President Putin propelled relations with Turkey forward, with the obvious intent of eventually motivating it to leave NATO. Were the country whose geographic position makes it a link between Europe and Asia to join the Eurasian Economic Union and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, this would literally reconfigure the Eurasian continent.
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