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Richard S Ehrlich: Turkey Political

Turkey Political

by Richard S. Ehrlich

Woman and loom, Goreme, Turkey. Photo copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich
Click to enlarge

GOREME, Turkey -- The EU is also observing how Islamist extremists, often through random terrorist attacks, are influencing Turkey's government, described as "moderate Islamist." Many Americans, Europeans and others, meanwhile, find this country safe and friendly. (Photo copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich)

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- "Ten or 15 years ago, we had Romanian girls in Istanbul selling their bodies as prostitutes," said Hassan, an office worker in Istanbul's old Sultan Ahmet neighborhood.

"You remember those days?" he asked his colleague, Rasheed, who snickered at the memory.

"Now Romania can join the EU ahead of Turkey," Hassan lamented. "Why?

"I don't believe Romania, or even Bulgaria, are something better than Turkey. They are also nice countries. But it is only because Turkey is Muslim that the EU treats us like this."

Schizoid Turkey, physically split between Europe and Asia by the Bosphorus Strait, flaunts a bizarre response to such cynical outbursts.

At Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, atop a stone entrance, the European Union's flag with its circle of yellow stars, flaps alongside Turkey's Islam-inspired flag with its white crescent moon and white star on a red background.

The isolated pair of snapping flags may give the false impression that Turkey is a full EU member.

But rueful Turks express confusion over the hoops their nation still needs to go through, to join the grouping.

"I am not sure if it will be good, or bad, to join the EU," said a Turkish chemical engineer from the capital, Ankara, dining with his librarian wife.

"It will be bad because we will lose much of our culture in the rapid modernization when we join the others and become more like them. It will be good because we will have a better chance to import and export."

Supporters of EU expansion claim Christian-majority Europe can win friends throughout the Islamic world by using the "soft power" of generously accepting Muslim-majority Turkey.

It would also extend Europe's influence to Turkey's frontiers with Iran, Iraq and Syria.

EU expansionists compare this with the "hard power" America brandishes through its worldwide war against Islamist insurgents, and Washington's liquidating, caging or monitoring anyone perceived as suspicious.

Embracing Turkey in the EU, supporters say, would be a unique method of defraying fears of discrimination among many of the world's Muslims -- in a way America cannot, because no Muslim nation can ever become a US state.

EU membership, however, also depends on a solution to problems raised by the minority Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK).

Painting - Bosphorus Map, Istanbul, Turkey. Photo copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich
Click to enlarge

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Schizoid Turkey, physically split between Europe and Asia by the Bosphorus Strait. (Photo copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich)

The secessionist guerrillas have been waging a bloody war against Turkey's repressive military for more than 20 years.

More than 30,000 people have perished on all sides.

The EU is also observing how Islamist extremists, often through random terrorist attacks, are influencing Turkey's government, described as "moderate Islamist."

Many Americans, Europeans and others, meanwhile, find this country safe and friendly.

For example in Goreme, in the heart of Turkey 750 kilometers southeast of Istanbul, two blonde teenage girls confidently shopped for souvenirs in a sleepy street market while wearing sweatshirts emblazoned: "Incirlik High School Class of '08".

Incirlik American High School, for US Defense Department dependents and others, is located at Incirlik Air Base, a key NATO base and home to the US Air Force's 39th Air Base Wing in southern Turkey.

"While there is no specific targeting of US personnel or resources in Turkey, there are active terrorist groups throughout the country," wrote Lori B. Alves, 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs officer, on the Incirlik Air Base's website.

"A notable example of this was in the summer of 2005, when a bomb threat was received regarding a beach where Americans frequently visited."

After an investigation, "two terrorists were killed when the bomb prematurely went off," Alves said.

"Although terrorist activity was greater in the cities of Istanbul and Mersin in 2005, there were 65 incidents of terrorism in the city of Adana [near Incirlik], according to Turkish National Police data," the Incirlik officer said.

Turkey was one of several nations which helped the CIA "in the unlawful practice of renditions" for secret flights of Islamist suspects, according to London-based Amnesty International.

Turkey earlier allowed Americans to use its territory in hair-trigger brinkmanship against the Soviet Union.

Incirlik launched a U-2 espionage plane flown by Francis Gary Powers over Soviet airspace, which was shot down by the Russians in 1960, resulting in the pilot's imprisonment for 21 months as a CIA spy.

Turkey also hosted America's nuclear Jupiter missiles until 1961 when a near-apocalyptic "Cuban missile crisis" forced Washington to yank its Jupiters from Turkey in exchange for the Russians taking their missiles out of Cuba.

Istanbul, Turkey. Photo copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich
Click to enlarge.

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Supporters of EU expansion claim Christian-majority Europe can win friends throughout the Islamic world by using the "soft power" of generously accepting Muslim-majority Turkey. EU expansionists compare this with the "hard power" America brandishes through its worldwide war against Islamist insurgents, and Washington's liquidating, caging or monitoring anyone perceived as suspicious. (Photo copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich)Click to enlarge

While the American High School teenagers shopped alongside their family -- including two men with blonde buzz-cut hair -- several Turkish men pointed and chuckled.

When gossip turned to Turkey's EU membership, their mood was less cheerful.

"The EU won't happen, that's definite," insisted businessman Mehmet Dasdeler while watching the teens inspect woven cloth illustrated with Whirling Dervishes.

"America is [governed by] a Christian religious party. England is becoming a Christian religious party. The EU will never accept Turkey because Christians are getting closer together, deciding to help each other. And Muslims are getting closer to help each other.

"Also, Turkey is a very young country, but Europe is old and retired already, so I would have to work and pay tax to them," to fund retirement and other benefits for elderly Europeans.

"Turkey has a big population. The EU is getting many countries from East Europe, but they do not have the population of Turkey. Remember, whoever has more population, has more power in the EU," Dasdeler said.

Turkey's 73 million people are governed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party.

Erdogan favors EU membership and endorses a secular regime, though he was imprisoned for several months for reading an Islamist poem at a political rally.

Turkey's other vulnerability is its bloody massacre of Armenians -- mostly Christians -- at the end of the Ottoman Empire 90 years ago, which some historians describe as genocide.

Prime Minister Erdogan expressed dismay in May about the draft of a proposed French law which would make it a crime -- punishable by a year in jail, plus a 57,000 US dollar fine -- to deny Turks massacred up to 1.5 million Armenians.

Many of the Armenians died in 1915 during forced "resettlement" deportation death marches.

When Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently described the killings as genocide, Erdogan ordered Turkey's pull out from NATO's military maneuvers in Canada.

Germany's Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, viewed the aftermath of the Turks' slaughter of Armenians as proof that the world forgets atrocities.

According to historians, Hitler told his army commanders in 1939: "Thus for the time being, I have sent to the east only my Death's Head Units, with orders to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish race or language. Only in such a way will we win the vital space that we need. Who still talks nowadays about the Armenians?"

Some Turks, however, insist their country is being singled out while other nations avoid similar censure.

"The West keeps talking about how Turkey killed the Armenians. They should give up on this subject," Dasdeler said after the girls from Incirlik passed.

"We never talk about what happened to the American Indians. We don't bring this subject up again and again."

Mehmet Dasdeler, Carpets, Goreme, Turkey. Photo copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich
Click to enlarge

GOREME, Turkey -- "The West keeps talking about how Turkey killed the Armenians. They should give up on this subject," Mehmet Dasdeler says. "We never talk about what happened to the American Indians. We don't bring this subject up again and again." (Photo copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich)

*****

Copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 28 years, and co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent

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