Turkey and the rising nationalistic sentiment

Posted in Europe | 23-Oct-06 | Author: Ioannis Michaletos

Turkey nowadays is experiencing a surge in nationalistic sentiments that relate directly to its status in the Middle East, as well as, with its negotiations with the European Union. Nationalism seems to have taken a grip in the domestic Turkish political and societal life, since a variety of reasons has led towards that direction.

First of all according to a recent research by the i German Marshall Fund there is a considerable deduction of the Turks supporting the entrance in the EU. In 2004 the percentage was 73% for, whilst in 2006 it was just 54%. Moreover the negative opinion of the citizens towards the European Union increased from 9% to almost 22%. As far as the USA is concerned a considerable 81% rejects American policies and only a handful of 7% endorses American strategy. Finally in 2004 53% of the Turkish public opinion viewed NATO as an organization that guarantees the security of the country. In 2006 this percentage dropped to 44%. A similar study by the Sabanji University in Istanbul reflected the same results with an EU acceptance endorsement of only 58% in 2006, as opposed to a 74% in 2003.

The reasons for such an overturn in the country’s public attitude can be contributed first of all in the all-timely Kurdish issue. After the American campaign against Iraq in March 2003 the whole balance of the Middle East collapsed in a matter of weeks. The centre of this geopolitical area was Iraq that under the brutal Saddam Hussein’s regime kept the Kurds firmly under his thumb. After the first Gulf war in 1991, a semi-autonomous area was granted for the Kurds in the North of Iraq and that concluded in enabling the Kurds in Turkey to stage attacks from the safety of Northern Iraqi periphery. The Turks unsuccessfully invaded the area in 1995 but failed to achieve considerable gains. Therefore the expulsion by the Americans of the Iraqi regime in 2003, left the Northern part of the country under Kurdish control, and raised fears in Turkey of a general Kurdish uprising.

Continuing, the current Turkish notion is that the West is supporting indirectly the Kurdish cause and its interests no longer abide with the other fellow NATO and coalition states. A recent BBC report mentioned the existence of Israeli military consultants that provide all kinds of support to the Kurdsii. That is a frightening prospect for the Turkish public opinion that sees itself isolated by the Western camp and without any feasible plan of resolving the Kurdish issue without compromising its vital interests.

The result as one might have already suspected is the ever increasing cooperation between Turkey and Iran against Kurdish ambitions, that in return makes Western –Turkish relations even more intense since Iran is under direct American pressure, due to its nuclear program.

Another great factor that might explain a certain increase of nationalism in Turkey is the existence of a unique state structure in the country that places the Armed Forces as the solemn and most prestigious Establishment in the country. In the contemporary European notion, the Army is strictly under political control, whereas in Turkey the historical development has produced a reverse outcome. Therefore the European pressure for a reconstruction in the Turkish political system is increasing and the Turks react by abolishing endorsement for the Union. The Armed Forces in Turkey are viewed as the guardian of the secularity of the state and any decrease of their role would assist most probably in the appearance of a possibly militant Islam. Therefore one way or another current political climate in Turkey varies from the European model and therefore a lack of understanding between those entities will further complicate relations between them. Should Europe accept a state where the source of legitimate political power derives from the Army; then it will have violated one of the main principles that construct modern European democratic tradition. On the other hand a militant Islam is one of the worse fears Europe is experiencing today, regarding the international terrorism that has already appeared in certain states of the Continent.

Furthermore, Turkey comprehends that large segments of the European public opinion are opposed in its entranceiii, and therefore it regularly has to deal with the disapproval of its negotiators that are European politicians, critically depended on the national mood of their states. An increase of a nationalistic mood is often the best counterweight in such an event, and that is exactly what Turkey is experiencing currently.

Last but not least, the French approval of the law prohibiting the denial of the Armenian Holocaustiv has become a major issue in Turkey and helped significantly in the disapproval of Western policies towards the country. The Turkish society tends to believe that the Europeans want its acceptance under severe conditions that would ultimately result in a degradation of their national pride or historical tradition. That of course is an excellent recipe for more disagreements in the future, or even a total breakout of the negotiation process.

On overall all the above factors played the determining role in diffusing mass Turkish support for entrance in the European Union. Since the framework of the negotiations depends on a variety of reasons that are affected by many parameters, one has to be very careful in making predictions even for the near future. Turkey is certainly a state of strategic importance and in the beginning of a thorny path towards its European ideal. Should this is going to be achieved, will need an immense political mastership by both sides that will have in a variety of occasions to combine the conflicting natures of the European rule of law and the one rooted between the West and the East. In any case the stakes are higher for Turkey as a society now, since it is the one willing to become accepted as a member of the European family and not vice versa.

i http://www.transatlantictrends.org/
ii http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/5364982.stm
iii http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accession_of_Turkey_to_the_European_Union
iv http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6043730.stm