Turks feel growing disillusionment with West. European demands spark Turkish warnings to reconsider NATO links
Istanbul — A crisis appears to be developing in Turkey's relations with Europe and the West. Disillusionment and resentment are growing among Turks, who see a recent resolution passed by the European parliament as a ``betrayal'' by their friends and NATO allies. The resolution, passed by the parliament 10 days ago, placed several conditions on Turkey's recent application for membership in the European Economic Community.
The European action follows by two months steps taken by the United States Congress to attach conditions on aid to Turkey that Turks viewed as unacceptable. The feelings were so strong that President Kenan Evren canceled a planned May visit to Washington.
According to political leaders here, these actions call into question the West's willingness to accept Turkey as a full partner in the Western community of nations - which has long been a goal of successive Turkish governments.
The Western allies praise Turkey's Army and its role in NATO, President Evren has said in recent speeches. But when it comes to Turkey's wish to become part of the EC, they do not see the Turks in such a partnership, he charged. Turkey, which has the second largest armed forces in NATO after the US, is strategically located: It borders the Soviet Union, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Bulgaria and Greece.
Evren, who is known as pro-Western, has surprised Western diplomats and observers here with the harsh position he has taken in speeches this week.
``We understand Turkey's sensitiveness over the attitude of the European parliament, but this should not be a reason for Turkey to take issue with NATO,'' a US diplomat says.
A British envoy suggests that ``Turkey [has] overreacted to a resolution passed by a consultative body of the [EC] which is actually only a recommendation and does not engage the governments concerned.''
The parliament resolution called on Turkey to recognize the ``genocide'' against the Armenian people under the Ottoman Empire 70 years ago; not to deny the existence of the Kurds as a separate ethnic entity within the country; and to withdraw troops from Cyprus.
Turkey, the resolution indicated, should act on these issues before its application to the EC could be accepted.
Some Turkish leaders feel that mention of the Armenian issue may lead to similar resolutions in the US Congress. There is also concern that the statement would encourage violence by Kurdish separatists.
A June 21 attack by gunmen allegedly belonging to the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) against a village in southeastern Turkey, killing 30, has been associated here with the parliament's resolution. An unusual front-page editorial in the conservative daily Tercuman accused the European parliament of giving the ``green light'' to Kurdish terror.
The PKK wants an independent Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey, where more than 10 million ethnic Kurds live. Turkey refers to the Kurds as ``mountain Turks,'' and categorically rejects demands for autonomy.
On the Armenian issue, the Turks refuse responsibility for the ``genocide'' in which, according to Armenians, 1.5 million Armenians were massacred during World War I under Ottoman rule. Turks reject Armenian claims and accuse them of having killed some 50 Turkish diplomats in recent years in a terrorist campaign.
Warnings on NATO
President Evren has hinted of the possibility of reconsidering Turkey's relations with NATO. ``It will be useful to review our ties with NATO in the light of recent developments,'' he said.
Although such a drastic policy change is not considered likely in Western diplomatic circles here, an inclination ``to play the NATO card'' seems to be growing among Turkish policymakers.
Should the West pursue what Turkey sees as a ``negative'' attitude on the Armenian, Kurdish, and Cyprus issues, and bar the way for Turkey's entry into the EC, some observers believe the Turkish government might be tempted to reduce its NATO commitments and keep its distance from the West.
``Evren's words should be seen by the West as a serious warning...,'' a senior Foreign Ministry official says. ``We cannot accept to be the target of hostile acts from our allies and at the same time to continue to serve their interests.''
Former Foreign Minister Hayrettin Erkmen suggests that ``if the West maintains the same attitude, Turkey could react like France did in the past and reduce its commitments to NATO by withdrawing from its military command structure.''
But former Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel has criticized Evren's comments, saying, ``This decision was not taken by NATO. Our rection should be addressed to those who took the decision. It is not in our interest to take such a hostile attitude to the West as a whole.''
There are no immediate plans to take action, government officials admit.
But, the officials say, all will depend on how the European governments react to a Turkish demand made Tuesday that the governments indicate their disapproval of the parliament's resolution, as well as on the attitude of the US Congress, which might follow suit with a similar pro-Armenian resolution.
A `crisis of identity'
The angry reaction here also reflects a ``crisis of identity'' among educated and usually pro-Western Turks. Some of them seem to be losing faith in the idea that Turkey should seek her place in the West.
The decision of the European parliament has given ammunition to those opposing the idea, particularly pro-Islamic fundamentalist elements, who maintain that Turkey belongs to and should play a role in the Muslim world.
Although Turkey is constitutionally a secular country, Islamic fundamentalism has been growing in the past year. Conservative politicians, even in the ranks of the ruling party, have been advocating closer ties with the Islamic world, to replace those with the West. The idea of an Islamic common market is cherished by some of these leaders.
Ankara's relations with the Islamic world have been developing in several directions. Iran's revolutionary brand of Islamic fundamentalism is not seen here as an obstacle to closer ties, although Iran has systematically criticized Turkey's secular system. Both sides are interested in expanding trade, which is expected to reach $2 billion this year. Iran has become a major customer for Turkey's exports of agricultural and manufactured products.
The resolution passed by the European parliament is not likely to change Turks' attitudes on the issues involved. On the contrary, observers say, Turkey's position as well as its attitude toward the West could harden.
``The Turks are proud and sensitive people,'' a Western diplomat says. They will continue to react strongly against such moves, even if this will be at the cost of alienating them from the West.''