Turkey chafes at European 'snub'
ISTANBUL, TURKEY — In a bustling cafe, a crowd gathers in front of a large-screen television to watch Istanbul's Besiktas soccer team take on England's Chelsea. The fans shout with disgust at every missed pass and shot on goal.
Besiktas would go on to lose the game 2-0, but many of the people watching said they felt cheated before the match even started. It was supposed to be played on Besiktas's home field, just up the road, but was moved to a stadium in Germany by the Union of European Football Associations, which cited safety concerns after four suicide bombings struck Istanbul last month.
It was the second game to be moved out of Turkey by the nongovernmental UEFA following the attacks. And Turkey reacted with universal derision that quickly took on a political hue.
"It's the same message the Europeans have been giving us for 10 years - you are not part of Europe. If the same thing would have happened in Italy, the games would have been played in Italy," says Rustu Daglaroglu, who was watching the match with friends.
If the Istanbul bombings were initially expected to bring Turkey and Europe closer, many Turks say they feel the opposite is true. Observers in Turkey and Europe say the attacks actually may have exposed some underlying rifts in the Turkish-European relationship and a fundamental difference in how each perceives that relationship.
"The initial impression after the incidents was that this would generate an awareness of common problems, and would maybe bring both sides together and lend further credence that Turkey is the new front line in Western defense," says Ilter Turan, a professor of international relations at Istanbul Bilgi University. "But the way the [European Union] countries have behaved has been at best confusing. While people related messages of sympathy ... Turkey was made to suffer deprivations."
Relocated soccer games are not the only post-bombing measures that have alienated Turks. Britain issued a travel warning for its citizens, saying further attacks in Turkey were "imminent," and instituted visa restrictions for Turks. Members of the German opposition called into question Turkey's EU candidacy after the attacks, saying that admitting the country would import terror into the Continent.
The criticism aimed by Turkish politicians at Europe's response was especially sharp. Speaking on Turkish television, Turkey's foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, recently said that Europe "failed the solidarity test in the fight against terrorism."
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking earlier this month to a gathering of ambassadors from EU countries, told the group: "Messages of support issued in the aftermath of the attacks have touched us. But seeing signs that these declarations of support are to remain on paper has seriously worried us."
Perhaps in response to Turkey's chiding, some European countries recently took some steps to show solidarity with Turkey. France last week sent its justice minister, Dominique Perben, on a brief trip to Turkey. A group of Italian parliamentarians visited the country, and some of them even offered to play Turkish parliamentarians in a friendly game of soccer.
EU officials say the Turkish criticism is unwarranted. Jean-Christophe Filori, the EU's spokesman for enlargement issues, says the organization sent Turkey a "clear and encouraging" message that the terrorist acts in Istanbul will not dictate either the EU's relations or negotiations with Turkey. Turkey is in the process of undertaking several human rights, economic, and democratization reforms to meet EU membership requirements. The EU is scheduled to make a final decision at the end of 2004 on starting negotiations with Turkey over its membership candidacy.
"The best answer to give to terrorism is to remain extremely firm to the road we have designed," Mr. Filori says.
Daniel Gros, director of the Center for European Policy Studies, an independent think tank in Brussels, says Turkey's unhappiness with the European response stems not from what the Europeans might have done or not done, but from a gap in how each side perceives the relationship. While Turkey might expect that its status as an EU candidate might already make it part of the European family, the EU feels differently, Mr. Gros says.
"Until it becomes a member, Turkey should expect to be treated as someone who is not very welcome," Mr. Gros says. In that sense, it may have been a mistake for Turkey to look at the bombings as a test of its relationship with Europe, Gros says. "For Turkey, this was a crude way to realize the nature of the relationship," he adds.