Turkish paradox

Twenty years after the declaration of the breakaway state, the Turkish establishment is faced with painful strategic dilemmas. The European Commission’s recent «progress report» on Turkey confirmed what EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen had already implied. Notwithstanding Ankara’s denial, Turkey’s European orientation conflicts with its longstanding strategy on the Aegean Sea and the Cyprus problem. True, the Cyprus issue is not part of the official membership criteria. But it is still a stumbling block that has a direct and fundamental effect on EU-Turkish relations. European officials have raised objections over Cyprus’s membership, as they do not wish to inherit the political problem. However, once the Mediterranean island has joined the bloc, it is in the EU’s interest to resolve it so as not to suffer the political side effects. Ankara has yet to realize that the problem has acquired new momentum since Cyprus was allowed in – hence its spasmodic reaction. It is indicative of the situation that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan complained of his country’s treatment by the EU, adding that «there is no Cyprus condition included in the criteria.» This was an embarrassing remark that offers little relief. Of all the Turkish reactions, the only one that addresses the strategic dilemma is that by Chief of General Staff Hilmi Ozkok. The Turkish general made clear that his country will stay the course on the Cyprus issue, regardless what such intransigence will mean for Ankara’s relations with Brussels. Even the moderate foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, aligned himself with these remarks, a fact that demonstrates that for domestic political reasons, the Erdogan administration has conceded the first say in the handling of the Cyprus issue to the deep state. The establishment in Ankara still hopes that it can combine the uncombinable. In this context, Turkish-Cypriot breakaway leader Rauf Denktash announced a new diplomatic initiative in view of the coming elections in the northern, occupied section of the divided island. In truth, the attempt to break the deadlock has been focused on this electoral battle. The Americans and the British are doing their best to back the opposition, but Ankara is, once again, the decisive factor. The December 14 polls will be a chance to see where Ankara really stands regarding northern Cyprus. Shortly afterward, when the UN peace plan is announced, we shall see whether Ankara backs down or stays on the same course. Should the latter scenario occur, Turkey’s EU dream will remain unfulfilled. Worse, Turks will have torpedoed their own ambitions.