OPINION

Deconstructing Ankara

The comments at Istanbul’s military academy last week by Turkey’s top general, who called the European Union an «intermediary» of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and warned that «we now see the kind of pressure Turkey will face in its accession negotiations,» were particularly revealing as to the hardline establishment’s stance on the issue. The remarks by General Hilmi Ozkok, chief of the military general staff, who unlike successive governments represents the steadier, hardline establishment, underscored Ankara’s skepticism toward the bloc. From this, it is clear that Greece should not base its policies on the assumption that EU membership is the only option on Ankara’s cards. Ozkok’s allegations that the EU is aiding Kurdish separatist guerrillas is a sign that the hardline establishment is willing to examine other strategic options. This comes at a time when a series of developments have thrown Ankara officials into confusion, notably Washington’s policy on the Kurds of northern Iraq and the election of Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party as Iraqi president, causing tension in Turkish-US relations. The Greek-Cypriot rejection of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan for the island’s reunification and Cyprus’s entry into the EU stripped Turkey of its ability to meddle in the affairs of the country’s free, Greek part. Unless the Greek side goes on to endorse some slightly adjusted version of the UN blueprint, any future settlement will have to be in line with the EU’s acquis communautaire. The conditions that Europe has put on Turkey are irreconcilable with the views of the hardline establishment. Should Ankara take steps to meet EU norms and standards, Turkey would effectively cease to exist as a unified country. Turkey is a unique state balanced between Europe and Asia. When early last century the Ottoman Empire moved closer to the West by introducing a constitution and recognizing civic rights, it ended up losing its Balkan territories and eventually broke apart. Europe is nevertheless an integral part of the Turkish identity, which explains its insistence on joining the EU. However, Ankara will probably end up with some «special relationship» status with the Union, despite currently rejecting such a prospect out of national pride. Athens certainly should not be misled into viewing EU membership as Ankara’s only possible option for the future, as it did in the past. Unlike Greece’s, Turkey’s state structure is quite complex. In its push to join the Union, it will do nothing to jeopardize its national unity and cohesion. Turkey will preserve its US ties but without putting vital national interests at risk. Above all, it will move to strengthen ties with other currently or potentially autocratic countries, such as Russia. Although they both saw their vast empires shrink into smaller nation-states, Russia and Turkey continue to behave as imperial powers with a strong sense of autonomy. The exchange of visits between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan should not be underestimated by Greece’s political class.