Misbehaving in the waiting room

The legal case against novelist Orhan Pamuk and the court decision halting an academic conference dealing with the massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire (which will go ahead nevertheless), organized by three Turkish universities, suggest that the Armenian genocide is more than just a taboo in the neighboring country. Pamuk’s prosecution and the conference ban are not isolated incidents that can be attributed to the excessive zeal of specific judges. Rather, they seem to fit a more systematic pattern. The Turkish political establishment has a long tradition of using courts to lend repression a veneer of legitimacy. Freedom of historical research is one of the victims of this repression. Interestingly, the freedom of expression violations took place on the eve of Ankara’s talks with the European Union – and despite growing skepticism over Turkish ambitions. In a clear sign of Ankara’s warped mentality, the awkward juncture facing Turkey was not enough to stop the establishment from provoking democratic sentiment on the continent. The question is how can a country like Turkey begin accession negotiations in 10 days? Ankara went through many different stages before making its way into the EU’s waiting room. It signed a customs union agreement with Brussels, it won candidate status, and, at the summit meeting last December, it finally got a date for the launching of EU membership talks. Even if we accept that Turkey’s cultural identity should not be an obstacle to joining the European home, there are still doubts about the extent to which it has met the formal conditions for membership. Has Ankara really passed all the previous stages after fulfilling all the necessary requirements? Not quite. The truth is that American pressure made sure Brussels lowered the bar for Turkey when necessary. Now Europe has to pay the price. Many Europeans are shocked at the consequences. The truth is that Ankara never tried to blanket its human rights violations, its torture practices and its awkward policy toward its neighbors. Never did Turkey try to hide its willingness to join the EU on its own terms and not as a country that is seeking to adapt to the norms and principles of European culture. This is Europe’s problem, not Turkey’s.

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