TALKING TURKEY IN EUROPE
Richard Owen on the
resentment of Turks at being in Nato but not the EEC
`NO photographs!' shouted our Turkish army escort, haring across the dusty fields to where one of our party had wandered off to snap a picturesque group of peasants at work. The offender was hauled back to the makeshift Nato camp outside Erzurum where we were being briefed by a British officer on how Nato's multinational Allied Mobile Force (AMF) would react if the Russians ever attack along the 400-mile Soviet border with eastern Turkey. 'You may photograph anything you like, except Turkish buildings, people or equipment,' the escort said, without apparent irony. Back at the officers' club in Erzurum, where the 9th Turkish Corps was rather grudgingly hosting the Nato exercise, a senior Turkish officer launched a tirade against the Western press. `You are always trying to demean us. You look for negative images,' he said, sounding to some of us uncomfortably like his Soviet counterparts just across the border.
Eastern Turkey, bordering on Georgia, is the antithesis of semi-Westernised Istan- bul: it is poor, backward, and deeply Islamic, dominated by the army and strictly controlled. Local maps are all marked top secret (to the amusement and irritation of RAF helicopter crews in the Nato exercise, who found the maps were hopelessly in- accurate). American airborne commando forces training to defend this remote, starkly beautiful mountainous region against supposed Russian invaders found themselves guarded by armed Turkish troops posted on the hills above them allegedly there for the Americans"protec- tion', but also to keep contact between the Nato troops and the local population to a minimum, despite well meaning attempts by American officers to hold public dis- plays of equipment and explain to the Turks what they were up to. 'Frankly, the Turkish army does not understand the concept of deterrence,' an American major said. 'They don't want us showing off weapons and equipment which are way ahead of what they have. I mean, Jesus, even this collapsible shovel is a novelty to these people.' Turkey is in a jumpy mood: defensive about its Islamic identity and economic backwardness, nervous about the referen- dum in September on whether banned civilian politicians should be allowed to operate again, anxious about its recent application for membership of the Com- mon Market, touchy about its role in Cyprus, alarmed by terrorist attacks by Kurdish insurgents using neighbouring Iran, Iraq and Syria as sanctuaries. There is even doubt about Turkey's commitment to Nato. 'You ask us to defend Nato's eastern flank against Russia, and we spend a fifth of our budget on defence,' a senior foreign ministry man in Ankara com- plained with barely disguised anger. 'Yet all we get are obsolete tanks and aircraft. We need more joint ventures like the new F-16 co-production project to build up our own defence industries.'
This resentment at Western attitudes boiled over in June when the European Parliament in Strasbourg passed a resolu- tion condemning Turkish atrocities against the Armenians in 1915 and criticising Turkish treatment of the Kurds. Never mind that the resolution was politically meaningless, passed by a handful of left- wing MEPs: most Turks do not make fine distinctions. It is widely believed in Turkey that the Strasbourg vote encouraged Kur- dish guerrillas to stage their dreadful mas- sacre of 30 villagers shortly afterwards at Pinarcik, near the Syrian border. About 400 Turks (half of them soldiers and police) have died in Kurdish raids in the past three years, and some 40 Turkish officials and diplomats have been killed by Armenian extremists. 'Another stab in the back from Europe,' ran the banner head- line in the Turkish daily Hurriyet.
President Kenan Evren — who as General Evren staged the 1980 military coup, the third military intervantion in as many decades — was stung into threaten- ing Turkish withdrawal from Nato (`Nato will have to be re-assessed, we did not go into Nato for this.') on the grounds that the Western alliance was giving support to irredentist nationalist groups (the Kurds and Armenians). 'What kind of alliance is this?' he demanded at Sivas in Anatolia, failing completely to distinguish between the European Parliament and Nato. 'What kind of friendship is this?' Then, in an astonishing passage, Evren blurted out what many Turks think but few (and certainly no Turkish leaders) say: 'What lies behind this is a religious difference, they [meaning the Europeans] are all Christian, and we are all Muslims.'
This is perhaps the heart of the current Turkish angst, more so even than econo- mic problems, Kurdish outrages, or fragile democracy. .The Turkish secular state,the legacy of Ataturk's 1920s reforms so jealously guarded by the Turkish army, is under intense pressure from a growing tide of Muslim fundamentalism swollen by the Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran. The police pounce at random, but the message spreads. Turgut Ozal, the civilian prime minister whose ruling Motherland party was approved by the military in the 1983 post-coup elections, claims the Muslim fanatics have been 'neutralised', but Ozal was nonetheless both furious and alarmed when Mir Hussein Moussavi, the Iranian Prime Minister, last month refused to pay the ritual visit to Ataturk's mausolenm during an official trip to Ankara. Far from mending fences, Moussavi went off to rally pro-Iranian Muslims in Konya, the centre of Turkish fundamentalism. 'Forget this useless attempt to imitate Western Europe,' the siren voice of Teheran is telling the Turks. 'Three military coups show that Western democracy is an alien imposition, a thin veneer; return to your roots, create an Islamic republic.'
For Ozal, who is trying (with no small success) to modernise and industrialise the Turkish economy, this is dangerous non- sense. Ozal and his technocratic team have pinned their hopes on Turkish entry to the EEC, however long the process takes.
Ozal, whose short, tubby, rather comic figure belies a shrewd brain, hopes to stay in power even if pre-1980 heavyweight politicians such as Suleyman Demirel on the Right and Bulant Ecevit on the Left return to active politics in September. The Ozal strategy is to keep Turkey steady, keep pressing for EEC membership and above all stop the military intervening for the fourth time. Turkey can then fulfil Ataturk's dictum that 'Turkey's place is in Europe.'
The problem is that, as the Turks have rightly perceived (hence the barely con- tained resentment), Europe does not really want Turkey in the EEC club at all. There are two million migrant Turkish workers in West Germany already. The Twelve also regard with horror the prospect of daily Greek-Turkish clashes fouling up the already complicated EEC machinery. Fro Britain, as Sir Geoffrey Howe made clear in London last month to Vahit Halefoglu, the Turkish foreign minster, a further condition is the withdrawal of at least some Turkish troops in Cyprus. Halefoglu's pub- lic reply, at Chatham House, was typical of the current angry mood in Ankara: Turkey is not prepared to pay any political price just to get into the EEC. In other words, the EEC does not appreciate what benefits Turkey would bring with it, just as Nato does not appreciate Turkey's contribution to Western security against the Warsaw Pact from the Balkans and the Dardenelles to eastern Turkey — and Turkey does have unspoken alternatives.
As the tensions build up, Ozal is in- creasingly at odds with the army over how to keep the lid on, and over which direc- tion to take Turkey. He is deeply unhappy over Evren's threats about Nato, (`With- drawal is absolutely out of the question'). He is also angry that he has had to learn about terrorist incidents such as Pinarcik from the media rather than the military themselves. Ozal has set up an inquiry into why there was a two-hour delay before the army cracked down on the Kurdish insur- gents at Pinarcik even though a military unit stationed only a few miles away could clearly hear the guerrillas' rocket- launchers as they attacked the almost defenceless border village. There were further attacks by Kurds in the same region last month, hours after Ozal had appealed to the separatists to give up.
Above all, Ozal is determined to assert civilian control over the military, and has taken the almost unprecedented step of appointing a new chief of staff, General Necip Torumtay (ex-commander of Tur- kish troops in Cyprus), passing over the man the military themselves had desig- nated, General Necdet Ozturun, comman- der of land forces. This is a bold but dangerous move: the army in Turkey is not merely waiting in the wings to intervene if necessary, it is part and parcel of Turkish society, playing a highly visible role in activities from sports and education to public order and housing construction.
The Westernisers' solution is for the EEC to take Turkey into the fold as soon as possible to guarantee Turkish adherence to Western values and human rights and to avoid any return to the spiral of political violence and bloodshed which brought about the 1980 coup. This may well be an alarmist argument, and it will not cut much ice in Brussels, which is still recovering from EEC enlargement to include Spain and Portugal. But it is more than a negotiating trick. 'If you expect us to die for Nato, you can at least give us the benefits of EEC membership,' Hasan Esat Ishik, the former Social Democratic fore- ign and defence minister (and no friend of the present regime) told me. 'Our present special concept of democracy may not fit in with yours, but if you draw us closer in, Turkish democracy will be more assured. If you keep us out, there are those who will want us to give up Europe altogether and become isolationist, Islamic and inward- looking. Believe me, my friend, they exist, do not discount them.'
Richard Owen covers Nato and the EEC for the Times from Brussels.