Turkey Becoming More Repressive On the Eve of EU Accession Report

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Harut Sassounian Commentary 2004 October

Several unexpected developments took place in rapid succession last week on the eve of the European Commission's critical report, due on October 6, on whether Turkey is finally ready -- after a long wait of 40 years -- to begin talks for admission into the European Union (EU).

Prime Minister Receb Tayyip Erdogan has made the start of EU accession talks his number one priority. To accomplish this, he has left no stone unturned. He has made countless lobbying trips to various European capitals. He has enlisted the help of the United States to pressure the European countries into making a favorable decision on Turkey. He has also whipped his party's parliamentary majority into action at breakneck speed to pass a large number of laws to comply with EU requirements, even though most of them have not been implemented.

Just when Erdogan seemed to have all his ducks in order, he surprised everyone by proposing an unexpected addition to the Turkish penal code -- the criminalization of adultery. He was severely criticized for that even by his most ardent European supporters. Making mattes worse, Erdogan then decided to withdraw the whole penal code from the Turkish parliament's agenda. Shocked EU officials strongly denounced his actions warning him that unless the parliament immediately approved the revamped penal code without the offensive adultery clause, Turkey would have no chance of getting a date for EU accession talks.

Erdogan angrily rejected EU's criticism as "interference in Turkey's internal affairs." He bragged: "We are Turks, and we will make our own decisions. EU membership is not indispensable." EU officials did not back down. They told him that Turkey had to adapt to Europe, rather than the other way around. Erdogan immediately flew to Brussels and agreed to have the Turkish parliament hold an emergency session and approve the new penal code without the adultery clause. Even though Erdogan was harshly criticized both at home and abroad for his brash behavior, some analysts believe that he made a very shrewd move. EU officials were so pleased and relieved by his backing down on the adultery clause, that they immediately declared that Turkey had met all the requirements to have a date set for the start of EU talks. By relenting on the one issue that he had adamantly sworn that he would not, Erdogan was able to trick the EU officials by diverting their attention away from Turkey's many other deficiencies in the fulfillment of EU requirements.

The EU commissioners turned a blind eye to the anti-democratic articles found in the new penal code. These repressive clauses severely restrict the Turkish citizens' freedom of speech. For example: It is a criminal offense, punishable by a lengthy jail term, to praise a person who has committed a crime; to incite hostility against a particular group of people; to make propaganda for a criminal organization; to reveal confidential information related to a judicial inquiry; to insult the president, the parliament, the government, the courts, the military, the flag, the national anthem, etc.

The most shocking restriction, however, is included in article 306 of the new penal code that prescribes a jail term of up to 10 years for anyone who receives a benefit from a foreign source to carry out activities against the national interest of Turkey. The Parliamentary Committee of Justice that had drafted this clause said that it would be illegal, for example, to call for the withdrawal of Turkish soldiers from Cyprus or to declare that the Armenians were actually subjected to "genocide following World War I." This article reveals the extent of the Turkish government's intransigence on the subject of the Armenian Genocide. At this most critical juncture, when the Turks are supposed to be on their best behavior on the eve of the release of the EU report setting a date for accession talks, they brazenly pass a law making it a crime to speak of the Armenian Genocide! As if this new draconian law was not enough, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul announced last week that his Ministry had set up a committee to promote the denial of the Armenian Genocide and to counter the planned commemorative events on the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

All those naОve European and Armenian officials, who mistakenly believe that by joining the EU Turkey would be a more democratic state, and therefore, more willing to recognize the Armenian Genocide, now have to explain why Turkey is becoming less tolerant about freedom of speech and more eager to jail anyone who dares to speak about the Armenian Genocide!

If Turkey is not willing to recognize the Armenian Genocide at a time when it is trying to impress the Europeans with its "impeccably democratic credentials," what incentive would it have for doing so once it is already a member of the EU? Furthermore, if Turkey did not become a democratic state decades after joining the Council of Europe and a becoming signatory to scores of international treaties and covenants, why would it be more democratic after joining the EU? The blame must be equally shared by EU officials who had an absolute fit over the adultery issue, but did not say one word against the law that muzzles people from speaking about genocide. Apparently, Europeans are much more troubled by the limitations placed on sexual escapades than denying mass murder! Furthermore, the Turkish leaders, who are fond of saying that historians and not politicians should deal with the Armenian Genocide, have now made it impossible for Turkish historians to objectively study this issue for fear of being locked up!

The European countries should not allow Turkey to join Europe until it fully complies with all the requirements of the Copenhagen criteria. This is not an ethnic, religious or geographic issue. The European Community is a community of values. Until and unless Turkish society upholds these values, they have no place in Europe. The mere act of adopting European laws does not make a country European. The government of Turkey must fully implement every one of these laws.

Finally, imagine if Germany had refused to acknowledge the Jewish Holocaust and had passed a law making it a crime to even talk about it, would it have had a chance to become a member of the EU? Turkey should be held to no less a standard.

When the Turkish public adopts European values, Turkey could then qualify to join the community of European nations!