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New Turkey is old Turkey 04/29/2003

New Turkey is old Turkey

The more it changes, the more it remains the same.  We mean Turkey.  In its desire to join the European Union Turkey was forced to make some half-hearted efforts to make European leaders believe that it was capable and willing to change, to be ready to apply European standards of democracy at home and abroad. 

The outgoing Ecevit government had drafted some changes to the constitution, which the new Islamist government rushed to ratify.  For the Turks, ratifying new laws does not pose any problem, because those laws are meant to dupe Europe, while Turkish leaders continue to rule the country and treat the minorities the way their ancestors had governed since the days of the sultans.  Indeed, in the 19th Century, every time the European powers tried to intercede on behalf of the minorities, the sultan proclaimed new laws to reform the country, while continuing to massacre its subjects.

Therefore, those new laws couldn't be any different from the sultan's reforms. And indeed, they weren't.

The test came when the minorities were asked to report their grievances and to apply for ownership of the real estate that was willed or donated to the Armenian charities.  The authorities had always refused to transfer the titles.  Ever since the Republic was formed in 1923 the Turkish government resorted to all kinds of ruses to expropriate the Armenian community.

This time around Armenians in Turkey were led to believe that under European pressure the Turkish government was about to implement the laws.  The Armenian charitable institutions were asked to prepare files within six months and apply to the Turkish charity authorities, to allow them to record the properties in their name.

News broke out that the Central Authority of Charities had already responded to the Armenian requests.  But when the lawyers of the Armenian institutions appeared at the proper government offices, they found out that the majority of the requests were turned down.  In some cases they needed additional documents, to give the runaround and to cause some expenses to those charities, before disappointing them as well.

The arguments for refusal could be categorized as humorous, if their consequences were not that tragic.  The authorities argued that the real estate was in the donors' name and they could not record in the names of the charities, whereas the entire purpose of the application was just that - to transfer from the donors to the charities.

This is no different from the farce that the charity authority had displayed a few years ago by asking the police to find the owners of the Armenian Churches and the police had sought in vain St. Mary, Holy Trinity and other saints, who were not found in Istanbul.  Therefore, the properties were reverted to the state wakf as abandoned property.

The proof of the pudding was in its eating.  Therefore, the new laws were drafted and adopted only for cynical reasons to misguide the European Union.

Turkey did not deliver on the other conditions of the European Union either to qualify for membership.  Namely, the resolution of Cyprus issue, lifting the embargo against Armenia, releasing political prisoners, allowing cultural autonomy to the Kurds and so on, because Turkish leaders believe that in the final analysis European leaders will always find excuses to keep this economically bankrupt and backward country away from Europe.

They are counting on the U.S. to shove Turkey down Europe's throat, despite recent shift over the Iraqi war.  The Turks care less about joining Europe than becoming a surrogate of the U.S. in the region, because they believe Washington will always shore up their economy, whether they introduce economic reform or not, as long as they remain the strategic ally to the U.S., and especially to Israel.

They also know that their role in the European Union will help disrupt the Union, especially in light of the contradictions that surfaced before and during the Iraq war, between the U.S. and major European nations.

The "neocon cabal" in Washington has realized that a new front is shaping up in Europe to oppose the U.S.'s free hand in achieving a new world order.  Turkey is the perfect candidate to play the spoiler.

It may seem that some issues are not inter-related, but in fact they are.  In redrafting its admissions conditions to Turkey, the European Union entered a few modifications, at the expense of the Armenians.  The report prepared by Arie Ooslander (Christian Democrat from Holland) continues to insist on the lifting of the blockade, but it has given in on two crucial issues: there is a general reference recommending improvement in the rights of minorities in Turkey, which, in essence, gives a free hand to Turkey to continue its abuses, but above all the genocide issue is skirted, by relegating it to the scholars and NGOs to discuss.  Although the European Union recognized the Armenian genocide in 2002, in this document it basically adopts the Turkish position to leave the issue to the historians and to the reconciliation groups.

When TARC emerged out of nowhere, there was stiff reaction from many quarters.  We had wished to give the benefit of doubt to see how that group could fare.  But recent developments came to prove that it is being used as a fig leaf to avoid the issue.  Even President Bush's April 24 message made reference to those reconciliation efforts rather than confronting the main issue of genocide.

Tying together all these factors, we find out that Turkey has been emboldened by the President's statement and the softening of the position of the European Union.

After all, the issue of the Armenian genocide is disposable both for the U.S. politics and European Union's far-reaching goals.

Since the message is clear Armenians cannot deceive themselves suing the government (which they plan to do, as a last resort) or spending community resources to spin their wheels in Ankara.

They have to recognize that the new Turkey is the old Turkey, no matter how many faces it changes.

April 29, 2003
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