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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 22:10 GMT
Turkey: Angry man of Europe
Bosphorous river and bridge
More than the Bosphorous divides Turkey from Europe
By Chris Morris in Istanbul

When the Ottoman Empire was in decline it became known to its detractors as the Sick Man of Europe.

Its modern successor - Turkey - has taken on a rather different role.

On issues big and small, this proud and often stubborn nation has become the Angry Man of Europe.

Angelika Beer
German politician Angelika Beer's "provocative" hair-wear
In every direction it seem to perceive an insult or a conspiracy against it. A recent newspaper survey showed that the countries which Turks most distrust are all near neighbours.

Of late, though, much of the anger has been directed towards Europe.

The French parliament's decision to pass a law formally recognising as genocide the mass killing of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire is the latest in a long line of European actions which are seen here as profoundly anti-Turkish.

Even Turkey's urbane foreign minister, Ismael Cem, described the French decision as "post-modern fascism".

It is, many Turks believe, another sign of the "Christian Club" mobilising to keep a large Muslim country out.

From a Turkish perspective, there seem to be constant provocations.

Belgium was accused of harbouring violent left-wing militants, Germany of giving shelter to Islamic fundamentalists.

A German parliamentary delegation was rapidly shown the door in Ankara when one of its female members was spotted wearing a hair band in red, yellow and green - the colours of Kurdish nationalism.

Even the European Union as a whole is not immune. Turkey may have been campaigning to join the union for years, but the EU still provokes many of the old suspicions.

After the EU asked Turkey to consider allowing broadcasting and education in Kurdish it was accused by a senior general of promoting the agenda of the Kurdish rebel movement, the PKK.

Ancient paranoia

Much of the paranoia about European intentions dates back almost a century to the birth of the modern republic.

An obscure treaty, never implemented, is still a byword in Turkey for European duplicity.

anti-french demonstration
The French vote has enraged Turks
The Treaty of Sevres would have divided modern Turkey between several countries, leaving the Turks themselves with only a rump state in central Anatolia. The Turks fought and won their freedom, but the spectre of betrayal has never gone away.

Even today, senior politicians believe there are influential forces in Europe who want to revive the "spirit of Sevres" and see Turkey weakened and divided.

In a country which is often described as being in the throes of a prolonged identity crisis, it can be comforting to blame the outsider.

For those Turks who are leading the campaign to join the EU, however, the shadow of the past holds many dangers.

Friends and foes

If Turkey's European project is to succeed, it needs more confidence in its dealings with European institutions, and it needs - in the words of one EU diplomat - "to stop making mountains out of molehills".

Of course there are those in Europe who are opposed to Turkey's EU ambitions - the Christian Democrats in Germany, for example, make no secret of their belief that it is inappropriate to admit such a large Muslim nation as a member.

Turkey also finds it difficult to make some Europeans understand the unique security challenge presented by its geographical position between the Caucasus, the Balkans and the Middle East.

But Turkey has many friends in Europe as well, and diplomats argue that Turkey should start trusting them a little more, and practising the art of compromise.

The Commissioner for Enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, said: "The EU needs Turkey, more than Turkey needs the EU."

A final decision on whether Turkey does join the union could be 15 years away. There will be many bumps in the road to come.

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See also:

08 Nov 00 | Media reports
French vote recognises 'Armenian genocide'
23 Sep 00 | Media reports
Turkey angry at US Armenian genocide move
04 Oct 00 | Europe
Turkey scraps US visit
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