24 September 1999 - 26 September 1999

Turkey's future path

Chair: The Honorable Morton I Abramowitz

Our meeting at Ditchley to review the political, social and economic landscape in Turkey took place in the aftermath of the tragic earthquake of 17 August. Paradoxically some good had come out of the devastation: an improvement in the atmosphere of Greco-Turkish relations, a demonstration to ordinary Turks that contrary to the impression created by the Luxembourg European Council, Europeans did care about Turkey and were generous with their help. The political losers from the earthquake were the Government who were perceived as reacting inefficiently, the Military who were at times later on the scene than foreign rescue teams, and the economy. Nevertheless there was a general view that a window of opportunity had opened in which progress on internal reform and seemingly intractable foreign-policy issues might just be possible.

Turkey Internal
A good deal of time was devoted to prospects for dealing with the Kurdish minority and to the threat or otherwise of “political Islam” (although some disputed the term) to the Turkish secular state. (The nature of the Turkish state, the role of the military and the existence of a civil society were among other topics on which agreement proved elusive.)

Would the Turkish state be magnanimous in its victory over the Kurdish militants? The capture of Öcalan and general fatigue in the Kurdish communities in the cities after years of violence might have opened the way to a settlement in which Kurdish culture would receive greater recognition, (TV broadcasts, radio and newspapers in the Kurdish language), the Kurds would be treated as equal citizens and in time integrate more fully with their fellow Turkish citizens. The problem would not go away, if it was not tackled now it would reappear in another form later. An overwhelming majority of the group thought that Öcalan’s execution would give rise to strong reactions both within and outside Turkey. Concern was, however, expressed that the Government would be under pressure to proceed with the death penalty in the run up to elections.

There was a vigorous debate about the degree of threat posed by organised Islamic pressure on the secular practices of Turkish society and on the state, to adopt Islamic laws and customs. The proponents of a liberal policy pointed to the historically low support at the polls for extremist Islamic groups. Turkish democracy should be strong enough to cope with these pressures. Opponents pointed to a growing climate of intolerance, pressure on women and other manifestations of Islamic belief which could take advantage of a Turkish state which was by no means as monolithic or powerful as might appear from outside Turkey.

The economy was rather overlooked in the heat of the debate about politics. Its current performance was disappointing and the absence of a feeling of economic well-being would make acceptance of change on political and social questions more difficult. In the longer term, economic prospects were thought to be promising with Turkey’s large and relatively cheap labour market and industrial base, achieving good growth.

Turkey External
Turkey’s relations with the EU, USA, Russia and Greece were discussed in detail. The greatest focus was on Turkey’s relations with the EU and their future development. Turkey’s aspirations for future full membership of the EU were seen as the key not only to its external relationships but also to the transformation of its domestic politics on democratic pluralist lines. But the obstacles both in substance and in presentation were considerable.

The basic question was posed. When the Turkish public realised what membership of the EU entailed in terms of the loss of national sovereignty and the weight of regulations, would they want to proceed? Was the real problem the perceived discrimination between Turkey, which already had full customs union with the EU, and the other newer candidates who were less advanced in their ties with the EU but whose candidacy was not in question? As one participant put it, would Turkey prefer full candidacy to full membership?

The overwhelming reply from the Turkish participants was that Turkey’s vital interests and long term aspirations were only realisable as a full member of the EU. Membership would not come quickly but the process would transform Turkey’s political, economic and social structures. It would provide a long-term framework for Turkey’s deepest aspirations. It was noted that it would also be a strategic decision for the EU. If Turkey became a member it would also, in time, become the EU’s most populous state.

Attention then turned to the tactical question of how Turkey’s application for EU membership might be handled at the forthcoming EU summit at Helsinki. Concern was expressed at the potential for mismanagement of the process running up to Helsinki and misrepresentation of the results. What was the Turkish bottom line in terms of a successful outcome? After some probing this appeared to be an unconditional acceptance of Turkey’s candidacy to which, some argued, should be added some idea of timing for opening negotiations and an indication of financial resources available to Turkey. It was pointed out that subject to a Council vote, Turkey might in future receive funds from the Phare programme which would subsequently not be subject to a Greek veto and which were only available to countries moving towards accession.

The main obstacles to membership were seen as the attitudes of some EU member states to Turkey’s human rights record and Greece’s likely demand for some advance concession in respect of Cyprus. We explored possible solutions to meet both these concerns. But the problem of Cyprus, where Turkish policy would not change in the Helsinki timescale, was acknowledged to be the most difficult. Pressure should be exercised on all concerned to bring home the opportunities for Helsinki to mark a new positive start. Failure might not necessarily mean that Turkey would “walk away” from the EU, but a resentful and uncooperative Turkey could cause great difficulties for its European neighbours, not least in their hopes for stability in the Balkans.

Turkey’s strategic importance to the US was recognised in Washington by the political elite who had the advantage of not having to cope directly with Greek aspirations and fears. Washington’s overriding desire was for a stable Turkey and to this end the US was encouraging Turkey’s European vocation and putting pressure on the Europeans to do the same.

Turkey’s relations with Russia were more complex. On the one hand Turkey, and Turkish workers in Russia, were playing an increasingly important economic role. This would be enhanced if a gas pipeline from Russia through Turkey was constructed. On the other hand some Russian politicians seemed nervous of according Turkey greater influence in the States on Russia’s borders. A number of scenarios were played out depicting increasing political uncertainty within Russia and an increasing lack of control over its borders. A possible outcome might be a coincidence of Russian and Turkish interests in stability in the region, leading possibly to cooperation between the two. But no-one’s crystal ball appeared to have a range beyond the next Russian presidential election in 2000.           

Finally the mutual sympathy and assistance evoked by the earthquakes in both Turkey and Greece formed the backdrop to consideration of relations between the two countries and the possibilities of some positive movement on Cyprus. The Greek Foreign Minister had risked a public stand in favour of better relations. He was supported by his Prime Minister. But the intractable problem of Cyprus remained. Both the Greek and Turkish Governments could make progress on Cyprus a precondition of progress at Helsinki and not dependent on it. This would overburden an already complicated set of linkages and counter-linkages for Helsinki. Once again diplomatic skill and political statesmanship would be necessary if a positive outcome was to be achieved.

The conference closed by reflecting on the issues involved in Turkey’s future path. Could Turkey prove Huntingdon wrong? Could an overwhelmingly Muslim country nevertheless accede to a secular law based organisation and become a democratic, pluralist, liberal free market state like its partners. Acceptance of Turkey’s EU aspirations coupled with assistance to help fulfil them, were seen as the essential ingredients, as was real political will on Turkey’s part when the scale of transformation became generally understood. All this led one persistent voice to counsel the overriding need to move away from the present short term cycle of action and reaction between the EU and Turkey. The problems and challenges facing Turkey should be put in a longer-term perspective which took account of the movement that had already occurred and gave time for the remaining steps along the way. As one participant put it, patience, not passion, would secure for Turkey its rightful place in Europe.

This report reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.


Chairman: The Honorable Morton I Abramowitz
Senior Fellow, Twentieth Century/Century Foundation

Ambassador Jean-Marc Duval

Canadian Ambassador to Turkey

Professor Houchang Hassan-Yari
Department of Politics and Economics, Royal Military College of Canada

Professor Ozay Mehmet
Professor of International Affairs, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University

Ambassador Michael Lake

Former Head of the European Commission Office in Ankara

Mr Semih Vaner

Researcher and Editor, Centre d’Etudes et de Recherche Internationale

Dr Gunter Joetze

President Bundesakademie fur Sicherheitspolitik

Dr Enno Friedrich Vocke
Chairman, Centre for Turkish Studies, Essen University

Mr Cengiz Candar

Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center

Mr Hasan T Çolakoglu
Chairman, Türk Ekonomi Bankasi Group

Mr Sait Dilek
Turkish textile industry, Ugur Mumcu D, GOP/Ankara

Ambassador Cem Duna
President, AB Consultancy and Investment Services, former Turkish Ambassador to the EU

Professor Orhan Güvenen
Under Secretary State Planning Organisation Office of the Prime Minister

Ambassador Özdem Sanberk
Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to the Court of St James’s

Dr Ali Tigrel
Chairman, UPAV Consultancy Inc

Ambassador Ilter Türkmen
Adjunct Professor, University of Galatarary

Mr David Barchard

Writer and consultant specialising in Turkey

Mr Michael Binyon
Diplomatic Editor, The Times

Mr Bruce Clark
International Security Editor, The Economist

Professor Clement Dodd
Former director, Modern Turkish Studies Programme, Centre of Near East and Middle Eastern Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies

Dr William Hale
Reader in Turkish Politics, Department of Political Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies

Dr James Ker-Lindsay
Project leader, Greek-Turkish relations, Royal United Institute for Defence Studies

Sir Michael Llewellyn Smith KCVO CMG
Former Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Greece

Mr David Logan CMG
Ambassador of the United Kingdom to the Republic of Turkey

Dr Andrew Mango
Writer on Turkish affairs

Colonel Simon Mayall
Army Plans, Ministry of Defence

Mr Quentin Peel
International Affairs Editor, Financial Times

Dr David Shankland
Anthropology Department, University of Wales

Professor Norman Stone
Professor of International Relations, Bilkent University, Ankara

Mr Kevin Tebbit CMG
Permanent Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence

Dr Mehmet Ugur
John Monnet Senior Lecturer in Political Economy of European Integration, University of Greenwich.

Professor Henri J Barkey

Policy Planning Staff, Department of State

Dr Ian Bremmer
Senior Fellow and Director of Eurasian Studies, World Policy Institute

Mr Andrew Finkel
Istanbul Correspondent, Time Magazine

Mr Arthur C Helton
Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Professor Heath W Lowry
Atatürk Professor of Ottoman and Modem Turkish Studies, Near Eastern Studies Department, Princeton University

Professor Martha Brill Olcott
Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace