Academic journal article East European Quarterly

EU Enlargement Conditions and Minority Protection: A Reflection on Turkey's Non-Muslim Minorities

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

EU Enlargement Conditions and Minority Protection: A Reflection on Turkey's Non-Muslim Minorities

Article excerpt

Introduction

As part of enlargement towards the East, Turkey was accepted as a candidate country in 1999 at the Helsinki Council Summit and started accession negotiations on the 3rd of October in 2005. The start of the negotiations has been the result of long, difficult and complicated relations between Turkey and the EU. There had been several drawbacks and turning points, yet Turkey's westernization policy, which is one of the strongest hallmarks in Turkish foreign policy dating back to the Ottoman Empire times, had always had an upper hand in Turkey-EU relations (Aydm, 2003). In other words, the only direction that Turkey has followed is that of the West. It is in this context that the start of negotiations was not so unexpected despite concerns over the timing by some of the EU member states. (1) At the same time, the same process cannot be interpreted as Turkey being ready for EU membership or having got Europeanized 'enough' since there are strong areas of resistance in Turkish politics and Turkish polity in general that may prove to be the shortcoming for a possible full membership in the short-term. One can argue that the issue of minority protection and minority rights is one of the resistance points among some others such as the resolution of border conflicts with Greece and the Cyprus conflict (Onis, 2003).

Turkey applies universal citizenship as the basic tool in governing its state-society relations and every Turkish citizen is entitled to the same sets of rights and liberties which are protected by the Constitution (Toktas, 2005). By the same token, group rights or differentiated citizenship is an uneasy concept in Turkish politics. Although Turkey was founded in the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, one of the most multicultural and multiculturalist governments in history, with the introduction of the Republic in 1923, it followed one nation-one state understanding formulated as Republicanism (Keyman and Icduygu, 1998). The Turkish nation-building process involved cultural homogenization and the introduction of a super culture at the expense of differences among the society. The principle of equality has been prioritised over the principle of difference, consequently, universal citizenship (addressing all citizens as single, unified and as an equal subject category) became hegemonic in Turkish politics.

Conventionally, Turkey gives official recognition only to three minority groups, the non-Muslim communities of the Greeks, Jews and Armenians. Since 1923, the minority protection framework, of which the basics were set by the Lausanne Treaty, has remained intact and Articles 37-45 of the Treaty, that regulate the parameters of minority rights granted to the non-Muslim minorities, still serve as the fundamentals of minority regime in Turkey. These rights include educational rights, religious freedom, equality with other citizens under the same citizenship category and cultural rights. Turkey has refrained from expanding the coverage of official minority recognition to further groups. Even the costs of the fight against the violent nationalist Kurdish movement in the international arena (specifically on the European front) did not compel Turkey enough to change its traditional minority regime. In summary, the universal citizenship, dominancy of the principle of equality in political culture and limitation of official recognition only to non-Muslims as minority groups are key to Turkey's approach to the protection of minorities (Toktas, 2006).

On the side of the EU, the conditions for membership mainly rest on the Copenhagen criteria. Accordingly, the candidate states, before membership, are expected to fulfil political conditions, economic conditions and to be able to adopt the community 'acquis communautaire' (the body of the community law). As part of the political conditions, the 1993 Copenhagen Summit set forth that "membership requires that the candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, role of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. …

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