Turkey's Choice: Istanbul or Constantinople?

Article excerpt

TO JOIN OR NOT TO JOIN: EU MEMBERSHIP & TURKEY

Although Turkey first applied to join the European Union in 1987, and negotiations began in 2005, recent events in Europe and the Middle East have led to a shift in Turkish favor away from Europe and towards the Middle East. The number of Turks who favored joining the European Union fell from 73 percent in 2004 to 38 percent in 2010. Even though the negotiations between the Turkish government and the European Union are ongoing, many experts believe that they have stalled in recent months. At the same time, Turkey is taking an increasingly prominent role in the Middle East, most recently working with the Arab League to monitor the conflict in Syria and refusing to adopt the EU and US-endorsed embargoes of Iranian oil unless they were endorsed by the United Nations.

Located at the conjunction of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, Turkish foreign policy has long been a delicate balancing act between these disparate regions. One of the foundational principles of the Turkish Republic, often voiced by Ataturk in the 1920s, was that Turkey should avoid becoming heavily involved in Middle Eastern affairs. This principle was followed for most of the twentieth century, as Turkey focused most of its energy on the Soviet Union, believed to be its greatest threat. The first and second Gulf Wars were two of the main events that encouraged Turkish attention to return to the Middle East, as the Turkish president strongly supported the first war, and the Turkish public was extremely opposed to the second. A destabilized Iraq, which shares a border with Turkey, has strengthened the Kurdish independence movement, a direct threat to Turkey. This increased interest in the Middle East has also become apparent in Turkish relationships with Iran, Syria, and Lebanon, among other countries. Trade between Turkey and the Middle East has increased dramatically, as made apparent through the Turkish purchase of Middle Eastern oil.

Europeans have long held complicated opinions on Turkey, simultaneously celebrating its position as a secular liberal democracy while resisting its inclusion into the European Union. Turkey's military and economic strength, status as a regional power, and ties to the Middle East are all reasons that many Europeans support the accession of Turkey to the European Union. As part of the negotiation process, Turkey has also made many legislative reforms that have improved the country's human rights record through the reduction of torture in prisons, among other abuses. Despite being a country with a Muslim majority, Turkey has also enacted legislation that restricts women who wear the hijab, similar to existing laws in many European countries. …

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