Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Turkey Faces West: Rebuffed by the European Union, Angered by U.S. Policies in the Middle East, and Governed by an Islamist Political Party, Turkey Seems to Have Every Reason to Turn Its Back on the West. to Most Turks, However, That Would Be Inconceivable

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Turkey Faces West: Rebuffed by the European Union, Angered by U.S. Policies in the Middle East, and Governed by an Islamist Political Party, Turkey Seems to Have Every Reason to Turn Its Back on the West. to Most Turks, However, That Would Be Inconceivable

Article excerpt

IN MOST COUNTRIES, THE NEWS THAT ONE OF their own has been awarded a Nobel Prize is an occasion for universal pride and self-congratulation. That was not the case when the renowned Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk received the Nobel Prize for Literature this past October. Many Turks still angrily remembered Pamuk's controversial assertion in a Swiss newspaper in 2005 that "a million Armenians and thirty thousand Kurds have been killed in this land," which provided fodder for allegations that Ottoman Turkey had committed genocide against Armenians during and after World War I. The Turkish government scandalously put Pamuk on trial for defaming "Turkishness," provoking a public outcry in Turkey and abroad before he won acquittal in 2006. When the news of the Nobel broke, some Turks could barely hide their resentment and spite. For them the prize was simply a function of Pamuk's political views, which, in their view, he had expressed only to curry favor in the West and secure the Nobel.

Those with clearer minds rejoiced in Pamuk's accomplishment. By honoring him, the Swedish Academy had acknowledged the Western part of modern Turkey's identity. It cited his literary achievements as a master novelist who transformed the literary form and in the process helped to make East and West more intelligible to each other. Still, the unhealthy reaction by a sizable portion of the Turkish public spoke volumes about the country's current state of mind toward the West.

The West certainly has given Turks a great deal to think about. Indeed, less than two hours before the Academy notified Pamuk of the great honor he had received, the French National Assembly staged its own crude attack on freedom of expression by passing a resolution making it a crime to deny that Ottoman Turkey was guilty of genocide against the Armenians. In September came Pope Benedict XVI's infamous lecture at the University of Regensburg, in which he infuriated Muslims around the world by quoting a Byzantine emperor: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Then, in mid-December, came the cruelest cut of all. The European Union announced the suspension of negotiations on eight of 35 policy issues that must be addressed before Turkey can complete the long EU accession process begun in 2004, bringing accession to a virtual halt. Even worse from the Turkish perspective was the intensity with which some European states suddenly objected to Turkey's membership, a matter that presumably had been settled in 2004. Many Turks saw the decision as yet another example of the EU's double standard in its dealings with its Muslim applicant.

In the past when the Turks were upset with Europe, they turned to the United States. Ankara and Washington have a history of close relations dating to the Cold War, when the Soviet Union loomed menacingly over its southern neighbor. Turkish troops fought alongside the Americans during the Korean War, and Turkey joined NATO in 1952. In the post-Cold War era, the United States was an enthusiastic supporter of the recently completed Baku-Ceyhan pipeline that carries oil from Azerbaijan to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean, making Turkey a significant energy player while reducing Western dependence on Russia. When Turkey faced a severe economic crisis in 2001, the United States used its clout to convince the International Monetary Fund to assist Ankara.

But the Iraq war opened a rift. The Bush administration was embittered by Turkey's refusal to allow the deployment of U.S. troops in the country to open a northern front against Iraq. Ankara was angered by Washington's hard-nosed policies and alarmed by the potential for upheaval among its own traditionally restive Kurdish population created by events in the Kurdish areas of Iraq. And many Turks believe, along with other Muslims, that the United States is leading a crusade against Muslims. …

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