Turkey wants in to EU club
ISTANBUL, Turkey Two flags flew above this city's Grand Bazaar, the covered marketplace where thousands of shopkeepers hawk carpets, tea, hookahs and anything that appears Turkish to foreigners. One flag, the white star and crescent on a red back...
Two flags flew above this city's Grand Bazaar, the covered marketplace where thousands of shopkeepers hawk carpets, tea, hookahs and anything that appears Turkish to foreigners.
One flag, the white star and crescent on a red background, is the Turkish flag. It's a symbol of the Turkish nationalism that perhaps rivals our own. The other, a dozen gold stars circled on a blue background, is the flag of the European Union.
Turkey, a country that straddles both Europe and Asia, wants desperately to join the EU, a 25-member body that cooperates on economic, justice and other issues. Earlier this year the European Union agreed to start membership talks with Turkey, a milestone for the predominantly Muslim nation of 67.8 million. Discussions are expected to last more than 10 years.
But Turkey's path toward possible membership won't be easy, despite its decades-old relationship with European countries and its status as a relatively stable country in an unstable region that includes Syria, Iran and Iraq.
Europeans have mixed feelings about how big the European Union should get - it added 10 states last year - and what it means to be European.
A few weeks after the EU's historic decision, two busloads of German and American journalists, including me, were on a whirlwind tour of teeming Istanbul and the capital city, Ankara. If you believe Kansav, one of our Turkish tour guides, joining the EU has become something of a national obsession (though it can't possibly top soccer). "People are much more sensitive now," he said as our bus lumbered along streets jammed with cars. So sensitive, our guide said, that litterers are rebuked by fellow citizens just in case a stray wrapper could hurt Turkey's chances.
We journalists, kept to a tight schedule of meetings with diplomats, foreign ministers and cultural experts in conference rooms of Western hotels, didn't have much chance to meet those people. But judging by the recent changes the experts touted, the Turkish government, at least, is wooing its European neighbors ardently.
Prompted by a desire to meet EU standards, the country in the last several years adopted a new constitution, new civil and penal code, and guarantees of more freedoms and rights for citizens. The economy is growing.
"Obviously these changes are for the man in the street," and secondly for the EU, Ambassador Ahmet Acet, acting secretary general for EU Affairs, told us.
Still, the new systems don't work perfectly. Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, for example, is being persecuted for defaming the country's honor. According to National Public Radio, Pamuk remarked to a Swiss newspaper that Turks don't talk about the Armenian massacre during World War I.
Dr. Rudolf Adam, president of the Federal College for Security Studies in Germany, said Turkey has three obstacles to joining the EU: Turkish-Armenian relations, its relationship with Cyprus and treatment of the Kurds.
Actually, it's not clear whether Europeans really want Turkey in their club. That changed the mind of Ali, another guide.
On our way to catch a flight out of Turkey, the guide said he was all for joining the EU a year ago. Now, he doesn't think it really will happen. But the negotiations will go on.
Forum reporter Domaskin traveled in October to Berlin and to Ankara and Istanbul in Turkey on a weeklong trip organized by the German-American Fulbright Commission and sponsored by several organizations. E-mail email@example.com