Logo de Turquie Européenne

Two sides, same coin

jeudi 15 mai 2008, par Andrew Finkel

I’ve been asked the question enough, so you’d think I would have the answer down pat. It’s a question posed coyly, like a preening middle-aged lady trying to straighten the line of her dress.
« So what, » the Turkish nation asks, « does the world really think of Turkey ? »

I am never quite sure how to reply except to say what I think of Turkey. However, in my heart I know my views are not necessarily typical of the other 6.6 billion inhabitants of the globe. The obvious difference between us is that most people take an interest in a foreign land on only a « need to know » basis, and the vast majority is generally unwilling to peek under the stereotype conveyed by the pictures on television news. The details of the controversy in Turkey over whether workers had the right to assemble in Taksim Square is less gripping than the visceral images of lots of police wielding lots of truncheons.

Having corresponded for long years for publications outside Turkey, I understand how hard it can sometimes be to persuade editors of something entirely outside their frame of reference. Editors don’t really like scoops if it turns their preconceptions upside-down. They tend to understand « abroad » through paradigms. The nomination of Tansu Çiller, a Western-educated woman, to the role of prime minister provided editors with a powerful enough image to rethink the stereotype of Turkey as a nation in which mustachioed politicians played tug-of-war with their own military. The moment might have been short lived, but for a while people began to think of Turkey as nation on the brink of change. The exodus of Iraqi Kurds toward Turkey’s borders after the first Gulf War in 1991 and the humanitarian crisis that followed was another important moment in the foreign perception of Turkey. After that, Turkish insistence that they did not have a « Kurdish problem, » only one of terrorism, was greeted in the world’s press with open derision. The election of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as mayor of Istanbul in 1994 and the subsequent accession of his boss, Necmettin Erbakan, into the prime minister’s office introduced the world to the debate still raging in Turkey over whether the country has abandoned its Western orientation. A picture of that same Mr. Erdoğan, the graduate of a parochial religious high school, signing in 2004 the final declaration of the European Treaty in front of a huge statue of Pope Innocent X in the grand hall of the Palazzo dei Conservatori was the occasion, in particular, for Turkoskeptics in Europe to do a double take.

I write all this as a preamble to what promises to be another shift in the foreign perception of Turkey, about to take place as the Constitutional Court sits to consider the closure of the ruling party for having become a focal point of anti-secular activities. There is clearly a jockeying among foreign commentators not to influence how the case will be decided but to agree what is at stake. Are the proceedings to be taken at face value, as some American neocons urge, as a bona fide attempt by the courts to curb executive excess and an unacceptable confusion of mosque and state ? Or is it one more hurrah by Turkey’s old guard, who cannot bear to see a new elite get their hands on the gothic state apparatus they spent years trying to create.

Already the second view is in the ascendant, and this may be one reason why Mr. Erdoğan appears to be now settling on the tactic of calling the chief prosecutor’s bluff. Yet it would be a mistake to believe that the outside world is lining up to take sides. They see not so much the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) as being in trouble as Turkey itself. Europeans in particular are confused that Mr. Erdoğan has refused to escape the clutches of his pursuers by not accelerating the pace of EU-oriented reform. The growing criticism of the AK Party is not that it is too religious, but that it is just like the rest. The new paradigm may be not that there are two different sides in Turkey, but that there are two sides to the same coin.

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Source : TDZ, 08.05.2008

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