Author Topic: EU and Turkey  (Read 1409 times)

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Offline TomS

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EU and Turkey
« on: October 09, 2003, 12:38:17 PM »
In the second of three features on Turkish secularism, the author discoversthat much of the Islamist constituency is opposed to the European Unioncandidacy, which has become a top government priority

Many Turks fear that losing the symbolic battle to eat kokorec is a sellout to the EU  

IT REMAINED number one in Turkey's top 10 for ages. It still is a favourite in Istanbul's nightclubs. But since the beginning of August, Mirkelam's hit song Kokorec, whose lyrics include "Kokorec, it can't be without you", became symbolic. It was elevated to the status of an anthem for Turkish pride and the struggle to save Turkish culture from the European Union.

Kokorec is of course the Turkish version of Greece's kokoretsi - offal wrapped in lamb intestine, which the EU prohibited after the mad cow scare. In Greece it is a delicacy but here it is a staple, sold as street food in baguettes. The prohibition led to anti-Europeanism across the country. Like the "Keep the Pound" campaign in Britain, the "Keep Kokorec" campaign here conceals a certain superiority complex. Only here, atavistic passions absent in British society have awakened.

In the former Grande Rue de Pera and central thoroughfare, it is customary for anyone who has a point to make to come forward and address the crowds. My attention was drawn to a moustached type. Sitting on top of a barrel, among an entourage of veiled women, he held a banner on which Long Live Kokorec was written in red.

"We know who they are and what they want, these degenerate homosexuals and whores that make up the Eurocrats want to destroy our Turkey, to destroy our culture. To make us kneel before the supremacy of their atheism. But we, we who once ruled the world, we who besieged Vienna, we the children of the Greatest leader, we the offspring of Attila, will never surrender. We will never give up our values and customs. In Turkey there is no room for Christian missionaries, no room for libertarianism, no room for anarchy, no room for suffragettes, no room for pork! There is no room for the letter W!"

There had been a proposal to ban the use of the letter W as subversive. W, used in Turkish solely to denote foreign words, is very common in Kurdish. Its use in the word Newroz - the Kurdish New Year, synonymous with expression of Kurdish nationalism - nearly led to its prohibition.

A friend of mine, a young video artist, showed me a newspaper article. "Our neighbours, the Greeks, were also told by EU officials that the sale of kokorec should be prohibited. But they disobeyed. If Greece, that midget state living on European and American money, dared to disobey, why would we, a giant nation, give way to Europe's whims?" the article said. "I can't believe this is written in our daily press," my friend said.

The Eurosceptics are not just soapbox extremists. Some are sophisticated. "It is no longer Turkey's problem, it is Europe's problem now," said another friend of mine, a PhD student in political theory, echoing a commonplace thesis here about Turkey's EU candidacy. "Turkey has taken courageous steps to conform to the criteria set. It has even abolished the death penalty. Europeans will have to admit what they have been trying to conceal: that they do not want a Muslim sheep in the flock."

"We need a strong army to protect us from the Islamists," my friend said, "and we need censorship to keep our country united."

Women see it differently

Turkish medical students campaign for the headscarf. Women are not allowed to attend classes with their heads covered  

Fatih is one of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods of old Istanbul. Were it not for the occasional glimpses of the Golden Horn, the brightly "a la Veneziana" coloured houses and the scattered churches, one would have thought it was Cairo. This is the cradle of Recep Tayyip Erdogan's political career: he distinguished himself as the Islamist mayor of Fatih before becoming the "first mayor of Istanbul with a veiled wife". There are no short skirts and eccentric haircuts here.

I entered the courtyard of a mosque to escape the heat. A group of women, covered up in black, chattered like ravens under the trees. I asked what they thought of joining Europe. "Of course we want the EU," exclaimed Rabia, a 17-year-old student. The other women joined in. "We will have more freedom. The state will no longer be able to order us what to wear, how to behave, what ideas to hold. We will no longer be forced to choose between our education and our religion".

Since the state prohibits women from entering universities and other state buildings veiled, those judging that the veil is an important part of their Muslim identity often refuse to study. "I will not surrender my identity for education's sake," Rabia said in a fiery tone. "If we are in the EU, we will be allowed to study no matter what clothes we enter the lecture room in."

"Europe is the only way to live the life we want. A peaceful, orderly, Islamic life," Rabia's mother said. "Isn't Europe about diversity after all? The state treats us as if we were trash. Europe will give us our dignity back; it will strengthen our position opposite the state."

In Cihangir, my neighbourhood, everything is neat and orderly and clean and glamorous. The borough is a nest for writers, artists and bohemians. "That's why I love the place," says Nilufer. Descended from a patrician family of Sephardic Jews, she is what Turks call donme - a renegade. Nilufer has spent her youth, and considerable fortune, financing anarchist groups.

"The majority here want Europe only because they think subsidies will secure them a better standard of living. Turks love strength, they adore power. They think that if we join, we will be a powerful country. They know there is no future for us in the Middle East. The will to join is an acknowledgement that Turkey is weak; it cannot provide its people a decent standard of living. Otherwise, though, they are Eastern: they disapprove of Europe and everything it stands for. Doubt me? Go to Konya."

A shock in Konya

The two things I knew about Konya are that it is worth a visit, because of the magnificent Mausoleum of the Celahaddin Rumi, and that people have often had stones thrown at them for not observing the Ramadan fast.

Some 660km from Istanbul, in the midst of an arid wilderness marked only by the cries of wolves at night, Konya, the capital of the Seljuks, seems to belong to another world. It is a conglomeration of cheap concrete blocks vaguely reminiscent of Grozny. The only beauty is the green-tiled Mausoleum of Rumi, the founder of the tolerant dervish order of the Mevlevis, which successfully blended pagan, Christian, Jewish and Muslim doctrines.

My companions Taner and Aysegul are students of philosophy in Istanbul, lovers and amateur drummers. They are also natives of Konya, and "on a short visit in this awful hole of blackness". "Look around you," Aysegul gestured towards the Bazaar. We sat in a rooftop cafe where she was the only woman. "Do you see Europe? Or do you see a glimpse of Iran?"

"Here my freedom is in question every day", she said. "I cannot even visit some of my relatives; not married and having a boyfriend, I am a whore to them. Thank God Mum and Dad are secular."

During dinner in a traditional kebab shop, I asked for beer. "This is a Muslim town," the owner warned. "Want to be degenerate? Go West."

"Is Europe degenerate then?" I prodded.

"Of course it is. That's why we don't want it. If we join, our wives will no longer obey us; they will refuse to stay at home. Our children will not obey our orders. They will not marry whom we order them to. They will not study or work as we order them to. They will fool around and drink and catch venereal diseases. People will not submit themselves to God's will. They will start questioning everything. There will be anarchy, subversion, chaos." A group of bearded elders had joined in by this time.

The eldest took charge. "Subversion is what Europe is all about. We want to live the way our fathers and grandfathers have lived for centuries. Our society has been built on rules handed down centuries ago. We don't want Europe. We don't even want Kemalism. We want the Sheriat. Islamic law. And we dislike people who will not obey it."

Returning to Istanbul was a relief. In a cafe I sat with Batuhan, a young magazine journalist born and raised in Konya. "So you have been to the Third World and back," he laughed. "I hate Konya. I am so happy to have got away from a town where life is a sin and where everything stops at dusk." He plans to study in France for his master's degree, but speaks not a word of French.

"After Konya you know how difficult this European dream is for us," Batu muttered. I asked what, in his opinion, hid behind this dream. "A better life," he replied bewildered with my asking the obvious. "A better standard of living for all."

Does that mean Turks just want economic benefits, I asked. "Of course this is so," Batu said echoing Nilufer. "Turks are desperate. They have been made to believe that Europe is their only way out of starvation. But ignorance breeds misconceptions. Many people here equate Europe and progress with the frivolous: reality shows, drugs and the semi-naked images of women that have filled even the most serious of our papers. Have you noticed?"

* The author is a writer and researcher living in Istanbul

ATHENS NEWS , 03/10/2003, page: A08
Article code: C13034A081