P. Edronkin

Turkey: The Problems Of Becoming Part Of Europe

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Turkey wants to be yet another European nation, yet, it is a nation that has had many different incarnations thorough its extended and rich history: in this new century, its quest is not to remember its Islamic history or its past as an empire, but to define itself as a part of Europe.

In fact, part of Turkey lies within the European continent: Istambul was the capital city of the Bizantine Empire, conquered by the Turks during the fifteenth century. Istambul was Called Constantinople then, and it is a city that dates back to the Roman Empire. This particular region, along with Palestine, Lebanon and the entrance to the Black Sea, dividing two continents, has been incredibly conflictive and violent since - at least - the battle of Salamine, in 484 B.C. and when Xerxes, King of Persia, attempted to defeat the Greeks with the help of the Phoenicians (since the Persians knew nothing about naval warfare, they asked the Phoenicians to help them in that department); many Asian armies, including those of the Ottoman Empire, have unsuccessfully tried to cross those boundaries and invade Europe.

The Turkish nation comes from central Asia: they were once excellent, nomadic horse riders and highly mobile; As their population grew they began to expand and conquer different cultures in their way to the west. The first Turks were rather primitive people, but good warriors and surprisingly open-minded. They conquered indeed, but assimilated the culture of the nations that fell under their aegis, so in a way, they were conquered too as they conquered: so the Ottoman Empire was born, and it lasted for centuries until its defeat during WWI.

Ever since then, Turkey claimed and asked for a renewed European identity, partially as a reaction to the nature of the Ottoman society and ruling classes. Meanwhile, European countries belonging to the E.U. have promised and delayed for quite a long time the opportunity for the Turks to be accepted within their continental identity and political framework.Some of the current fears regarding the acceptance of Turkey as part of the European Union come from the past performance of the Ottomans in the Balkans, and partially because Europeans distrust Muslims. In addition to these more or less irrational or subjective fears, there are real-world issues that need to be considered: the fights against the Kurds and the Armenians, respect for human rights and so on.

And there is also a very significant geopolitical situation in the middle of all this: Turkey as it is now acts like a buffer between the E.U. and the bellicose Middle East, and so, if the former Ottoman nation becomes part of the European Union, Brussels politicians will suddenly find themselves dealing with a civil war in Iraq, the Kurdish situation and the quarrels between Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel right at their newly expanded doorstep. Maybe, the assimilation of Turkey within the E.U. could be seen in the future as an example of tolerance between Christians and Muslims - something that we are indeed in need off, badly - and it is certain that Turkey has been doing its homework in order to placate the fears of the European voters: Turks are far more tolerant and open to Western culture than Muslims in general, and they even allow themselves for some treats that are impossible elsewhere in Islamic nations, such as drinking alcohol and gambling.

But as the subdued conflict between Islam and Christianity - more or less, it can be defined as such - continues, perceptions play the most significant role in all this, and while Muslims remain seen by westerners as poor, destitute and violent, Turkey will continue - unfortunately, in my opinion - to politely knock at the doors of Europe.

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