Turkey gives up EU dreams and turns east
After fifty years of fruitless waiting, Turkey found itself as far from the accession to the “European family of nations” as ever. Starting to drop the idea, Turkey is now turning eastwards towards Russia, restoring the severed ties and eyeing a membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or BRICS. The South Stream project has been revived. The Istanbul professor Mehmet Perinçek explains the logic behind Ankara’s reconciliation, its view on the Syrian war, as well as the coup attempt last July.
Published: November 30, 2016, 2:22 pm
On October 10, the leaders of Russia and Turkey signed an agreement to complete the construction of South Stream, which was put on hold following the downing of a Russian bomber on mission against terrorists in Syria. On November 23, a high-ranking Turkish delegation visited Crimea, de facto recognising Russia’s sovereignty over the peninsula. This was possibly after Turkish president Recep Erdogan apologised for the downing and put the blame on American agents in Turkey. This marks a decisive shift in Turkey’s focus eastwards, away from the West.
Turkey signed the Agreement of Association with the European Economic Community (the predecessor of the EU) as early as in 1963. The results have however been slim. On November 9 this year, the European Commission published a yearly report in regard to the progress of Turkey’s Euro-integration, which criticised the poor state of freedom of speech and human rights in the country and the inadequacy of the attempts to bring the Turkish legal system in accordance with European norms. Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, even threatened Ankara with economic sanctions for the detention of opposition politicians and journalists. President Recep Erdogan in his turn slammed the EU for its support of the Labour party of Kurdistan, banned in Turkey, and announced the prospect of a referendum on the issue of the country’s accession to the EU.
Moreover, the Turkish leader named a fair chance at Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) membership among the alternatives to joining the EU: “Brexit can spread; such voices are heard from France, Italy. Under these circumstances, Turkey should stay calm. One should not say that the European Union is the only option. Why couldn’t Turkey become a member of the SCO? I talked about it with [Russian president Vladimir] Putin and [President of Kazakhstan Nursultan] Nazarbayev. Turkey’s participation in the SCO will give us more freedom of action in this regard,” Erdogan told Turkish reporters after his official visit to Uzbekistan as quoted by the Sabah newspaper on November 19. The SCO comprises Russia, China and four other countries.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution on November 24, recommending a stay of the discussion on Turkey’s accession to the EU, owing to the inacceptable domestic policy of the authorities.
However, in Turkey about 56 per cent of those polled still think that the country needs EU membership. As far as alternatives are concerned, 23 per cent consider the prospect of SOC membership plausible, and 18 per cent favour BRICS membership. On the other hand, 22 per cent of the citizens are in favour of a non-aligned policy.
While Turkish-European relations are worsening, the relationship with Russia is improving. “Russia becomes a ‘friend’ again”, the Turkish newspaper Milliyet remarks, having said that “a group of friendship with Russia” was formed in the Turkish Parliament on November 19. And on November 23 a delegation of Turkish MPs, politicians and businessmen arrived at Crimea, led by the Head of the Association of Eurasian Governments Hasan Cengis. He announced the arrival of a Turkish governmental delegation of the highest level to Crimea in the near future and promised that Ankara would soon drop the anti-Russian sanctions: “Turkey re-establishes its foreign policy and sets off on the road to the Eurasian family. We consider that Turkey’s alignment with the Eurasian family is impossible without dropping the anti-Russian sanctions. The policy of the Turkish government aims at altering its stance on the Crimean issue.”
“There is no future for Turkey in the EU”
We met the Turkish historian and political scientist Mehmet Perinçek, professor at Istanbul University, in Istanbul to hear his view. According to him, the path to the European Union is blocked.
– Turkey’s accession to the EU is a big hoax. Turkey’s future lies not in the West, but in Eurasia. If Turkey wants to preserve its territorial integrity, it must cooperate with Eurasian countries, and it must become a part of Eurasia, not only out of security considerations, but also in order to develop economically, to provide for stability of the region. Russia, China and Iran should be Turkey’s key partners. Thus, I see Turkey’s future not in the West, not in the EU, but in Eurasia.
Turkey’s accession to the EU is a big hoax.
Turkey no longer takes offence from the stance of EU politicians, he says.
– If Turkey drops the idea, Turkish-European relations will improve greatly. Giving up the process will please both Europe and Turkey.
The reason why it is unrealistic to join the EU, Perinçek explains, consists of both cultural differences – Turkey being a Muslim country – and political issues.
– The European Union is an imperialist union of European states, and Turkish membership inhibits their movement. That is why they do not want us. The accession of Turkey was an American project. Americans wanted to push us through the European gate in order for Turkey to be close to the West and not side with Eurasia. So, we waited at the doorstep of the EU. A year passed, two years, then five years passed, then decades passed, and it became clear that the plan has failed. America also wanted to disadvantage European countries, to weaken the EU by Turkey’s accession. Thus, the Euro-integration of Turkey has two aspects. On the one hand, the USA kept Turkey waiting at the EU doorstep and controlled it, and, on the other hand, it did not want a strong EU that could compete with Washington.
FWM: There is an opinion that a certain Islamization of Turkey is taking place under Erdogan, that Islam is acquiring a fundamentalist character here, more fundamentalist, than, say, in Syria, or Islam under Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. Is there a tendency of Islamization of the secular society, the state structure?
– There is such a problem, true. Under Erdogan Turkey is undergoing visible Islamization, and it risks losing its Kemalist roots, its secular-state character. Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the coup, the Turkish society realized that such a trend endangers security, because cults are destructive. Turkey needs to remain a secular state not only to be united, but also to be secure.
If the EU did not support armed opposition in Syria, they wouldn’t have faced the refugee problem.
FWM: Erdogan’s ability to control the influx of refugees from Syria, Iraq and probably, Afghanistan, was discussed during the negotiations with European countries. Is he able to, so to say, blackmail the EU by releasing bigger masses of refugees headed for Europe?
– You know, this is the consequence of the hypocritical European policy in the Middle East. If they did not try to oust Assad, did not support armed opposition in Syria, they wouldn’t have faced the refugee problem. When we fail to see the roots of the problem, we won’t be able to solve it.
Reconciliation between Turkey and Russia
It has however not been easy to turn away from the EU. The relations eastward had been deeply severed a year ago, when a Turkish F-16 fighter jet on November 24, 2015 shot down a Russian bomber on mission against Islamists over Syria. Both the pilot and the weapons officer ejected, but while the latter was rescued, the pilot was shot dead by pro-Turkish militants in Syria. Turkey claims that the aircraft violated Turkish airspace for 17 seconds, which Russia denies. However Perinçek states that the downing was not ordered by Ankara, and sees a foreign involvement in the incident with the intent to alienate Turkey from Russia, particularly the Gülen movement.
The preacher Fethullah Gülen is a former ally to president Erdogan. Both have been accused of being Islamists, Erdogan was jailed for this reason in 1997 and Gülen moved to the US in 1999. The friends however became bitter enemies in 2013 after Gülen sympathisers were accused of corruption.
American agents associated with Fethullah Gülen shot down the Russian plane.
– The West in its planning had always counted on a conflict between Russia and Turkey. Whenever Russia and Turkey fight, it always benefits the West. It helps the West to implement its plans for our region, the Middle East, in the Caucasus, etc. On the contrary, when Turkey cooperates with Russia, it always benefits both Russia and Turkey; hence, they can achieve their national goals. The incident with the bomber is a good example of the US intention to set Russia at loggerheads with Turkey in order to implement their projects in our region. They used Fethullah’s agents in the Turkish Army and in the government. The Turkish president was unaware of this operation, thus, we see an American trail in this incident. After the coup attempt it was found out that the pilots, who downed the Russian bomber, were Fethullah’s supporters, Perinçek explains.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was furious over the incident and called it a “stab in the back administered by the accomplices of terrorists”. Erdogan refused to apologize for months, resulting in an extensive boycott from Russia.
According to Perinçek, Erdogan eventually realised that it was a plot against him, and apologized. In a letter to Putin in June 2016, he wrote that Ankara had no intention of downing the Russian plane and shared the pain of the pilot’s family.
– It was absolutely an apology, a true apology, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and later the President of Turkey both once again told the media that they apologized, said Perinçek.
“The coup attempt was an American operation”
Concerning the coup attempt itself on July 15, 2016, there have been many theories, some claiming that the whole scenario was staged by Erdogan himself in order to get rid of the opposition, since it was rather erratic, disorganized. Perinçek does not agree.
– It was not a false flag operation, it was an attempt at a coup carried out by pro-American forces and organized by Washington against Turkey. Gülen is hundred per cent an American agent, his organization is an operational unit of the CIA and Washington in our region. Nevertheless, the majority of Turkish officers were against the coup, and that was why it failed. Owing to the Kemalists, to the patriotic military, the attempt was abortive.
The pipeline project called the Turkish Stream is particularly important geopolitically, a plan to carry natural gas from Russia to Turkey and beyond to markets in southern Europe. It was decided upon after the planned South Stream pipeline through Bulgaria was abandoned due to EU sanctions. After the downing of the Russian bomber, the Turkish Stream was frozen, but on October 10, 2016, the leaders of Russia and Turkey signed an agreement to resume the construction. The rapid reconciliation, which came as a surprise to many people, underscores its importance to both countries.
– The Turkish Stream is not a routine affair like housing construction or tourist business – it is a strategic project that connects Turkey and Russia, strengthening their ties. Thus, after the coup Russia became aware of the conflict between Turkey and the USA, and the reconciliation process began.
“With Trump, Fethullah loses support”
Turkey, being a NATO member, hosts an important American air base at Incirlik, where there are reportedly also nuclear weapons. After the coup attempt, Turkish forces blocked the base, arrested the highest Turkish officer at the base and his staff, and effectively held the American personnel stationed there hostage.
– The American Incirlik air base is not only a threat to Russia and Iran; it is also a great threat toTurkey, because during the coup attempt the agents of Fethullah used the base as their headquarters. Besides, with the help of this base Americans support Kurdish separatists. I view the Incirlik base as a factor undermining Turkish security, and I think that Turkey should close this base.
The election of Donald Trump is a relief for Turkey, Perinçek explains, although it will impact other countries more.
– All pro-American elements in Turkey are unhappy, but all the patriotic forces are glad. Of course, American policy will not change radically, but it will become more temperate. The main alteration of the course will be in regard to China and Germany. Trump is not interested in conflicts between Russia and the USA, between Washington and Ankara. On the contrary, Hillary Clinton’s arrival would have been fraught with great problems for Turkey, because she planned to strongly support Kurdish separatists and Fethullah’s supporters in Turkey.
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