Professor Cengiz Aktar works at the University of Athens. For 22 years he has worked as an executive with various organisations of the United Nations. Aktar was interviewed by Mehmet Ali Çelebi, a journalist from the Yeni Yaşam Newsletter.
Aktar commented on the history of Turkey’s relations with the European Union, the Kurdish Problem in Turkey, and ongoing debates in Turkey surrounding reform. Here is a summary of the interview.
When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) was elected and formed the first government on 18 November 2002, the European Union (EU) was a priority for Turkey’s foreign policy. Do you think it was a structural intervention or a strategy for that conjuncture?
There is no definite answer to this question. When we look from today’s perspective it seems like the AKP chose that strategy consciously to break the military’s control over the country and also to govern Turkey according to Islamic rules. However, this analysis misses some points. Although the AKP considered these reforms for its own will solely as a strategy, democratic sections of society could have enforced these reforms and protected them. No one did this and, in my opinion, this is the main reason why EU reforms have been interrupted.
Many countries applied to the EU after Turkey was accepted. Since the start of the EU accession talks on 3 October 2005, what happened, and at which points did disagreements occur between Turkey and the EU?
The AKP government did not take the necessary steps for the EU after 2004. No progress has been made on any of these topics like law, the environment, regional policy, and many more. Today, the EU’s norms, standards, principles, and values are completely at odds with the regime in Turkey.
Meanwhile, there are debates regarding Cyprus, the opening of the Closed Maras (or Varosha in Greek) to visitors, Hydrocarbon drilling activities accompanied by warships and jets in the Mediterranean. Moreover, there are also ongoing human rights violations within the country. Is it possible for the relations between Turkey and the EU to continue without any interruption in such a period?
We cannot talk about any positive aspects of Turkey and EU relations. There is no country left talking about the membership of Turkey to the EU. We will not hear anything like that in the future as well.
Kurdish issues, separation of powers, and universal human rights – where are these subjects in the negotiations between the EU and Turkey?
The regime in Ankara does not consider any of these subjects, they do whatever they want.
In both domestic and foreign policy, the regime’s only priority is to prevent Kurds from controlling their own will. The problem is that the EU side prefers to ignore it and occasionally criticizes it in a very polite way. Whatever they do, they will not harm their arms trade with Turkey, this is their priority. For instance, it does not matter that the Afrin region of Syria has never been a threat to Turkey.
Sanctions against Turkey were discussed at meetings by EU leaders and foreign ministers during the Eastern Mediterranean crisis. Various leaders from Europe commented on it. What would you say about it?
Contrary to what is expected, no serious sanctions will be issued against Turkey at the 10-11 December EU Council meeting. However, this also means that there can be no joint decision on other issues that Turkey is expecting, such as a customs union and visa exemption.
It has been claimed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is helping Ankara whenever the AKP-MHP administration is in trouble. How and to what degree could Merkel’s politics have affected relations with the EU? How long can Merkel’s support last?
Germany is Turkey’s main trading partner and also a direct investor. They are not only economical but also strategic and political partners. Financing the TANAP-TAP gas project, arms sales (Rheinmetall, Heckler & Koch), and about 6,000 German companies operating in Turkey are Germany’s priorities. In addition to this, there is the strange friendship of Merkel with Erdoğan. Merkel has been to Turkey 10 times since 2005. This has not been observed by other leaders of a democratic Western country visiting a totalitarian regime. However there are signs that she will stop this too.
“We see ourselves not elsewhere, but in Europe, and we dream of building our future together with Europe”, Erdogan said on 21 November 2020. Considering Turkey’s relations with Europe, should this sentence of Erdoğan be interpreted as a new roadmap or a strategy for the Joe Biden era?
Erdoğan’s latest comments and reinvention of Europe have no meaning neither outside nor inside of Turkey. We have now moved to a different period in Turkey’s relationship with the West. According to the West, Turkey is a country that needs to be controlled and prevented from doing harm to others. If we look at the USA, there is nothing urgent that the Biden-Harris administration should do regarding Turkey. It is enough if they ensure that the law files that were blocked by Trump continue to be processed.