‘Best support we can give is to bring Turkey closer to the EU’
ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
The Turkish Prime Minister’s critisism of Germany is domestic policy driven says Cem Özdemir, a senior fellow of Mercator - Istanbul Policy Center, who was in Turkey to give a series of speeches. DAILY NEWS photos, Emrah GÜREL
The best support the European Union can give to the peace process Ankara has started to find a solution to the Kurdish problem is to express that Europeans are serious in bringing Turkey into the 27-nation bloc, according to a prominent European politician. EU membership provides a permanent resolution toward both ethnic and religious frictions in Turkey, said Cem Özdemir, a German politician of Turkish descent.
A lot of responsibility falls upon the Kurdish side, he said. “They need to be willing to close the door to violence forever,” the co-chairman of the Green Party told the Hürriyet Daily News in a recent interview.
What is your reaction to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s criticism that Germany is not cooperating enough in the fight against terrorism?
I see these remarks as purely driven by domestic policy concerns. I see this aligned with previous remarks of the prime minister about German foundations. You might recall that I had asked at that time whether he had proof [that there were links between the foundations and terror groups]. I am still waiting for that proof. I have not got anything. I don’t think it is responsible to target people who have families as enemies.
Regarding terrorism and Europe’s efforts; it is not Germany that is negotiating with [the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s – PKK – jailed leader] Öcalan. It is Turkey that is negotiating with Öcalan.
We are not criticizing this. I believe the Turkish government has good reasons for that, and I share these reasons. It needs a lot of courage. I wish Turkey every success in those negotiations, and I hope it leads to a final solution toward peace and democracy. But I don’t think it makes sense that, on the one side, you negotiate with an organization that people see as a terrorist organization and on the other side criticize Europe. I come from a country where from time to time we have horrible incidents of violence against women. Turkish women are killed; in the cases when we cannot catch the men who did it, guess which country they flee to? Turkey. Why do they go to Turkey?
This is a question I’d like to hear Prime Minister Erdoğan answer. We ask [for their extradition] to Germany to bring them to justice. It’s very rare that we get them.
We should sit and collaborate; I don’t think there is anything we cannot solve. But it should not be used as a domestic policy issue.
What is your analysis of the recent process?
First of all, I am a close friend of a lot of Kurds who suffered from PKK violence; they belonged to competing organizations and used to fight for the rights of Kurds in Turkey but also elsewhere, but always rejected the use of violence. It is very sad to see that the PKK is in the position of the spokesperson of Kurds when you know the positions of the PKK and the Stalinist history of the PKK. This is an extreme contradiction to have a mainly conservative religious population being represented by a Stalinist organization. This is extremely bizarre. The reason for that is erroneous policy over several decades. That’s the result of it.
As Israel has done with Hamas, Turkey has done with the PKK. This is what you get if you rape women and torture men like in Diyarbakır Prison. That’s what you get in exchange; people support organizations that are not in their interest. It hurts me as a liberal-thinking person that the PKK is in the position to negotiate with the state.
But if I were in the shoes of the Turkish government, I would probably do the same because it needs to end. It would be sad to see new generations giving up hope and going to the mountains [to join the PKK] and losing their lives. This is a huge chance, and I hope it will be used. It also requires responsibility on the Kurdish side. They should be aware that they have to be serious about it. I wonder whether they are really willing to become politicians. There is only one solution and that is Parliament. The Turkish state should do whatever is necessary to open such doors but on the other hand, they should be willing to use these doors.
You mean laying down arms as far as the Kurdish side is concerned?
That’s a precondition, and it is clear they need to be willing to close the door on violence forever. It cannot be a temporary thing; it cannot be a tactical move. It has to be a permanent decision toward entering the political process. As for Turkey; it would be very difficult because a lot of people would ask questions. Why did our sons die? Because at the end of the day, if you can learn Kurdish in schools… how can you come to Germany and offer Turkish lessons for people that lived there for 60 years and forbid Kurdish lessons be learned in school for people that came here before Turks. If all these things happen, a lot of people will ask these questions. And this is a question I don’t think anybody has an answer to. The only answer you can give is no more sons dying, no more tears. It is worth taking the risk, and I admire everybody who is involved in the process, and I think we should support it with everything we can do. The best support we, the EU, can give is expressing that we are serious in bringing Turkey toward the EU.
In what sense would that help?
If Turkey moves toward the EU and finally becomes a member of the EU, it would encourage those in Turkey who believe in the same values that we share.
It will strengthen Turkish democracy. This is the best precondition one can have for a permanent resolution toward both ethnic and religious friction, because it is clear under the umbrella of the EU that you have to be a multicultural society that guarantees freedoms for all its citizens.
What kind of feedback are you getting from Kurds from Turkey who are living in Germany?
All of them, whether they are close to the PKK or opposed to the PKK, hope that this process is successful because nobody wants to go back to the days of the ‘80s or ‘90s.
What is your take on Erdoğan’s rhetoric on the EU, asking Europeans to make up their mind about Turkey?
I don’t understand where this impatience comes from. Turkey waited for so long. Now practically everything changes toward the Turkish direction; we have a re-elected president in the U.S. who sees the importance of Turkey and puts pressure on the EU to have Turkey in the EU. We have a French president who has completely shifted French state policy toward Turkey. We have a growing number of state governments ruled by Greens and social democrats and there are the upcoming general elections in Germany, where we have a high chance of getting a new government that wants to see Turkey in the EU.
That would be my question if I were to meet Mr. Erdoğan. Who would you like to see winning the elections in Germany? Unfortunately, my guess is more and more people in Ankara would like to see Mrs. Merkel because this is more comfortable.
Why is that?
Because for Mrs. Merkel you don’t have to change anything. You can stay as you are. If we came to power, we would say come to the EU, but of course we would say come with freedom of the press, with human rights and with civil liberties.
Is the feeling that there are setbacks in Turkish democracy feeding your analysis?
Of course; what I see is that we are not in the first period of the AKP government, when everybody admired the courage of the Turkish prime minister for the reforms he started and for the courageous talk regarding previous taboos. Then we had a period of stagnation that was not only because of Ankara but also because of the EU. But in the third term, Turkey is not only waiting and watching, but it is also going backward in some fields. I don’t want to blame only the government for it; it is always good to have a strong opposition hammering for democracy; but if you have difficulty there it is sometimes an invitation for the government to forget that power is only temporary.
What is your view on comments that military tutelage in Turkey is now replaced by tutelage of civilian forces close to the government?
I had said to my Kemalist friends in the years when they were strong: You should be the most powerful pro-Europe force. But they were not, unfortunately. The reason I say so is because Europe means a separation of state and religion, Europe means power control.
It is an irony now that our Kemalist friends, who at that time attacked us Europeans for interfering in domestic affairs, are asking us to interfere in domestic policy and advocate the European case. Europe should not be advocated for as a part of Turkish domestic policy. It should be a state policy.
Who is Cem Özdemir?
Cem Özdemir is the co-chairman of the German Green Party (Alliance ‘90/The Greens).
He is an educator by profession and completed his studies in social pedagogy at the Evangelical Technical College in Reutlingen, Germany.
He was elected to the German Parliament in 1994, becoming its first-ever member of Turkish descent. Özdemir served two consecutive legislative terms (1994-2002). During this time, he held the position of speaker on internal affairs for the Green Parliamentary Group.
In 2003 Özdemir became a transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Washington, D.C. and Brussels.
From 2004 until 2009 Özdemir was a member of the European Parliament (The Greens / European Free Alliance), where he was the speaker on foreign affairs for his political group.
He is a founding member of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and sits on the advisory board of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office.
He is the author of two books on multicultural Germany. In 2008 he published a book for young people titled “Turkey: Politics, Religion, Culture.”