Turkey at a crossroads

Turkey at a crossroads

Why, despite all Turkish warnings of reprisals, did the Nicolas Sarkozy administration go ahead and adopt the so-called “genocide denial bill?” It was obvious that Turks would be enraged and recall the Turkish ambassador to France, Tahsin Burcuoğlu, “for some time.” Perhaps Turkey’s tall, bold and absolute ruler “would no longer go to France…”

What else? Whatever punitive action against commercial or industrial cooperation between the two countries Turkey could take would contradict either the Customs Union deal or the World Trade Organization’s regulations on free trade. 

Furthermore, past experiences have shown the international community of nations that Turks are an emotional society with a rather shallow, fish-like memory. Even though Turks might explode in anger over an attitude adopted against them by a foreign country, within several months – an average of about eight to 10 weeks – they tend to forget everything and return to “business as usual.” Did the French forget what happened after their 2001 adoption of the so-called genocide recognition bill? Some demonstrators burned a Turkish-made Renault car and tore apart some expensive French-made garments. The French were not bothered at all. Some crazy Turks were burning or tearing apart items they paid for; why should France care?

Indeed, within weeks the furor over the 2001 humiliation had become history and relations returned to a “business as usual” format. The Bastille Day reception was again marked in the splendid garden of the French ambassadorial residence. Ministers, top civil servants, academics, businessmen and the media joined their French hosts to mark the day and taste Turkish wine with French cheese and delicacies.

That is why after the adoption of the criminalization of denials of Armenian genocide claims on Jan. 23, an optimistic Foreign Minister Alain Juppe appealed: “We need good relations with it [Turkey] and we need to get through this phase [...] We have very important economic and trade ties. I hope the reality of the situation will not be usurped by emotions.” 

Now, can Ankara go ahead with its pre-vote challenge and cancel all economic, political and military meetings, or encourage Turks to boycott French products? Or will Turkey try to buy a few more days until Sarkozy signs the resolution into law and continue to ponder what “sanctions” it might employ against France? Will, as Burcuoğlu said, the resolution lead to a “total rupture” of relations between the two countries? Can Ankara indeed downgrade diplomatic relations by recalling the Turkish envoy from Paris and sending back the French envoy from Ankara?

Whatever the eventual course of Turkish action, the French vote has pulled Turkey an inch closer to making a final decision on its European vocation. Should Turkey continue to demand a place in the EU, despite being scorned so villainously through direct assaults, as well as proxy wars such as the Armenian charges or the Cyprus issue?

Can Turkey stay on the EU road?