Turkish Army: Turkey would be split up if we join the European Union

  • Voice Of America
  • 06/09/2000 00:00:00

INTRO: A top Turkish official says the country's armed forces are concerned that the European Union is asking the country to make reforms that could lead to country's break-up. From Ankara, Amberin Zaman has the details.

In comments carried Wednesday by the Turkish press, Deputy Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz is quoted (by Hurriyet) as saying that there are "sectors in the country that are scared that Turkey would be split up if we join the European Union. The army shares this sensitivity."

Mr. Yilmaz, who is responsible for Turkey's relations with the European Union, said that one of the parties in Turkey's coalition government was also concerned about the E-U's conditions. Although Mr. Yilmaz did not name it, he was clearly referring to the ultra- nationalist National Action Party, which opposes granting cultural rights to the country's estimated 12-million Kurds.

The granting of greater rights to the Kurds, along with a broad range of democratic reforms, are among the conditions the E-U says Turkey must fulfill before the country can begin membership talks.

There is no doubt where the army stands on the Kurdish issue. On Tuesday, the military-dominated National Security Council, which is Turkey's top decision-making body, issued a report stating that economic reforms - and not cultural rights - are the most immediate priority for the country's ethnic Kurds. The report, which was based on a survey conducted in the largely Kurdish southeast provinces, described the debate on cultural rights as a "waste of time."

Mr. Yilmaz said his job was to persuade those opposed to E-U membership that joining the Union would not harm the country's territorial unity. He added that he was hopeful Turkey would be ready for membership negotiations by 2003.

Senior European diplomats in Ankara do not share Mr. Yilmaz's optimism. They say that the Turkish government has failed to amend articles of the country's constitution that effectively curb free speech and under which scores of academics, politicians and journalists continue to be jailed.

The role of the Turkish military, which has seized power three times in past 40 years, is another source of concern for the European Union. Turkey's chief of the general staff, Huseyin Kivrikoglu, revived the debate about the army's role last week when he commented on the government's failure, as he put it, to effectively combat Islamic fundamentalism.

The general said the government's prestige hinged on being able to pass

legislation through the Turkish parliament that would enable it to fire thousands of civil servants accused of links with Islamic radicals and Kurdish separatists.

His comments drew sharp criticism from various columnists in the traditionally pro-establishment Turkish press.

A recent opinion poll showed that only three-point-five percent of those interviewed rated religious radicalism as the country's top problem. Nearly half said inflation and unemployment were the main ills.

  • Voice Of America
  • 06/09/2000 00:00:00