Sunday, September 26, 2004


You may or may not know that I’m rather reluctant, not to say hostile, at the idea of Turkey joining the EU. That is because of Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development) Party being in power now for two years. A lot can be said about Erdogan’s so-called moderate face of islam but to me he’s rather like a wolf in sheep’s clothes. In the nineties he got jailed in the then strictly secular Turkey for reciting an inflammatory poem about minarets and bayonets. He has sent his daughters to the US because Turkish law forbids them to wear hijabs in state schools. Once his AKP Party came to power a trick was applied by his predecessor Gul to get him Turkish PM (because of said poem and other Islamist activities the post was denied him). In Spring 2004 his party, which has the majority of seats in Turkish Parliament, tried to force a law through Parliament granting students from the religious Imam Hatip schools easy access to Turkish universities. Apart from the fact that their religious formation does not prepare them for scientific, law or medical faculties, it is beyond doubt that these religious zealots upon arriving on campus will start harassing female students.

Apparently Mr. Erdogan confuses the fact that you have the majority of seats in a democracy with the right to enforce your views on minorities. Seeing that he faced stiff opposition not only from the opposition but also from the President, the Army General Staff and industry he backed off – but vowed to pick up the case in 2005:

To those who opposed the bill, especially President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and the Office of the Chief of General Staff, he said: "This debate is not about the system. It is about how institutions work. We came to power with the support of the people. You have to accept the will of the majority."

The content and tone of the speech were aggressive. He indicated that the YOK bill had been postponed for now, while more the important matter of laws dealing with the European Union would be tackled.

Then there has been the very recent struggle to introduce a harsh law enforcing heavy sanctions on adultery into Turkish penal law. I guess that with all the election frenzy over there you heard nothing, but over here in Europe it made headlines. Now mind you, I’m not advocating to approach the issue of adultery on a light note. It’s just that I’m sure that if this bill was passed the situation for women in Turkey would have worsened considerably. Over the past month there have been fierce protests from women's rights groups against the proposed law. Given that a recent Amnesty International report stated that 50% of Turkish women are beaten by their husbands, I can understand why they are worried.

The hot and potentially divisive issue as to whether Turkey should outlaw marital infidelity will feature high on the agenda of talks between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheguen on 6 September. Verheugen is scheduled to spend five days in Turkey for talks aimed at confirming Ankara's readiness to open membership negotiations.

There you have it. I’m sure that you’re all aware that Turkey desparately wants to join the EU. On October 6, thus within one week, an EU report is expected assessing if Turkey may or may not be admitted in the EU Waiting Room depending on the reform of its law and its meeting a certain set of EU-defined set of standards concering human rights, involvement of the Army in politics and economy-related issues. It is clear Erdogan and the AKP dropped the law so that their chances on a favorable report would not be jeopardized.

And indeed, the past week the Turkish government dropped the harsh clause concerning adultery from the reformed penal code. There was a little prodding from EU Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, responsible for enlargement. He confronted Erdogan and it seems to have worked. Today the Turks announced the new version of Turkish penal code, from which the clause has been dropped. To be sure, the issue was but one of many within the process of reforming Turkishpenal code. In short the focal points are:

*Assaults on women will be more heavily punished
*Rape in marriage recognised
*Life terms for perpetrators of "honour killings"
*Jail terms for the sexual molestation of children, trafficking of human organs and the pollution of the environment
*Tougher measures against perpetrators of torture
*Corruption in government to be tackled
*Proposal to criminalise adultery dropped

Now, while these are all good measures, the show put up by Erdogan and his AKP over the past year have convinced me that this man is NOT a true Democrat. Time and again he has tried to abuse the AKP’s majority to try to force Sharia-inspired laws through Parliament. If you ask me, it’s crystal-clear that the fact that the EU was watching, pending the necessary reforms to meet admittance conditions, made him tone down his rhetoric a bit and back down – but just temporarily.

I fear for the day that an AKP-dominated Turkey joins the EU. Luckily true admittance can at its earliest be expected by 2015. Let’s hope the US’s democratization effort in the ME has by then proceeded far enough to encourage large swaths of the younger Turks not to follow the siren’s song of an anachronistic movement that will ultimately ruin the great achievement of that truly great Turk Mustafa Kemal, more commonly known as Ataturk, founder of te modern Turkey. I agree on a lot of issues with President Bush, but he should stop pressing the EU to swiftly welcome Turkey in its club.

Ok, it’s heavy stuff for a Sunday evening so let me stop on a lighter note. In Scotland I climbed the UK’s highest mountain, the Ben Nevis, for a second time (the first time being in September 2003). At 1,344 m you will proably be smirking when I use the term “mountain”, especially Mark/CO who has the Rockies in his backyard, so to speak. Still the impression it leaves is majestic, as the slopes start virtually at sea level. The nearby town Fort William lies at the northern edge of Loch Linnhe, which is in fact a narrow sea-arm protruding inland. Climbing it gives you the same sensation as climbing a 3,000 m Swiss Alp from a valley bottom at 1,700m. Anyway, since it’s the highest peak the view from above is magnificent. Despite its modest height, the rather northerly latitude forbids vegetation on its summit, which as a result is a barren desert of rough boulders. Using the tourist path I managed to reach the top in 2h50 minutes, which is considered a fairly good time. If you ever venture to Scotland and you are reasonably fit, be sure to climb it.

View towards Loch Linnhe and the sea from the top of Ben Nevis


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