Turkey: EU Membership
David Alton has warned the House of Lords of the continuing systematic destruction of ancient Churches and raised awareness of examples of individual atrocities, or cultural genocide, in Turkey.
what they and the European Union are doing to assist Turkey in its efforts to improve its internal human rights record.
The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I am aware that some noble Lords have been up all night–in a good cause perhaps–and so I shall not keep noble Lords here any longer than I have to. I am sorry that the Bishops’ Benches are not as well populated today as they were yesterday. That only reinforces the impression that the Bishops are unduly interested in sex. But the matter before the House today is of as great importance as the matter yesterday.
I have always been an advocate of Turkey’s membership of the European Union. It has seemed to me that this would clarify the multi-faith and multi-cultural character of the Union and reduce the possibility of Europe being seen as a fortress of “Christendom”. On the other hand, it would discourage obscurantist forces in Turkey and strengthen those working for a progressive society in that country. Last year, however, I received an unpleasant shock. I had been invited to Istanbul by a number of Churches to assist in the inauguration of their millennium celebrations. Quite innocent, you might think, but the press conference to launch the celebrations was brutally and without ceremony broken up by anti-terrorist police. I was threatened personally and the journalists were ordered not to publish any account of the incident. All but one complied. We had to retreat to the protection of some of the historic churches and were, thereafter, followed everywhere by plain-clothes police–even to the churches’ camps for earthquake victims! All of this happened in spite of the fact that a presidential adviser had permitted these celebrations.
Naturally, I reported the matter immediately to the British Embassy which said that, in Turkey, the right hand did not often know what the left was doing! Upon my return, I wrote to the Turkish Ambassador who, after checking my credentials with the Archbishop of Canterbury–I passed– was very gracious and promised to investigate the matter. He and his staff agreed that a great deal needed to be done both by way of legislation and administratively, through control of the police, to improve Turkey’s human rights record. I am delighted that the embassy is represented here tonight.
Under the Ottoman Empire, Christians, Jews and other minority communities experienced mixed fortunes. There were times when they were harassed, persecuted or neglected, and at other times, they enjoyed a degree of autonomy and even of prosperity. Although the presence of religious minorities in Turkey is severely attenuated, during the Ottoman period there were large numbers of Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and others living within the empire. It is generally allowed that the laws governing their lives were less severe in Turkey than in other parts of the Muslim world. There was sometimes persecution, often instigated by fanatics, and sometimes a culture of contempt was fostered.
The neglect and poverty of the religious minorities in the 18th and 19th centuries has been recorded by various European travellers, diplomats and missionaries. Under pressure from European powers, particularly Great Britain, the Sultan Abdal-Majid promulgated, in 1839, the Hatt-l-Sharif of Gulhane, in which he announced his intention of enacting various regulations–or tanzimat–which would improve the condition of his subjects, irrespective of religion. That was followed, in 1856, again with the encouragement of Great Britain, by the Hatt-i-Humayun, which guaranteed equal rights for all, again, irrespective of religion. It had taken over 1,200 years for the Muslim world to move from the language of “tolerance” to one of “rights” for non-Muslims.
The early promise of these two edicts and the constitution, or Mejelle, which followed was not fulfilled until the turn of this century when the so-called Young Turks attempted to set the empire in a progressive direction. This intention was, however, severely violated by the massacres of the Armenians and Assyrians during and after the First World War. In fact, a succession of removals, forced marches, exile and massacres have created the contemporary situation where the religious minorities form a tiny proportion of the present population.
The establishment of modern Turkey on a secular basis in the 1920s provided fresh hope for the remaining minorities. In recent years, however, for political and security reasons, there has been a considerable tightening of religious freedom for both the majority and the minority communities. Deteriorating relations with Greece have meant greater restrictions for the Phanar, the centre of Greek Orthodoxy, indeed of all Eastern Orthodoxy. The requirement that the Ecumenical Patriarch must be of Turkish origin and have Turkish citizenship greatly restricts the choice available in the appointment to such an important office. While the seminary in Istanbul has been reopened recently, no training of clergy is allowed on Turkish soil. Anti-insurgency measures, coupled with encouragement to Islamic militants to deter Kurdish nationalism, has put increasing pressure on the Syrian–Syriac, as they prefer to call themselves in Turkey–Orthodox community in the south east of the country.
William Dalrymple in his book From the Holy Mountain, records his harrowing visit to these Christians who still speak the language which Jesus himself spoke–Aramaic. He leaves as the soldiers surround the monastery of Mar Gabriel and the monk, Abuna Shamaoun, tells him to go quickly and to make sure that he tells the outside world what is happening to the Syriac Christians of Tur Abdin. Well, he has told his story, but what are we going to do about it?
If the “ethnic” Greek, Syrian, Assyrian and Armenian Churches are under such pressure, the situation is much worse for the independent Protestant Churches. In recent months there have been several raids on such churches in Istanbul and Izmir. Worship has been disrupted, people arrested and interrogated and foreign Christians deported without due process of law. There are allegations of police brutality and the
confiscation of books, films and other material. An interesting aspect of these arrests has been that in nearly every case, the Christians have been acquitted by the judiciary. Is this really a case of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing, or is there an understanding that the police will take the rap and the higher reaches of Turkish society will remain untouched by these incidents?
While I have concentrated on the situation of minorities in Turkey, I am also concerned, of course, that those in the majority community should have their basic freedoms respected. Pressure on moderate Muslim opinion and petty regulations about the “secularisation of polity” in Turkey will be entirely counterproductive if they have the effect of encouraging extremist religious sentiment to emerge. I am quite perplexed, for example, by the prohibition on traditional Muslim dress in Parliament. Surely we would not want to encourage such pettiness in Westminster?
The European Commission and Turkey are to sign an “accession partnership” in November 2000. Among other things, it will set out some of the conditions which Turkey will have to meet if it is to join the European Union. It is vitally important that this document should include the need for legislation which allows for the right to free assembly and of free speech. The relationship of the police to the justice and political systems also needs to be addressed. Churches ought to be allowed to train their clergy and lay people. Those removed from areas such as Tur Abdin should be allowed to return and confiscated property should be returned to the rightful owners.
I am grateful, indeed, for the work of the Anglican chaplaincy in Turkey. It is my hope that improving relations with Greece will also ease the situation of the Ecumenical Patriarch. We cannot, however, ignore the plight of the other communities as we set about preparing for Turkish membership of the European Union.
The Question suggests that Turkey is making efforts to improve its human rights record and implies that the Turkey with which we deal diplomatically has the power to do this. However, the reality is that there are forces within Turkey in very powerful positions who regard improvements in freedom of expression, for example, as threatening to the security and unity of the state. Those brave people in Turkey who are defending human rights are up against the self-selected National Security Council with its military power and control of the security apparatus. So, too, are the political parties and even government Ministers, whatever their claims and declared intentions to improve human rights.
nationalistic movement founded by Kemal Ataturk after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It believes that the minority nationalities within Turkey should be assimilated into a unitary Turkish state. Parallels have been drawn between Kemalism and the German national socialism of the 1930s.
When I was one of an observer group in Ankara in 1998, at the trial of the Hadep leaders by a state security court, I was able to visit Akin Birdal, the courageous Turkish president of the Human Rights Association of Turkey. He was recovering at home after a failed assassination attempt. His parting words to me were, “Those who did this to me are those who are opposed to Turkey joining the European Union”.
What, I suggest, that the United Kingdom and the European Union need to do is, first, to expose and condemn human rights violations in Turkey as they occur. They should take note and publicise, for instance, the work of the Kurdish Human Rights Project, which is bringing numerous cases against Turkey to the European Court. For example, Turkey has recently been ordered to pay £250,000 to the families of two torture victims. There are many other cases of gross human rights abuse that, if there was sufficient time, I could cite. However, I believe that noble Lords may be relieved that there is no time, because some of those cases are extremely gruesome.
The National Security Council, as Akin Birdal intimated, is not in a hurry to join Europe. It needs to be influenced in different ways from presenting evidence of Turkish human rights abuses to it. Those ways, I suggest, should threaten to reduce its influence and power. I think that my noble friend may guess what kind of measures I am going to suggest; they should bring to bear selected economic and military sanctions. That is the language which those with real power will understand. For example, to refuse ECGD support for the Ilisu dam project would be a small step in the right direction.
The problem, however, does not have only a European dimension. The United States gives considerable military and economic support to Turkey, dating from the days of the Cold War when Turkey was NATO’s southern flank. Even today, the US (and the UK) still use Turkey as a base for operations against Iraq.
Baroness Cox: My Lords, I warmly congratulate the right reverend Prelate on this timely opportunity to discuss Turkey’s application for membership of the European Union, and for his erudite introduction.
adequately Turkey’s continuing repressive policies towards her ethnic and religious minorities. Time permits few examples.
The continuing suffering of the Kurds in south-eastern Turkey is well documented. Of course, terrorist violence by the PKK is as unacceptable as violence perpetrated against the Kurdish people by the Turkish authorities, but when I had the privilege of visiting the Kurds, driving through south-eastern Turkey, I obtained some idea of the conditions under which they are forced to live. Their plight remains a matter of grave concern.
Also, while driving from Iraq to Diyarbakir, our Turkish driver remarked rather sadly, “Seven more Christian villages were burnt yesterday”. His comment illustrated the fate of the Christian communities in south-eastern Turkey. Although the Turkish constitution guarantees the protection of religious minorities, the Syrian Orthodox Church is suffering systematic harassment, the destruction of villages and other forms of repression. For example, in 1998 the governor of Mardin province issued a circular forbidding any education, building work, including repair work and even visitors to Syrian Orthodox monasteries. As the right reverend Prelate mentioned, William Dalrymple, in his book, From the Holy Mountain, poignantly documents the harsh reality in detail.
The Syrian Orthodox Church, one of the most historic Churches in the world, is in danger of elimination from its own historic land, suffering a fate similar to that of the Armenian Church in eastern Turkey. Eastern Turkey was western Armenia until the Turkish genocide of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 and its annexation of western Armenia. Vast numbers of Armenian villages and churches were destroyed or are now being left to crumble into ruins. Turkey has been responsible for, and is still encouraging, the destruction of some of the most ancient Christian communities, cultures and buildings.
Turkey still fails to recognise the Armenian genocide, despite all the historical evidence and the growing number of governments and bodies, including the EU Parliament, which do so. Furthermore, Turkey is still maintaining its blockade of Armenia–an entirely illegitimate act, as Turkey never should have been a participant in the hostilities between Azerbaijan and the historically Armenian enclave of Ngorno Karabakh.
These are some of the issues which must be addressed in any application for EU membership. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will ensure that they are taken seriously and will not condone them in any way.
Lord Roper: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for raising this question. Like him, I speak as one who would welcome a fully democratic Turkey as a member of the European Union but who believes that there are structural problems inherent in Turkey’s Kemalist political system which will require
profound transformation before it can fulfil the Copenhagen criteria for membership of the European Union.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Rea, I am particularly concerned about the role of the military, with their view that they are the guardians of the integrity of the state. That presents real challenges to the development of Turkey in the way that we would wish.
I welcome the discussion on page 90 of the Annual Report on Human Rights of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and in particular the reference to the £500,000 that the Government are making available to aid and assist reform, and the work that they are doing with non-governmental organisations. I hope that in replying the Minister will give more details of what is being done, because it seems to respond directly to the right reverend Prelate’s question.
Reading that paragraph, I find that the treatment that the British Government give to Turkey in the report is rather gentle compared with the treatment that is to be found in the Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Turkey published by the United States State Department on 25th February, which is rather more robust in its treatment of the problems.
I was also surprised to find no reference in the section of the Foreign Office report dealing with Turkey to the way in which it has been the workings of the European Court of Human Rights that have led to the withdrawal of military judges from the state security court tribunals. We should pay more attention to the work of the European Court of Human Rights in taking matters forward. Reference was made to compensation of a quarter of a million pounds, but last year Turkey lost 18 cases, and something approaching £2 million had to be paid in compensation. The European Court of Human Rights is working on the matter.
There are other hopeful signs. Perhaps one of the most important is that the recently elected President of Turkey, Ahmet Sezer, when he was the president of the Turkish constitutional court last year, made a speech in which he said that the Turkish constitution imposed unacceptable restrictions on the basic freedoms of Turkish citizens–including limits on language rights–and called for harmonisation of Turkish domestic law with the European Convention on Human Rights. I hope that in replying the Minister will confirm that, now that the United Kingdom has harmonised its domestic legislation with the European Convention on Human Rights, we shall be in a strong position to encourage the President to fulfil what he promised in that early remark.
This is indeed a situation in which the various European institutions can work together. We should commend the work of the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights in helping to prepare Turkey for its candidacy of the European Union.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, several years ago, I led a fact-finding mission to south-east Turkey on behalf of the Christian human rights group, the Jubilee Campaign. We subsequently published a report warning that the ancient Churches of that region faced systematic destruction, and we detailed examples of individual atrocities and what we described as cultural genocide.
In the intervening period, I regret to tell your Lordships, little has changed. Turkey’s tiny Christian minority–probably fewer than 100,000 people–has never been a fashionable cause. But as Turkey edges towards membership of the European Union, her attitude towards human rights will surely become more of a touchstone in our dealings with her.
Almost all of the country’s Christians belong to the ancient Churches: Armenians, Syrian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Greek and Syrian Catholic, Bulgarian Orthodox, and Assyrians. They are double minorities, as they are from ethnic minority groups as well as holding a different faith from the Muslim majority–double minorities, doubly vulnerable and doubly endangered.
I travelled through the militarised Kurdish areas in south-east Turkey to visit the Tur Abdin region, the spiritual centre of the Syrian Orthodox Church; I stayed at the Mor Gabriel monastery referred to by the right reverend Prelate, which was established some 1,600 years ago. Around 80 years ago there were some 200,000 Syriannis living in Tur Abdin. Today, the figure is nearer 2,000.
Many Syrian Orthodox and Chaldean Catholic villages–such as Hassana, Arbo, Habab, and Sedei–have been destroyed and emptied of people. Many Christians have been beaten, injured or even killed at the hands of both sides. The village of Kerburan had a population of some 1,500 Christians at one time, but even their graves have been desecrated. Between 1987 and 1997 there were nearly 40 unsolved murders involving Christians in south-east Turkey. One Syrianni said to me, “We are all in shock and wondering if we will be the next one”.
The rise of Turkish nationalism and Islamic extremism, which both seek to exclude ethnic and religious minorities has inflamed what was already a fragile situation. In some important respects Turkey has demonstrated more religious tolerance than other Islamic countries, but among friends it must surely be possible to offer constructive criticism and to urge a more proactive role in creating a climate of tolerance and respect. Among the practical measures that the Turkish Government might adopt is giving greater protection to the remaining Christians in the south-east. The authorities should stop casting suspicion on the Christians, whom they accuse of collaborating with the PKK; they should provide aid to those Christians who have been internally displaced by military operations.
ownership; bring to justice those who have been responsible for intimidation and attacks; and, particularly, put an end to inappropriate and discriminatory acts, such as the forced circumcision of Christians who have been conscripted into the armed forces.
Although this is of necessity a brief debate, it is an important one. I hope that the record of these proceedings will be studied with care by the Turkish authorities and by the Foreign Office. The whole House, and a much wider community of interest, will remain grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester for initiating these proceedings.
The fundamental question in relation to Turkey is: who is in charge and do they want to move towards full democracy and respect for all minorities? Are the civilian government in charge, or does power rest with the military-dominated National Security Council? On 16th June the council rejected the EU’s Copenhagen criteria, even though the Foreign Ministry wanted to accept them and spoke of tolerating ethnic and religious differences. Why does martial law continue although the internal war is over and the PKK has asked to discuss political solutions? Why are the elected mayors from the constitutional HADEP party working under great difficulties?
Has the mayor of Ozalp, for example, been removed from office? Was there any judicial process in this matter? Why has Professor Lok, chairman of the Izmir branch of the Human Rights Association, had to complain that torture of suspects and prisoners still continues? Why have the government’s new, regrouped villages in eastern Turkey been described as “like open-air prisons”? When will the village guard system be disbanded and when will displaced villagers be allowed to return freely to their homes and land? It seems to me that without satisfactory answers to such questions, no amount of outside assistance will produce much change. There has to be a completely new commitment from whoever is really in control.
I am sorry to have had to say some rather critical things. They are based on the experience of two unofficial observations of elections in Turkey and other travel to Istanbul, Ankara and south-east Turkey.
Baroness Ludford: My Lords, I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate for introducing this debate. I speak not only as a Member of this House but as a London Member of the European Parliament with a large number of constituents originating in Turkey and as co-ordinator of the informal cross-party Kurdish
network in the European Parliament. In that capacity I visited the Kurdish region of Turkey eight weeks ago, including the site of the Ilisu dam which has been condemned by the International Development Committee of another place. Some EU governments–I fear that the UK Government are one–have failed to treat Turkey principally as a European political partner. Primarily, they have treated her as a military partner in NATO and excused human rights abuses by Turkey’s geo-strategic position and the market that it offers for arms exports. This must change. It is not anti-Turkish to point out the huge gap between Turkey’s human rights record and the EU’s Copenhagen criteria.
I am among those who want Turkey to join the EU, but as a critical friend I urge radical change. The key to improving Turkey’s human rights is to end the distorting dominance of the military which it justifies by the fact that Turkey is at war with its own Kurdish citizens. That war might not have happened if Turkey could accept the concept of pluralism and compatibility between Turkish citizenship and Kurdish identity, like British citizenship and Welsh identity.
- “My people live between death and oppression”.
Atrocities have been committed by the PKK but are far outweighed by the killings, torture and forced evictions by the Turkish army. With the PKK ceasefire and imprisonment of Abdullah Ocalan, there is now a crucial window of opportunity to launch negotiations for a peaceful settlement. That must involve Ocalan, whose position with his people recalls that of Nelson Mandela. Peace with the Kurds would end the justification for the repressive constitution, the state of emergency and martial law and human rights abuses. It would be the key to normalisation and economic and social development which is hindered not least by the huge military spending that should go on education and health. All friends of Turkey should, therefore, make such peace with the Kurds a top priority to begin Turkey’s path towards the European Union.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, the history of the persecution of minorities in Turkey is as shameful as it is in Germany. The Armenian massacres are another unbewa ltigte Vergangenheit–a past which is yet to be overcome. In the case of Turkey there is little sign of a national will to overcome it. But it would be a mistake to turn this debate into a simple crusade. The balance of power is slowly changing and there is a process of democratisation somewhere between the justice and defence ministries. The Atatu rk spirit still prevails and there is a strong desire to join the European Union and reap its economic benefits. So, why should we hold up the banner of human rights? Because not only are they a condition of membership but a universal benchmark of the actions and attitudes of sovereign states that
apply them throughout the world. We have a duty to point them out and support those within Turkey who seek to apply them directly.We must, for example, take seriously the situation of writers who are in prison or facing charges, such as journalist Nadire Mater who has been unjustly charged with insulting the army under Article 159 of the penal code. Last year there were signs of improvement in human rights laws, including a new amnesty signed by the President in September. At that time several writers were released “on parole”. However, at a hearing in July prosecutors called for a 12-year gaol sentence for Mater, blaming a “western tradition” of slandering Turkey. Another case which has already been mentioned is that of Akin Birdal, a former president of Turkey’s Human Rights Association who was imprisoned for two years after surviving an assassination attempt. His crime was to call for a peaceful approach to the Kurdish issue.
Another case concerns the lawyer and short story writer Esber Yagmurdereli whose case has been taken up by Pen International. Blind since the age of 10, he has been in and out of gaol for 21 years for speeches and articles that challenge the Government on the Kurdish question. I can think of no better way to help Turkey into the European fold than to quote these cases of human rights violations. There is a large body of intellectuals and professional people in Turkey who would like to see reform, and there is also a judicial system on which to build. The Turkish Government need to be reminded constantly of these violations if they are to respect Europe’s institutions.
Finally, I should like to put a question to the Minister about the European Charter. Does she believe that such a charter will foster dialogue with countries like Turkey, or is it drafted in such a way that it will serve only to reinforce the present Union and make enlargement almost impossible?
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, this has been a brief but very useful debate, and I also thank the right reverend Prelate for introducing it. I underline one extremely important comment of the right reverend Prelate. The sheer challenge of including within the European Union a very substantial Muslim state with many of the drawbacks of deep under-development and poverty over many years–incidentally, it is a state which feels a great sense of grievance about the way that Christians treated Muslims in the past, just as the Christian communities feel aggrieved about the way they are treated today–is one that may fundamentally change the whole nature of our world.
If common ground can be found between a major Muslim power and the Christian powers of Europe based on human rights and common institutions we may begin to build a world in which the dreadful future indicated in Samuel Huntington’s article about a clash of civilisations may be averted.
notice of the Turkish constitution, I believe that the single most encouraging factor is that, having been specifically told since its original application for membership of the EU that it would have to meet in full the Copenhagen criteria–even before accession negotiations–Turkey has nevertheless decided to maintain her candidature. That is very important for reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, clearly identified; namely, in Turkey, as in Indonesia, we are witnessing a battle between, on the one hand, forces that seek to shape the country’s future–the army, the police and public authorities–and the voices of academe, journalism, some part of the political structure and professional people on the other.One of the great problems about our relations with Turkey is that there is so little interchange between civic society, the Churches, leaders of Islam, NGOs, of which Turkey has far too few–many of them persecuted–women’s organisations and organisations concerned with children and social problems. One of the most encouraging signs is that in its perception of the way to approach Turkey’s candidature of the EU–Philippe Morillon, rapporteur of the European Parliament, said that it would take a very long time–there is now a new emphasis on civic society and the so-called discussion fora to start very shortly. I believe that in this way we can begin the process of a acculturation without which the candidature of Turkey can never be realised.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in warmly thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester for the opportunity to hold this short debate. There is time for little more than a soundbite from the Dispatch Box in this short debate. All I express is the hope that the message which goes out from the debate, which may perhaps be picked up in Turkey and elsewhere, is that this is not an occasion for undiluted criticism and saying that everything in Turkey is wrong; rather, the message should be one of respect, understanding and encouraging of the positive forces which I believe exist in Turkey. We must avoid the slight streak of impatience, to put it no higher, that some have detected in pronouncements from the European institutions, for example in relation to Austria. Respect and understanding for a great nation is the right starting point, even though as friends we go on to be critical.
It sounds like a tourist brochure to say that Turkey is a nation of extreme contrasts but that is really the position in every dimension. Turkey is in Asia but not in Asia; it is in Europe but not in Europe. There remain enormous causes of concern about human rights but there are positive steps which noble Lords have mentioned this evening. We know about human rights violations but reforms of current practice are under way in relation to detention, arrest and other activities of the police authorities.
The right reverend Prelate described the harassment of journalists. It has gone very far in some areas. But there are measures to ease the processes of prosecutions against the press and open up a free press at last, which is, of course, essential to a free society.
There is inadequacy in dealing with the Kurdish question. Now that the PKK appears to be defeated, there should be an opportunity for huge new developments of a positive kind relating to integration of the Kurdish minority. In the mean time, the terrorist threat seems to have been curbed, often by ferocious means; and societies that are threatened with terrorism deserve understanding as well as caution about how violently they react, as we know in the case of Chechnya.
There is unease in the European Union, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, described, about absorbing this huge, amazing country with all its light and shade and good and bad sides into the European Union. The Helsinki invitation said: let it be a candidate. I have to remind myself and your Lordships that there is considerable unease in Turkey as well about the EU membership issue. Enlargement will have to be treated with immense sensitivity and more flexibility on the acquis than has been seen so far if the whole project is to make any progress.
My view is that Turkey will adjust, possibly faster than anyone thinks. It is surrounded by huge challenges–undemocratic neighbours; continuous elements of terrorism; and fundamentalist elements challenging its whole society and balance. Nevertheless, it is a modern and potentially great nation and I believe that we must continue to respect and befriend it even while we point out some constructive criticism of the way it operates.