When on Friday the news finally broke that an agreement on the country’s most cherished ambition of 40 years had been reached, there was little in the way of celebration to be seen among ordinary Turks.
To test out reactions to the news, Aljazeera.net spoke to people in one Turkish heartland that has always been part of Europe, at least, geographically.
In the town of Eceabat, located at the Dardanelles Strait on the very edge of continental Europe, news that a final agreement had been brokered roused little enthusiasm – and much scepticism.
One who questioned the worth of Ankara‘s EU bid, and of the bloc’s sincerity in wanting Turkey to join its ranks, was local artist Sera Sekitmen.
“The conditions being set out for us are very tough and very hard to accept given our nationalism,” she said. “I do not believe that for the price we will have to pay there will be great benefits from becoming a member.”
The EU deal creates difficulties
She was referring to the extra clauses that have been added to the agreement between the EU and Turkey. These touch on issues such as recognition of Cyprus and the possibility that the talks will not end in full membership. Such terms have never before been asked of a country seeking membership.
“There are more difficulties for us, more compromises being asked for,” Sekitman said.
“As an individual, I would not make so many compromises. For example, on issues that we had insisted on throughout history, like the Armenian genocide, that I believe happened, and the recognition of southern Cyprus, we as a state said no for many years. Now we are asked to say yes, this is a double standard for us. I would not give so much.”
Though scepticism remains strong, recent polls put support for joining the EU among Turkish people at 80%, far higher than in most of the countries that became members in May. However, in countries such as Poland, Cyprus and Malta, there was little question of whether they were wanted.
For 65-year-old Ayse Ordu, this, however, is precisely the point.
“The prime minister keeps saying we will get into the EU,” he says. “I am not so sure. We have many poor and jobless. They would go and try to get jobs there. Would the EU agree to that? Would they really like to let so many of our people into their countries? I am not so sure.”
The deal caused a surge in
Local Nermin Demir saw Turkey‘s unstable economy, rather than a question of religion, as the main obstacle to accession. Despite the news that EU leaders had agreed on a date for membership talks to start, Demir says that her country is a long way from Europe.
“We are told everything will be fine if we get into the EU and that the problems of the economy and unemployment will be resolved,” Demir said. “But will they take us? We have many disadvantages such as poverty, unemployment and our system is very different and that is a problem on its own. I mean as people, citizens and as a state we are different.”
Yet, Turkey‘s financial markets were a lot more positive about the news of a date and a deal. The Istanbul Stock Exchange Index surged late on Friday while the Turkish currency strengthened against the dollar.
But the simple fact is, according to shop owner Askin Gungor, Europe does not want Turkey in its ranks – and Friday’s decision to open accession talks has come too quickly for both sides.
“They do not want us.They will never have us”
“They do not want us,” Gungor said while standing outside his shop on Eceabat’s main street. “They will never have us. Look at the Greek Cyprus issue, this is just the beginning. Next will come more enforced conditions. In fact, I see the future being worse when they apply pressure on even more issues.”
Gungor believes that Turkey is not in a position to meet the rigid demands of the EU in the short term and fears political and economic instability if it tries to do so.
“Turkey cannot bear those burdens,” he said. “It is not just in one area but in many and in fact in all sectors difficulties will occur. There will be problems in all areas: fishing, the food sector that I am in, textiles. In everything we are not ready yet. We do things our way and we make mistakes and we are far from being ready for such change.”
Doubts aside, however, Turkey does have a date to start accession talks, although they may take 10 to 15 years to complete. This in itself marks a major step, even if the consequences may still be viewed with great suspicion on the streets of small town Turkey.