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Western Press Review: Turkey Becomes The Center Of East-West Tensions

  • Don Hill
  • Katarzyna Wysocka

Prague, 23 August 1996 (RFE/RL) -- In the land where East meets West, where the Orient is divided from Europe by only a narrow strip of water and Islam comes face to face with Christendom, the United States today confronts one of its most complicated foreign policy quandaries -- and one that symbolizes what certainly will be the major challenge to this nation's vital interests into the next century: "What is to be done about Turkey?"

That was the question the "Chicago Tribune" asked in an editorial this week. Other Western press commentary examines turmoil surrounding Turkey -- the new minority Islamic government of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan and its new tilt Eastward.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: The U.S. must respect Turkey's legitimacy while watching its prime minister

The paper continues on in its editorial: "For decades Turkey has exemplified an Islamic land with which we could do business. It had a secular government operating as a parliamentary democracy. Lightning struck this year, however, when a squabble among the secular leadership, plus popular frustration over inattention to basic services, allowed Turkey's Islamist party to form a government after receiving only 20 percent of the vote. Turkey's prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan of the religious Welfare Party, wants to swing his nation's orientation from West to East. In fact, Erbakan's first state visit was to Iran, certainly high among the terrorist Top 10 compiled by the State Department."

The U.S. newspaper concludes: "The United States must respect Turkey's legitimacy while keeping its prime minister under watch. Trade and economic assistance can safeguard an improving living standard and show Turkey's voters that a secular, Westward-looking society best sees to their needs. And military ties must be protected, since the army remains a force in Turkish society that is strongly attached to moderate, secular, Western ways."

THE ECONOMIST: Turkey's army is the guardian of the secular vision

The British news magazine writes in its current edition: "For the first time since Kemal Ataturk's secular revolution in the 1920s, Turkey has in Necmettin Erbakan an overtly Islamist prime minister. The world has been waiting to see how he will act. . . . If Turkey, which has been striving for generations to become European, were to tilt sharply towards the Muslim East, the stability of this combustible region could be at risk. Western governments rightly see Turkey as a pivot of stability where Europe meets the Middle East, and are worried. Yet it would be foolish for the West to panic, or to berate Erbakan."

The magazine continues: "Erbakan's main aim may be to impress Turkey's secular majority with his moderation and relative efficiency during the next few months -- and then to precipitate an election after which, were his party to win a third of the vote, he could well have an overall majority in parliament. How he might then govern is less certain. He knows that the army, long the guardian of Ataturk's secular vision, and still politically weighty, might intervene if a Welfare government sought to push Turkey fast or far the other way."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The army is Turkey's most respected and trusted institution

The paper said yesterday in a news analysis: "This month, the (Turkish) military dismissed a further 13 officers on. . . charges (of being involved with Islamic militants) -- the first (such) expulsions since. . . Erbakan came to power in June. The dismissals and a recent crackdown on the practices of Islam within the armed forces suggest to many observers a warning for the new Islamist lawmakers and the Islamist-led government. In its role as guardian of Turkey's secular state, the military hasn't hesitated to step in when it thought the government might be stepping out of line -- as three coups since 1960 can testify. . . . The military is a powerful force in Turkish life. It is the nation's most respected and trusted institution, the bulwark of Kemalism, which bars any mixing of religion and public life."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Turkey's opposition leader has led his party to two election defeats

The British newspaper, in an analysis by John Barham in Ankara, examines today what has become of Turkey's conservative opposition leader, Mesut Yilmaz. Barham writes: "(He) will break nearly two months' silence tomorrow when he puts forward his name for reelection as party leader. . . of the Motherland Party. (He) practically vanished from the political scene at the end of June. . . . He is expected to win reelections despite uninspiring leadership. . . ; he has led Motherland to two general election defeats since becoming leader in 1991."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Erbakan's stock at home is rising

In today's edition, Gerd Hoehler writes in a commentary: "In European capitals and Washington, fear grows that under Erbakan's leadership Turkey will drift toward the Islamic world. . . . Erbakan's stock (at home) is rising. In media appearances during (a) recent journey, the Turkish prime minister skillfully boosted the self-esteem of his countrymen. When Erbakan announced once again that the West only succeeded in landing on the moon because of what the West had learned from the Islamic world, this was like balm for the Turks' sore souls. . . . Erbakan doesn't seem to be exceptionally worried by a crisis in state finances. 'Allah will give to us and we will give to the people. We didn't get power in order to take but in order to give,' the Prime Minister declared recently."

TAGESZEITUNG: Turkey's new tilt to the East shouldn't isolate it in the West

In today's edition of the German newspaper, Oemer Erzeren writes: "Sometimes Erbakan gives voice to his dreams. Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq will decide the future of Kurdish northern Iraq in a summit, he announced. This is a vision of a Near East where the dominance of the West, especially of the United States, is broken. Only later did Erbakan recognize that with this he went too far. He recanted. Its new tilt to the East shouldn't isolate Turkey in the West. With his foreign policy's new orientation, Erbakan has to dance on the tightrope. (His) amelioration of relations with his country's neighbors is not locked into any radical change of foreign policy."