Turkey Photos HerePublished on November 23, 2006
Turkey and the European Union
The primary question that the EU, and the rest of the world has yet to address, never mind answer, is whether Islamic culture and European (read Christian) culture can productively co-exist or whether we even want it to. Can we create a secular state where religion can play a central role in a person’s life, but not be part of the government to which he belongs? If we believe the answer is yes, then there is no doubt that Turkey has what it takes to be part of the EU.
The EU guidelines are a great power for good; they spread democracy, social institutions and transparency without guns or micro-management. The old European fashion of colonialism was effectively a heavy-handed way of introducing European style institutions into a foreign culture. The EU guidelines allow for a more macro approach. Guidelines and end-goals are set, and the countries that wish to join the EU must find their own methods of reaching the goals. This allows for stable nation building, which avoids many of the weak links in armed or colonial approaches. It takes longer, but it also lasts longer and penetrates deeper into society. The improvement of eastern European governments over the past 15 years is largely due to their adoption of EU standards with regards to government, social issues and business practices. I believe this same method can be used to help Turkey become a secular, stable state with an Islamic population. Turkey would then act as a model for other Islamic societies. It is evident that the heavy-handed approach in Iraq will not work; as such, we must re-think our approach to helping Islamic states modernize.
My recent trip to Turkey was very illuminating. To be completely fair, I did not speak Turkish and I only travelled to the most modern parts of the country. Tales from other travellers I met described eastern turkey as a truly third world area with little to no modern infrastructure. However, the situation in China – through which I travelled extensively – is not very different and yet they are progressing towards modernization at an astounding pace. One major issue that still hangs over Turkey, is their freedom of speech and their denial of the Armenian Genocide. It is necessary that Turkey take responsibility for their actions during WWI with regards to the Armenians. Their apologies must be whole-hearted and on a scale similar with those of post-WWII Germany and then they must be integrated into the Turkish education system. A cleansing of the Turkish conscience and a demonstration of their ability to be transparent is absolutely imperative if they have any hope of joining the modern world, let alone the EU. Of course, their potential membership with the EU will not come overnight; it will likely take 20 years.
I was really impressed with Turkey, its people and the general atmosphere. They were much more European than I expected. The question that remains to be resolved is whether Islam and Christianity can peacefully co-exist. The adhesion of Turkey would dramatically shift the demographics of Europe. Can such vast quantities of people come to agreements in an open government forum or do we need to separate them as is done in Israel. If we believe in their compatibility, then I think Turkey has a legitimate case at entering the EU and the EU has a fantastic method of modernizing foreign nations without direct intervention.
The Turkish Affair
I recently travelled to Turkey for 8 days. My itinerary was fairly brisk as I wished to see as much of the country as possible. The trip was as follows:
Antalya (1 day) → Olympus (2 days) → Izmir (1 night) → Sulçuk/Ephus (2 days) → Istanbul (3 days)
There were a couple of reasons I wanted to visit Turkey. I had previously read and heard great things about Turkey and I wished to see it to examine its potential as part of European Union. Prior to going, my opinion in relation to the EU was that it was too different, namely too Islamic, to be in the EU. The third motivation was to go more ‘east’ than my friends; Eastern Europe has become as backpacker friendly as Western Europe, and there remain few sites not crammed with Canadians, Aussies and Americans.
I was hoping to find some remnants of isolation in Turkey, though I did not have my hopes too high. In reality, the places I visited are on the top of the tourist hit-list and as such, were full of tourists – though more Aussies than I expected, largely, they come to visit the battlefields of Gallipoli. The Australians suffered massive casualties during the WWII battle of Gallipoli, which then acted as a catalyst for Australian independence, not unlike Dieppe for Canada. The presence of all these tourists may have impeded my visitation of ‘real’ turkey, but to be fair, not speaking Turkish and going for eigh days was not going to permit me to penetrate the Turkish society.
Antalya was a nice port city with little culture, but no lack of nightlife. While in Antalya, I took a day trip to Perge (45 min outside Antalya), an ancient Greco-Roman city, which was very impressive as a first site. The site, was very open and you could walk throughout the ruins with no security control. I then travelled south to Olympus, where the use of concrete has been banned. As such, all the houses are treehouses made of wood. The description of the town as, “an Ewok Village” was what motivated me to visit, the addition of bars and beaches was the cherry on the cake. While there, I visited the flames of Olympus, naturally occurring flames that are the source of The Olympic flame. I partied in an open roof club, surrounded by 100 m cliffs and jumped off 12 m rocks into the warm Mediterranean.
I then travelled to Izmir for a brief 6 hour stay before making my way to Ephus, Turkey’s most famous archaeological site. The town of Ephus is remarkably intact and is an amazing demonstration of what a 100 000 person Greek town looked like at its peak. After Selcuk and Ephus (same town really), I took an overnight bus to Istanbul. Istanbul was everything I had hoped for, a great blend of the Islamic and European world. Though three days were not enough, the mosques, churches and food were amazing. A little bit of partying in the newer, more European centre on the other side of the Bosphorous and then I caught a flight back to Paris to meet my father and board our sailboat.
My trip to turkey led me to two independent conclusions, which I wish to set on paper: Why Turkey may become a EU member and Why it is time to hang up the back-pack. Turkey was an amazing trip and I will definitely return; there remains so much history and culture, I could easily spend months travelling the country. You can see my photos here: Turkish Affair Photos