Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Dr David Shankland[1]


  1.  My comments here are based on some 15 years of close study of Turkey, including more than five years' residence. As well as my Doctorate, awarded by the Department of Social Anthropology of the University of Cambridge, I have written numerous articles on modern Turkey and an academic monograph: Religion and Society in Turkey. I have also been visiting researcher or lecturer in three different Turkish Universities, and Assistant and Acting Director of the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara. My areas of special interest may be summed up as religion, modernisation, social change, nationalism, culture and the religious minority known as the "Alevi", of whom I have made a special study. I have made only the briefest of comments below, but would be happy to expand upon any point that may emerge to be of interest.

  2.  We are invited to submit evidence concerning Turkey's relationship with Europe in particular as it pertains to military questions and her accession to the European Union. I am not a military specialist and therefore can make no claims with regard to the strategic implications of the bases or of Turkey's membership of NATO. However, it is worth noting that there is an unfortunate bifurcation in debates in the UK between those who regard Turkey as a military ally and those who believe Turkey to be a civil foe because of her human rights record. I believe that this division is extremely unhelpful. It hardly need be said that the human rights situation, albeit significant, can only be understood within the wider forces for stability and change in the region and in the country itself. It is likely to be the case, for example, that a closer relationship with the European Union would result in a marked diminution of complaints in this area. On the other hand, to attempt a "stand off" because of a perceived inability to improve in civil areas that Britain or Europe believe important is likely to result in precisely the opposite of what is being desired. Such a simple bifurcation also serves to conceal great complexity of Turkish society, as well as those other areas where there may be a possibility to have a most positive impact.

  3.  It is sometimes asked whether Turkish citizens wish to join the EU. I think that it is extremely important also to clarify this point at the outset. There is not the slightest doubt that the Turkish populace at large wish to become members of the European Union. This is indisputably partly because they believe that they will be materially better off for having done so. However, their attitude is also much more profound than this simple search for affluence. Modern Turkey was founded upon the presumption that she would, one day, be similar to other western countries. They were, as it were, the model upon which the Republic was founded. The governmental institutions, the national cultural organisations (such as music, theatre, libraries and so on), education system, language, law and banking system are all similar, or in some cases identical to those in the west. This means that there is a level of "fit" between the European Union and Turkey that is very easy to overlook. Turkey is a Muslim country, but it is one formed in Europe's image, and one that would welcome closer contact.

  4.  Religion is very rarely, if at all, discussed formally within the European Union. However recent events have hardly made it possible to avoid tackling these issues more explicitly than we have need to for several generations. Simply put, western nations face a problem of quite unprecedented proportions. There is throughout the Islamic world a very widespread rise in religious fundamentalism. Those countries (such as Egypt or Pakistan) who have attempted to pursue a secular orientation have come under immense pressure to a more "Islamic way of life, and one correspondingly more hostile to Britain. It is hardly pleasant to acknowledge this, but equally unhelpful to ignore that this feeling of cultural aggression exists.

  Turkey is the one Islamic country that has attempted to solve the seemingly intractable problem between possessing a European orientation and faith. From the religious point of view, it has done so by insisting that the believer maintain a separation between their personal convictions and the rules that are used to govern society as a whole. A very great number of Turkish people are convinced by this, far more than is usually acknowledged. Those who are against it, however, have tended to form political parties, that have been closed down by the authorities, rightly so according to the law of the constitution (and indeed also according to the European Court of Human Rights).

  The situation now, however, is tense. The necessary structures exist to maintain a thoroughly secular ongoing, developing Turkey. However, it is likely that Great Britain, as indeed Europe as a whole, will play a part in molding how effectively these structures operate. It hardly needs underlining that it is in Great Britain's interests to help maintain a large, moderate secular Islamic country within Europe, not just for the stability that this brings to the region, but also the example to the other countries that Turkey would then be.

  5.  It is sometimes asked whether Turkey shows sufficient flexibility to adopt the necessary administrative reforms to become part of the European Union. Of this, I think there is no doubt. Turkey has an excellent record of adopting legislation when it is necessary to do so, and has shown admirable willingness to be part of international "clubs": NATO, the Council of Europe, and so on. In addition, the adoption of the Customs Union appears to have gone extremely smoothly. Turkey's track record is that it adopts international membership comparatively easily. Certainly, there have been no adverse reactions so far to the developing ties that have taken place with the EU.

  6.  Turkey obviously has problems, economic and otherwise. Nevertheless, Human Rights flexibility, improvement of administrative capability, greater inward investment, economic and political stability all can be served through the creation of closer ties, ties that build upon an already successful relationship with Europe in many ways. The negative aspects of Turkey: economic collapse, religious fundamentalism, political instability, corruption, distrust of Europe's good intentions, isolationism will only be intensified by keeping Turkey at arms' length. Whilst there has hardly been space to outline this point in detail here, I would certainly suggest that there appears to be a congruence between closer integration of Turkey and Europe and the best interests of Great Britain and the European Community. We can, in effect, choose between a large dissatisfied, struggling neighbour whose most suspicious elements have been brought to the surface by the perceived arrogance of the "Christian Club" of Europe or a close ally who is happy to work in a great number of spheres to iron out those very problems, albeit considerable, that remain.

Dr David Shankland

January 2002

1   Senior Lecturer, Social Anthropology Department, University of Wales Lampeter. Back

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