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Personal Views of Turkey

DW staff (jam)
December 14, 2004

What do you think of, when you think about Turkey? DW-WORLD asked several Germans with links to the country to offer their own views of the country.

Bridging East and West?Image: dpa

In Germany, Turkey's possible membership in the European Union is a topic of sometimes heated discussion, especially ahead of the landmark decision to be made this week by EU foreign ministers on whether or not to open accession talks with Turkey.

The images many Germans have of Turkey are often those supplied by the media, which sometimes fail to give a nuanced view of this largely Muslim country on the Bosporus. Public discussion on the subject in Germany is often marked by clichés and fears.

DW-WORLD therefore asked several Germans with special links to Turkey to paint for their own pictures of the country. What kind of experiences and associations come to mind when they think of Turkey? A few of them are presented below.

New Freedoms

Cem Özdemir, European Parliamentarian for the Green Party

Ciwan Haco
Ciwan Haco

"I don't know which of the two of us was moved more, my friend Ciwan Haco or me? When I told Ciwan, a Syrian-Kurdish rock musician, that some of his songs were being played at the opening of a school in southeast Turkey, he was already getting ready to go on tour in Turkey.

Once, the two of us had a conversation in Berlin in which we wondered when his fans in Turkey would be legally allowed to listen to his music. That was one year ago. Since then, Turkey has embarked on one of the most comprehensive democratization projects in the republic's history.

Even Leyla Zana (Kurdish politician and human rights activist. -- eds.) and several of her fellow parliamentarians are free after having ten years of their lives stolen from them in a Turkish prison. Finally, Kurdish courses are being offered in Turkey and media outlets are again publishing and broadcasting legally in the language, something that just a short while ago was not possible.

oezdemir journal interview 10.12.2004
Cem ÖzdemirImage: dw-tv

I often ask myself how Turkish history would be different if the military coup of 1971 had not taken place. What would have happened to Turkey if in 1980 Kenan Evren and his generals hadn't thrown the nation's brightest minds in prison, or sowed the seeds for future terrorism in the torture chambers of Diyarbakir?

Maybe it’s history's revenge that the Evrens and Karakullukcus, the Cölasans and the Inces (nationalistic journalists) have to sit back and watch while Ciwan Haco performs in front of 100,000 enthusiastic fans. Thanks to the EU, backwards-looking forces in Turkey can no longer prevent my Turkish-Armenian friend Hrant Dink from getting a passport. Thanks to the recent progress, the great novelist Orhan Pamuk can write his bestsellers without first having to consult a lawyer.

The door to democracy is open and no military officer, no agitator with pen in hand and no bureaucrat will be able to shut it again."

Between Honor, Family and Modernity

Frank Spengler, Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Ankara

"How can you live in Turkey, an Islamic country?" was the spontaneous reaction of a friend of mine when I told her I was being transferred to Turkey. Others, however, were full of congratulations, since for them Turkey is a kind of European "Sun City" -- all blue sea and sunny skies.

Türkische Fahnen: Beitritt Türkei und EU
Image: AP

It's difficult to talk about the Turkey. How does one go about describing a country which presents itself in so many varied and often contradictory ways?

For those of us in Germany, the image of this country on the Bosporus is characterized by our first experiences with immigrants from Turkey who came to Germany, mostly for work. Although members of this group set up house in Berlin or Cologne, they often lived out their culture just as they did before they left their rural villages in Anatolia.

Even today, matters like tradition, faith and a particular understanding of honor and the family define the lives of many people there. But there is also another Turkey -- one in which modernity and western cultural values are firmly anchored.

Turkey is an endearing and even intimate country, where hospitality is held in high esteem and lived out daily. Just recently, my friend who had reacted so strongly about my moving to Turkey called me again. This time I had an answer to her question.

How could I live in Turkey? Just fine."

The Old Orient, newly Awake

Herbert Hoffmann-Loss, former consul-general in Istanbul

Beside every European image of Turkey there is another -- an Anatolian one. That fact reminds me, a former resident of Istanbul myself, of a picture I took of the beautiful, old city of Hasan Keyf , which lies in the far eastern part of the country.

Anatolisches Hasan Keyf am Tigris
Hasan KeyfImage: DW

This picturesque place, with both Anatolian and Arabic roots, developed at an important crossing point of the Tigris, not far from the border to Syria and Iraq. With its proud ruins of the Byzantine fortress of Cepha and the fantastic remains of the medieval Muslim city, Hasan Keyf seems to belong squarely in Mesopotamia.

Europe seems so far removed from this place! But, in fact, even the old Ottoman sultans turned their gazes westward, toward Vienna and the Balkans. To them, Europe was a magnet that exerted a powerful pull. It wasn't until Kemal Atatürk and the 20th century that Turkey let itself be actually drawn to the west. But even then, quiet places like Hasan Keyf remained stuck in a kind of old Orient slumber.

But the silence here is misleading. The innumerable caves in the ruins and on the bluff over the Tigris are alive, mostly due to the droves of ragged children, agile and alert with their black, wide-awake eyes. They're looking at Europe as well. They hear about their cousins and friends who are already there. In that way, Hasan Keyf isn't so far away from us at all. It's just that we're only now beginning to notice.

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