Leadership Council for Human Rights

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Woodrow Wilson Center Event Report: Turkey’s Turbulent Road to the EU
March 13, 2006

Washington, DC – The Wilson Center welcomed four panelists Monday to discuss Turkey’s quest for EU member status. Panelists included: Zehra Arat, Professor of Political Science and Women’s Studies, Purchase College, State University of New York; recent IREX fellowship recipient focusing on human rights in Turkey; Lenore Martin, Professor and Chair of Political Science at Emmanuel College, and Research Associate at Harvard University; coeditor and coauthor of The Future of Turkish Foreign Policy; John Sitilides, Chairman, Board of Advisors, Southeast Europe Project, Woodrow Wilson Center; Mario Zucconi, Visiting Professor of Public and International Affairs, Wilson School, Princeton University; Professor of International Relations, University of Urbino, Italy; Scholar at the Ethnobarometer in Rome, Italy.

Professor Arat spoke first, addressing human rights issues in Turkey. She said that while the country has improved a great deal in the last few years, it still has a long way to go. Historically, Turkish men have been in charge of the household, but today men view their wives as partners, which is a huge improvement for the country, Professor Arat said. She added, however, that Turkey must improve by allowing greater freedom of both speech and press; in the 1990s Turkey was on the list countries holding the most journalists in prison. In addition, Turkey’s Kurdish population still suffers a lot as an ethnic minority in the country, she said. Arat ended by positing the idea that Turkey may not be improving its human rights record for the right reasons. The number one motive may be the prospect of EU membership, she said.

“Does the EU want a country from the Middle East as a member of the European Union?” Professor Martin asked as she addressed the panel. She said that while Turkey has always seen itself as a European country, it has played an active role in the Middle East, trading with Iraq and negotiating with Iran on nuclear energy. Security is an aspect that Professor Martin pointed out as a major threat for the country not to be accepted as a member into the EU. It is going to be hard for Turkey to get EU member status since the country is still dealing with many problems, she said.

Both Professor Mario Zucconi and John Sitilides talked about Turkey’s relations to its neighbors, particularly Greece. The longstanding rivalry between Turkey and Greece has improved within recent years but still is not settled. Greece wants Turkey to open the ports of Cyprus, John Sitilides said.

In conclusion, Turkey is on the right track for joining European Union, but it still has to improve not only on national but also international issues.


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