Across the Bridge

In their relations with Turkey, Germany and the EU should …

… take a bird’s-eye view

By Şafak Pavey, Munich Young Leader 2016; Former Member, Grand National Assembly of Turkey; Member, CHP, Ankara

Being built on the ashes of a collapsed empire, it was vital for Turkey to join the heart of the modern world. EU membership was what we wanted to achieve in order to become a member of the community which continues to raise the ceiling of justice, human rights and freedoms. The idea of the European Union as a project of peace seemed much more precious than the promise of a free market and prosperity.

Today, we again need to earn peace and respect for each other’s rights and freedoms much more than money. But how did Turkey and the EU get from being neighbors with good intentions to becoming two entities looking at each other with constructed hatred? As the chain of mistakes on both sides is long, it shall suffice to mention a few. The Turkish government’s ongoing use of propaganda in order to spread the image of a morally corrupt EU has contributed to turning the EU into a hate figure for many AKP supporters. While the government is reaping all the benefits of an age of information and knowledge, it is paradoxically raising a generation that is more and more suspicious and inclined to conspiracy theories. As a result, both science and the West are perceived as enemies of the state.


Yet, admiration for the EU was also tainted among the segment of Turkish society that supports EU membership and worries about the future of their country. One of the reasons for this was that a Europe which recently could not even convince some of its member states to uphold democratic principles ironically criticized Turkey’s previous secular system. Although this system was stumbling at times, it was definitely more democratic than the current one. The EU never truly believed that Turkey could be a both modern and Islamic society, and therefore couldn’t comprehend the grand hopes that Muslims worldwide associated with Atatürk. The EU even failed to provide secular governments in Turkey with the same generous political and economic support as the AKP.

Yet, the EU can still avoid the biggest mistake vis-à-vis Turkey: to treat the AKP and Turkey as synonymous. To quote a friend: “It is not the people who are wrong, it is the system.” The EU should acknowledge the courage and struggle of citizens that oppose the AKP’s vision of the future. It should approach Turkey free of prejudices.

Despite global security threats, pandemic populism and religious hatred, Europe is still the safest continent on earth. There are Turkish people who want to contribute to this by using their country’s key position between Europe and Asia. The EU should keep its ears and arms open to them. Overcoming our differences would mean we succeed in passing on peace to the next generations, not hatred. 

A different view on the same question by Ozan Ceyhun