Erdoğan speaks out
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, drawing from previous communication between Ankara and the UN, answered questions from the international press on a visit to New York.
One journalist asked, “You are promising to give rights to Cypriot Turks. Are you ready to give the same rights to Kurds?” Erdoğan responded, “The Kurds don’t have a question of whether or not they have rights. If the ethnic groups in the west of the country have rights, the Kurds will have the same one. The Parliament of the Turkish Republic has 50 members of Kurdish ancestry.”
Erdoğan then went on to speak about his family’s roots on the Black Sea coast, namely from the eastern town of Rize near the borders with Armenia and Georgia, as well as his wife’s family’s ties to Siirt, a provincial capital near the Iraqi border. “I’m a Turk. My wife is an Arab. We’ve been married for 29 years and we don’t have any problems. There aren’t such problems [of ethnic strife] in Turkey. If you are going to apply the same logic to Cyprus, all is over. End the ethnic, religious and regional nationalism. In Turkey, that’s how it works. Is this happening in Cyprus? If so, we’re finished.”
Another member of the press then asked, “On the trip than Annan made in November [to Turkey], he said that the peace [between ethnic and religious groups] is clashing with a nationalist ideology. Do you agree?”
Erdoğan, noted for his party’s purported Islamist leanings, responded, “Neither the Koran nor the Bible command such conflict. These are the consequences springing from political brushes [with religion].”
“On the Cyprus issue, is the EU acting fairly towards Turkey? What more can Turkey do to move towards a solution?” Erdoğan’s answer was, “The parliaments of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) have given an important test to this effect. As part of this test, 65% of the people of the TRNC said “yes” to the Annan Plan.” Pointing out that Turkey also supported the accord, he furthered, “Only the south part of Cyprus said ‘no.’ This is akin to saying ‘no’ to both Parliament and the EU. But in spite of this, [the Republic of Cyprus] was rewarded on May 1 . As for the Turkish portion, its punishment continues.”
The Cyprus issue and Erdoğan’s leadership skills as a whole have been under increased scrutiny of late, in light of demands from the EU that Turkey open its ports to the ethnic-Greek controlled southern half of the island of Cyprus. The current prime minister is also a likely candidate for president, the elections for which are at present scheduled for May 2007. Debates have been swirling in the local press about his fitness for the post and what would happen to the nature of secularity in the country, given his political party’s Islamist-leaning views, including a past bill to criminalize adultery and ban alcohol consumption in some municipalities.