From Empire to Republic: Turkish Nationalism and the Armenian Genocide

‘Welcome to regime change, European style.’ So wrote Madeleine Bunting in the Guardian (26 September) on the impending signing of the accession process for Turkey’s membership of the European Union. Bunting argues that the pressure for reform exercised by the lure of EU membership, has prompted what amounts to a peaceful ‘regime change’ in Turkey, the pivotal country for Christian-Muslim relations in Europe. In fact, what has taken place in Turkey in recent years is not so much regime change as regime evolution, with Turkey’s ruling politicians adopting increasingly more enlightened – or less reactionary – policies toward the rights of women, the Kurdish and Cyprus questions, abolition of the death penalty, elimination of torture by the security forces, and human rights generally. All the more remarkable that the greatest progress has been made under the government of the avowedly Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP.) Taner Akçam argues in his seminal study of Turkish nationalism – which focuses on the Armenian question but also ventures further afield – that the AKP’s ‘progression into power aims to merge Islam with a Western political structure. Such a successful merger would mark the first time that the divergent paths of Islam and modernity (and Western-style parliamentary democracy), which split in the nineteenth century, had been reconciled.’ (p. 3.) This is clearly a crucially important development for world politics, but it is also highly tenuous, and is being endangered by the resistance to Turkish membership of the EU on the part of reactionary elements in Western Europe.

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