"Turkey could become strategic mediator between East and West"
Commenting on the key events for his country in 2016 in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza, German political scientist Heiko Langner elaborated on complex relationship between Berlin and Ankara. Summing up results of the past year, Langner spoke about such sensitive topics as prospects for Turkey's accession to the EU, "Armenian issue", as well as about dark chapters of German history, which have not been studied enough yet.
- How would you describe current level of relations between Germany and Turkey?
- Turkey, along with Russia, is the second country with which Germany has developed special relations, which exist for more than a century. Imperial Germany and the Ottoman Empire, predecessor of modern Turkey, were allies in the First World War. As a junior partner in alliance with Germany, Ottoman Porte hoped to find protection in the fight against imperial interests of Britain, France and Russia, who wanted to split Ottoman Empire into protectorates, controlled by them, and they used internal national conflicts on Ottoman territory as tools to achieve this goal. It has primarily affected indigenous Christian peoples. In addition, the Ottoman Empire was also expecting Germany's help in economic modernization. To put it in modern terms, this cooperation would be described as "modernizational partnership." I got the impression that Turkish population still has positive associations about alliance with Germany that existed at that time and still views it as "brotherhood in arms" and "teacher-student" relationship. Modern Turkey was considered to be "eternal ally" of Germany for a long time after this, but political relations have deteriorated in recent years.
- What are the causes of this deterioration?
- Problems of democracy and internal political development in Turkey were viewed more and more critically in Germany starting from the 1980s, from internal armed conflict with a part of Kurdish population, as well as the ever-increasing number of Kurdish refugees. Part of German political elite, especially conservative parties like CDU/CSU, supported the negotiations on Turkey's accession to the EU only reluctantly since the very beginning, advised Turkey to be content with the status of "privileged partner", which Turkey has for a long time, since it's in the single customs space with the EU. Ankara rightly perceived this proposal as nothing important put in a nice wrapper. In recent years, the expansion of personal power of President Erdogan and continuing restructuring of the state system into presidential form of government became the main points of Germany's political criticism.
- How should EU and Germany react to events in Turkey and what consequences they may have for the negotiations on Turkey's accession to the EU?
- I'm critical of sanctions - both economic and sanctions against individuals. Of course, we must continue carry out direct negotiations with Turkish president. EU can't choose partners based on its own desires, especially since Erdogan is elected president of Turkey. However, the situation with EU's financial support to Turkey in the amount of about €630 million each year is different. Ankara receives these funds from Brussels in the framework of negotiations on accession to the European Union, and they must be used by Turkish to achieve EU standards - in the field of justice, for example. But due to serious deterioration of democracy situation in Turkey and strict actions taken by the country against democratically elected deputies, oppositional journalists, civil servants, teachers, scientific workers after the failed July coup, the termination of these privileges would be an appropriate and important symbolic signal. After all, Turkey is the first in the world by the number of imprisoned journalists.
If Turkey will restore death penalty, it would finally cross the "red line", which should lead to the termination of negotiations on accession to the EU. Politicians and population of Turkey must determine for themselves whether they want to make their country part of the EU or to redirect it. At the same, the desire to negotiate with the EU on equal terms is illusory. The essence of European integration process lies in the fact that candidates for membership must adapt to the EU, not vice versa. Turkey can insist on equal treatment with her, along with other candidates for accession. Personally, I have always supported Turkey's accession to the EU, since for me Europe is not an exclusive Christian countries club, and Turkey, considering its cultural and historical development, could become strategic mediator between East and West. But taking into account current processes within Turkey, it is difficult to find arguments in favor of continuing the negotiations on accession. I believe that a system of rewards and incentives would be much more effective here than "a system of fines." That is why I, for example, advocate the abolition of visa regime with Turkey, even though current Turkish government will present it as its own success. But long-term pros of visa-free regime would outweigh cons, since it would deepen social contacts and cultural exchange between people of Turkey and Europe. It will also help tourism industry, hotel business and so on.
- How did last year's Bundestag resolution on "Armenian genocide" affect the situation? Why German government distanced itself from it later?
- Even if German government waited too long to make a clear statement it didn't distance itself, it merely stated that this resolution is not legally binding, and that it is a part of evaluation of mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide. Official Berlin can't be blamed for anything in this matter, because even though Germany signed the UN Convention on Genocides in 1954, this Convention is not legally retroactive, so it does not apply to possible cases of genocide until 1954. Bundestag can adopt political resolutions on any topic at its own discretion. The fact that the majority of Turkey's population didn't agree with the text of this resolution is a different matter, it's a political issue. Calculated "temperamental" reaction of Turkey was as expected as hysterical articles in German mainstream media, which accused German government in almost falling to its knees in front of Erdogan, which, at least in this case, didn't happen. The absurdity of media comments starts with calling this resolution "Armenian resolution." After all, crimes that were mentioned in this resolution were commited not against the Armenian state, but against the Armenian population of Ottoman Empire, in other words, against specific group of people. And these events have not spread to the territory of modern Armenia, which was a part of Russian Empire at that time. To put it more precisely, it's a resolution on Turkey, not on Armenia.
- Does adoption of resolutions on Turkish history by parliaments of other countries make any sense? Isn't the study of historical processes a task of scientists and their legal assessment - of courts?
- This opinion mostly reflects Turkey's official position. There are two counterarguments. Firstly, after serious scientific researches over the last century, there are numerous evidences of those events, and Turkey could study them if it wanted. Secondly, Turkey should back up its interest in dialogue by starting to accept opinions that contradict its position. In this regard, Turkey made a significant progress in recent years. The fate of Ottoman Armenians could be discussed much more freely and more critically than ever before. Turkish director Fatih Akin's movie "Scar" was featured in Turkish cinemas, although it often caused harsh reaction from society. Europe and Germany should take this progress into consideration.
Overall, I believe that analysis of its own history is primary task of Turkish society, not political institutions of other countries that often have dark chapters in their own history, which are far from being completely studied. But in this case, Germany and Bundestag resolution are an exception. Due to military alliance between Germany and Ottoman Empire, it's not just Turkish problem, it's also a part of German history. But I will admit that for its own credibility, political resolution should have focused more on historical involvement and responsibility of Germany, as well as describe it more specifically. But government factions didn't have political courage. In addition, the assessment should be the same as in the case with historical crimes of German military in the former German colony in southwest Africa - today's Namibia. The order of General Lothar von Trotha on liquidation of the population still exists. The question of whether we are talking about genocide has quite obvious answer in this case - if there is a desire to learn it.
- Should Armenian side also make a critical analysis of its own history, or this demand applies only to Turkey?
- The ability to critically evaluate your own history is, ultimately, a characteristic of all democratic societies and a part of democratic development. The broader political and democratic frameworks in society, the more diverse and conflicting will the range of political opinions be. This applies to Armenia, Turkey, Russia and Germany. So of course it applies to Armenian side and the Republic of Armenia. This applies to self-critical analysis of history and Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, its own occupation policy in the regions that belong to Azerbaijan from the point of view of international law. Due to current state educational system of Armenia, younger generations of Armenians have distorted historical picture this system instills a collective identity of victim in them, as well as admiration of heroic liberation war. But such concepts can't exist at the same time. Anyone who is actively fighting and even wins wars in the end can't always be a victim. That's why peace activists in Armenia are often subjected to persecutions and threats, since they cast doubt on this fictitious self-image. Critical analysis of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by Armenia and Azerbaijan could give a chance for reconciliation and undoubtedly increase chances of its resolution.