Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, just before the euronews launch of broadcasting in Turkish, spoke with us on a range of topics, from Turkey’s negotiations aimed at eventual full membership in the European Union to Cyprus, relations with Israel, and questions on the Kurdish minority and Armenia.
euronews, Ali Ihsan Aydin: “Accession negotiations with the EU are too slow. Whereas Brussels criticises Turkey for delaying reforms, you accuse some of the European leaders of obstructing Turkey. As we speak, eight chapters [out of a total of 35 policy areas] are blocked by the European Commission; five are blocked by France; some chapters are blocked by the Republic of Cyprus — leaving four chapters of negotiations which can be opened. So, what do you think about the membership talks’ future?”
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan: “Unfortunately, some of the EU member states are not acting honestly. This is where a problem arises. Why am I saying this? Because they are trying to corner Turkey with conditions that do not exist in the “acquis communautaire” [the total accumulated body of EU law]. This is really wrong. We have to bear in mind that we leaders are mortal but that nations are not. A leader’s negative approach towards another country would negatively affect people’s perception in that country about the country of that leader.
euronews Nial O’Reilly: Are you talking about Mr Sarkozy?
Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: Yes. One can not easily comprehend what Mr Sarkozy does. But no matter what they do, or what kind of obstacles they put in front of us, we will keep walking, patiently. There is, certainly, an end to this. That will be the moment at which ALL the EU members say ‘We are not accepting Turkey.’ We will not stop until they say this.
euronews, Ali Ishan Aydin: Do you think religious and cultural differences play a role in some EU leaders’ negative approach?
Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: The EU should not become a Christian club. The EU should not take part in a campaign of Islamophobia. Any country doing this must be warned. For instance, as the prime minister of Turkey, I am a leader who has wholeheartedly condemned anti-semitism and accepted it as a crime against humanity. But I am sensitive, too, when it comes to Islamophobia. Because I am a Muslim. And I can never tolerate anti-Islamism. As a Muslim, I defend my stance for as long as I must. No one CAN reconcile Islam with terror. And I, as a Muslim, and the Prime Minister of the Turkish Republic, can not say ‘yes’ to anyone who dares to do so.
euronews, Ali Ishan Aydin: What will happen if the talks on the reunification of Cyprus fail? What do you expect from Brussels, from the EU?
Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: Until now, the EU has not been honest on the Cyprus issue, either. Sixty-five percent of the voters in northern Cyprus said ‘yes’ to the United Nations’ Annan Plan. And what happened in the south? Seventy-five percent said ‘no’. Who is the honest party in this picture?: northern Cyprus. And the EU bears a great deal of responsibility for the current deadlock over Cyprus. They made a historical error in accepting southern Cyprus into the EU. Gerhard Schröder sharply criticised this policy of the EU saying ‘northern Cyprus was treated immorally’. Angela Merkel says ‘We made a mistake by accepting southern Cyprus’. This is what they said. But now we see that they are looking out for southern Cyprus! By the way, calling southern Cyprus ‘Cyprus’ is an other political mistake. Because in the north, there is another state, which is in conflict with the south. And we, as Turkey, recognised this state in the north. We are unwavering about this state. Others may speculate, but that is of no importance for us. The EU members will be remembered for having made this mistake. History will tell, in fact it already has.
euronews Nial O’Reilly: Do you expect to see Cyprus reunited in the near future?
Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: Southern Cyprus always avoids a direct approach. The EU must warn southern Cyprus. It must be seen that the peace process is a hostage.
euronews: Do you think it will take much longer to get this issue resolved?
Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: We are striving to resolve this issue this year. And we want it to be resolved under the umbrella of the UN. We can even do this including all five of the parties concerned; By this I mean northern and southern Cyprus, Turkey, Greece and the UK. We can solve this all together. A few days ago, Gordon Brown called me and asked what we thought of the idea of ‘doing this together’. There is no problem for us. We can come together and talk. What matters on this issue is being fair. If we set about doing this as the guarantor states, we have to know what the guarantees are. We hope for this issue to be resolved this year.
euronews, Ali Ishan Aydin: About the Kurdish issue: You have taken a historical step, preparing a plan for a project to move forward with the Kurdish issue. How do you see the process at this moment?
Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: This has been one of the most important items on the agenda in recent days. But calling it a Kurdish issue will undermine, weaken this project. This project is one of national unity and friendship. It is not concentrated only on the Kurds. It is a democratic initiative, and the Kurdish issue is just one of the ethnic problems. But, unfortunately, this was misunderstood by western society. Because if one considers this as a Kurdish issue exclusively then one is being disrespectful to other ethnic groups which make up Turkey and the Turkish Nation. This plan, this project, covers all of them. We are working on other ethnic groups as well.
euronews, Ali Ishan Aydin: How do you see the future of Turkey-Israel relations? After all that has happened, do you still think Turkey can mediate between Israel and Syria, and other Arab states?
Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: Israel should give some thought to what it would be like to lose a friend like Turkey in the future. The way they recently treated our ambassador has no place in international politics. We have done our best for Israel-Syria relations. But now we see Benjamin Netanyahu saying ‘I do not trust Erdoğan, but I trust Sarkozy’. Do you have to give a name? This is diplomatic inexperience, too. Because when you say this… How can I trust you if you say you don’t trust me? We have important ongoing agreements between us. How can these agreements be kept going in this climate of mistrust? I think Israel had better take another look at its relations with its neighbours if it believes it is a world power.
euronews Nial O’Reilly: In recent days the Israeli foreign ministry has accused you of being a cause of the rising tension between your two countries. In fact, it has accused you of anti-semitism. When you review how you handled this incident, do you feel YOU could have handled it more diplomatically?
Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: I am telling the truth…And I will keep telling the truth. Turkey has an age-old history as a state. When you talk to such a state you must be careful. When innocent civilians are ruthlessly killed, struck by phosphorus bombs, infrastructure is demolished in bombing and people are forced to live in an open-air prison… we can not see this as compatible with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, simply human rights, and we can not close our eyes to all this happening.
euronews Nial O’Reilly: Prime Minister, the constitutional court of Armenia’s interpretation of the Turkish-Armenian protocols aimed at normalising mutual ties antagonised Ankara. How will this affect Turkey’s policies?
Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: Well, we appear to have got off to an unhealthy start. What are we negotiating about? What are we going to do? Armenia should once again take this into consideration, because we fulfilled our protocol commitments. Both sides have road maps. The process will continue. We are fully prepared and sincere, and will proceed in the same way as we have so far.