JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to welcome our members and guests.
Today our speaker is Ambassador Ann Dismorr, who will be discussing Turkey, a country that is closely watched, as it is not only a geographical bridge between east and west but a cultural bridge as well.
Ambassador Dismorr served as Sweden's Ambassador to Turkey from 2001 to 2005. Currently she is head of the International Department at the Swedish Parliament.
I have asked my friend, Ambassador Ulf Hjertonsson, Consul General of Sweden, who suggested that we host Ambassador Dismorr, to introduce his colleague this morning. On March 1, Ulf will have been posted in New York for three years.
As a man of science, literature, and skill, he has brought to this posting a rare combination of ingenuity, an appreciation of all that New York has to offer, along with an interest and commitment to international affairs. He is also extremely eloquent, which will soon be apparent.
As I turn the floor over to Ulf, I would just like to thank you all for joining us this morning.
ULF HJERTONSSON: Madame Director, dear Joanne, if I may start on a personal note, I arrived here three years ago and I didn't know very much about the importance of community organizers then.
But it very soon dawned on me, since I started very early on in my stay here in New York to go to this breakfast, to understand the importance of a good breakfast conversation organizer.
I think Joanne is running fabulous breakfast meetings here with an extremely good audience. I must say it is a sure thing to energize one's day to go and have breakfast here and to listen to the speakers carefully selected by Joanne. It is like you get a stimulus package which starts working instantly.
It is a very great pleasure to introduce to you Ambassador Ann Dismorr. She is a Swedish career diplomat. She spent almost three decades in the Swedish Foreign Service.
Joanne talked about her different postings. She very much focused her diplomatic work on the Middle East and Turkey. She started out, as a matter of fact, in Saudi Arabia.
What is very typical about Ambassador Dismorr is that when she comes to a post, be it Lebanon or Turkey, especially Turkey, which is such an enormously complex country, she engages in tremendous networking in the political world, the economic world, the important NGOs, et cetera, to get a real feeling, to establish a feeling on her own of what makes the country tick the way it does. She did that very much in Turkey.
When she has all the facts at hand, she writes these fantastic records to her Ministry, which are among the ones which were always read. She never, even if she loves her countries, suffers from "localitis." She is always a very cool observer of what's happening in her country and she is a true professional.
She was also the Foreign Minister's special representative to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the middle of the 1990s. The name of our then-Foreign Minister was Sten Andersson, and his claim to fame in the foreign policy area was that he in fact was the one who mediated, brought about the first meeting between the United States and PLO, with the blessing of both Arafat and the Israelis and George Shultz.
We'll never know if the Israelis knew about that action before it happened. Perhaps they did. Perhaps not.
And then I found out something, because if you are to mediate, that's a very different position from just representing the interests of your own country. I think that you have to understand the thinking of both sides.
When it comes to the Israelis and the Palestinians, it is not enough just to understand their thinking; you have to realize that on both sides there is an existential anguish, angst, and that you have to have that in the back of your mind when you are meeting there. I noticed that Ann managed very well, so she was very respected by both sides for that.
With that little introduction, I would like to hand over Ann to this wonderful audience.
ANN DISMORR: Good morning and thank you very much for those kind introductory words, and thank you to Joanne for inviting me. It's a great pleasure and honor to be here.
Last night I was giving a lecture at Yale University on Turkey and my book, Turkey Decoded. One of the students with roots in Turkey said, "So how can you name a book Turkey Decoded? How can you possibly decode such a complex country?
Of course I agree with her. It is a very, very daunting task. But at the same time what Turkey has been going through since 2001—that was the time when I moved to Ankara—is an historic transformation.
And Turkey also, I believe, is very misunderstood; there are many preconceived ideas and a lack of knowledge. At the same time, there is tremendous curiosity about what Turkey is all about. So, for the first time during my 30-year career, I decided to take a year off and write a book, which focuses on the EU process and Turkey.
I would like to take as the starting point the recent and very often paradoxical development that Turkey has been going through in the last few years.
I would like to start out in 1999 in Helsinki, when Turkey, after almost 40 years in the waiting room of the European Union, was granted candidate status. But, strangely enough, it took a last-minute flight to Ankara by the then-newly appointed Dr. Javier Solana and the EU Commissioner Verhagen to convince Prime Minister Ecevit that this was a good deal. Of course, it was Cyprus that was the sticking point.
Strangely enough, after being granted the candidate status, there was almost two years of lost time. Very few, if any, reforms took place in Turkey during that time.
I spent five years working on human rights in Geneva, and then I was ambassador in Beirut. When I moved to Ankara in the autumn of 2001, I, together with all my EU colleagues, didn't anticipate any major steps or reforms taking place in Turkey. Turkey was then suffering from a tremendously deep economic crisis. There was this weak coalition government under Prime Minister Ecevit.
But, fortunately, we were wrong. Suddenly, there was this very, very important reform, with the abolishment of the death penalty. It was a great surprise, because one of the governing parties was the ultra-right MHP, which only the year before had been keeping the death penalty as a top priority in the election.
This, of course, was very much connected to the PKK leader Ocalan being imprisoned. So this was a top priority for the MHP. Despite that, this weak coalition government managed to move ahead on such an important issue as the abolishment of the death penalty. That very much became the starting point of a very impressive and rapid wave of reforms.
But, paradoxically again, it took a pro-Islamic conservative government to really reach these very immense reforms that were sweeping the country during 2002, 2003, and 2004. As you know, it's the Justice and Development Party, which was only one year old at the time when it came to power.
Again, it's interesting, they received this landslide 37 percent of the votes, but they got two-thirds of the seats in parliament. The explanation there is that there is a ten percent threshold to get into parliament, which is the highest in Europe.
It's important to keep in mind this is not a demand or condition from the European Union to have this threshold lowered; it is up to Turkey to decide. So then they had this party taking two-thirds of the seats.
When I was in Ankara, there were about 100 foreign ambassadors. All in all, there were three female ambassadors, and I was the only one from the EU member states.
When I was having the first meeting with a party leader, the winner of this election, Mr. Erdogan, there was a lot of speculation in EU circles. What will happen? Will Mr. Erdogan shake my hand? Will he feel uncomfortable? Will he stop for prayers when it's the prayer time in the late afternoon?
There were also rumors that if you entered the wrong floor in the party headquarters, there will just be women completely covered in head scarves.
Well, all that speculation proved to be wrong. It was business as usual.
But to understand that, I think you need to realize that Mr. Erdogan, as well as also the strongman within the party, Abdullah Gül, they view themselves very much as victims of human rights abuse.
As you recall, Mr. Erdogan was in prison for four months in the late 1990s as a convicted Islamist. This punishment, or this time in prison, certainly has left its marks on Mr. Erdogan. I think you need to understand that. I think that was also one of the driving forces for why the party was really pushing ahead on human rights reforms.
One difference: During the Ecevit government, when there was a major reform, like the abolishment of the death penalty, the immediate question to us within the EU circle was: What will the EU do for us now when we've done this?
That changed with the AK Parti government, because then, instead, it was, "We do this for the Turkish citizens. If the European Union approves and thinks it's good, that's very good. But the primary reason is for the Turkish population," which of course makes the EU process so much easier.
One question that kept coming up in 2002 and still comes up today is: Is there a hidden Islamic agenda of the Turkish government? I believe there isn't, but there is a very open, value-based, conservative agenda of the AK Parti.
But, of course, there have been two issues that really fueled the fear, both abroad and in Turkey, among the secular circles. One issue was about the plans at one stage to criminalize adultery, and more recently to try to take away the ban on head scarves at universities.
This proposal some years back to criminalize adultery was, of course, a "red rag" to the European Union because that's exactly the kind of signals we didn't want to see from Turkey.
Informally I had an alliance with a Spanish colleague, and it was quite a good combination, I thought: Sweden in the north, a very secular society, and then Spain in the south. We were really pushing the AK Parti leadership and Mr. Erdogan hard to drop the whole subject. It is, of course, very difficult to comprehend how one could even think in those terms in today's world.
As I explain in the book, Mr. Erdogan, at a religious dinner I was attending, was explaining what he had in mind when he thought it was a good idea. But, luckily, that was taken off the table.
With the head scarf issue—I will just touch upon that quickly—it was fascinating to hear from so many top politicians that they assumed that once the membership talks started and the EU process was intensifying, this would now be a problem for the European Union to solve, which of course is not the case.
It is up to each individual country to decide whether they allow head scarves or not at universities or other institutions. But this kept coming back, "Well, now it's for the European Union to help us." The answer is, "No, it's for Turkey to solve that."
During the years 2003 through 2005, there was a golden era of reforms. Never has the soft power of the European Union been stronger.
At the same time, as we all recall, there was this rift in U.S.-Turkish relations and the sensational decision by the Turkish Parliament not to allow U.S. troops to pass through Turkey and the Northern Front when the war in Iraq was about to start.
One last bit here, which is important to remember, is that Mr. Erdogan had a political ban. The AK Parti government was in power, but he was still pushed aside for four months before he could take office as the prime minister, which meant that the leadership was not as disciplined as it would become much later. It was under these circumstances that this historic vote in the Turkish Parliament took place, when it said "no" to U.S. troops.
I personally believe that if one would have just waited maybe another month, when Erdogan was the confirmed leader and the prime minister of the party, there probably would have been a different turnout, especially as there was only a difference of one vote.
The rift between the United States and Turkey began mainly between the militaries, between the Pentagon and the armed forces in Turkey. Much later, it spilled over and created problems with the political administrations, especially on the issue of how to deal with PKK.
I've been going back to Turkey about three or four times a year since I left. What is striking is the polarization in Turkey today between the staunchly secular circles and the pro-AK Parti supporters.
After another landslide election in 2007, when the AK Parti gained almost every other vote of the Turkish voters, there was this culmination, I think, of the power struggle between the staunchly secular forces and the AK Parti. The culmination was regarding who will be the next president.
When Abdullah Gül in the end, after much resistance, including vocal resistance from the Turkish military, became the president, that was the first time in 83 years that the secular hold of the presidency went away from the secular circles. There was a major power shift, because now the AK Parti is dominating the three core political institutions—the presidency, the prime minister's office, and the parliament—and what we see now is the very beginning of a post-Kemalist era, I believe.
So where is Turkey heading? Well, it's very easy today to be pessimistic because the reforms have slowed down due to this unfortunate combination of political instability in Turkey and growing skepticism within some key EU countries toward future EU membership for Turkey.
Also, we have to remember that the European political landscape has changed dramatically in the last few years. Vocal supporters of Turkey's EU membership, like Chirac, like Schroeder, like Tony Blair, they are all gone and their successors are different, and they are certainly not on the barricades for Turkey's EU membership. So that has also made a big change.
But where is Turkey heading? Well, I think it is very important to take a more long-term view. There is a power vacuum between different circles in Turkey, but at the same time there was the attempt by the Turkish Constitutional Court to close down the AK Parti, which was of course unheard of in an EU candidate country, to have a government party close down. That was avoided by a tiny, tiny margin.
But we must remember that there was a conviction of anti-secular activities by the Constitutional Court toward the government, which means that there is limited maneuvering space for the AK Parti. But it also brought about a modus vivendi with the military and other secular forces in Turkish society.
Whether it's the secular circles, which are now very, very concerned about the development, or if you're a pro-Islamic government, the best safety net of course would be EU membership. I think one reason why the AK Parti wasn't closed down was because of the EU process. Otherwise it would have been the tradition, which has happened very often in Turkey, of political parties being closed down. So in that sense, it's in the enlightened self-interest both of the government and, one would think, of the secular circles to really try to move ahead.
But the number of opposing forces to reforms is growing, especially in the main opposition party, the CHP. But the opposition is not so much based on principles, not principally against the reforms, but more on protecting privilege.
There is a new, very interesting foreign policy of Turkey. You see it in the Middle East, regarding Syria, and you see it also in the southern Caucasus. This aspect is interpreted as somehow Turkey is now moving away from Europe. I would see it more as a way of this new assertiveness to create a formal and more credible Turkey as a strategic partner.
So it enhances Turkey's position vis-à-vis the European Union, as well as normalizing the relations. Before it was very tense, as you know, especially their relationship with Syria. Having Syria as their next-door neighbor, it is very, very difficult to move on, and it is always necessary to tread very carefully.
This normalization, I think, is a very important development, although it created a lot of unhappiness in Washington at the time. There were state visits from Damascus. So I see this more as Turkey's way of asserting itself.
They had a landslide victory and now have a seat on the Security Council, all the way over enhancing their profile, including their foreign policy.
So what Ataturk started 85 years ago—this path toward Western Europe, modernization, and aiming for a Western model—I think Turkey will stay the course.
Another aspect of this, of course, is the economic aspect. The European Union is the most important trading partner of Turkey and will remain so in the future, although, of course, now Russia is very much in the headlines as a strong economic partner to Turkey. But, then again, I don't think one should lose sight that it is Western Europe and full EU membership that is the main goal in the end, although it is going to take time.
Of course, it is also up to the European Union. What will the European Union decide in the end? Here we have Turkey which has really come a long, long way, proving that Islam, secularism, and democracy are compatible. So in the end I believe that it will be the historic and strategic choice of the European Union to deal with Turkey, which is the most liberal and the best developed democracy in the Muslim world, a world with 1.2 billion people.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: We have benefited greatly from your very careful observations and we are grateful for it. Two questions come to mind.
First of all, as Turkey becomes more Islamic, how does this affect its relations with other Islamic countries—you served in Saudi Arabia, for example—or relations in the Middle East with Israel?
The second is that just this week the official policy toward the Kurds changed, and the PKK is no longer their greatest enemy. How is this playing out internally, and how does this affect Turkey's relationship with the other countries that have major Kurdish populations, such as Iraq?
ANN DISMORR: Thank you.
Regarding Turkey's standing in the Islamic world, I think it is also very obvious that they are increasing their profile in the Islamic world.
I think one example illustrating that was that Turkey managed to get a Turkish professor as secretary general of Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the 57-nation organization, the OIC. Turkey tried before. But in the Arab world, it has mainly been very much regarded as too secular, and also the Ottoman past has been hanging over Turkey. So I think its carefully crafted foreign policy in the Muslim world paid off in that election of the secretary general.
Another aspect which is very promising is the way that the Turkish government is really trying to push for human rights in that organization. I remember there was an important policy speech a few years back in Iran, where Abdullah Gül was pushing for women's rights. So I think in that sense Turkey can really play an important role, working within the system, so to speak, and being a role model. I think they will pursue that path.
I think this new profile is helping them, the way they are balancing very carefully. But I don't think it will be at the expense of deteriorating relations with Israel. I know everyone is talking about the Davos debacle and what happened there between Shimon Peres and Erdogan. But I think again one has to look at the long term. There are very solid relations between Israel and Turkey, including on the military side, which takes much more than an emotional upheaval at a meeting in Davos to destroy.
Turkey was the first Muslim country that recognized Israel after independence. And also, this special close relationship with Israel, of course, makes Turkey unique in the region. It must be in their interest to try to keep that.
In addition, we shouldn't forget that every spring, when there are attempts in the U.S. Congress regarding the Armenian issue, it is very often the Jewish-American lobby that has been on Turkey's side, preventing a resolution from being adopted recognizing genocide.
So there is a give and take. I think Turkey needs a very good relationship with Israel.
The Kurdish issue is truly amazing. When I came in 2001, in my first meeting with the AK Parti leadership just two days after the election—my government has been strong on cultural rights for Kurds—I felt obliged to bring it up. But even to mention the word "Kurds" was extremely taboo. I never heard such silence as when I brought the Kurdish issue up with Mr. Erdogan. The reply was, "There are no Kurds; we are all Turks." And this was in 2002.
Today, in the recent parliamentary election in 2007, 90 percent of the southeast—which is dominated by Kurds, 98 percent of the people there are Kurds—90 percent of those voted for that party because they believe that their rights, not to become an independent Kurdistan, but their rights when it comes to their language, et cetera, the best is to vote for or to support the current government. And also, there are many Kurds in the government among the cabinet seats. So it's a huge undertaking, a huge shift here, when it comes to the Kurdish policy.
As of only a few weeks ago, the state television now allows the Kurdish language. Again, a major breakthrough. Before, as a taxi driver in the southeast, if you were singing or had a disk or a cassette with Kurdish music, you were arrested. So what's happening is truly historic too, I think.
QUESTION: They keep moving the goal post for Turkey to get into the European Union. What is the real reason Europe doesn't want to let them in?
ANN DISMORR: I think it's a combination of being until recently poor and populous and Muslim.
The question that I kept getting all the time is, "Is the European Union a Christian club?" There is a really strong belief that that's one of the reasons that the stake is increased all the time.
The economic development has been extremely impressive in the last five to six years. That, I think, is the result of the IMF and the EU process. So there's a much more solid economic structure. Of course, Turkey is now starting to get hit by the economic crisis—it's not financial—today too. But the structure is much more solid than it was in 2001, when it was really at rock bottom. So I think that will help. If the economic development keeps on picking up, that will certainly help Turkey.
As for the Muslim aspect, of course, it's naïve to think that if you keep Turkey out that will be like a firewall to the Muslim world. Today there are about 20 million Muslims within the European Union. Islam is already part of the European Union. So that argument doesn't really hold either.
And something else that I think will be in Turkey's favor is the demographics. I come from Sweden. We just increased our retirement age to 67. Germany is doing the same. Denmark is doing the same. Demographically we are in deep trouble in Western Europe, while in Turkey 60 percent are under the age of 30. And being a very big market, of course, this economic aspect keeps coming back.
But the problem is, of course, that two EU countries will have a referendum in the end before Turkey will be allowed in, so to speak, and that's France and Austria. That will be a hurdle.
But I believe that in the years to come, whether it's eight, ten, or 15 years, Turkey will end up being a full member.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Ambassador, for your talk. I have two brief questions. You touched on them briefly in your responses.
The first has to do with today's newspaper, the crisis in the weak currency, Eastern European countries next to the eurozone. Of course, Turkey is suffering in the same way. Historically, when economic crises occurred, there has been some tendency for the army and the government to get more militaristic vis-à-vis their neighbors during times of economic crisis, perhaps to deflect from internal difficulties. Do you see a temporary derailing because of a temporary militarization tendency, let's say, because of the current economic crisis?
My second question has to do with U.S.-Turkey relations. There seem to be two filters at work from the U.S. standpoint, with both of them serving U.S. strategy and U.S. goals. The first is the Europeanization tendency, the moderation, looking at Turkey as a modernizing, westernizing country.
The other is a completely opposite filter, which is to emphasize the Islamic aspect of the country vis-à-vis looking at Turkey as a conglomerator, so to speak, of the Central Asian republics. That tendency was helpful to U.S. strategy because it permitted it to use the former Soviet air bases in those countries during the Afghanistan war. But that strategy appears to be unraveling now.
I'm wondering what that means, whether that's more of an indication of the Islamic aspect of that strategy not working.
ANN DISMORR: Starting with the question about the Turkish military, they did intervene, of course, in spring 2007 when it came to the presidential election through an email that was put out, which was spreading around Turkey and the world, stating that they were very concerned about the development.
They didn't say explicitly that they had something against Abdullah Gül, but it was very, very clear that they strongly opposed the appointment of one of the strongmen within the AK Parti as the next head of the republic. That whole attempt backfired.
I think that was one of the reasons why the AK Parti won 47 percent in the election that followed. I think, in a sense, it was an election on the future of Turkish democracy—you know, what way do they want to go—and they didn't want this interference. I should say the majority of the voters didn't want this interference from the military.
I think the days are over when, so to speak, the military would leave the barracks to go out and defend secularists. They are a very, very respected institution, that's very important to keep in mind. It may seem a little bit strange to a Western European to read year after year what is the most trusted institution in Turkey is usually the military. But you need to keep that in mind. But again, it was a watershed.
Erdogan, when he took the fight with the military in spring 2007 regarding the next Turkish president, he was the first political leader in Turkey who had challenged the military and come out a winner. I think that says a little bit about the strength of the democracy in that aspect, while also remembering the positive aspects of the military.
When it comes to the strategic position of Turkey, I noted with some interest Hillary Clinton's remarks when she was in Indonesia and the importance of Indonesia as the biggest Muslim country in the world, et cetera. I agree. I think the sentiments of Turkey being a role model when it comes to the Muslim world, and being the bridge builder, seems to be toned down a bit in Washington.
Of course, the U.S. support behind the Turkish EU membership is very strong, sometimes too strong. You know, there were some upset feelings when the United States was lobbying a little bit too vividly on behalf of Turkey in 2004.
Yes, the Islamic connection there and deserves more attention. Strategically, especially, we saw the Georgian war this summer and the way that Turkey immediately went out and launched an initiative on the Caucasus. It takes a very active role, very progressive and very assertive. So I wouldn't be surprised if in years to come it might shift and get more well-deserved attention also from this side of the Atlantic.
QUESTION: How much of the vote against allowing the United States to open the Northern Front to attack Iraq was a result of our faux pas in already having a military officer of the United States in the country organizing logistics and inspecting ports?
Having been a staff officer who served in some foreign countries, I know the locals tend to be understandably sensitive to this kind of thing. We have officers who have a real talent for offending the locals.
ANN DISMORR: I think one aspect, which struck me when I was there and we were discussing this result in Parliament, was that many leading Turks and many key members of Parliament and in the government were very disappointed, to put it mildly, disappointed that there weren't any real high-level visits from Washington trying to convince Turkey. They felt taken for granted.
I think that was a mistake. Some personal diplomacy from the secretary of state, and maybe even higher, I think could have paved the way for a yes vote, especially when it was such a small margin.
There was enormous pressure in Parliament. Members of Parliament were inundated with faxes and telephone calls from their constituents that "We must vote no," "We don't want to say yes to U.S. troops." But I think the politicians would have stood against that if there would have been more courting from the U.S. side.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Ambassador, for a very interesting statement.
I told you I was a member of Congress for many years. In Congress when it came to Turkey the hottest potato was Cyprus. Turkish armed forces continue to occupy Cyprus. I was struck that you did not mention the word once.
But I can assure you that, at least in Congress, this is still a hot-potato issue if you want to talk about Turkey. I'd like to see Turkey in the European Union, but I don't see how Turkey can win admission so long as it militarily occupies the Democratic Republic of Cyprus.
ANN DISMORR: I was mentioning Cyprus and the Armenian issue as the difficult issues marring the U.S.-Turkish relations.
But what happened in 2004 is really significant. The Turkish government was really lobbying for a yes vote when it came to the referendum on Cyprus, lobbying for accepting the Kofi Annan plan vis-à-vis northern Cyprus, and generally standing behind it. There was a huge political risk that the government took when they were supporting acceptance of the Kofi Annan plan.
We all know the result. It wasn't even close to a yes vote on the Cyprus side, while northern Cyprus was fully behind it. This, of course, has left a lot of resentment and unhappiness.
But I think now that there is another source of momentum, with two leaders on Cyprus that know each other going back 30 years or more. They are both politically on the left, and they are gradually trying to re-establish confidence and having these talks.
It is, of course, absolutely necessary. Turkey's EU membership talks will come to a halt fairly soon if they stop progress when it comes to the Cyprus issue. There is an Ankara Protocol that Turkey is not living up to. So we are reaching the point, maybe even late this year, when we need to see progress when it comes to Cyprus.
But also, I think the key is trying to keep Ankara and Athens out. I think it is so important to have the focus on Cyprus and the United Nations track, because the European Union, with Cyprus already a member, will always be a little bit difficult. It has to be a continued United Nations process.
So let's hope that the two leaders will make progress and move ahead, because otherwise there will be a few more lost years ahead of us, I think.
QUESTION: As you can see behind you, the Carnegie Council's mantra is "the voice for ethics in international policy." As a career diplomat, what do you think should be the metrics for guiding diplomacy in defining those ethics on particularly egregious issues, such as for example the Kurdish issue or the Armenian issue in the case of Turkey?
ANN DISMORR: I'm Swedish and I'm very influenced of course by my upbringing and the way that human rights is a top priority.
I think it is a question of openness. You can't avoid the issue, whether Armenian or Kurdish, and pretend it will go away. I think you need to speak your mind.
Just to give you an example, when I met Mr. Erdogan the first time a few days after the election, I said to him, "My Foreign Minister Anna Lindh has been trying for a few years now to go to the southeast of Turkey, the Diyarbakir area, because we don't believe that having one-third of Turkey closed to foreign officials is the right way to go."
Everyone in the room—Turkish diplomats, my EU colleagues, et cetera—were really advising me to not even bring it up; it's too soon, it's too sensitive. I think if one genuinely wants progress when it comes to reforms, you need to take risks, you need to push ahead. My Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was willing to take that risk.
Erdogan said, "Yes, of course, why not? Why isn't she going there? She can, but on one condition: she must come back in one year's time so she can see the difference."
Unfortunately, she was murdered so she never had the chance. But I think if she could have seen the difference today, I think it would be truly amazing.
She was for many years, in early 2000 to 2001, described as Turkey's number one enemy because she was pushing so much for human rights. And then, when she was murdered, I couldn't believe the positive headlines, saying this is really a true friend of Turkey, she was really trying to help, in a very honest way. Yes, tough on human rights, because the reason for that was that we want to see Turkey succeed.
So I think honesty and frankness.
QUESTION: You mentioned about the modus vivendi between the army and the political elite. Is this a very temporal phenomenon? Going back, whenever the military has been in power, has tasted power, it is very difficult for the military to retreat and give the reins to the political elite, or any other power structure, which emerges in that situation.
This perhaps may not be an overall retreat but a tactical retreat. What is your comment on this?
ANN DISMORR: I think the military is changing too. It is not just a status quo institution. It is changing. But it is also accepting the way that Turkey has developed.
Another aspect which I think is also of great importance is that over the years when there have been military interventions or coups, whether in the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s, there was very, very muted opposition from Washington and the Pentagon, during these interventions and coups.
I think that is different today. I think the military would really be viewed as a spoiler of the democratic process if they stepped in explicitly. They tried implicitly in spring 2007 and didn't succeed. So I think it is truly a new era in Turkey.
QUESTION: In all this development you described, can you tell us a little more about the situation of women in Turkey today?
ANN DISMORR: This is interesting. I travel a lot and I give quite a lot of speeches on the Muslim world and Turkey. This comes up all the time, and especially in Western Europe. I think there is a great anxiety about what will happen to women's rights if Turkey becomes a full member of the European Union. So I think this is very important to address.
Here again, it was fascinating to see, there was a major improvement in legislation in 2004 when it comes to women's rights—for example, the rights within a marriage, the way that punishments for the so-called honor crimes were enhanced.
This was mainly due to civil society. Before it was an extremely weak civil society. In Ankara, women's organizations didn't even exist in 2001.
When I was attending a number of meetings on human rights and all these issues were discussed, women's rights were never brought up. But then you saw a sudden upsurge in civil society movement.
Thanks to the women's rights organizations, they really pushed ahead and contributed to much, much stricter and enhanced women's rights for women in Turkey. So there were major improvements there.
But then, of course, the fact of life for many women, especially in the southeast, is like moving back 100 years in time.
I was traveling extensively along the borders of Iraq and Syria to meet women's organizations there. Some of them were married off at the age of 11 or 12, had many children, were illiterate, and had really miserable lives. Husbands had taken second and third wives, although it was completely illegal. That happens in the rural areas.
The way they were attaching enormous hope to the European Union. There were women who couldn't even read but who thought that membership in the European Union would be a safeguard for a better life for them.
And then again, I think the soft power and the aspirations that the European Union creates are quite touching actually. So in that sense it would be terrible for the credibility of the European Union if we fail in the end and we stop Turkey. I think that would be very difficult.
QUESTION: I have a question which looks a little bit into the future. We're assuming that this aging Christian club admits Turkey at some point in the future. What is it in the EU system, in the so-called aquis, that would prevent a movement in Turkey to close women's schools or a movement in Turkey to drive out the elected government and put in a military government? Are there real teeth in any of the EU provisions that would offer some assurance to the skeptics?
ANN DISMORR: The so-called Copenhagen Criteria, which requires that before a country is accepted as an EU member state, that it is a democracy and that human rights are met. Unless there is a very solid ground in Turkey, Turkey will not be allowed in as a member state.
I also think that once that is achieved, once the democratization process has come a long way in Turkey, for Turkey to reverse back would be highly unlikely. When you look at the different freedoms, whether it's freedom of expression, et cetera, in today's world it's very difficult to turn back, especially with today's technology, YouTube and all sorts of other things.
It's very difficult to turn the clock back. There are going to be serious consequences if that would ever happen, which I don't think it would, if Turkey would turn suddenly, like Iranian developments, once they're inside the club.
QUESTION: I am a Turkish-American, to which you might say that we're all Americans. But the fact of the matter is there is an overt and sometimes covert Islamization going on in Turkey.
We see that empirically, we see that statistically, we see that in many ways. But we can't forget that this could be a dangerous situation, only because Turkey is the second-largest army in NATO, still a very powerful army certainly, even though the Military General Consul has been somewhat stymied by the elections.
I just wanted your comments on this danger, that the second-largest army in NATO has been increasingly weakened by both the public image as well as the result in the elections and loss of secular power.
ANN DISMORR: It's interesting this keeps coming up, the question about the military role in Turkey. I think it's obvious that the political role of the military simply has to be reduced if the democratization process is going to be valid and genuine. It has been. With the National Security Council, the civilian influence has been enhanced tremendously.
But I think to view the Turkish military as a body of its own that will move in an undemocratic development and back to what happened in the 1980s, one would take a time perspective that is no longer there.
And also, like I was saying, the composition of the military is also gradually changing. And yes, I also believe that there is a tendency toward a more conservative Islam in Turkey.
But again, let the ballot decide the direction of Turkey. As long as the EU process is very much a priority, I think that is, like I said before, the best safeguard for a reformist development in Turkey, whether it's regarding the military or the Kurdish issue or the women's rights.
QUESTION: Thanks so much for your remarks. My question is: With the pressure and encouragement by the European Union for Turkey to support human rights in the sense of social and political rights, what is happening in the field of economic rights as human rights?
ANN DISMORR: When Turkey was given the green light in late 2004 to start membership negotiations, it was as a result of having achieved tremendous progress when it comes to human rights and the democratization process. And then, to start the membership talks, it is also conditioned that it is a functioning market economy, which in its view it certainly is.
So in that sense the criteria are there—of course, the poverty in certain parts and the need for huge reforms when it comes to the agriculture sector, et cetera, that is truly immense.
But the economic development in the last five to six years has had a tremendous growth. Inflation has dropped greatly. Now we just need to see how the Turkish economy can take the onslaught of the economic crisis. I think it will affect us all in various ways. But I think if this would have been ten years ago, there would have been political instability in Turkey. But now the institutions are working much better.
As a result of, I think, a positive spinoff effect of this reform process, the foreign direct investments have skyrocketed and set records in the last few years in Turkey.
But another aspect, I think, trying to understand Turkey, will be those 20 million or so foreign visitors that go to Turkey every year. In Sweden and in northern Europe there is a growing tendency to buy a second home in Turkey. I think these sorts of aspects will also help not only the economy but more importantly trying to understand Turkey in Western Europe.
QUESTION: You presented us a very detailed picture of the whole context in Turkey. I'm wondering how you see research and development, universities, education, and training in this whole context, and how have these been affected by the current developments?
ANN DISMORR: When it comes to the educational field, Turkey has many, many impressive universities. But what many, many university students have said to me is that there needs to be a more open attitude in universities, a much more critical approach. I think there is a lot of learning by heart, especially among the younger children.
My young child was with me in Turkey. I think it will also change the educational sector, moving away from a quite authoritarian approach in many ways in the educational system. I recognize it because my daughters went to a very authoritarian school in Central Europe, so I know all about that. I think that will be a major change, the way it is opening up.
When it comes to the very delicate issue about the head scarf issue, now with many women feeling that they are banned from higher education and those who can go abroad to pursue university exams, I think that Turkey needs to find a more pragmatic approach to this. It was quite a recent ban on head scarves. This was only in the 1990s. Considering the fear that exists in staunchly secular circles, of course, I think this is an issue that has to be put on the back burner.
Finally, the European Union in the last few years is really investing a lot of funds into Turkey, which will also benefit this sector.
The people-to-people youth programs are also very important. It shouldn't only be among the political elite and diplomats, or the military, having these close relationships. It must also be the youngsters. Here the education is very, very important.
JOANNE MYERS: Having a European point of view on Turkey is always very beneficial, so I thank you very much and I thank Ulf for suggesting it. Thank you for being with us.