Why Turkey is not yet a member of the EU?

Turkey 2014 — Travel Journal

“Turkey is a European country, an Asian country, a Middle Eastern country, Balkan country, Caucasian country, neighbor to Africa, Black Sea country, Caspian Sea, all these.” — Ahmet Davutoglu

“Many analysts compare Turkey with countries in the Middle East, but I think we need to compare it with Russia. Both countries come from a tradition of empire, and also from a tradition of the strong state.” — Elif Shafak

In the winter of 2014, I traveled to visit Tomer in Turkey, who was studying at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul for the semester. Growing up in Israel, the remains of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the Middle East for centuries, were all around, thus it was fascinating to visit the magnificent center of its’ power.

During the visit to Istanbul, I felt a certain violent energy in the air. When I reflect on that now, that intuition I felt makes sense in the right historical context. In 2014 many Islamic zealots from all over the world joined ISIS, and their route into ISIS territory frequently passed through Istanbul.

The highlight of the tour by far was spending a few days in Konya, where Rumi lived, taught and wrote. Konya remains, even today, as the center of the mystical Sufi Muslims, and watching the Dervish dancers whirling during the Mevlana Festival was magic.

Hagia Sophia Istanbul
Hagia Sophia Istanbul

Some Context about Turkey Geopolitics

Why Turkey is not yet a member of the EU?

The question of Turkey’s European credentials has been growing since 1963 when Turkey became an associate member of the European Community, which agreed at the time that eventual full membership was possible. Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952 and has been lobbying for membership of the EU since 1987, but although it is now recognized as a candidate country, opinion on its prospects remains deeply divided, and unanswered.

Less than five percent of Turkey territory is in Europe; the rest, everything east and south east of the Bosporus straits is in the Middle East, that’s one reason. Other factor is its record on human rights, especially those of the Kurds. Another is the economy, the fear that disparity in living standards would result in mass influx of labor. And what may also be a factor, albeit unspoken within the EU, is that Turkey is a majority Muslim country (98 percent). The EU is neither secular nor a Christian organization, but there has been a difficult debate about “values.” For each argument for Turkey’s EU membership there is an argument against it, and in the past decade the prospects for Turkey joining have diminished. This has led the country to reflect on what other choices there may be.

Who was Mustafa Kemal Atatürk?

In the 1920s, for one man at least, there was no choice. His name was Mustafa Kemal and he was the only Turkish general to emerge from the First World War with an enhanced reputation. After the victorious powers carved up Turkey, he rose to become president on a platform of resisting the terms imposed by the Allies, but at the same time modernizing Turkey and making it part of Europe. Western legal codes and the Gregorian calendar were introduced, and Islamic public institutions banned. The wearing of the fez was forbidden, the Latin alphabet replaced Arabic script, and he even granted the vote to women (two years ahead of Spain and fifteen years ahead of France). In 1934, when Turks embraced legally binding surnames, Kemal was given the name Atatürk — “Father of the Turks.” He died in 1938, but subsequent Turkish leaders continued working to bring Turkey into the West European fold, and those who didn’t found themselves on the wrong end of a coup d’état by a military determined to complete Atatürk’s legacy.

Grand Bazaar Istanbul
Grand Bazaar Istanbul

What now and where is it going?

By the late 1980s, however, the continued rejection by Europe and the stubborn refusal of many ordinary Turks to become less religious resulted in a generation of politicians who began to think the unthinkable — that perhaps Turkey needed a plan B. President Turgut Ozal, a religious man, come to office in 1989 and began the change. He encouraged Turks to again see Turkey as the great land bridge between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and a country that could again be a great power in all three regions. The current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has similar ambitions, perhaps even greater ones.

My reading recommendation

Birds Without Wings, By: Louis de Bernieres

Snow, A Novel By: Orhan Pamuk

My Name Is Red, By: Orhan Pamuk

Istanbul, Memories and the City, By: Orhan Pamuk

The Forty Rules of Love, A Novel of Rumi, By: Elif Shafak

The Bastard of Istanbul, By: Elif Shafak

Istanbul Passage, A Novel, By: Joseph Kanon

Midnight at the Pera Palace, The Birth of Modern Istanbul, By: Charles King

Erdogan Rising, The Battle for the Soul of Turkey, By: Hannah Lucinda Smith

The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, By: Eugene Rogan

What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam, By: John L. Esposito

Rumi: Voice of Longing, By: Coleman Barks

Pure Water: Poetry of Rumi, By: Coleman Barks and Jellaludin Rumi

For additional photographs and reflections please check my site



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David Gev

David Gev


David’s writings are self-reflections of an Israeli living in Los Angeles since 1987, through the lens of art, travel & culture. https://davidgev.com/biography/