ANKARA (Reuters)–A top general said on Thursday Turkey had received "not the slightest help" from the European Union it sought to join and suggested Ankara look now to Russia and Iran besides its traditional US ally for support.
Remarks by General Tuncer Kilinc–General Secretary of the powerful National Security Council–highlighted an increasingly bitter debate over Turkish efforts to meet EU requiremen’s on–among other things–human rights. Hardliners see the drive to liberal reforms as a threat to national unity.
General Kilinc made his remarks in an intervention from the floor during a televised symposium at the War Academy in Istanbul. He said he was speaking purely for himself–but his words will certainly be taken as indicative of a school of thought within the powerful military leadership.
"Turkey has not received the slightest help from the EU," Kilinc said. "EU views are negative when it comes to the issues that Turkey is interested in."
Critics of the EU accuse member countries of failing to act against militants they say are supporting "terrorism" in Turkey.
These militants include Kurdish separatists who have fought almost two decades in the southeast for an independent state–hardline leftists and Islamists.
Many anti-EU campaigners see European states as raising artificial barriers to prevent Turkey turning its candidacy into membership. They see the EU forcing Turkey’s hand to solve such issues as the Cyprus dispute and to abolish capital punishment while–they say–the country is still threatened by Kurds.
The temperature rose last month when the e-mails of the Commission’s ambassador to Turkey were hacked and published in newspapers–often with painfully twisted interpretations.
General Kilinc said Turkey should do nothing to compromise its relations with the United States–which has backed Turkey during its financial crisis and sees Ankara as a key Muslim ally in its "war against terrorism." But he added: "I would see it as useful for Turkey to enter a new search that would include Iran and the Russian Federation."
Turkey has had its problems with both Russia–a former Cold War opponent–and Iran. It has long accused Moscow of supporting Kurdish rebels while Moscow suspects Ankara of giving shelter to Chechen guerrillas.
Turkey–especially the military General Staff–views Iran’s religious militancy as a threat to political stability and also suspects it of harboring Kurdish guerrillas. Ankara–however–is currently involved in major energy deals with both countries.
The lines are not clearly drawn in the battle over Turkey’s attitude to the EU. Opponents of the Union can be found in all parts of the political spectrum–predominantly in the rightist government coalition party–the Nationalist Action Party (MHP)–but also on the center and left and in parts of the military.
The military insists it is in favor of the EU–but senior figures have voiced concern reforms could sap national unity.
Professor Erol Manisali–speaking at the military symposium entitled "how to establish a belt of peace around Turkey," also criticized the EU.
"The European Union is definitely a Christian club and we should not take offense over this," he said. To protect the country’s sovereignty–Ankara should balance Western relations with common interests with Russia to the east.