Turkey’s minorities : the challenges of « proximity alterity »
Interview with Samim Akgönül,
Interview held by Tania Gisselbrecht, Project Associate @BridgingEurope
Seen from Brussels, Turkey’s minorities’ issue is certainly regarded as a major stumbling block to the EU-Turkey dialogue. As a country seeking accession to the European Union, Turkey is expected to comply with basic European and international standards, which include the protection of minorities since the introduction of the Copenhagen criteria. Hence the EU is adopting a technical stance regarding this matter: its chief concern is to bring Turkey to set up minorities’ protection standards in line with the political Copenhagen eligibility criteria (Human Rights, Democracy, Rule of law – which are Council of Europe’s principles- plus a new pillar, the “protection of minorities”).
This approach somehow fails to comprehend the historical and sociological dimensions of the minority issue. Turkey’s reluctance to fully recognize and protect minorities within its borders originates in a restrictive understanding of the term ‘minority’. Turkey’s standpoint is intrinsically linked to the very foundations of the Turkish Republic and its narrow conception of the Nation. By erecting ‘Turkishness’ as an exclusivist basis for citizenship on the multicultural and multi-confessional remnants of the Ottoman Empire, the State has sown the seed of conflict. In other words, violations of minority rights can be viewed as the symptoms of a congenital disease that with time also contaminated the collective unconscious.
Therefore a two-pronged therapy is needed in order to overcome this original identity crisis and to come to terms with the past: a legal/ technical one as advocated by the EU and a societal one, focused on social acceptance and historical remembrance of the minorities’ presence.
To better understand the challenges raised by the latter, Bridging Europe talked with Professor Samim Akgönül, an Historian and Political Scientist, from the University of Strasbourg. Adopting an historical and sociological perspective, the specialist of Turkey and minorities sheds light on Turkey’s complex and interdependent social realities which complicates remembrance and reconciliation, and ultimately the internalization of the principle of non-discriminative citizenship.