Talk focuses on Turkey’s possible EU membership

Burak Akcapar, first counselor of the Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C., said Turkey has recently resolved many of its historical conflicts with neighboring countries such as Greece.

“We don’t bicker much anymore,” Akcapar said during a Friday lecture in Luce Hall. “There is a very healthy process of political diplomatic dialogue, and [the] two prime ministers are buddies. They even meet for private events, such as the circumcision ceremony of the prime ministers’ sons.”

About 70 people attended the Critical Perspectives on Turkey’s European Union Membership talk, which was sponsored by the Yale Program on EU Studies, the Yale Friends of Turkey, and The Council on Middle East Studies at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies.

Yale Diplomat-in-Residence Charles Hill also spoke with Akcapar about Turkey’s growing economy and its evolution to meet EU standards.

Although EU negotiations to grant Turkey formal membership may last a decade, Akcapar said, Turkey will likely gain membership in some form, despite European concerns that is “too big, too poor, and too Muslim.”

“It reminds me of a fable of two legendary Turkish wrestlers who have wrestled for days and nights, and in the end they were all exhausted and they just passed [out],” Akcapar said. “In the end they were friends.”

He said there is also a chance that Turkey, which has been an associate member of the EU since 1963 and an official candidate since 1999, may decide not to join the EU because of the economic growth it has recently experienced on its own.

“Whether Turkey joins or not, with this kind of transformation, this kind of vibrancy and dynamism in the Turkish society, whether you sit in Brussels or not, 10 years down the road Turkey will be unrecognizable,” Akcapar said. “It will be dramatically different in terms of the economic prosperity, in terms of the openness of society and in terms of standards of governance. Turkey will be a completely refurbished country.”

With such transformations, Akcapar said, the Turkish people no longer consider joining the EU to be the sole path to prosperity. Akcapar said Turkey is already attracting new enterprises from Europe and Japan, as well as capital from Persian Gulf countries.

“Turkey has been growing at a world record of 26 percent in the last three years … in spite of the encounters with earthquakes and scandals,” Akcapar said.

Hill said Turkey is one of the few countries in the world with a well-formed and distinct identity.

“In Mexico, I will be, without any prompting, told by one or another foreign affairs intellectual, ‘You know Mexico is not a Central American country, a Caribbean country, a Latin American country [or a] South American country,’” Hill said. “It’s Mexico. It has its own destiny, and that is the way I think of Turkey and Japan. These countries have a unique role for themselves … the EU is, in a strange way, lucky to have Turkey as a candidate.”

Akcapar said Turkey will serve as a global test case for the overall tenor of Christian-Muslim relations, as it is a predominantly Muslim country that is in the process of establishing higher democratic standards.

Several students said Akcapar provided a well-rounded and enlightening discussion of Turkey’s relationship with the EU.

“A lot of people in Turkey are afraid of joining the EU because they are afraid of losing national identity, but his arguments reassure that the changes won’t be to the identity but to the economy and to the governance,” Aysegul Altintas ’07 said.

Joshua Walker GRD ’06 said Akcapar’s candor was refreshing.

“A lot of diplomats try to stay noncontroversial, try to be sterile,” Walker said. “But you can tell by the way he spoke, with no note cards and in a clear and open manner, he was trying to help people understand where Turkey is and where it is heading for the future.”

But Spyros Alogoskoufis ’08 said he thinks Akacapar displayed a view that was not particularly objective.

“He did not see things as an outsider would,” he said.

The EU formally opened membership negotiations with Turkey on Oct. 3.

Yale Diplomat-in-Residence Charles Hill, left, listens on as Burak Akcapar, first counselor of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., discusses Turkey’s bid to join the E.U.
Benjamin Temple
Yale Diplomat-in-Residence Charles Hill, left, listens on as Burak Akcapar, first counselor of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., discusses Turkey’s bid to join the E.U.

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