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Why Does Europe Need Turkey?
Turkey is the Mother of Europe

Kemal Atatürk set an example for his compatriots by donning a hat rather than the fez, thereby symbolically representing the Europeanization of his country. The governments of the European Union (EU) have today been obliged to make an equivalent gesture: They have had to remove the cross in order to open the door of Old Europe to a new, wider world. Nowadays, there is no longer a “Sick Man of Europe”, but instead there is a whole parade of sick men and women between the River Elbe and the Atlantic.

The Turkish state is once again striving to advance. Its influence extends over more than 90 million Turkish-speaking people. The country is placed to become an important innovative factor for Western and Central Europe – providing the countries of Old Europe recognise that Turkey has always played this role, today and in the past, and will continue to do so tomorrow as well. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had already written in his “West-East Divan” during a period of European disintegration, the unification of the West and the East represents the highest ideal and culmination of a unified Europe.

Turkey has always been European

A modern Europe would never have come about without the influence of the lands of Asia Minor. Knowledge of the world flowed to Western Europe through this Western Asian cultural bridgehead; this has never been better expressed than in the figure of Europe who was abducted by Zeus and taken to the West across the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Mathematics and philosophy reached the West through the lands of what is now Turkey. The falls of Greece and Rome, attacks by Arabian and Mongol peoples restricted the flame of enlightenment to a mere splutter for many centuries.

During the European Renaissance, knowledge of Asia Minor and Greece came back out of obscurity and made Europe into what had made it great for centuries. These impulses have fundamentally shaped Europe for more than two millennia. As is usual in the history of peoples, these impulses were displaced for political reasons. It behoves politicians and scientists alike to reawaken them and thereby restore Turkey to its true place in European history.

When the Western Roman Empire fell, the lights of Constantinople continued to burn. Today’s Istanbul is one of the biggest cities in Europe and, in terms of its cultural variety, represents the most shining example of pan-European reunification in the spirit of true liberality, rather than just a liberality that is restricted to culture alone. Putting Istanbul in first place is by no means to decry the enormous achievements of Rome, Madrid, Paris, London and Berlin, to name but a few of the gilded capitals of Western Europe. And the achievements of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Prague and Budapest are by no means any the less.

No city has so intensively and long-lastingly shaped and suffered from the tensions between Eastern and Western Europe as today’s Istanbul. Even if many Western Europeans fail to appreciate the lustre of Pearl of the Bosporus in the way it really deserves, this is because its surface has not yet been sanitised from the false reflections and shadows of history.

Recently, the western and southern coasts of Turkey have come to be appreciated throughout Europe because people from the West have voted with their feet and their wallets by staying there for weeks, months or years. This Europeanization of Turkey from the West took place voluntarily and without external compulsion. It is based on the work done by Turkish companies in a historic landscape between Izmir and Antalya. This destination has been appreciated by exacting Western Europeans in particular who have thereby also discovered the new Turkey for themselves.

For many years, Turkey has been obliged to export many of its population to Western Europe where they have earned their keep for one thing, and contributed greatly to the economic development of the current EU states for another. Now, the wheel has turned full circle. Industrialists from Western Europe and all over the world are coming to Turkey to have their products manufactured there because of the skills of the inhabitants. The “Turkish Miracle”, to coin a phrase, is certainly no smaller than the German or Taiwanese economic miracles. We are poised just at the start of a wonderful friendship, to paraphrase a line from a French film.

Turkey is a Bridge to the East

The creation of the European Union (EU) was the greatest political achievement by European countries during the past century. Confounding many people’s doubts, Western European statesmen and women succeeded in triggering a process of development that has not yet exhausted its strength. And yet it is precisely this major achievement that makes it impossible to ignore the fact that the European Union is running the risk of coming up against its limits:

  • To the west, the USA with its political and military claims to superpower status.
  • To the south, the African continent and its ongoing crisis that is presenting the EU with questions and problems to which not even the start of an answer has been provided.
  • To the east, the Russian giant that is going through a process of transition towards a result that, although we may hope for the best, is by no means certain.

To the southeast, meanwhile, are the Balkan countries, which, in their currently fragmented form, have once again become part of a pattern of Europe in which the zones of influence are overlapping. Further east, meanwhile, Turkey has grown into a new power during the past 30 years; a bridge and a security bulwark at one and the same time.

The one-sided, centralist European philosophy has never properly grasped the situation of Turkey. Anyone who tries to understand Turkey from the perspective of the Atlantic will never be able to comprehend its position and situation. However, the first step towards understanding modern Turkey is to realise that, from the very beginnings of Europe, and even at a time before Europe existed, modern humans migrated westwards from the Caucasus and Black Sea regions. And it is by no means wrong to declare Turkey the mother of Europe, after all Rome is accepted as Europe’s father.

As the peoples of Europe migrated westwards, laying the path for their history as they went, they brought with them the spirit and practice of what was, from their perspective, the Near East. They brought with them agriculture, urban construction and ideas about the freedom of human beings. These developments were variously reconstituted and improved on their way to Western Europe. The roots of the knowledge and experience of Western Europe reach back to the motherland, which, after centuries of exhaustion, has today found new reserves of strength.

This exhaustion, which history imposes again and again on peoples, is hardly surprising in the case of Turkey; after all, to take only the most recent period, during the past 2500 years peoples from west and east, north and south have moved through this territory and made repeated attempts to subjugate this entrepôt and bend it to their own purposes. The seed of Europe grew from many defeats. It was carried in all directions to the neighbouring peoples on Turkey’s frontiers and took form in various ways and patterns of belief. And what was the common driving force? It was not just the struggle for power, something that is part of all humans and peoples; it was also the struggle for knowledge. In this regard, it has been a significant achievement of Turkey to be characterised by the “Peoples of the Book” whilst still retaining its force of action. This is a factor that determines success at any time, but particularly so today.

Young Turks

Just like families are the salt of the earth from which people spring who are subservient to the earth and its knowledge, young peoples like that of Turkey are the source of the origin of future deeds. Old Europe, exhausted by centuries of bloody wars, is only now feeling the loss of energy that it has inflicted on itself. And yet Europe, like ancient Crete or more recent Venice, still represents a mighty bastion of economic and intellectual power. Nevertheless, the signs of stagnation and decline cannot be overlooked. The greatest peril facing the countries of the European Union is not globalisation. On the contrary, the greatest threat to the nations of Europe comes from excessive ageing. This is a situation that many people refuse to accept because Europe has never experienced it before.
Europe must stay young if it wants to maintain its former level of fitness. This youth can only come from peoples like in Turkey who are convinced of their belonging to Europe. Anyone who knows the streets of Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir will feel just as much at home there as in the streets of Milan, Marseilles or Bristol. A Turkish-European youth has been growing up there for decades, convinced advocates of progress, openness and establishing a peaceful and happy life for themselves.

This should by no means be confused with the superficial images of a Turkey that will only consume resources. It is one thing to be proud of the progress that has been achieved, progress modelled on that made in Europe and the USA. It is another thing, and a slightly more difficult one at that, to discover and experience the living, spiritual currents that characterise this young and strong country.

Today, open and liberal discussion has found its place at universities and in public forums. Many people find it alarming, but no more so than in other countries of the Earth, when these discussions take on forms and deal with ideas that lead to disquiet amongst parts of the population. It is not specifically Turkish to hallow the achievements of one’s country and leaders. In the USA, Russia and France, as well as in many other states, respect for these achievements is a determining factor in life, and so it is in Turkey too. Whenever this is occasionally used as a means of reproach, this only serves to demonstrate the depth of the discussion; what people say and write is taken seriously. Turkish men and women do not appreciate the denigration of their achievements, which they regard as considerable. They are no different in this regard than any other proud people.

However, Turkish youth also represents a huge reservoir of new knowledge, experience and the will to achieve for a large Europe that is once again finding its way back to its roots. Just as the Turkish elites themselves have little to fear from their children, the other European elites should not fear the children of Turkey. On the contrary, haven’t Western Europeans been cared for and looked after for decades by young Turkish doctors? Isn’t it Turkish engineers working with their male and female colleagues in European universities who have individually made great achievements? And what about the Turkish entrepreneurs who are today boosting the gross domestic product of Italy, Germany and the Nordic nations alike?

Europe needs this Turkish youth, which must of course learn to fight its corner in this open, liberal Europe. It must fight its corner, as happens in Berlin, not against but with people from Europe’s East. It must fight its corner, as happens in London, together with people from Asia. It must fight its corner, as happens in Paris and Madrid, with people from Africa and Latin America.

Many people in Western Europe are afraid of this multinational youth, not just of the young people from Turkey. However, this fear is based on lack of knowledge, on ignorance of foreigners, of people that were for a long time called barbarians in Europe. It is a centuries old fear that feeds on the images of history, damns foreign youth at the same time as defending and praising one’s own youth even though – or precisely because – it has become weak.

Anyone who has met young people from Turkey knows that they can stand alongside other young people from all over the world. They have acquired the curiosity, the strength and the elegance that characterizes a global youth nowadays. It would be negligent to fail to take the doubts seriously, and yet whoever looks at young Japanese, Moroccans, Canadians and Turkmen alongside Dutch and French of the same age will no longer have any doubts about the coming unification. For millennia, the young people of the world have taken ship, and later airplane, from Izmir to travel all over the world. Today, the doors of the country are open in all directions; they are swinging doors that offer security but no longer represent an obstacle.

The Turks are Ambitious

In the same way that young Americans proudly defend their country, young Britons matriculate at their universities, young Poles hoist their flags and are proud of their families’ achievements, so are young Turks unified and proud, because they have an ambition: To lay a firm foundation for their life in a very stormy world, to serve their country, Europe and the world in a positive way.
This ambition should be welcomed even though it may appear alarming to certain people. People who defend what they have gained instead of gaining more, people who ascribe more importance to the goods of the past than those of the future, people who have got more to lose than to gain, such people have no love for the ambition of youth. This historically myopic standpoint leads to distortions of the image of young Turkish men and women. Their curiosity, the joy they take in the goods of Western Europe and the world, a genuine pleasure in things that have only reached Turkey recently; these things spread consternation amongst people who already have everything and whose level of enthusiasm has ebbed to a lower level. This people-power should not be underestimated. Provided they are led by their politicians in a spirit of responsibility, there will spring forth a historic movement of the type that has characterized Europe and the world from time immemorial.

What are the Major Challenges?

Turkey has now spent almost a century trying to become European and is currently a loyal ally of the European nations. The country has grown up and is demanding its rights. It is doing this in the knowledge that its nation’s path, if it is to lead to a secure future, can only be the path to the West although without abandoning the East: as an entrepôt. Turkey has not just become European, it has also grown up. The political, social, cultural and economic status of the country as it currently exists is not reflected in how the country is perceived. The people and countries of Western Europe are, to a large extent, insufficiently well informed and do not appreciate all that has happened during the past ten years. Consequently, Turkey is faced with the major challenges of promoting the quality of this growth and directing it to the West; the other huge task concerns communicating this to its own population and to the peoples of Europe.
Significant efforts have been made in this direction. However it is impossible to deny that the will and the commitment have not been adequate to convince a sufficient number of Europeans. It was the Americans who once said, “Europe is weighed down by the burden of history.” This is particularly applicable to the example of Turkey with its lengthy history stretching back at least 8000 years. Such a history is both a treasure trove of experience and a handicap that does not make it any easier to accomplish contemporary tasks. Anyone who wants to shape politics should not hark back to the deeds of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers even though they may have come from other peoples and served other systems. Instead, prospective movers- and-shakers need to rely on the strength that comes from recognizing and accepting the present as the starting point for the future.

The greatest challenge facing Turkey and Europe is to learn the lessons of history without however deriving immutable conclusions for current and future actions. Only by adopting such an attitude is it possible to play a part in shaping events. The European Union succeeded in casting off the shadows of the past by making the frontiers between the states, their conflicts and their misunderstandings into constructive features. In the same way, it is Turkey’s task to formulate its position between Europe and the countries of the Middle East. However, if she were to do this on her own out of an incorrectly understood independence, the result could be interpreted as only marginally beneficial. As a result, Turkish institutions have placed great emphasis on making political, commercial, cultural and social progress in harmony with the peoples of Europe.

Turkey in the Concert of the Peoples of Europe and the World

Relations with the peoples of Europe and especially the European Union (EU) must be improved in the spirit of mutual trust. The burden of history is only one factor that has to be taken into account in this regard. The achievements of the previous decades, whether in the economic or political arena, also need to be considered here. It is even more important to match up to the expectations of the future. From this perspective

  • The advantages of cooperation from an economic standpoint are evident. Turkey sees itself as one of the strong economic locomotives of Europe with well educated people who can contribute to the sustained growth of Europe. A division of labour will develop between the peoples of Europe, corresponding to the expectations of the peoples.
  • Although it is completely reasonable to expect benefits from cooperation on the cultural stage, there is in fact no contradiction between Turkish and European culture because large parts of European culture proceeded from Asia Minor. The greatest task facing the guardians of culture in all nations concerned is to derive the best from this. States will have to accept obligations in order to make this possible.
  • The benefits of cooperation from a social perspective represent the greatest opportunity for all those involved. Turkey in a larger Europe offers the assurance that a new social legitimization will arise, just as Europe has already successfully mastered many times in its history. In a globalized world, this is one of the most valuable developments because formerly separate societies all over the world are growing together and forming new structures.

Without the political will to aim for, push through and achieve this, it is not going to be possible to meet these targets and accomplish these tasks. The strong political will of modern Turkey must be joined by the strong will of Europe and the European Union; only both together can master this challenge. However, this is not to say that the task will be a straightforward one – but it is one that cannot be avoided.

Relations with the states of the European Union have a special nature. They must be embedded in the centuries-old relations between Turkey and the countries of Western and Central Asia as well as Russia. For the states of Central Asia, Turkey represents the gateway to the West. Therefore, it is also a gateway to the future for many people in these states. For them, the path to Turkey is the first step to the West. This makes Turkey not only a bridge, but also a conference and anteroom for the countries of Western Europe. The smoother the cooperation with them, the greater the influence Europe will project into Central Asia and the more robust the stability in an important part of the world.

Turkey was already playing the same role for Russia even before the time of the Soviet Union. The old Russian kingdom of Kiev was oriented towards Byzantium/Constantinople. The main cultural impulses of religion and language derived from there. From there also radiated important trade routes that remained uninterrupted for centuries and are now experiencing a reinvigoration. In Russia, it is once again being taken for granted that Turkey is the gateway to the South; in this way, it is functioning as a turntable in the service of peace and progress.

Just as, for centuries, Turkey exerted its influence into the Arab lands, these countries reciprocated the arrangement with all their strength and culture. It would be a fatal mistake to construe this as a contradiction in terms; rather, the correct approach is to ascribe to both the properties of a synthesis that can serve as a model for other parts of the world. More than with other states, Turkey is called on to unify cultures and religions. More than with other states, the experience and the clear declarations of the Turkish state can help Europe to accomplish outstanding tasks.

Turkey was the first Christian country in Europe – as attested by the landscapes of Cappadocia that are visited today, as year-in, year-out in the past, by thousands of Christian pilgrims. The ideas of Christianity are just as much anchored in today’s Turkey as those of Islam that has come to great prominence over the past centuries. Turkey sees it as one of its important tasks – and one that is comparable to the role of France – to set up a secular state that grants space to all religions but does not ascribe an exclusive claim to any particular religion. Only on this basis will states and peoples be able to build up democracy and create wealth in the long term, as evidenced by the examples of Europe, Asia and the USA. Turkey has been traveling this path for three lifetimes now, and no one can doubt that it will continue to do so.

All the claims and presumptions of religious and cultural conflicts must be rejected with the utmost vehemence at this point. Such instrumentalizations do not concord with the practice of future-oriented politics. Religion defines the relationships between people and God; the state defines the relationships between people and society. This has been the basis for the modernization of all states in the West as in the East; no one can back away from this unscathed.

This fact explains why Turkey regards it as all the more important to operate as an entrepôt and sweep away misunderstandings between the Arab countries and the lands of the West and the North. Also, the states of the sickle moon cannot be exclusively defined by their relationship to Islam. Equally, it is impossible to deny them the right to assign an important position to Islam within their states just as nowadays – even in Europe – there are societies, which allow the Christian religion to exert the same influence. Anyone who knows about and has experienced the history of Europe and Asia will realize that relationships of this type are extremely complicated. However, Turkey in particular feels itself called on to support those who are trying to turn these developments to a peaceful and progressive end. The Turkish premier, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has mapped out the solution as follows: “Our membership of the European Union will demonstrate to the whole world that the division between civilizations does not run along the lines of religion or culture, but rather it is a question of democracy, modernity and the will to embrace reform on the one hand as against totalitarianism, radicalism and lethargy on the other.” As such, he has positioned himself firmly in the historical footsteps of Kemal Atatürk with great clarity and in contradiction of all assumptions to the contrary.

No European or Asian politics can be well founded without a strong and healthy relationship with the USA. For the USA, no individual country can claim to be the sole representative of correct policies; however, even the less powerful states on the Earth cannot claim to be able to assess and solve the world’s problems solely from their own perspective. Therefore, cooperation with the USA – no matter what form it takes – represents the be-all and end- all of any Turkish foreign policy. This does not amount to a unilateral capitulation to external demands; neither does it represent any emasculation of its own foreign policy interests. Instead, it involves recognizing the way the political wind is blowing and how it is influencing the outset of the 21st Century. The USA takes a global political view that is informed by democratic principles. The USA has the political, economic and military weight to enter into global cooperation arrangements with peoples who share the same outlook.

From this perspective, it is more than ever the task of Turkey, given its given geographical location, to operate as a bridge and accomplish this task to the benefit of its people. The undisputed importance of the USA to the foreign policy concerns of Turkey impacts on the interests of Europe; finding a balance between the two has always been the task of this country positioned between Iran and Greece, between Russia and Egypt.

The USA, the most advanced country on the Earth in the Far West and Europe, the most advanced country on the Earth in the Near West of Turkey are the ideal pillars of a Turkish policy that is trying to stand up for itself in the world of tomorrow. As a component of these bastions that are capable of influencing a large proportion of world events, Turkey can contribute to building up Russia and, equally, the countries of the Near East. A Turk will also be more readily welcomed by the Iranians than a representative of another country would be, although nevertheless the attempt must be made not to turn our back on them but to look them squarely in the eye and find common ground.

Africa in particular must not be excluded from this new concert of peoples. Turkish traders have always worked together effectively and peaceably with those of Africa. To date, the European Union has not yet done everything in its power to deliver a final response to its “Mediterranean question”. However, Turkey can make a contribution to facilitate the process. The commonalities between societies, rather than cultural differences, should be taken as the starting point for all efforts – quite apart from the question of social need that is triggered by economic development.

Europe’s cooperation with Africa is an essential necessity in this third millennium of European history. Turkey is a neighbouring state of Africa just as much as the countries of Scandinavia or the Baltic. They all know how to work together across frontiers, whilst at the same time not suffering from the cross- border differences between direct neighbours that stand in the way of progress.


Turkey is the mother of Europe because large parts of European culture and European knowledge came from the countries that form today’s Turkey. The economic and political development of Europe and the world mean that the enforced separation between Turkey and Europe can no longer be maintained nowadays. A natural development of Turkey towards Europe is underway and there is a natural development of Europe leading to expansion towards Turkey.
Turkey sees itself as an entrepôt between Europe and Asia, and also as an entrepôt between Russia and the countries of the North and those of the South as far as Arabia and Africa. This is no presumption, but the consequence of an experience spanning many millennia that is reawakening in the minds of all political and cultural players nowadays. As a result, they are pursuing the global development in which the available communications media are shrinking the world because people are easier to reach.

The attempt to turn cultural and religious differences into an overvalued feature of social development is not condoned by Turkey. This is not a new development, but is linked to the development of modern Turkey in its characteristics since Kemal Atatürk. In many places, it is unfortunately impossible to prevent conflicts arising from this, therefore Turkey views itself as being highly experienced in and suited to avoiding escalations.

The European Union (EU) and Europe stand to gain from this attitude on behalf of Turkey providing they take Turkey’s claim seriously and do not look for any reasons to fall back into the erroneous ways of the past. Turkey needs Europe like Europe needs Turkey because Europe has a population that requires more young people in order to keep itself young and active to a full extent. Europe, and this term includes both the West and the East, is on the road to becoming one of the old contents of the world in which the population is no longer capable of withstanding the social burdens and the costs of future development unaided. As a result, they are looking to countries with a young population, such as Turkey, for a way out. They are investing in companies in such countries in order to pay the pensions of their graying population.

There is no alternative to this mutual relationship, which harbours the future of Turkey just as much as that of the states of Europe. Economic and cultural elites have already embarked on this way of openness. They have been bold enough to attempt to forge mutual contact that will provide enrichment to all those concerned. This has succeeded.

When elites take the first step, politicians have to take the next step of communicating this to their peoples. In modern democracies, however, politicians have to take account of those who have less understanding of the politics of openness and progress. Therefore, it is the politicians who have to bear the risks of more intensive cooperation. As a result, it should be understandable that not all politicians always share the same opinion.

At the same time, the practical work of communication has to be continued in order to convince millions of people that the future will be different from the past. Every sociologist knows how difficult it is to convince a large number of people to accept something new. The task is above all a difficult one whenever large minorities are exposed to economic difficulties and fears. However, if no practical communication is undertaken successfully then the ongoing democratic development of Europe and Turkey is inconceivable. This communication has to follow on from the knowledge and the experience of earlier centuries and millennia, and must include politicians, university professors, authors and captains of industry.

Seen from this perspective, the media in Turkey and Europe have an important role to play because they possess the necessary influence not only to break open the window to the future but also to show 600 million people the path to the future. It will not be possible to achieve the goal if the media solely follow the dictates of the economy. Discussions within the countries of the European Union (EU) clearly show that the economy alone is not capable of bringing about a European will. It is all the less likely that financial necessities alone will bring Europe and Turkey closer together.

Both share the consciousness for a culture that has migrated from the East to the West. In Europe, it has blossomed in a way that can only be viewed with respect from the Turkish standpoint. The dream of experiencing Paris, Berlin or London has always been a Turkish dream. This European culture – and this is by no means a minor requirement – must now have the strength to open itself up to other cultures and integrate them. However, there are grounds for optimism because this is not the first time it has happened in Europe.

Turkey has always sought the Western path in spite of immense resistance that is not always understood in Europe. Its elites and its citizenry, its workers and its students share the deepest conviction that the future can only be found for them and their children by following the principles of the West. It is based on the view that in their own country and in the countries of the West, the number of those who are stretching out their hands to one another is greater and more important than was irresistibly drawn by Buonarotti Michelangelo. This conviction is supported by the observation that Turkey has already arrived in Europe and Europe is also part of Turkey. Continuing this process in spite of all unavoidable resistance will be the decisive factor.
By Klaus J. Stöhlker
Copyright: Radnor Inc. for Klaus J. Stöhlker












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