The Turks and Europe: Uninvited Guests or Sharers of a Common Destiny?

Selim Deringil, Bogazici Univ.

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When M. Valerie Giscard D’Estaing made his now famous statement about the Turks historical and cultural unsuitability for membership in the EU he inadvertantly did this country a service. By provoking the “argument from history”, M.D’Estaing was merely voicing a feeling that many people in Europe and some in Turkey actually share. A British historian recently wrote: “When in 1544 Francis I of France allowed the Turkish fleet to winter at Toulon, he was not merely giving assistance to the enemies of Christ (and more to the point, of Emperor Charles V) .He was dissolving a centuries old antagonism. He was allowing Asia into Europe”. [1] This certainly puts M.D’Estaing’s statement into perspective. It looks as if “Asia” advances into Europe in the shape of the Ottoman armies or navies. We have thus a sort of “transportable Asia”. In a similar vein when, in 1791, the British Prime Minister William Pitt, during the Ottoman-Russian war of 1791, proposed sending British troops to help the Sultan against the Czar, he was reprimanded by Edmund Burke, who told him, “What have these worse than savages to do with the powers of Europe, but to spread war, devastation and pestilence among them?”. [2] Yet in the Crimean War, some sixty five years later, the “spreaders of pestilence” were to be supported in the very same theater against the “European” Russians. Particularly in the matter of Anglo-Turkish relations, there is a feeling of being inevitably bound together even if this is not to the liking of either party. As put by an emminent Cambidge don in 1876: “Unfortunately for the peace of mankind, it has happened that the Turk is placed in a position where it is impossible to ignore him, and almost impossible to endure him”. (Deringil)
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This paper is an attempt to do two things. First, to put the Turkish/Ottoman relationship with Europe in a historical perspective, in a sense to respond to M. D’Estaing’s argument from history ; second to make some very speculative and tentative remarks on how these might tie-in with Turkey’s present relations with the EU.
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