President Süleyman; Demirel on the implications of an Erbakan government, the PKK and relations with the EU and Greece

What does an Islamist government mean for Turkey?

Our law forbids pro-religious parties; 99 per cent of Turks are Muslim, and definitions such as Islamist and non-Islamist are not realistic. According to our constitution, Turkey is a secular, democratic and lawful social state. All political parties, including the Welfare Party, comply with these constitutional principles. It is not possible to retreat from the constitutional, pluralist and democratic regime or to alter the basic characteristics of the administration, no matter which party comes to power. The principle of the separation of powers has been fully adopted and the system of democratic checks and balances is established and working in Turkey. There cannot therefore be a pro-religious party or government in Turkey. The continuation of Turkish democracy is guaranteed. All Turkish citizens enjoy political equality and are first-class citizens. I am against the notion that the political preferences of our people, shaped within the framework of democratic principles, can cause harm. I think that those who have such misconceptions are far from understanding the fundamental principles of democracy.

The landing of Greek troops on Kardak island in January is the latest in a series of confrontations between Greece and Turkey. Given the history of animosity between the two countries, do you see a resolution of the disputes between you in the near future?

I want to be optimistic. I sincerely believe that the fundamental interests of Greece and Turkey lie in co-operation, not confrontation. The ultimate aim of our two countries must be to bring comprehensive and lasting solutions to their differences. We should be able to discuss our differences on a basis of mutual trust for each other's legitimate interests. We should show the necessary willingness for compromise.

With these considerations, we are calling on Greece to enter into negotiations without any preconditions and with a view to settling the Aegean question as a whole. When it comes to other peaceful means of settlement which could be considered appropriate by both sides with respect to the special nature of the Aegean disputes, Turkey does not rule out at the outset any method based on mutual acceptance. We hope that Greece will reciprocate.

The PKK insurgency in the south-east continues, and is again likely to spread to western cities this summer. How can this issue be resolved given that neither the government nor the separatists is willing to compromise?

It is important to define correctly the nature of this struggle in order to draw plausible comments on this issue. There is no insurgent movement in south-east Turkey. The actions of the PKK cannot be considered those of an insurgent group - they are not engaged in a popular struggle against an oppressor. The PKK deliberately tries to create a false image that there is a war going on in the south-east. It is deplorable that World Statesman has used such unfortunate wording.

The PKK is a terrorist organisation and its indiscriminate violence has claimed thousands of lives. Terrorist violence is not a valid or legitimate means to achieve political aspirations or promote human or other rights. Turkey has continued its struggle to combat the PKK for more than a decade. Turkey has conducted its struggle against terrorism while committing itself to the rule of law. Therefore, Turkey will never, ever negotiate with the terrorist organisation. Turkey is determined to maintain its territorial integrity within the framework of unitary-state structure by being loyal to the principles of democracy, secularism and republicanism. Any compromise at all on these principles is out of the question.

Spreading violence and terror in metropolitan areas of western Turkey is not a new threat. The PKK has frequently repeated these threats since 1984. These kinds of threats are a well-known tactic employed by the PKK and are aimed at damaging the economy and public order. Turkish security forces have taken all necessary measures to prevent the PKK from carrying out these actions. I would like to assure the world community that Turkey is one the safest countries to travel to in the world.

So, what ought to be done first and foremost is to put an end to PKK terrorism in order to establish peace and order and to safeguard the fundamental rights of the country's citizens - the right to live free of the threat of terror - and hence to create the necessary conditions to foster further social and economic development. The struggle that we are conducting against terrorism does not only consist of military measures. PKK terrorism and the economic difficulties of the south-east have to be differentiated. These economic difficulties have been used as a propaganda instrument by the PKK. However, Turkey has launched a regional development programme - one of the largest in the world - and investment campaigns such as the GAP project, tax exemption and low-interest credits to industry and agriculture in the region for two decades. The Turkish government is also trying to promote the region's cultural richness.

What benefits will the Customs Union with the EU bring?

The basis of the Customs Union lies in reciprocal economic interest. In the long term, there will be enormous benefits for both parties. First, the Union will crown Turkey's process of integration into the world economy. It will help rationalise and modernise Turkey's economic structure. Increased competition will improve the efficiency of Turkish industry. The opening of the European market will on the one hand raise Turkey's exports to the EU and, on the other, enable Turkish industry to reach economies of scale. In conjunction with a more efficient production structure, this will improve the international competitiveness of Turkish firms.

The Customs Union is expected to give rise to an increased and easier inflow of foreign direct investment and credit, which will help to modernise production facilities and bring in crucial international know-how. This will enable Turkey to take a more active part in the process of economic globalisation. All of this will translate into increased employment, which will improve the country's socio-economic situation.

How successful have been efforts to forge links with the Balkan states and the Turkic central Asian countries?

Turkey places primary importance on developing closer relations with all the countries in the Balkans. We believe that these relations must be built on friendship, mutual respect and non-interference in each other's affairs. These basic principles are the cornerstone of Turkey's foreign policy. I believe that this policy has proved to be a success in the past, and it will continue to be the blueprint by which Turkish foreign policy will orient itself.

It is in this context that Turkey takes a special interest in the establishment and preservation of peace and stability in the Balkans. We therefore closely observe developments in the area and try to develop relations with all states in the region. We have exemplary relations with Albania, Macedonia, Romania, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia. Our relations with Bulgaria, which became strained as a result of the forced assimilation campaign carried out by the Communist regime towards the Turkish minority, have improved following Bulgaria's transition to democracy. We see the continuing high-level visits and increasing contacts between the peoples of the region as a sign of healthy and positive bilateral relations.

It is most unfortunate that the Balkans had to enter the new era of opportunity in Europe with the tragedy of Bosnia. Now that peace seems to be gaining the upper hand in the region, the time has come for concentrating on serious efforts to establish strong ties between the states, thus preventing a recurrence of a similar catastrophe. We urge all states to refrain from undertaking potentially divisive actions and support all projects aimed at co-operation in the Balkans.

As for the Central Asian states, Turkey has strong historical, cultural and linguistic links, and developing friendly relations and co-operation with these states has been high on our agenda. We aim to support and contribute to their efforts to strengthen their independence and sovereignty and consolidate their state structure.

During the past four or five years relations with the Central Asian Republics have made great strides. We have signed more than 260 agreements in various fields. Most of these agreements follow a pattern designed to facilitate these countries' integration into the wider world by providing them with alternative means of communication and transport as well as trade and economic co-operation.

Let me give you some details abut Turkey's multidimensional relations with the Central Asian Republics. Turkish economic assistance and co-operation programmes in the region, along with humanitarian aid, totals some US$1.5 billion. The Turkish private sector is very active: around 400 companies are currently involved in a wide range of investment projects worth a total of US$4.5 billion. Almost non-existent in 1992, Turkey's trade volume with Central Asia surpassed US$600 million in 1995.

Around 600 Central Asian students have studied in Turkey since 1992 under a large scholarship programme. In the telecommunications field, equipment and technical assistance have been provided for expanding Central Asia's radio links and satellite connections with the outside world via Turkey. Turkey's state television is transmitting programmes via satellite to the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Turkey took a leading role in anchoring the Central Asian Republics into the OSCE system, with a view to facilitating the establishment of their nation states on the basis of democracy and respect for human rights.

Do you see any prospect of a resurgence of ultra-leftist terrorism in the near future?

Turkey has been struggling for the past 25 years against terrorism, both as a by-product of the Cold War and, more recently, terrorism undergoing mutation in the post-Cold War era. Turkey was initially the deliberate target of Armenian terrorist organisations abroad in 1973-85, and by ideological extremists intent on altering the regime internally in 1965-90.

The extensions of the organisations representing the extreme left still exist. For instance, Dev-Sol, which was quite active until 1980, has adopted a new name, the DHKP-C, and in 1994 intensified its violence somewhat. While targeting the security forces, DHKP-C has recently carried out terrorist attacks which could have more of a public impact, namely the assassination of a prominent industrialist and two of his assistants.

The extreme left terror organisations do not hesitate to collaborate with other terrorist organisations and are involved in organised crime to finance their activities.

The main objective of the extreme left is to mobilise people for an 'armed struggle' against the regime, and eventually to change the regime. They are also trying to create the false image that they are powerful and in control. However, the Turkish security forces are taking all the necessary measures to prevent attacks.

To sum up, the extensions of extreme left organisations are still there, and still misusing the fragile minds of young generations, although they are not as effective as before.

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©Kensington Publications 1996