ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkey and the European Union on Friday disagreed over the roots of turmoil in the mainly Kurdish southeast–offering a hint of troubles ahead on Turkey’s long road to EU membership.
Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit told reporters after a meeting with the EU’s Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen that he had complained about a number of issues–including Verheugen’s use of the phrase "Kurdish problem."
"There are elemen’s in our relationship with the EU that cause discomfort; I made known our complaints," Ecevit said.
"I told him we disagree with such a description–because Turkish society has no tradition of ethnic discrimination. The southeast’s problems do not come from discrimination," he said.
"I said that they come from the region’s feudal structure and efforts at the start of the century by various foreign powers to divide Turkey."
Turkey says the violence has its roots in underdevelopment and outdated feudal structures of land ownership in the region. Its Western allies–including the European Union–point to legal restrictions on Kurdish language education and broadcasting.
Ankara sees granting Kurdish cultural rights as divisive and refuses to award the Kurds minority status for fear of fueling separatist nationalism.
Speaking later in the capital–Verheugen made clear that the EU regards the problem in Turkey’s southeast as a Kurdish one.
"It is the understanding of the European Union that the ‘southeastern problem’ is a code word…Please allow me to use my language and I do not ask my Turkish colleagues to use another language. What we have in mind is exactly the same," he told reporters.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said Turkey’s first steps toward EU membership had gone well.
"We are quite satisfied with this initial phase of our relationship with the European Union," Cem told reporters at a news conference with Verheugen. The two were working toward a timetable for Turkey’s accession.
Analysts say Turkey’s human rights problems–legal system–extensive farming subsidies and the Kurdish issue must all be addressed before the union can admit the overwhelmingly Moslem nation of some 62 million people.
Cem acknowledged that there was work to be done.
"This is not an easy process," he said. "But that is not a surprise…Both parties are doing their best."