Turkey’s EU negotiator lambastes critics of gov’t initiatives

egemen-bagis1.jpgEgemen Bağış
“While Turkey is trying to solve its problems, including the Kurdish issue, with further democratization and more human rights, some have apparently engaged in putting more obstacles along the path,” a senior cabinet official said on Monday.

In an interview with Today’s Zaman, Turkey’s chief European Union negotiator, State Minister Egemen Bagış, said Turkey is going through a historic process and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is determined to bolster the territorial integrity and unity of the country by implementing long-awaited reforms. “We are striving to engage in constructive dialogue with every segment of society with an all-inclusive approach,” he said, adding that all groups should have firm belief that solutions to problems can be found through the democratic process.

Bağış was a key figure in arranging a rare meeting between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan and leaders of Turkey’s religious minority groups last weekend. Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew and leaders of Turkey’s small Armenian, Jewish, Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic communities had lunch with ErdoÄŸan and senior ministers on Büyükada, an island near mainland Ä°stanbul.

The chief EU negotiator lashed out at critics of the government’s recently announced Kurdish initiative and accused them of exploiting a very sensitive issue for political gains. “I frankly have a hard time understanding the approach of some in this process,” he stated.

Stressing that his government is intent on bringing the country’s standards in line with the modern world, Bağış made a plea to opposition parties not to obstruct the ongoing process and asked them for positive contributions, including fresh ideas and suggestions. “This country belongs to all of us, and let us make the path wide and clear for our common bright future,” he noted.

Bagis also dismissed allegations that the government really has no plan concerning the Kurdish issue and this is just a public campaign that might backfire on the AK Party. “They [critics] are just trying to dilute the process with these false claims,” he argued. In a bid to discredit critics, Bağış pointed out the track record of the government over the last seven years as compelling evidence that the AK Party means what it says.

“We have invested close to TL 14 billion in the southern and eastern parts of the country so far,” he said, recalling the gigantic, multi-billion dollar Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP), a cluster of dams and irrigation projects aiming to create fertile land in the Southeast to help the agricultural sector, which will be completed by 2012.

“Critics of this recent initiative turn a blind eye to our government investments, including the improvement of health and education in the region. They do not see the launch of TRT 6, a publicly financed channel broadcasting in Kurdish, as an important step in this process,” Bağiş said.

The minister further argued that opponents simply cannot digest the rising democratic standards and expanding human rights and freedoms in Turkey. He said the government is trying to minimize regional economic discrepancies in a bid to bolster Turkey’s EU membership bid, which he described as the most important modernization project since the establishment of the republic.

In an apparent rebuff to expected recommendations from the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, Bağış said his government will never pay heed to radical suggestions. “Attempts to portray the government’s initiative as harming the unity and territorial integrity of the nation are misguided and misinformed,” he emphasized.

Turkey’s point man for the EU membership process also reaffirmed the government’s commitment to finding solutions to chronic problems the country has faced based on democracy. “If the problems impact all of us, the solution should involve everyone as well,” he underlined.

19 August 2009, Wednesday