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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2009, Vol.1, No.1 .


The European Union and Turkish Accession: Human Rights and the Kurds
Kerim Yildiz and Mark Muller

(Pluto Press, London, 2008) 264 pp, PB, 17.99
ISBN 978-0-7453-2784-6


The European Union and Turkish Accession discusses Turkey's aspiration for EU membership in light of the Kurdish issue. Providing a brief account of the reform process following the Helsinki European Council of 1999 - when Turkey was officially accepted as an EU candidate country - Yildiz and Muller argue that the accession process has been a catalyst for change in Turkish politics. As such, they argue that it offers an opportunity to address the Kurdish issue by challenging the militarist, ethno-nationalist state ideology that has dominated Turkish politics since the end of World War I.

A summary of Turkey's relations with EU is followed by an account of the Turkish state?s troubled past with its ethnic minorities and its poor human rights record, focussing on the treatment of its Kurdish citizens. Additionally, the oppressive policies of the state as well as violent acts of state agents towards the Kurdish minority are discussed in detail. Yildiz and Muller criticise the EU for hastening the accession process while there is still much to accomplish in order for Turkey to develop into a pluralist, democratic country.

Moreover, the annual European Commission reports on Turkey's three-tier accession process fall short of emphasising the vital and deeply-rooted character of the abuses inflicted upon the Kurds. Indeed, they cannot be treated as sporadic incidents arising from the failure of state agents to implement the necessary political and cultural reforms. On the contrary, they are the consequence of a militarist, ethno-nationalist state ideology deeply rooted within almost every institution of the country. A high percentage of the victims of human rights abuses are Kurds, which further attests to the institutionalised ethnic character of the conflict.

As a result, there is a need to address the Kurdish issue separately rather than treating it as an example of failure to implement the reforms that would gradually be dealt with during the accession process. Indeed, the Kurdish issue has dominated Turkish politics for decades. Yildiz and Muller believe that it can only be solved via a major structural change in official state ideology. Promoting itself as an advocate and a protector of human rights, the EU has a responsibility to assist in establishing a dialogue between the conflicting parties. The prospect of membership should be used to empower the Kurds as well as human rights advocates so that a peaceful solution to the conflict can be achieved by challenging the resilient ethno-national nature of the Turkish state, which perceives any minority as a threat to its existence and oppresses it violently. Yildiz and Muller argue that until recently the EU has failed to accomplish this role to the disappointment of the Kurds.

Overall, the authors draw upon the well-known carrot and stick metaphor to emphasise the importance of the accession process. On the whole, this book represents a reminder to the EU of its responsibility to promote minority rights. It is a useful resource for students of both human rights and the EU, as well for anyone with an interest in the history and origins of the Kurdish issue in Turkey. The vast examples of court decisions, along with international and Turkish legal documents indicate a thorough study of the legal dimension of the Kurdish problem. Although one cannot avoid wondering why the authors insist on turning to the EU as the ?civilised role model? despite the frustration and disappointment it has inflicted upon the Kurds until now, the book itself provides the reader with a good amount of information on the history and the nature of the conflict.


Cagla Orpen



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