Country at a crossroads

"Country at a crossroads" Continued...

Issue: "Summer of '68," Aug. 9, 2008

Just days after the July shooting in front of the American consulate, 86 members of the "Ergenekon gang," a clandestine nationalist group, were charged with allegedly forming an armed terror network and plotting a military coup. The group is widely believed to be behind more than a decade of assassinations in Turkey, including the murders of Catholic Priest Andrea Santoro in February 2006 and Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in January 2007.

Many Turks believe the prestigious title of European Cultural Capital and the wave of tourists expected in 2010 will boost the country's image as a moderate and peaceful nation and ease some of the tension among wary Europeans. Political analysts say Turkey's accession process will take at least 15 years because of the country's size and population (close to 70 million people) and the vast chasms between religious and cultural differences.

As Turkey continues to seek closer ties to the West, its political and economic ties to the East-particularly the countries of the Middle East and Central Asia-remain strong.

Turkey's geo-strategic importance is an attractive claim, and those in favor of Turkey's acceptance into the EU say it could help forge a bond between the Islamic world and the West, spreading stability to Turkey's southern and eastern borders.

But Turkey's Christian population is proceeding with caution. Christians in the West "should know that this is going to be a long, difficult struggle for us," the Turkish believer in Istanbul said. Christians in Turkey are small in number (an estimated 3,000 people), not deeply rooted, and lacking in finances.

"There are difficulties, and there are opportunities," she quickly added with a measure of optimism. The same could be said about Turkey as it continues to tackle the ripples of extremism while becoming increasingly confident about its pivotal place in the world and the bounty it has to offer the West. Acceptance into the European Union could become both a source of pride and an avenue of accountability for Turkey as it enters a new era in the years ahead.


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