Members of the Memphis Rotary Club heard some unexpectedly tough talk on Thursday from Nabi Sensoy, ambassador to the United States from Turkey, this year's Memphis in May honoree. Though most of his 30-minute luncheon address to Rotarians at the Convention Center was devoted to the polite bromides expected on such an occasion (example: "I'm looking forward to 'walking in Memphis'"), Sensoy minced no words when it came to several specific problem areas.
The Rotarians learned of Turkey's frustration in its so far unsuccessful efforts
to be accepted into the European Economic Union as a fully fledged member - a
failure that Sensoy attributed to various "pretexts" - including political
misconceptions on the part of other Europeans about the fact that Turkey's
population is "99 percent" Muslim.
"But we are a democratic and secular state, not a Muslim state, and in that part of the world it is hard to find another country with both democratic and secular traditions," said Sensoy, who insisted that Turkey, a growing economic power and "a part of the Western world," belonged to almost every trans-European organization of importance, including NATO, for which it served as a "southeast bastion."
Asked about Iraq, with which Turkey shares a border, Sensoy described the "main tenets" of his country's attitudes as these: "We would like to see an Iraq which could preserve its independence, its territorial integrity, and its national unity, a country that is at peace with itself and at peace with its neighbors."
Growing more specific, Sensoy talked of Turkey's concerns about incursions into its national territory from partisans of the PKK, a militant organization representing an independence movement for ethnic Kurds, who control most of Iraq's northern areas and who constitute a sizeable minority in Turkey just across the border.
The PKK's "hit-and-run attacks" in Turkey had caused some 35,00 deaths in the last two and half decades, Sensoy said. "It is by far the dirtiest terrorist organization in the world, and it has entrenched itself in northern Iraq." He lamented, "We are second to none in our kindness toward the Kurds, but so far they have not shown their appreciation very much."
Consequently, Sensoy warned, Turkey reserved the right to launch its own attacks across the Iraq border. "There have been some raids," he acknowledged, pausing before going on: "Against the PKK, nobody else."
In the course of a brief interview after his address, Sensoy touched on another difficult issue - the demand by ethnic Armenians that Turkey be condemned for what they maintain was an officially sanctioned massacre of the country's Armenian minority in the years after World War I. A resolution to that effect, supported by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi among others, was brought before Congress during the last year but failed of passage.
Sensoy expressed gratitude to both President Bush and the congressional majority for combining to defeat the measure, which, he said without specifiying, would have had "disastrous consequences" for relations between the United States and Turkey. Some members of Congress, including 9th District U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis, had cautioned at the time that Turkey was indispensable to the maintenance of supply routes to the American military mission in Iraq.
"He has traveled in our country," Sensoy noted of Cohen, whom he described as "a
great representative of the people of the United States of America."