Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in November 2002, two months before the first demonstrations against Rauf Denktaş’s policies took place in TRNC. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayip Erdogan, and his new foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, are perceived to be loyal friends of the international community. They supported (albeit discreetly) the US invasion of Iraq and approved the dispatch of Turkish troops to help the coalition there, something eventually thwarted by lack of support from parliament. A solid commitment to pursue EU membership has gone in tandem with their pro-US policies.
For as long as anyone can remember, European institutions have been remorselessly critical of Turkey’s human rights record, in particular the country’s perceived over-militarization and persecution of its large Kurdish minority. The European Court of Human Rights has also penalized Turkey in numerous judgements condemning the depredations suffered by Greek Cypriots during the 1974 invasion, and awarding large sums in compensation for the loss of property.
For the past 18 months, Ankara has sought to assuage many of these criticisms, firstly, by putting Turkey’s powerful military under civilian control and by reducing its power in the national security council. Kurdish rights are being addressed by allowing the use of the language in certain areas of public life, including the media, and money has been made available for Kurdish language teaching. On 9th June 2004, Kurdish activist Leyla Zana and 3 others were released from jail after a long campaign by Amnesty International and other international bodies. Finally, Erdogan and Gul have provided forceful backing to the proponents of the Annan Plan in TRNC, again, fulfilling the demands of both the EU and US.
It should be added that Turkey is also following many of the well-trodden policies of the IMF in an attempt to curb inflation and regulate corruption. “Following the financial crisis the International Monetary Fund imposed a 'reform programme' on Turkey, which only served to worsen widespread poverty and already high levels of unemployment. Contrary to its election promises, when it spoke of standing up to the IMF, since taking over government the AKP has in fact pursued and implemented barely unchanged the IMF programme of privatisation, deregulation, price and tax increases for consumers and cuts in grants for small farmers”.
BHHRG was in Turkey during local elections held on 4th April, 2004. Although the AKP is supposedly highly popular, it didn’t do as well as predicted by opinion polls, gaining only 42% of the vote in what, for Turkey, was a low turnout of 76.14%. This was the lowest level of participation in nationwide elections since 1984 - in the 1994 local elections, for example, the turnout was 92.2%. The party took 58 out of 81 municipalities but lost to the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Turkey’s second largest city, Izmir. Economic reforms have hit the poorer sections of society with tourism in 2004 likely to suffer after terrorist attacks in March and high VAT imposed on luxury goods, like wine. Proposals to send troops to Iraq are still on the table and it has been suggested that were parliament to refuse to approve a deployment if asked a second time, it could lead to the government’s downfall.
There is still substantial grass roots support for TRNC sovereignty in Turkey, but as the major media outlets support the Annan Plan and integration into the EU, the rejectionists have little exposure. The army, perceived as the north’s other main supporter, is now on the back foot, removing a major plank in TRNC’s armoury. It would be fair to say that, when the referendum on the Plan took place, official Turkey was four square behind a ‘yes’ vote.
Washington has been as vocal as the US in supporting a solution to the ‘Cyprus problem’ while leaving the EU to act as public cheerleader. The US has a new agenda, the Greater Middle East Initiative, which accords Turkey a pivotal role as a moderate Muslim country which can act as a bridge between east and west. A solution to the Cyprus problem would, according to commentators, “strengthen Turkey’s image as a model of successful democracy within a Muslim nation”.
The once fiercely secular country is now being coaxed into allowing various (allegedly harmless) manifestations of Islam, like the wearing of head scarves while educational reforms have been put forward to allow students with qualifications from Islamic schools (imam hatips) to attend any of the country’s universities. In order to show solidarity with this project, Mrs. Erdogan is always photographed in public smothered in garments associated with a ‘woman’s place’ in Islam, including a headscarf.
Many Turks feel bewildered by this development. Whatever the faults of the Turkish state, Muslims have been free to worship within a secular environment. This is a precarious strategy, at variance with much of the letter and spirit of the Turkish constitution, and President Ahmet Necdet Sezer recently refused to sign the new education law upgrading imam-hatip schools for that reason.
 Loizidou v. Turkey http://hudoc.echr.coe.int.,
 “Kurd activists leave Turkish jail” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3790997.stm,
 Justus Leicht and Sinan Ikinci “Turkey: Victory for AKP in local elections masks social tensions”, Turkish Daily News, 16th April, 2004, www.turkishdailynews.com,
 Niels Kadritzke, “Cyprus: Saying no to the future” Le Monde Diplomatique, May, 2004 www.monde-diplomatique.fr.