Turks Worry West's Position On Bosnia Sends Bad Signal
Leaders warn that inaction splits world on religious lines
SENIOR officials of the Turkish government are harshly critical of Western inaction in Bosnia-Herzegovina, expressing concern that the ethnic and religious partition of that Balkan nation will provide a dangerous example for other conflicts.
"What is going on now in Bosnia-Herzegovina will be the darkest page in the history of Europe, that 200,000 people are killed and a kind of genocide is going on and the world is watching, just publishing resolutions," Foreign Minister Hikmet Cetin told the Monitor in an interview here on July 14.
"We are very disappointed by the Western attitude toward Bosnia," echoes Volkan Voral, a senior foreign ministry official just appointed as senior adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller. "They have set a very dangerous precedent. They have divided the world along Christian and Muslim lines," he explains.
Mr. Voral warns that "the reverberations of this policy will be felt throughout the world. It will encourage fundamentalism, it will encourage fragmentation. It will encourage the use of force in other parts of the world, and it will probably lead to more turmoil in other parts of Europe."
The apparent Western acceptance of a Serb-Croat partition plan to divide Bosnia into three separate ministates for Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, poses a particular challenge to Turkey, a predominantly Muslim state that is also a key Western ally. `Bad test case'
Turkey is a strongly secular republic, but it is under growing pressure from both Islamists and Kurdish ethnic separatists. In recent weeks these groups have carried out a wave of terrorist attacks that have claimed dozens of lives and absorbed the attention of the Turkish government.
"If the world accepts states based on `ethnic cleansing' plus `religious cleansing', that will be a bad test case," Foreign Minister Cetin says.
"Around this region, there are so many multiethnic, multireligious nations - in the Caucuses for example," he adds, referring to the neighboring region of the former Soviet Union that is already torn by several ethnic wars.
While Turkish officials place the greater blame on Europe for its failure to act in time to avert the Bosnian conflict, they also express irritation at Washington's lack of leadership and an apparent double standard in United States intervention overseas.
"The United States must demonstrate its leadership," Voral says. "You cannot care about Somalia and ignore an important part of Europe: Central Europe.... You cannot punish Saddam [Hussein, the president of Iraq] and not punish Serbian aggressors."
Turkey's strategic position as a bridge between Europe and the Islamic world of Western Asia has long made it a valued US ally. During the cold war, Turkey was a key part of the NATO alliance against the Soviet Union. When the Gulf war coalition was put together, Turkey provided both vital military support, with US warplanes operating from bases in southeastern Turkey, and economic support, cutting Iraq's main oil pipeline.
The Balkans have particular historical and strategic importance for Turkey. Much of the region was under Turkish rule during the Ottoman Empire, which left behind a legacy in the Muslim population of Bosnia and significant Turkic minorities in countries such as Macedonia and Bulgaria. Both geographically and in security terms, "the Balkans are the gateway to Europe for Turkey and for Europe to Turkey," Foreign Minister Cetin explains. Between two worlds
At earlier stages of the Yugoslav conflict, Turkey tried to find a moderating position between the opposing views of Islamic countries such as Iran, which advocates intervention, and the West, which has unsuccessfully sought peace through diplomacy. Turkish officials claim to have acted, on Western requests, to gain the Bosnian government's agreement to the earlier Vance-Owen peace plan, which would have divided the former Yugoslav republic into 10 ethnic-based provinces within a confederation.
Foreign Minister Cetin, who had just returned from a meeting of Islamic foreign ministers in Pakistan, criticized Lord David Owen, the European Community negotiator, for abandoning the peace plan he helped devise in favor of the Serb-Croat partition plan. "That is unbelievable," Cetin says. "The same person said the Vance-Owen plan is the only plan which can be implemented."
Negotiations between the three sides in the Bosnian conflict are expected to resume in Geneva on July 23. The Bosnian leadership dropped on July 19 its refusal to attend the talks. President Alija Izetbegovic had argued that the partition plan amounted to an acceptance of Serbian aggression, but agreed to go to talks because he said his government had no alternative.
Turkish officials oppose the partition, favoring a return to the Vance-Owen plan despite earlier doubts about that scheme. But they also acknowledge that events have led to an impasse. "Actually, Bosnia-Herzegovina, as a state, is out of the map," Turkish President Suleyman Demirel said in a July 14 interview.
Turkish officials are deeply concerned about the implications of this. President Demirel expressed concern that success in Bosnia would encourage Serbia to carry out similar aggression in its Albanian-populated province of Kosovo as well as other parts of the former Yugoslavia.