Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 100 - 119)



  100. Is that getting worse?
  (Mr Barchard) I think the temptations for politicians are getting worse as a result of economic development in Turkey, the proliferation of large contracts and those kinds of things. That is, in a sense, a rather different problem and there have been a number of scandals in the last few years. But the ability of the Turkish system to detect, expose and punish such cases, including cases in the parliament—for example the president of the Grand National Assembly was actually brought to book for irregularities a few years back—should not be underestimated.

Ms Stuart

  101. In terms of the dynamics within Turkish society, what are the most powerful media which shape opinion of the population at large? I have been told that because of the expansion of satellite television in the Turkish communities, rural communities living in large communities in mainland Europe, the process of integration has been reversed in many ways because you will find the Turkish communities simply sitting and watching television. Within Turkey itself, what are the most powerful ways in which the opinion on the ground is formed? Is it radio, newspapers, television?
  (Mr Barchard) As you say, it is television. It is also, at the local level, leadership. Turkey is in some respects a patriarchal society: there is a great deal more deference or respect for authority and therefore a great deal of willingness to listen to what those above you say and to take a lead from them. But, yes, you have mentioned television, and there is no doubt that television is immensely powerful. There is a very great deal of television in Turkey—I think over 30 television channels. Of those, there are about four or five commercial television stations linked to the press empires and I suspect those are the ones which lead the way. They tend, actually, to have fairly liberal, even radical, political attitudes, particularly on questions like public order, demonstrations and corruption. They go quite a long way to make quite radical criticisms of the status quo.

  102. Would you mind telling us a bit about who controls the media in Turkey?
  (Mr Barchard) There is one very large group, which is the Dogan Media Group, and then there are smaller ones. There was a second very large group but they got into financial difficulties as a result of the crisis last year. There is one other influential group and that obviously is the mosques and the religious establishment and also the underground semi-legal religious brotherhoods. Obviously there are sections of rural society in eastern Anatolia, and of course some parts of the more advanced western metropolitan regions where they are also very influential.

  103. What element of political control is there of television?
  (Mr Barchard) I do not think there is any formal political control over television. There is a culture of abiding by what are considered to be patriotic ideas and standards.

  104. Looking at religion, some of the evidence which Mr Leigh gave early on, the whole question of the traditional role of the military within Turkish society, and this is probably something which we find probably more difficult to understand, I was wondering whether you would like for the benefit of the Committee to explain what your view is of the changes in the National Security Council vis-á-vis to what extent you think that it has made any real changes in reducing the role of the military within civic society.
  (Mr Barchard) I always think that the role of the National Security Council is perhaps slightly exaggerated partly because it permits itself to have such an enormous amount of publicity shown on television. There is a great deal of ritualism and things of that sort. As regards the role of the military in particular, it is fairly clear that Turkey is a front line state. It is very aware that if it did not have a record of military prowess it would not exist today in its present form. There was a time, fairly recent in people's consciousness, where it stood totally alone against the rest of the world and was saved by its soldiers. There is also a perception—and do not forget that all Turkish men have done service in the army—that the military is better organised: the hierarchy is functioning properly, there is a command system, people know whom to take orders from, and therefore it is a more effective institution than other institutions. It is also in some ways a more altruistic institution than other institutions because it exists for the national good. At the local level it also does other things. It is quite common in Turkish rural society, for example, to find pop concerts and things of that sort being organised by the local gendarmerie.


  105. And meritocratic?
  (Mr Barchard) And meritocratic of course, yes, so there tends to be a certain amount of respect for those kinds of things. Increasingly we should not forget that in Turkey, as in any other society, there are people who are quite modern and rebellious—"bolshie" might be a slightly unfortunate expression in the circumstances—and who do not like authority and those attitudes are to be found in Turkey too. There is not a record of total deference but, given that many Turks still see themselves as facing challenges internally and externally, because Turkey is always very conscious that some of its neighbours are both unfriendly and undemocratic and there is this potential risk from Islamism, there is a tendency to feel that the role of the military, no matter how unruly or rebellious you are, could in the last resort be necessary. I tend to go along with that to some extent because I think it is quite clear that if the military, for instance, had not intervened in the situation in the mid-1990s in the way that they did on the 28 February 1997, we would not be sitting round this table today talking about Turkey's membership of the European Union. Turkey would have continued to Islamise and the question of Turkey's accession would have become a dead letter.

  106. Do you think there is a case to be made that the military should become more readily engaged in the discussions on EU membership given its significant role?
  (Mr Barchard) No, I do not think that would be proper in Turkey or by European standards. What is appropriate is to try and strengthen the civilian structure, to breed a culture of civic responsibility, and to make sure that Turkish institutions can function properly. This I think is the answer that the military themselves would give. In 1980 and other periods it was very clear that they had not had the disposition to intervene in politics. They had intervened because they were sucked in by weak political structures and a growing power vacuum.

  107. So the military itself perceives itself as a kind of reluctant sheriff in this?
  (Mr Barchard) A guardian of the last resort, yes.

  108. Are they comfortable in that role?
  (Mr Barchard) I suspect that, having had it for a long time, many of them are, but others are also aware that the role of a professional army might be a more limited one and that perhaps in some respects would be in the longer term a more satisfactory role. I have certainly heard it said that in the longer term if Turkey were integrated into the European Union many of the concerns that the military face and which give them some sort of involvement in politics would no longer be live issues and therefore it would be possible for them to deal with what are more traditionally their duties.

  109. We talked earlier about the old men of politics (and I noticed that there was not much mention of women in politics) hanging around a long time. What do we know about the body that forms the opinion of the military? Is there any new blood coming in or is it a fairly conservative body (with a small "c")?
  (Mr Barchard) I think "conservative" is the wrong word. I think that the main criteria which they look for these days are obviously Communist connections or things of that sort which would be taboo, but that is not really very much of an issue. They do have a policy of very specifically recruiting people from backgrounds where they can be quite sure that they are not dealing with potential Islamists.

Mr Hamilton

  110. Let me say first of all that your paper was remarkably well written and very clear. I thought it gave me a lot of information in a concise way. One of the things that alarmed me was the points you made about the access to the UK from Turkey visa situation. I think many of us who regularly have to deal with our own constituents who have relatives in the Indian-sub-continent will be familiar with the problems that Turkish citizens face in trying to get visas. It is no surprise to me at all. We have had another paper which outlines just that particular point and enlarges upon it, but I wanted to ask you how much you think the visa restrictions that have been implemented for the last 12 years or so are restricting trade between our two countries. You mentioned that the United Kingdom is the third or fourth largest trading partner with Turkey. How much is that trade being restricted by these visa problems?
  (Mr Barchard) I find it very difficult to quantify that. You certainly hear stories of business men abandoning deals with the UK because they have been told to come back in five months for a visa interview, so they do not pursue that option. Because Britain is not in the Schengen agreement, a Schengen visa, which most Turkish businessmen would have, is not valid here. There is the additional point of course that people who want to go to language schools or spend holidays here or things of that sort cannot do so, so that money is also lost to the UK by the very tight visa regime.

  111. You made mention of the Schengen countries. How difficult would it be to get a visa to get into the Schengen group?
  (Mr Barchard) Again I cannot give a precise figure but it looks to me like it is a great deal easier just because one knows people who go to those countries and travel around once they are inside them. One always hears of difficulties of Turks coming to the UK.

  112. Let me be clear on this. It seems from what you say that the UK is the worst country to get a visa to visit if you are a Turk.
  (Mr Barchard) It is difficult to quantify that precisely but that is the impression I have, possibly because I am English and so possibly because people tell me about the difficulties they have experienced.


  113. Let us move on if we may to human rights, which is one of the key areas where Turkey has not even got over the first hurdle of the political criterion of the Copenhagen Council. First, since we are going to meet representatives of Amnesty International after you, Mr Barchard, to put Turkey in its regional context, how do human rights in Turkey compare with those in its immediate neighbours?
  (Mr Barchard) First of all I think that the situation in Turkey is broadly in line with what one would expect in a north Mediterranean country at this level of development. I suspect that it is not as different as it might be from Spain, Italy or Greece some decades back. I think also that Turkey has moved fairly rapidly in the last 20 years in terms of personal freedoms and in particular in freedom of expression. If one compares it with the countries around it, obviously the difference between Turkey and Syria, or the difference between Turkey and Iraq, or even the difference between Turkey and Iran, is rather like the difference between day and night. There is absolutely no comparison between those regimes, whether in political activity or freedom of expression. It is totally suppressed.

  114. But if we compare Turkey not with its immediate neighbours but with European norms, Turkey practises torture, for example. Clearly Spain in the very recent past has not done that, so how quickly would you believe that Turkey, with its current record, could accommodate itself to the Copenhagen criteria?
  (Mr Barchard) Can I take the first point first: torture? My impression was that there was a great deal more physical violence during the emergencies and military rule. There was clearly torture in the eighties and in the previous decade but perhaps it did not exist in the 1960s to the same extent because there was a much more liberal system, there was much less conflict in Turkey in those days. It is a response to emergencies. I cannot guess what the Amnesty International spokesmen will say but I wonder what the situation with Spain is in the Basque country and around there? I suspect you would get allegations of torture and serious irregularities there. Most of the allegations in Turkey are connected with the emergency regions or sometimes with the spillover from them occasionally you get stories of abuses committed by officials recently returning from those areas. I do not think it would be fair to say that the situation in Turkey bears comparison with what it was like during the early 1980s or in 1971 or in those days. I think there has been clear progress. Secondly, you come up against a problem, that I do not think anyone at the top of Turkish politics is in favour of torture at all. I do not think anyone wants to wink at it or turn it aside. Anecdotally, I have heard many stories over the years of politicians, beginning with the late President Turgut Özal, confronting certain police officers very aggressively on this topic. Mr Mesut Yilmaz, the Deputy Prime Minister some years ago, had to intervene personally to ensure that some police accused of torture actually turned up for their trial. In other words, it is a problem of weak control at the local level. This is a problem that a certain number of the Turkish police are themselves very concerned about and it again points to the need to have a more coherent structure.

  115. Is it being addressed?
  (Mr Barchard) It is being addressed to the extent that it is becoming progressively easier in Turkey to launch criminal proceedings against officials. That was very difficult in the past. There have been changes in the legislation over the last two years making it much easier (although perhaps not as easy as it might be) to make complaints against officials and get prosecutions going and get punishments enforced and indeed from time to time they are. But I think everyone would accept that there is still room for progress in that direction, but that politicians want that kind of progress I think is indisputable.

  116. What about the media? Is there any real prospect that the authorities will permit truly free debate within the Turkish media?
  (Mr Barchard) I do not know whether anyone here has read the Turkish media but there is an enormous amount of—almost endless—debate in them. There are certain no-go areas, usually to do with (in fact almost entirely to do with) the right of secession and the unity of the state, and occasionally to do with matters like the ones I alluded to earlier—the questions of incitement or in particular insult of officials. Again, the number of such cases I would have thought is considerably less than it would have been five or certainly ten or 20 years ago. In those days one was constantly getting into difficulty on those things. One must not forget, for example, that the Prime Minister today, Mr Ecevit, himself served a spell in jail for an interview he gave to the BBC in 1981, I think. Clearly Mr Ecevit and other politicians have a strong interest in making sure that there is continued progress.

  117. But it is not, with respect, entirely restricted to the state of emergency because we had our attention drawn to a judgement of the 14 December 2000 at the Istanbul State Security Court No 4 which banned all publishing or broadcasting of information which portrays Turkey "in a state of weakness" and that in August 2001, for example, ten radio and television stations received penalties for closure from one to 365 days mainly for unacceptable comments on current events.
  (Mr Barchard) Those are two different issues. I cannot comment on the specific case in the martial law courts because I do not know it but I wonder to what extent that particular case was upheld on appeal.

  118. There is no indication that it has been overruled.
  (Mr Barchard) In regard to the second thing you mentioned, the powers of RT UK, the Turkish Radio and Television Supreme Board, I agree that the methods it uses are as far as I know without parallel anywhere else in western Europe and they were, when they were introduced, regarded as highly controversial. It has to be said that one does not see a great deal of criticism of those regulations and the fact that if you, for example, have a profanity or an obscenity on television your station may be shut down for a day. One does not see a great deal of criticism of that in the media or on the radio. This is perhaps the kind of issue to which Turkish society as a whole will have to address itself as it moves closer towards the European Union and find ways of managing the media or keeping media discussion within reasonable limits. It is not usually, discussion which is involved; it is usually what one might call the `Mary Whitehouse' type of issues, I think, which have figured in those kinds of closures.

  119. One understands the case for the integrity of the state, the argument against secession, but is there a ban on any discussion of ethnic or minority diversity within the media?
  (Mr Barchard) I think that has to be viewed in terms of Turkey's historical experience in the 19th century when discussion of such matters was almost invariably the prelude to collusion with the outside powers, including, it must be said, Britain, leading to autonomy and ultimately to the creation of the modern map of the Balkans and the Caucasus and so forth. It is not surprising that when people have personal experiences which may well be bound up with very painful experiences for their own families they tend to look askew at such matters. I will give you one example. A friend of mine, who was a leading Turkish civil servant, is of a family of Georgian background but when they came to Turkey they made a conscious decision that, having arrived there, they were now Turks and they would take no interest in their Georgian background, and he does not.

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