Turkey at the Crossroads

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The vote was close and had taken almost a century, but when the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington D.C. declared by a single-vote majority (23 votes to 22) that Turkey's mass killing of Armenians in 1915 was "an act of genocide," Turkey was quick to recall its ambassador in protest.

It's difficult to understand Turkey's sensitivity on the subject. The killings were in the middle of World War I and were actually perpetrated by the predecessor of the Turkish Republic, the Ottoman Empire. It would be similar to blaming the United States for an act committed during colonial times before the country even existed.

Nobody denies the killings took place. The question is whether it was a natural consequence of the war or a deliberate attempt to wipe out an ethnic group. The official position of the Turkish government is that the historians should decide, not the politicians.

While most Americans remain unaware of the vote, the Turkish people were deeply offended by it. I know that because I was in Turkey just two weeks later.

During my visit over the last two weeks of March, the German chancellor also rebuffed Turkey. The Turkish press proclaimed that Turks felt insulted by the German leader's visit and her announced rejection of Turkish attempts to join the European Union (EU).

Turkey has the second biggest military in NATO, and the country has even closer ties with EU nations, especially Germany. (Many EU members are also in NATO.)

Travelling around Turkey, it is clear that every business will accept euros, but few will take U.S. dollars. Many prices are in both Turkish lira and euros, with the euro worth two lira (the dollar is worth approximately 1.5 Turkish lira). Even pay toilet facilities will take euros as well as lira.

Our tour guide told us that Germans comprise the biggest single group of tourists, with the Russians coming in second. The British are third. Americans didn't even make the short list. It's surprising, since Turkey is full of biblical sites that should be of great interest to American Christian groups. In biblical times, the area known as Asia Minor was the center of missionary work by the early apostles.

Although the name Turkey does not appear in the Bible, the geographical area that Turkey inhabits is featured prominently in both the Old and New Testaments. It was a part of the Persian Empire until Alexander the Great's conquests in the fourth century B.C. Then Turkey was a part of the biblical "king of the North" that Daniel prophesied about in the sixth century B.C.

You can read about the king of the North and the king of the South in Daniel 11. Of particular note is the fact that the "king of the North" features in biblical prophecy "at the time of the end" (Daniel 11:40).

Relations with the EU

At the famous UNESCO World Heritage site of Hierapolis, the ruins of an ancient Roman city and spa, German was being spoken all around us.

A century ago there were close ties between Germany and Turkey's predecessor, the Ottoman Empire. During World War I, the two powers were allies. When Germany was defeated and its empire crumbled, the Ottomans soon followed.

Today's Middle East is the result, a radical carving up of the Ottoman Empire that has led to a number of wars throughout the region, including all the conflicts between the Jews and Palestinians and the two recent wars against Iraq. World peace is constantly threatened by the precarious balance of power in the Middle East.

Once again, Germany and Turkey are close. There are over 3 million Turks in Germany. Whereas Germany wants them to assimilate, the politicians in Turkey are calling for separate schools to preserve their Turkish culture and their Islamic religious identity. It's a classic clash of cultures.

The Turkish Daily News and Economic Review of March 29 quoted Chancellor Merkel as saying: "These Turks have been living in Germany for three or four generations. We want them to integrate." The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the following comment on the same issue: "I think it is an improper approach for a German chancellor. She doesn't accept the opening of Turkish high schools."

The newspaper commented further:  "The European leader has rejected the idea of opening Turkish high schools in Germany and recently reiterated her intention to pursue a ‘privileged partnership' with Turkey as an alternative to its full membership in the EU."

EU concern about Turkish membership is due primarily to a simple fact—that 50 percent of Turks are under the age of 30. The country also has an official unemployment rate of 14 percent. EU membership would enable millions of Turks, both unemployed and those seeking higher salaries and better benefits under European social umbrellas, to spread out across Europe. Europeans, already concerned about the Islamization of their nations, are naturally concerned.

Turkey reaches out to neighbors

Faced with what's been interpreted as a massive rejection, Turkey is looking to build closer ties with its Middle Eastern neighbors. In the same day's newspaper a headline declared: "PM Backs Arab League's Iran Offer."

The subhead read: "Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey strongly supports Arab League Secretary General's proposal on establishment of a regional dialogue mechanism that includes Iran and Turkey—both non-Arab nations. The proposal could undermine US-Israeli efforts to isolate Tehran amid concerns that its nuclear program aims to develop atomic weapons."

A month earlier, before the House committee's vote against Turkey, the country might have acted differently.

Moves toward closer ties with the 22-member Arab League and radical Islamist Iran are a direct consequence of the U.S. and EU's rejection of Turkey.

"Along with Germany, France is also a vocal opponent of Turkey's EU aspirations. The two EU heavyweights believe that a vast, relatively poor country with a mainly Muslim population of 71 million has no place in Europe" ("A Summit Defined by Growing Tension," Daily News and Economic Review, March 29, p. 5).

The Turkish prime minister declared France's position as "illogical." He also described Merkel's rejection of separate schools for Turks as "hatred," language that will only inflame the situation between Turkey and the two most powerful EU member nations.

Although Turkey became a secular country with the declaration of a republic in 1923, the nation is currently governed by a radical Islamist party that frequently clashes with the military. Although it's been three decades since the military directly intervened in Turkish politics, some Western nations still express concern about the fragility of Turkish democracy.

First-time visitors like myself are amazed at how free the country is and its similarities with the West. Turkey is very much "Islam lite," a country where it's easy to see local people drinking alcohol in bars and restaurants and dressing in a more liberal way than would be possible in many Mideast countries.

Our guide told us that about 50 percent of Turks are religious, defined as going to the mosque on a regular basis. Officially 99 percent of the country is Muslim. A small number of Orthodox Christians still live there, descendants of those who once ruled the area when it was the Byzantine Empire. There is also a small Jewish community.

Until this year Turkey was a good friend of Israel, but recently there have been strains in the relationship. The future remains uncertain, as is the future relationship between Turkey and its Western allies.

It is important for the West to remember that Turkey matters. A look at a map will show you how strategically located the country is. The realization that it has the second biggest military force in NATO emphasizes its importance to the Atlantic alliance. If growing alienation from the West leads to growing Islamization of the country, it will be a serious blow to the Western democracies.

At the crossroads

Turkey has always been at the crossroads of Asia and Europe. Only 3 percent of the country is in Europe, while the remaining 97 percent is in Asia. Right now, it's at a crossroads where it must decide its own future.

The country is also in a very sensitive region of the world that is the primary focus of Bible prophecy—the Middle East. Jesus Christ showed that Jerusalem would be the main focal point when He said: "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near" (Luke 21:20). Interestingly, Jerusalem was ruled by Turkey a century ago. It had been a part of the Ottoman Empire for four centuries.

Turkey today shares borders with Lebanon and Syria, two of Israel's neighbors. Each of these countries is quite small, smaller than the state of South Dakota.

Over two millennia ago, the kings of the North and South fought repeatedly over the territory of what was then Judah, the ancient nation of the Jews. The two dynasties were the successor states to Alexander's Greek Empire. Daniel 11 contains a detailed prophecy from the sixth century B.C. that was largely fulfilled in the second century before Christ. However, it was not fulfilled in its entirety.

Verses 40-41 of the chapter shows that the final part of the prophecy is still future:

"At the time of the end the king of the South shall attack him; and the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter the countries, overwhelm them, and pass through. He shall also enter the Glorious [Holy] Land, and many countries shall be overthrown."

The country now known as Turkey will be involved in these end-time events. WNP