SPIEGEL Interview with Turkey's Prime Minister 'There Can be No Talk of Genocide'

In a SPIEGEL interview, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 56, discusses Ankara's relationship with the European Union, the debate over genocide against the Armenians and his role as a mediator in the dispute over Iran's nuclear policy.

AFP

SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, your country is currently giving a confusing impression. It is more modern and open than it was before you came into office, and yet it is also more pious and Islamic. Where are you taking Turkey: toward the West, toward Europe or toward the East?

Erdogan: Turkey has changed considerably and has been modernized in the last seven-and-a-half years. Unlike previous governments, we take the founder of the republic, (Mustafa Kemal) Atatürk, at his word and are trying to bring the country to the level of contemporary civilization. In doing so, we look in all directions. We don't turn our face from the East when we look to the West. We see this as a process of normalization.

SPIEGEL: The first thing a visitor sees after passport control at the airport in Istanbul is an enormous display of the duty free shop's alcohol department and a poster advertising an exhibit of the revealing work of the late Picasso. In the Mediterranean city of Alanya, on the other hand, there are hotels with separate beaches for men and women, which would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

Erdogan: What you saw upon arrival at the airport is a nice expression of freedom. What you say about Alanya is something I hear for the first time. But even if it's true, it too is a manifestation of freedom. The owner of a hotel like that, and his guests, are exercising a right that we have to respect.

SPIEGEL: This week, you will host German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who doesn't want Turkey to join the European Union anytime soon. What will you say to her?

Erdogan: Turkey submitted its application for associate membership in the European Economic Community in 1959. That was 51 years ago. No other country was subjected to such a procedure, and yet we have remained patient. Nowadays, however, we are no longer a country that is merely seeking membership in the European Union. Instead, we are already negotiating for full membership. If proposals are submitted to us today that diverge from the agreed framework of these negotiations ...

SPIEGEL: You are referring to the "privileged partnership," which Chancellor Merkel prefers over full membership for Turkey.

Erdogan: ... then this is just as strange as someone changing the penalty rule in the middle of a football match.

SPIEGEL: Your government is trying to shape Turkey into a new regional power. Why do you need Europe at all anymore?

Erdogan: It isn't about what we need, but about a mutual need. Turkey is not a burden for Europe. On the contrary, it takes a burden away from the EU. Together with Spain, we run the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations initiative against extremism, which benefits Europe. We have been a member of the customs union since 1996, and we satisfy the political criteria established in Copenhagen. In fact, we are even closer to fulfilling the economic Maastricht criteria than some EU member states. And then there is the fact that we are a founding member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and have been a member of NATO since 1952. This makes us a bridge between the West and 1.4 billion Muslims.

SPIEGEL: Turkey has become very self-confident, and you are considered to be one of the most influential leaders the country has had since Atatürk. Do you see yourself in the role of a "sultan," as some supporters, but also critics, describe you?

Erdogan: I am the chairman of a major party that was founded by the people. Therefore, I would never compare myself with Atatürk, the man who founded the republic. I have no intention of becoming a padishah, a ultan. It's enough for me when people say good things about me.

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