interview with dr. armagan emre cakir on turkey-eu relations
january 8, 2011 by changing turkey
dr armağan emre çakır is assistant professor at the european union institute of marmara university, istanbul. he is the chairperson of the department of politics and international relations of the european union. his research focuses on theories of european integration, and eu–turkey relations.
changing turkey: dear dr. armagan e. cakir, could you tell us a bit about your recent/forthcoming publications? in particular, could you talk about your recent edited volume ‘fifty years of eu-turkey relations: a sisyphean story’ published by routledge?
dr. cakir: in my academic output i try to keep a balance between theoretical studies and case studies. as a theoretical study, relatively recently, i published an article on the application of the gestalt theory (which is a theory of human perception) to the european integration phenomenon. another article of mine that presents contingency theory (which is a theory of business administration) as a tool to examine again european integration is under review. i am also working on a case study that examines the impact of the usa on the relations between turkey and the eu. to remain between us, my vice is music, and an article of mine about politicians who play a musical instrument is under review (fingers crossed).
coming to my recent edited volume “fifty years of eu-turkey relations: a sisyphean story,” this volume has been made possible thanks to the esprit de corps among us, all the authors that contributed to the book. the academics i co-operated with were very professional. besides tailoring their chapters perfectly to the concept of the book, they also came up with creative ideas that contributed much to the whole of the book. they tolerated my whims. my invitation to them was a bit short-notice, yet they did not let me down, nor did they sacrifice the quality. author x spent time to read the chapters by y and z, and in both chapters recommended me some points that could be cross-referred. true, as partners in crime we missed the deadline a bit: 2009 was the fiftieth anniversary of turkey’s application to the eec for associate membership, whereas our book could be published at the end of 2010. this reminds me of a musical anecdote:
leo slezak, a tenor known for his jocular personality, was performing in wagner’s lohengrin. his role required him to ride a wooden swan that would move on rails laid on the stage. in one particular performance, the swan was sent from the wing of the stage too early to let slezak jump aboard. while his unique vehicle was disappearing into the darkness of the opposite wing of the stage, slezak turned to the audience and released a recitative of his own invention: “”wann fährt der nächste schwan?” (“when does the next swan leave?”)
although we did our best at the backstage, our tenor could not catch the first swan. so be it; he did not miss the next one at least.
the main concern in the preparation of this book was to provide an exhaustive coverage of the past fifty years of the eu-turkey relations. yet, instead of containing a little bit of everything, each chapter focuses on a dimension of the eu-turkey relations. these are political, economic, security, elite opinion, public opinion, identity, and ethical dimensions. that such important dimensions as environment or agriculture, or such key themes as democracy or human rights remain outside the scope of the book should be attributed to practical reasons rather than negligence or omission.
attributing equal importance to early and later years of the period in question was another concern. however, in some cases, focusing on certain parts of this period was inevitable due mainly to data availability. for example, no dependable and uniform information is available on european public opinion on turkey for the first few decades of this period. it is equally difficult to talk of a significant security dimension of eu–turkey relations for the same early years.
remaining fair and neutral was also a concern in formulating the book. nevertheless, the first feedbacks we received on the drafts of the book indicated that there still was a hint of pro-turkish bias in the text. at this point, we concluded that trying to eliminate further the passages that may be seen in turkey’s favour would mean distorting authors’ opinions. this should not lead the reader to infer that the contributors are a team of like-minded scholars; there do exist considerable differences of opinion among them.
changing turkey: what are the potential limitations of the existing analyses on turkey- european union relations, in your opinion? could you suggest any gaps in the literature or any potential pitfalls?
dr. cakir: as i indicated in the preface of ‘fifty years of eu-turkey relations,’ there exists a significant research corpus on the relations between the eu and turkey. these relations extend over such a large span of time and they are so multi-faceted that there still is and will be much to explore. since turkey’s application for associate membership in 1959 which meant the official inception, these relations have gone through the tensest days of the cold war, seen the collapse of communism and experienced the obscure period following the 9/11 attacks. they were influenced by the interests of many actors, from the caribbean countries to the usa, equated with the relations between the east and the west or christianity and islam, and identified with heresy or treason. they sometimes became a proxy for the ongoing friction between turkey and greece, and sometimes served as a coordinate system whereon the definition of europeanness was projected. together with all the conspiracies, accusations, adversities and frustrations involved, there is enough material in the eu–turkey relations for several further volumes. even after turkey becomes a member of the eu, i am of the opinion that “turkey” theme in eu studies will remain a bonanza, and at times it will be the destination of an academic gold rush.
notwithstanding, there also are some common limitations of many of the existing works in the field, as well as the pitfalls of the field itself. first, the value-laden magnetic nature of this gold field deviates the needle of the compass from the “s”cientific towards the “n”ormative. a considerable number of otherwise precious studies are marred by their zeal to demonstrate how much turkish identity will contribute to europe, or how unfairly turkey has been treated in her relations with the eu (for a specimen afflicted with this last condition, see my very own chapter in the book).
lack of uniform and issue-specific data sets is another problem. carrying out surveys across the eu and/or turkey is an expensive and challenging task. therefore, many studies draw on the multi-purpose eurobarometer data. this situation calls into question the reliability of their estimate.
scarcity of legal studies in this field is also noteworthy. especially, comparative studies between turkish legal system and the acquis or a national system of law of a member state are not published frequently. because, first this is a daunting task that requires the might of such bodies as taiex. secondly, by its nature the field of legal studies has been area-specific in the literature. experts who specialize in comparative law have always been few; in our case there are a handful academics who have command on both eu law and turkish law at least in one particular area. besides, since for practical reasons language of instruction is turkish in most of the faculties of law in turkey, many law students find it difficult to study legal texts written in a european language.
changing turkey: could you suggest any publications about turkish politics and society to our readers?
dr. cakir: my first suggestion would be the works by ali çarkoğlu. he is equally well-versed in comparative politics, political economy and public opinion. he is equipped with necessary methodological and statistical tools. and he is not deterred by ambitious projects.
i may also recommend to the readers to hunt for phd theses written at prominent universities both in turkey and elsewhere. some of these gems do get the attention and appreciation they deserve, and make it to the shelves of bookstores. yet, there are many others waiting to be discovered at the price of a few minutes spent on a search engine. these texts are hand-crafted windows opening to some exotic and virgin lands of turkish studies. to a discerning eye, they may bear some faults here and there, on their handle, hinges… but they are designed with genuine scientific curiosity –not under the pressure of “publish-or-perish” atmosphere–, and provide very interesting findings.
changing turkey: is there anything you would like to add?
dr. cakir: i believe that your blog has a lot to offer to academics who study turkey; it is not difficult to see the motivation, diligence and competence with which it is maintained. i wish you success in your future studies.+