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September 17, 2010—No. 56 (202) 785-8430


The Sick Man of Europe Unveiled

by Aleco Haralambides

August 13, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC—The following Op-Ed by AHI President Aleco Haralambides appeared in The National Herald 8-28-10, The Hellenic News of America 9-10-10, and the Greek News 9-12-10.

It is said that the phrase “Sick Man of Europe” was penned by Tsar Nicolas I referring to the decaying Ottoman Empire in 1853. As a result of a carefully crafted campaign to beautify its image over the last 20 years, Turkey is now portrayed as a bastion of stability and it is regarded as the “only Muslim democracy” and, thus, a reliable ally. When President Obama visited Turkey he said Ataturk’s greatest legacy “is Turkey’s strong, vibrant secular democracy.” However, an evaluation of Turkey’s recent actions should lead the Obama administration to question the wisdom of treating Turkey as our staunch ally.

First, Turkey has recently shown that it is a destabilizing force in the Middle East. Although the U.N.’s investigation is just getting started, it seems that the Gaza flotilla incident could have easily been prevented by the Turkish government. According to Israel’s Prime Minister, the Israeli government had high level discussions with the Turkish government over two weeks prior to the flotilla setting sail for Gaza. In reality, there seems to be little question that Turkey was well aware of the flotilla—after all, the Cypriot government prohibited the flotilla from sailing out of Cyprus. By all appearances, the flotilla incident is the culmination of Turkey’s efforts to distance itself from Israel and to curry favor with Iran and Syria.

Turkey’s recent behavior should come as no surprise. Although Turkey and Israel have officially been staunch allies, within Turkey it seems that anti-American and anti-Israel sentiment has been ongoing for at least a decade and it has been largely ignored by the press. In 2005, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed piece by Robert Pollock, Senior Editorial Writer, in which he stated:

On a brief visit to Ankara earlier this month with Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith, I found a poisonous atmosphere—one in which just about every politician and media outlet (secular and religious) preaches an extreme combination of America- and Jew-hatred….

Mr. Pollock goes on to note that Turkey has long taken America for granted and has forgotten that: “U.S. administrations continue to fight annual attempts in Congress to pass a resolution…on the Armenian genocide”; and Turkey forgot “America’s persistent lobbying for Turkish membership in the European Union”. Mr. Pollock forgot to mention that the United States has given Turkey a free pass when it comes to stationing 40,000 illegal troops in the occupied area of Cyprus; the harassment of His All Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew; and the human rights abuses against Turkey’s minorities.

Another reason the U.S. government should rethink its close relationship with Turkey, is that Turkey has shown little desire to improve its deplorable record on human rights. According to the Turkish Human Rights Association’s (IHD) annual evaluation of human rights in Turkey, in 2009 there were no changes to Turkey’s plethora of laws that severely limit rights considered central to any democracy: freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of expression. To me, nothing symbolizes Turkey’s style of “democracy” like Article 301 of the Turkish Penal code, which makes it a crime to insult “Turkishness.” In an attempt to satisfy one of the European Union acquis chapters, this law was amended in 2008 and now it’s only a crime to insult the “Turkish Nation”. According to IHD, there are over 25 criminal laws that restrict freedom of speech/press; there were 569 people charged with crimes under these laws; and 36 journalists who were criminally charged. One of these laws criminalizes negative depictions of Ataturk. (As a side note, this plethora of criminal laws demonstrates the courage of His All Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew when he expressed his criticism of the Turkey government on 60 Minutes.)

The protection of basic human rights has always been important to us as Americans and Saddam Hussein’s violations of these same human rights was part of our government’s justification for invading Iraq. As a result, Turkey’s legislative restrictions on free speech and freedom of the press should be unacceptable to our government and positive changes to these laws should be a condition of our friendship with Turkey.

It gives me no pleasure to note that the Greek American community has been telling our government for many years that our foreign policy needs to change vis-a-vis Turkey—to no avail. More than ever, what Turkey has proven is that America should never ignore violations of international law and failure to protect human rights. Israel made the mistake of befriending Turkey while at the same time ignoring its transgressions and Turkey repaid the favor by befriending Iran—the greatest threat in the Middle East. We should not allow our government to make the same mistake.

Aleco Haralambides is the president of the American Hellenic Institute.


For additional information, please contact C. Franciscos Economides at (202) 785-8430 or at For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at


The American Hellenic Institute is a nonprofit public policy organization that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and also within the American Hellenic community.

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