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Volume 746: debated on Thursday 20 June 2013


Asked by

My Lords, Turkey is a democracy with multiparty elections and a democratically elected Government. We are following events in Turkey closely. There have been disturbances in Ankara and Istanbul. The Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe have spoken to their Turkish counterparts about the protests. As friends of Turkey we hope to see the issues raised by the protesters resolved peacefully through dialogue. A stable, democratic and prosperous Turkey is important for regional stability. Turkey remains an important foreign policy partner and a NATO ally, and the UK will continue to support its reform agenda.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the resilience of a democracy is tested through how it responds to internal dissent? The clampdown in the past three weeks on not just protesters but also on medics, hoteliers and simple bystanders who were only helping the wounded as well as on the media demonstrates an authoritarian strand. Does she agree that this can assist only those who argue against Turkey’s entry into the EU on the basis of the Copenhagen criteria? Is she working with European partners, as well as Turkish authorities, to help solve this?

My noble friend raises important points and we have raised our concerns exactly in the way that she has described. Of course, she will accept that Turkey is on a positive path to reform. A huge amount of economic and constitutional reform has been effected. As regards Europe, we are concerned about countries that are raising concerns about not opening up further chapters on accession; however, we must also remember that before these protests there were many countries which for the past three years have objected to opening up any chapters on further accession.

There is proper concern at the increasing authoritarian tendencies by the Turkish Government and certain Islamic tendencies. However, should not the Turkish Government be given credit for their opening up to their Kurdish minority and their far greater reconciliation than any previous Government, not only in Turkey, particularly in the south-east provinces, but also in relations with the Kurds in northern Iraq?

The noble Lord makes an important point. As well as reform of the constitution generally that has assisted the Kurdish peace process, progress in that process has meant that Turkey has been heading in the right direction, and we must support and congratulate it on that.

My Lords, after the terrible scenes that we have seen over the past few weeks of how the security forces and police have responded to these demonstrations, does my noble friend share my view that Turkey’s huge economic success in the past decade now needs urgently to be matched by democratic reforms to ensure an anti-authoritarian, inclusive society that the younger generation in particular, who are educated, middle class and secular—I include women in this—are demanding? I declare that I have family and friends who have been involved and caught up in this, especially women’s groups with whom I work. Does my noble friend also think, as has been touched on, that the UK and the EU now need to engage more than ever with Turkey? As has been mentioned, fundamental chapters have been closed, such as Chapter 24 that would force the reform of justice, freedom and security, and Chapter 22 on regional development.

My noble friend makes an important point in relation to Turkey’s economy. It has enjoyed 5% growth on average over the past 10 years. It is effectively one of Europe’s strongest-growing economies. We must congratulate Turkey on that. Britain has seen success on the back of it, but I take the noble Baroness’s point in relation to further European accession. It is because Turkey continues its path towards European accession that it carries on making these reforms and we must therefore encourage rather than discourage it.

My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness’s response in regard to the Kurdish question that is long outstanding in Turkey. Does this not include work on a new constitution and can our Government be helpful through our experience of devolution within the United Kingdom?

My Lords, I share the view that the Minister has expressed about the importance of Turkey, to this country, its own region and potentially the European Union. I would like to return to one of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, because it is important to get a precise answer. The attacks on doctors and nurses in the course of these demonstrations, and on hospitals to where people injured in the demonstrations have been taken, seem to raise profound questions about the way in which we work with the World Medical Association and other competent medical authorities. How do the Government propose to do that? Plainly it cannot be the case that those who are assisting the injured and seriously injured are left to fend for themselves.

It is important for noble Lords to understand slightly more the complexity of what led to these protests. What started off as concerns about a Bill on the use and sale of alcohol became an environmental dispute about the development of a shopping mall in Gezi Park, which has stood for 60 years. This then became a broader political dispute. It is important for us to remember that there are different things happening with the different groups in Turkey, but I completely take the noble Lord’s point in relation to making sure that these matters are resolved peacefully and by a political dialogue, and that Turkey continues to be aware of its international obligations in dealing with these protests.

Will my noble friend make specific representations about the large number of journalists and lawyers who seem to be languishing in Turkish jails, which is an affront to democracy?