President Gül warns of rising racism, discrimination in Europe



Turkish President Abdullah Gül spoke before deputies from the 47 nations represented at PACE on Tuesday as Turkey took over the presidency of the European body.
Turkish President Abdullah Gül has warned about the growing pessimism in Europe that he said was reshaping the continent’s political life on the back of increasing manifestations of intolerance and discrimination in many European societies.
“Let us not forget that popular support for explicit anti-Semitism was only 5 percent in the late 1920s. With the snowball effect, this poisonous minority paved the way for the Holocaust in the late 1930s. History does repeat itself if we do not draw lessons from our past mistakes,” he said to deputies from the 47 nations represented in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

“Over the past few years, our member states have been affected by weakening social ties. Radicalization and increasing gaps between different religious, ethnic and cultural communities started to harm the social fabric of our nations,” President Gül remarked, adding: “We must retain confidence in the ability of our democratic institutions to promote human rights, tolerance, dialogue and social cohesion. We need to develop a democratic framework for living together.”

In an address delivered yesterday in Strasbourg during the winter session of PACE, the largest and most important European watchdog overseeing human rights, rule of law and democracy on the continent, Gül said the Council of Europe has done and continues to do much to promote peaceful coexistence and mutual respect between peoples of different origin, culture and faith living in Europe. “The Council of Europe has the duty to address and counter these new challenges,” he added.

PACE President Mevlüt Çavu?o?lu, a Turkish deputy from the district of Alanya, introduced the Turkish president and said, “It is an honor and a pleasure to welcome you in this chamber, particularly at a moment when your country is chairing the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.” Praising Gül as one of the strongest supporters and defenders of PACE and the values it stands for, Çavu?o?lu said, “As a Turkish politician, you have invested a lot of effort into promoting democratic reforms in Turkey.”

He went on to say progress on democratic reforms is clearly visible. “The positive result of the recent referendum on constitutional changes as well as the high turnout show how strongly the Turkish people are attached to their democratic rights and freedoms and to a future in Europe. I am sure that with your strong political support, democratic reforms in Turkey will move ahead smoothly, to the benefit of Turkish citizens,” the PACE president remarked.

President Gül cited racism and xenophobia as representing major causes of concern in connection with the current economic crisis. “Roma and travelers, Muslims or Jews, and, more generally, those who are different, experience hostility and social exclusion in many of our societies,” he said, criticizing governments’ tough lines on immigration. “There is a rise in electoral support for political parties that portray immigration as the main cause of insecurity, unemployment, crime, poverty and social problems,” he warned, calling them “pathologies” that are weakening Europe and decimating its soft power in the world. “We should work hard to defeat these problems to reassert Europe on the global scene,” the Turkish president told the deputies.

Recalling terror attacks in New York, Madrid, ?stanbul and London, Gül argued that European Muslims have perhaps been more affected than others by these trends. He said Muslims in Europe are very diverse not only in their geographical origins and cultural heritage, but also in their ways of interpreting and practicing their faith. “It is a misperception to view these diverse communities as a unitary one defined by religion. This is fundamentally at odds with ‘European values’,” he noted.

President Gül emphasized that the perpetrators of these crimes have nothing to do with Islam. “One should also bear in mind that those terrorist organizations are attacking many Muslim targets, too. They do not have achievable political objectives, but rather pursue their archaic and illicit utopian ideas,” he stated. The Turkish president made the point that Islam, like all other religions, teaches tolerance and respect for human beings of all faiths. “It is the abuse of faith for political purposes that leads to intolerance and exclusion,” he added.

Gül also responded to questions raised by deputies from the 47 nations in PACE. He said there is a “silent revolution” going on in Turkey in terms of further democratization, admitting, however, that there are still shortcomings. “We have confidence in ourselves in overcoming those shortcomings,” he added. He dismissed a question raised by one deputy regarding lowering the 10 percent threshold in national elections, saying it is simply not possible to amend election laws in an election year. “Everyone agrees in Turkey, including the government and the opposition, that we need a new constitution. The threshold could be taken in that context after the elections,” he said, adding that there is no barrier for independent candidates.

Responding to a question on the restoration of churches in Turkey, Gül said the Turkish state does not make a distinction between churches, synagogues or mosques, and they are trying to restore all historic buildings. He said he believes everyone should be able to freely practice their own religion, including atheists. “We are removing all obstacles before that. Some of these problems may be relevant for the Muslim majority as well,” he pointed out.

The Turkish president gave assurances that his country is doing everything it can to prevent illegal migration to Europe. He warned, however, that Turkey cannot be a place where all illegal immigrants are dumped and left to be taken care of by without any help from other countries. “We need close cooperation,” he said. When a German deputy raised the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) trial issue, Gül said it is up to the independent court to determine whether terror or violence is involved. He also informed deputies that defense given in a mother tongue other than Turkish in the courts is allowed and currently in practice.

As for minorities, Gül said that if any group is not happy with the decision of the domestic courts, they can always take a case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). He squarely placed the blame for deteriorating relations with Israel on the Jewish state, saying Turkey did all it could to help Israel to reconcile its differences with its neighbors in the past. “The collective punishment of the Gazan people is not acceptable as confirmed by international bodies. Many international human rights organizations have tried to help the Gazans. Turkey did that, too. People from 47 nations participated in that aid convoy, but Israel attacked them in open waters,” he explained.

Gül also dismissed the genocide question raised by Armenian deputy Naira Zohrabyan, saying the Turkish government does not believe the term can be applied to the incidents during World War I. He called for the establishment a historical commission to investigate World War I killings during which Armenians, Turks and many others perished and asked for all archives to be opened up. Recalling that he was the first Turkish president to visit Armenia, Gül said Turkey wants to normalize relations with its neighbor, but the occupation of Azerbaijani lands must cease. “As long as there are problems in this area, there will be a wall between Europe and Asia. If we solve these, the Caucasus would be a great gateway for prosperity,” he noted.

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