Engagement, marriage, or PACS?

The French got possibly the worst news since June 18, 1815 from a Turkish minister and, ironically, on the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and, even more tragically, at a British venue! French efforts to shape European politics have failed throughout history, the Minister for the EU, Egemen Bağış, told an audience of dignitaries at the British Embassy in Ankara, while looking a senior French diplomat in the eye (hurriyet.com.tr, June 19, 2009). Nor will they succeed today. Mr. Bağış went on to remind the French of their great misfortunes.

Since that day, according to sources close to the ElysŽe Palace, a repentant Nicolas Sarkozy has been having terrible nightmares and starting his mornings with a strong Turkish coffee to come round. There was a reason why Hurriyet’s related story covered the ’breaking news’ in the most ’a la Turca’ way: Last warning to France! Poor FrenchÉ They must have been devastatedÉ

Quite naturally, I could have suspected the ’Bağış effect’ on the French rush for ’Saison de la Turquie’ if it was not former presidents Jacques Chirac and Ahmet Necdet Sezer who had constructed the idea. Such was the political set-up when ’Turkey season’ proudly opened in France. In the months ahead there will be over 400 events in 77 French cities, featuring a Turkey that is not necessarily the EU-candidate Turkey but the one Turks think would have the best chances to appeal to a suspicious French audience.

The names of prominent Turks, from arts and music to architecture, who will take part in the ’let’s-impress-the-French-project’ reminded me of a recent exchange with a visiting Ph.D. student of political science from Voltaire’s lands, someone who surely has a bitter sense of humor.

After a lengthy conservation on an unusually chilly Ankara afternoon, she finished her ’French wine made by a Turkish company,’ thanked me and said: "I guess I’ve seen enough of Turkey. Now I must go and see Turkey." I smiled back and asked: "What will be your destination after Turkey?" "Well," she said, "I am intending to go to Turkey." Days after, in a message she wrote that she was traveling from Turkey to Turkey, and it would be impossible for her to visit all 1001 Turkeys in one shot. "Unfortunately, I haven’t got 1001 nights to travel from one Turkey to another."

Just like every other major PR project, ’Turkey season’ will selectively feature the ’modern face of Turkey’ hoping to win French hearts and minds. With a little bit of luck, a few French may be seen in awe, watching the Turkish wonders on display with words of pleasure: "Mais c’est fantastique!" or, "Oh, les Turcs sont plus EuropŽens que les Français!" But most others will smile at the Turkish goodies and wonder why the Turks did not exhibit cultural produce that are more Turkish, like, for example, Turkish musicians on the top of charts instead of a great talent with a few copies sold and simply no recognition by the average TurkÉ

How about social/demographic statistics? That, for example, a third of Turkish girls marry between the ages of 16 and 19? That most Turks would not like to have atheist, Jewish, Christian or American neighbors? That Turkey is being run by a rising elite of Islamists, and the Turks are becoming increasingly conservative by all scientific criteria? Facts and figuresÉ Yes, Turkey is a democracy, with a population of 72 millionÉ and run by a government that was found guilty by the country’s supreme court for systematic anti-secular activityÉ

Or, that the country’s most powerful political movement is in fact remotely controlled by a Muslim clericÉ And the Turkish prime minister happens to be a former imam with a political career spent in Islamic militancyÉ The same man who had brilliantly diagnosed the Paris riots four years earlier: "I told (the French) before," Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. "The headscarf ban has triggered these riots." With the same ban still in effect, why do the (mostly Muslim) French not riot any longer?

There has been a lot of matrimonial reference to the Turkish bid to join the EU, like engagement and marriage. As one French friend reminded, however, a more proper matrimonial analogy could be PACS, or ’pacte civile de solidaritŽ,’ a form of civil union between two adults (same-sex or opposite-sex) for organizing their joint life. This civil bond brings rights and responsibilities, but less so than marriage.

a legal standpoint, a PACS is a ’contract’ drawn up between the two individuals, which is stamped and registered by the clerk of the court. In some areas, couples signing a PACS have the option of undergoing a formal ceremony at the City Hall identical to that of civil marriage. Individuals who have registered a PACS are still considered "single" with regard to family status for some purposes, while they are increasingly considered in the same way as married couples for other purposes.

Looks very suitable, does it not? You are married but you are not. You are a couple with legal obligations and responsibilities, but not under those of a marriage contract. Yes, PACS could be an option unless of course by the time it’s time for both Europe and Turkey to decide another ’good Muslim’ Turkish leader does not insist on an Islamic marriage with up to four wives: The EU for one, and then there is the Muslim world, the Middle East which will partly overlap with the previous one, and the former Ottoman lands tooÉ Oh, that will surely be a marriage made in heaven!
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