Turkish President Abdullah Gül today welcomed Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, at the beginning of a four-day visit to Turkey. It's the royal couple's first official visit to the country - which sits on the cusp of Europe and Asia - in 37 years, and comes as Turkey is struggling to enter the European Union; by the Queen's presence in Ankara today the British government is making it known that the UK's position is in favour of a European (and therefore pro-Western) Turkey.
When last the Queen visited Turkey - in 1971 - excited crowds surged past protective barriers and swarmed the royal party's open cars; there was no possibility of such a breach of protocol today. There was, however, a noticeable indication of the religious schism threatening the largely Muslim country - the president's wife, Hayrünnisa Gül, wore a hijab to greet Her Majesty, an act which ensured that military leaders boycotted a state banquet in Ankara on the first night of the visit. The Turkish military are sworn to uphold the country's secularism.
Secularism has been a hallmark of Turkish life since the modern republic was establish by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in October 1923; in recent years, though, that sacred principle has been under fire as Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise in Turkey as it is around the world. A secular, European Turkey has long been a British desire, and the hope is that the Queen's visit (coming as it does less than two years after a similar visit by Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands in February 2007) will do much to encourage that.
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