The West has served Turkey to Russia on a silver platter. This is not good for Germany, Europe and the idea of democracy.
Turkey is certainly not a flawless democracy. With the help of his AKP coalition, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has massively restricted fundamental rights and civil liberties in recent years. After the attempted coup in 2016, he decidedly detached himself from the West. He used the putsch as an opportunity, some say, as an excuse to align Turkey with authoritarianism.
To this day, there is no clarity about the putsch. Erdogan himself blames his former mentor and partner, the Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen. The preacher lives in Pennsylvania. He represents the concept of a mild, cosmopolitan Islamism – exactly the flavor with which Erdogan won his first elections in Turkey thanks to Gülen as a “moderate”. Then the two fell out. Erdogan initially put forward the theory that the Americans were behind the coup. In 2017, the Turkish chief prosecutor even issued an arrest warrant for CIA officer Graham Fuller. Over the years, the attacks against the Americans have become quieter. But as late as 2019, Ali Kemal Aydın, the Turkish ambassador in Berlin, was still warning about the Gülen movement. Like many other countries, Germany “has not yet been able to grasp the extent of the threat”.
Distrust was sown, and it runs deep. Of course, neither Germany nor the EU can be held responsible for Erdogan’s authoritarian line, as German EU Commissioner Günter Verheugen explained in an interview with this newspaper.
But Germany and the EU have done little or nothing to act as bridge builders. German-Turkish politicians have only had the chance to succeed in German politics, at least in isolated cases, in recent years. Their expertise on Turkey has not been used, in part because of a deep-seated arrogance of the German elites towards the Turks in the country. After the putsch, Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded loyalty to Germany from citizens of Turkish origin. Many Turks found this presumptuous and discriminatory. Suddenly a wall went up between Germany and Turkey, the two states that historically have so much in common. If, after the putsch, a sensitive attempt had been made to strengthen the democratic forces in Turkey without provoking Erdogan – who knows, perhaps history would have taken a different course.
After the coup, Erdogan became extremely suspicious. He formed an informal opportunist axis with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The cooperation is military, energy and trade. Erdogan looks at his people in the same way that Putin looks at the Russians: the rulers grant people the illusion of being a great power and enslave them in everyday life with a hard knout. So the warlords have their backs free for conquests, the Russians in Ukraine, the heirs of the Ottoman Empire in Syria.
With Putin as a role model, Erdogan tightened his domestic policy and began to persecute those who thought differently and criticized the regime. Not only individual journalists like Can Dündar were harassed and driven out of the country. Entire media brands like the liberal Zaman group have been shut down. Other media were forcibly nationalized or voluntarily submitted to government dictates. Purges were carried out in the official and judiciary apparatus. Even today, government critics are persecuted as Fetö terrorists, Fetö stands for the Gülen movement. The conflict extends to Germany. Last week, German authorities searched the homes of two journalists from the Sabah newspaper near Frankfurt am Main. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the crackdown “against the free press” revealed a German double standard. The two journalists had been reported by Gülen supporters because the newspaper had published the address of exiled journalist Cevheri Güven. Güven had to leave Turkey because Erdogan put him on a death list.
Also after the election, an arrest warrant was issued against the German journalist Deniz Yücel. A court in Istanbul recently made the decision against Yücel, who had already been imprisoned from 2017 to 2018, as the writers’ association PEN Berlin and the newspaper Welt, for which Yücel works, unanimously announced. The arrest warrant relates to criminal proceedings against Yücel for “denigration of the Turkish state and the Turkish nation” and “insulting the president” in connection with articles by the author.
As with a magnifying glass, the cases also show the basic error of German foreign policy in Turkey. Germany no longer has any influence on Ankara on elementary issues, on the contrary: government critics have to fear the long arm of the Erdogan regime even in Germany. The big foreign policy line is missing. Opportunism, ignorance and prejudice characterize the decisions.
The mistake dates back a long time: instead of agreeing with Turkey on a realistic partnership model that could have strengthened the many complementary and common factors to the benefit of both countries, Turkey was sent into the illusion of full EU membership. Then Ankara was held out until the coup marked a real turning point. Germany held up the virtual finger at the Turks via Jan Böhmermann’s “Insulting Poem” against Erdogan – and that was it. Turkey turned away from western ties and opened up to Russia. The dream of democracy that many Kemalists had long since realized was gone. Erdogan established authoritarian rule. The ruling networks use themselves, people are kept on a short leash. Anyone who manages to emigrate is lucky – unless they end up in a hostile environment in Germany and then move on to a more open country.
Erdogan is not thinking of supporting Western sanctions against Russia. On the contrary: For him, business is getting better and better the tougher the Western embargoes are. As a NATO member, Turkey is able to bully and blackmail the West – as in the case of Sweden’s admission, which Ankara has blocked to this day. Despite its NATO membership, Turkey launched an invasion of Syria that violated international law. She goes unpunished. Turkey has moved its borders without protests or even ostracism. Nor does Erdogan make the slightest attempt to return the conquered territories. Erdogan had cleverly used the misery of the refugees from Syria to conclude a disgusting human trafficking deal with the EU: Turkey receives billions in grants from European taxpayers because it keeps the 3.5 million Syrian refugees away from Europe.
Even under Angela Merkel, Germany practiced a mendacious Turkey policy: Officially they said yes to EU membership, but unofficially they said they weren’t even thinking about it. All of this is a little reminiscent of the Minsk negotiations, where it was only recently revealed that Germany was only conducting sham negotiations.
Today, Germany is doomed to look on helplessly and inactively when it comes to a country with which a close strategic partnership should actually be maintained. But Germany did not represent its own interests, but always looked anxiously to its big brother on the other side of the Atlantic for orientation. However, he himself was undecided. In Washington there are Erdogan opponents and supporters. But for the Americans, Turkey is far away, like Ukraine. Above all, there are economic interests. Because Germany in particular could not emancipate itself here, there will not be a European axis towards Asia for the time being. Such an axis would have been good for the world and Europe – in terms of peace, human rights and democracy as well as common economic prosperity.
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