In a recent interview with Le Point magazine, French
President Emmanuel Macron rejected the reporter’s description of him as a “new cool kid” on the global stage. After all, he joked, it is he who has to speak with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
every 10 days.
One of his aides at the Elysée later clarified that Macron’s intention was not to mock or criticize President Erdoğan, but simply to stress that every conversation with the Turkish leader is always very serious.
On Sept. 1, Erdoğan said he did not perceive Macron’s words as negative. On the contrary, he said, he saw his French
counterpart’s reference to him as positive. “I do not think [of the remarks] given to that magazine as being negative. On the contrary, speaking with the president of Turkey is a positive thing for them,” he told reporters.
Whether he is right or wrong, Erdoğan should consider why these frequent conversations with Macron are taking place, and on what grounds. If the talks were always centered on global questions, such as joint efforts to resolve the Syrian civil war or other important regional issues, then he may have a point.
However, Macron’s attempts to speak with Erdoğan are not always focused on global or regional issues.
Rather, they are often related to arrested French
journalists in Turkey.
One of the first issues that he had to deal with after his election as French
president in early May was the detention of Frenchjournalist
Mathias Depardon, after he was detained while on assignment for National Geographic magazine in Hasankeyf in the southeastern province of Batman. Depardon was detained on May 8, just one day after Macron was elected. He was later arrested in early June without any official charges being made.
Macron and other French
officials seriously engaged with Depardon’s case through frequent conversations with their Turkish counterparts, which resulted in the deportation of the Frenchjournalist
on June 9.
Macron announced the release and return of the Frenchjournalist
to his country in a statement that emphasized the importance that the French
government attaches to press freedom.
It should be recalled that Depardon is just one of the foreign journalists detained and arrested on vague “espionage” accusations. As cited in this column in June, Italian journalist
Gabriele del Grande was also be detained and only released and deported as a result of the Italian government’s interventions. But countries with rather poor relations with Turkey at present, such as Germany, have been unsuccessful in having their citizens released and deported, just like in the case of German-Turkish journalist
Deniz Yücel, who has now been under arrest for over 200 days.
The campaigns on foreign journalists continue. On July 26, French
Loup Bureau was detained at Turkey’s Habur border gate after he crossed into the country from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. He is reportedly accused of “aiding and assisting a terrorist organization” with links to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara
considers a terror group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party
(PKK). A local court ordered his arrest on Aug. 2 and he has been sent to prison in Şırnak.
Macron spoke with Erdoğan on Aug 27 about Bureau’s case, just like he did for Depardon in June. That is the context of the French
president’s attempts to speak with Erdoğan “every 10 days.”
So the picture is hardly as positive as President Erdoğan suggests. Many foreign journalists and human rights activists are currently in Turkish prisons, without proper judicial procedures being implemented and without consular access provided.
Until Turkey stops arbitrary detention and arrests of local and foreign journalists and activists, President Erdoğan will likely receive many more phonecalls in the coming period.