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SEMİH İDİZ >A Salah for Turkish-European ties

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The “Salah” is an Islamic prayer that is also used also to announce a death. It can be roughly translated as a “death knell” when used in this context. A Salah is clearly being said today for Turkey-EU ties. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel says Turkey has never been this far from EU membership. 

True as this is, we still need a pinch of salt. There was little to suggest that Turkey’s membership bid was going anywhere before the present crisis anyway. Chancellor Angela Merkel had said that even if Turkey fulfilled all the prerequisites, membership would still not be guaranteed. 

Simply put, the prospect of EU membership stopped being a “carrot” for Turkey a long time ago. What we are in fact discussing today is not Turkish-EU ties, but Turkey’s ties with Europe. These have deteriorated in an unprecedented manner, with the help of acrimonious language from the Turkish leadership that has more to do with burning bridges than diplomacy. 

The fact that Ankara has come out against Europe with its populist verbal guns blazing reflects the desperate need by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to get the result it wants from the April 16 referendum to clinch President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s one-man rule.

Ankara has scant, if any, consideration for “the day after the referendum,” when a massive attempt is going to be required to overcome the ill will that has been created between Turkey and Europe. 

On the contrary, Erdoğan is now telling expatriate Turks to multiply and alter the demographics of Europe, which he maintains will be theirs in the future. He is not bothered that it will be Turks who have been living and working in Europe for decades who will suffer the consequences of such off-the-cuff remarks. 

The long and the short of the matter is that Turkey’s relationship with Europe will never be the same again under Turkey’s present leadership. While there are voices in Europe who support Turkey today to an extent, such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban, it is clear they do so for ulterior reasons. 

As one European diplomat put it cynically, “if Europe is not slamming the door on Turkey all together, it is solely for the sake of practical considerations.” Such considerations are of no concern to Ankara, though. It has placed itself on a single track with no reverse gear.

Meanwhile, Europe continues to carry grist to Erdoğan’s mill. Take the fact that 30,000 demonstrators waving the flag of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) were allowed to demonstrate in Frankfurt on Saturday, and to chant slogans against Erdoğan.

This comes only days after Turkish government ministers were refused permission to canvass for a “yes” vote among Turks in Germany eligible to vote in Turkey’s referendum. German officials will say that unlike the Turkish ministers, the organizers of the pro-PKK rally received the proper permission. 

Even if true, that still begs a serious question since the PKK is also outlawed by Germany as a terrorist organization. 

Ankara is understandably indignant now, and Germany has reportedly said it will initiate an inquiry as to why PKK banners were allowed to be used at the rally. This is disingenuous. What is clear, however, is that this rally has armed Erdoğan with fresh material against Europe. 

The same applies to Germany’s spy master, Bruno Kahl, who claimed in an interview that Ankara failed to convince them that Fethullah Gülen was the mastermind of last year’s coup attempt. Even if true, Kahl is surely sophisticated enough – otherwise he would not be where he is – to know the consequences of such remark at such a sensitive moment. 

Perhaps Berlin was trying to send a message to Erdoğan in this way, but it is clear who will benefit from this in the lead-up to the referendum on April 16, which is all that matters for Erdoğan and the AKP today. 

So it is not “a Salah for Turkey-EU ties” we are hearing, but for Turkey’s relationship with Europe, and perhaps the West as a whole.

March/21/2017

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