Ankara-Berlin ties hit low amid war of words
The relationship between Turkey and Germany is experiencing a new low after strong-worded accusatory statements from Germany’s senior officials threatened to revise Ankara’s already halted accession process to the European Union and urged its citizens not to visit Turkey due to security concerns. Turkey condemned the German government’s travel warning and strongly criticized officials’ remarks on the Turkish justice system.
“We need our policies towards Turkey to go in a new direction. We can’t continue as we have done until now. We need to be clearer than we have been until now so those responsible in Ankara understand that such policies are not without consequences,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters on July 20.
Gabriel said the new steps Berlin would take in reshaping ties with Turkey had been agreed on with Chancellor Angela Merkel, indicating it had become a joint stance rather than the social democrat’s personal stance.
The ties between the two NATO allies have been further strained after Turkey arrested a German human rights activist Peter Steudtner last week on charges of attending a meeting on one of Istanbul’s island where plots to put Turkey in chaos had been planned. The arrest followed after Germany had to withdraw its troops from the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey to Jordan because the Turkish government did not allow German lawmakers’ to visit their soldiers.
Germany responded to the move by not allowing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to meet with the Turkish community in Hamburg where he had attended the G20 Summit, which obviously pushed Ankara to nix a group of German lawmakers’ visit to the Konya Base where around 20 German troops had been deployed as part of a NATO mission.
Earlier this year, Turkey arrested a Turkish-German journalist, Deniz Yücel, on terror-related charges and did not allow Turkish ministers’ pre-referendum campaign in Germany. President Erdoğan had compared Germany’s actions to Nazi-era implementations and strongly accused Germany of harboring members of the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ).
Germany mulling steps
Gabriel, who broke off his holiday to return to Berlin and deal with the crisis with Turkey, said the situation also affected how the EU dealt with programs for Turkey’s accession and said Germany would speak to European colleagues about that in the coming days and weeks. He also said he could not envisage talks on expanding the customs union to Turkey.
In the meantime, the German Foreign Ministry warned its citizens to be more careful in traveling to Turkey on July 20, citing recent detentions of people there and Ankara’s refusal to grant consular access in some cases, in violation of international law.
“People who are traveling to Turkey for private or business reasons are urged to exercise increased caution and should register with German consulates and the embassy, even for shorter visits,” the ministry said in its revised travel guidance.
“Until now, there was guidance for certain groups but we’re saying it now applies to all German citizens, not just for those with certain jobs. Everyone can be affected. The most absurd things are possible,” said Sigmar Gabriel.
Ankara condemns Gabriel’s words
In Ankara, İbrahim Kalın, President Erdoğan’s spokesman, replied to German officials’ remarks and announced measures on Turkey through a press conference. “We are strongly condemning suggestions that German nationals visiting Turkey would not be secure,” Kalın told reporters.
Recalling that millions of Germans are fully safe visiting Turkey and those who are under judicial prosecution are only a handful of German nationals, Kalın stressed, informing that scores of Turkish nationals and civil society organizations have been investigated and even charged with espionage.
“We think that those unfortunate statements are an investment for internal politics aimed at the approaching elections in Germany,” Kalın said at the press conference.
Berlin should respect Turkish justice
“How come Germany tolerates this? When we talk about them, they respond ‘We have justice and independence.’ Well, why don’t they respect Turkish justice? This is disrespectful to Turkey. They will respect our justice,” stated Kalın, categorizing Germany as the European country hosting the most FETÖ members who fled Turkey after the July 15 coup attempt.
In the meantime, the Turkish Foreign Ministry criticized comments by German officials regarding the arrest of six human rights activists, including a German citizen, saying these were unacceptable and amounted to interference in the judiciary.
“There was direct interference in the Turkish judiciary and the comments used overstepped the mark,” said the Turkish Foreign Ministry, referring to the comments by the German government and the foreign ministry spokesmen. “The comments again show the double standards in their approach to the law of those who prevent terrorists from being brought to justice while embracing members of terrorist groups who target our country,” the ministry said.