For a long time there have been many disagreements on several issues between Turkey and the United States. But what is currently being experienced is a very deep divergence, unseen before.
We will see how history unfolds, but at the moment it looks like the issue of the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, who has lived in Pennsylvania for 17 years, could be a turning point in Turkish-U.S. relations if Washington does not change its position.
First of all, how the two governments approach the issue is fundamentally different. The first reaction shown by Washington on the foreign minister level to Ankara’s accusations of Gülen’s role in the coup attempt indicated this difference. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did not say “this person lives in the United States, we have a responsibility too and we will take a look.” Instead, he said “show us the proof” and then he just said “we are ready to help.” Actually, Washington even proposed working together and forming a team on this. But this means that the documents sent on July 19 to the U.S. administration were not considered an official application for extradition. Therefore, the initial approach never changed. U.S. President Barack Obama also stressed the same thing: “Evidence.”
has approached the issue from a political perspective. In contrast to the Americans’ technical approach, Ankara
has moved forward with the expectation that as the U.S. is an ally, it must simply stand with the Turkish government on this issue. This contradiction has become a disagreement between the two governments that is particularly difficult to overcome.
But the risk that this issue will lead to historic outcomes on bilateral ties is not limited to that fundamental difference. More important is the fact that the approach in the two countries’ press and non-governmental circles is totally different. There is a widespread consensus in Turkish public opinion that Gülen was behind this coup attempt. In the U.S., however, the majority think that there is just a probability at most.
Many of the retired American
diplomats, opinion leaders and journalists I have spoken to believe everything was a plot carried out by the Turkish government. These are people who have accused Turkey of being fond of conspiracy theories, but now they come out and claim that despite so many killed people, the coup was a farce planned by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
When I called to criticize the director of a think tank over its position endorsed on the issue, recommending that they change their position, I was told by this free speech advocate that this was not up to me to say.
There was a panel in the U.S. congress two days before the coup. Speeches were delivered that rightly criticized the mistakes recently committed by Turkey. Republican representative Dana Rohrabacher, who presided over the panel, which was followed by many Gülenists, asked directly about Gülen. Someone in the panel said he had only witnessed their peaceful initiatives. One of the panelists was Fevzi Bilgin of the Rethink Institute, established by the Gülen movement. He said similar things that day and added that after the coup he would be leaving the institute. He has not answered calls since the panel.
The problem is that there are thousands in the Gülen movement who are unlikely to be directly implicated with the coup. They are also opposed to what happened.
But Washington is not moving. If Washington does not review its position, Turkish-American relations will end up in a very different equation.