The night of July 15 was a shock that will reverberate for years to come. It came in the form of tanks and F-16s, nervous soldiers with guns and a shadowy global network of underground agents. It was a night when Turks felt like the context in which their lives unfolded every day could be ripped open by forces they scarcely understood. If we want to mend that context, we now have a responsibility to be resilient. Ankara’s various factions have been hard at work doing just that, and it’s time our friends in the West joined us.
Let me elaborate.
This week, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave his first genuine apology, ever. “I am sad for not having uncovered the face of this heinous gang,” he said in a speech. “I know that we have much to answer for to God and to our nation. May God and our nation forgive us.” He spoke in the plural, but as so often in formal Turkish, it was an “imperial we,” meaning that he was referring to himself.
With this apology comes a rare reach across the aisle. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who was for some time “a non-entity” for Erdoğan, is now a long-lost friend. Kılıçdaroğlu recently tweeted in disbelief about a speech of his being broadcast on the government’s TRT news channel. He announced that he would not attend the president’s grand rally in Istanbul this weekend, but acquiesced after two calls from Erdoğan and three from Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım. Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli has long been receiving the government’s praises anyways, and even Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) leader Selahattin Demirtaş gets a few kind words here and there.
But Turkey is no island entire to itself, and as a globalized modern economy, is dependent on the international community. There, the mood is different. Half a decade of newspaper articles with the theme “Erdoğan is a dictator” have made it impossible for our Western friends to see past the big man. This is so ingrained in their minds that their readers are now primed to link everything relating to Turkey to its president. It’s clickbait, and everyone knows it. I have heard from several foreign correspondents in Turkey that they try to steer things away from Erdoğan, only for their editors back home to put him into their headlines.
There is a price to be paid for that sort of lazy journalism, and it’s in front of us now: The West is incapable of matching Turkey’s emotions about the attempted coup. All they see is “Erdoğan is amassing more power.” That might very well be, but their fixation on that point is exasperating the problem, not resolving it.
Looking for a good example? Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt recently wrote a piece for Politico asking Europe to stand by Turkey against the coup. But as so often happens, the publishers determined the title, and it now reads “Europe, stand up for Erdoğan.” Bildt took to Twitter to say that Politico’s shift was “immoral,” but I find it a useful indicator of what is happening in Brussels. The editors were probably confused by the nuance in Bildt’s argument, which deplores Erdoğan’s anti-democratic practices, but sees a coup as being immeasurably worse. The EU, he says, only loses moral credibility by seeming indifferent to this.
This is not just talk. Trust between allies is important. Turkey is no North Korea – it hosted the G-20 last year. Turkey is an integral part of the post-war liberal order and an important global citizen. Of course it is imperfect in very important ways, but this is not a time to be pointing fingers. Turkey is going through a traumatic time, and if the West wants to keep it as an ally, it should put more effort into empathizing with the decisions the country has to make.
That might be the blessing in disguise. If the reconciliatory mood in Turkey is harnessed properly, the government could once again start to listen to its friends at home and abroad.
Last week, TOBB, the Chamber Federation of Turkey, arranged a meeting with domestic and international investors, as well the president, the prime minister and the economy ministers. CEOs called for public order to be restored swiftly, rule of law to be considered priority number one and the investment climate to be made more conducive for investments.
I like businesspeople because they look forward, not backwards. Attempting this coup was a terrible crime, but it reminded us – including the president – that we are all guilty in some ways. To live in this country together, we have to acknowledge our sins, apologize and learn to do better. I hope that in the wake of this terrible incident, our foreign friends can do the same.