Tension with Germany means much more
Up until the last move by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, when she took steps to put a brake on Turkey’s already slowed down relations with the European Union, it was more possible to explain the escalation in Turkish-German tension with the German elections set to take place on Sept. 24.
It is less possible after Merkel put a hold on the process of upgrading the existing Customs Union deal between Turkey and the EU and urging the EU to restrict the financial promises toward a Turkish accession, which is something on paper already.
It is true that the tension has a German election campaign dimension, as the rhetoric in German politics turns into an anti-Erdoğan mood from an anti-Turkish mood. For all mainstream parties, let alone the smaller ones, it seems Erdoğan-bashing has turned into one of the most attractive campaign materials, despite the more than three million Turkey-origin people living in Germany. But the latest move by Merkel, especially after a consortium led by German Siemens won a $1 billion energy deal showed that it was something much more than that since the move is a structural one binding all other members of the EU.
It is not likely that many EU countries would confront Germany on that especially when it comes to rights and freedoms in regression in Turkey, especially after the foiled military coup on July 15, 2016. And the fear from a new wave of migration triggered by the civil war in Turkey’s neighbor Syria is not as much as before as EU’s enlargement chief Johannes Hahn said recently, partly because the Syrian war is relatively contained as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is getting defeated and partly because EU countries have taken additional measures in the meantime.
Yet Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan still considers the unfolding events as only election moves by Merkel. That is why he made a call on Turkish voters in Germany not to vote for the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats or Greens, which could leave them with the option of voting for either the far-right Alternative for Germany or far-left Democratic Left, or boycott, if the Turkish voters do what Erdoğan tells them of course. That was also a risk by Erdoğan since many Turkey-origin people in Turkey opt to live in peace in Germany as a part of the society there, not in fight with them.
Erdoğan has a point when he complains about the lack of cooperation from Germany when it comes to national security threats against Turkey. Some 4,500 files about the suspected activities of members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Germany, which Ankara expects the extradited to be tried in Turkey has been a problem before the July 15 coup attempt. After the coup attempt, the situation of the suspected members of the network of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher and a former ally of Erdoğan who is accused of masterminding the coup attempt, has been added on top of the PKK files.
Especially the Turkish military officers who asked for asylum right after the putsch and the suspected existence of a number of judges and prosecutors who are accused of plotting against the secular establishment in the earlier years of Erdoğan’s rule are problems.
Merkel says it is up to the independent courts to decide on their fate and Erdoğan says it is up to the independent Turkish courts to decide on the German citizens in Turkish prisons, mostly under arrest on espionage charges. The state of Turkish courts though is also debated in and out of Turkey.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), lead a “justice march” from Ankara to Istanbul between June 15 and July 9, beginning a day after Enis Berberoğlu, a former journalist and a member of the CHP group in parliament was sentenced to 25 years in jail on - again - espionage charges. Kılıçdaroğlu has called on people “from all views” to join a “justice congress” on Aug. 26 - 30, under signals from the government side that he may also be sentenced and put in prison.
Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chair of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in the Turkish parliament, has been in jail since Nov. 5, 2016 on terror-related charges. The International Press Institute (IPI) has said there are 171 journalists, writers and media employees in jail; the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC) recently updated the number of journalists and writers under arrest to 150.
Most recently it was British State Minister Alan Duncan - who had stood against the coup attempt promptly - told Erdoğan in Ankara that it was time to return to normality and no further extension of the state of emergency, declared on July 20, 2016 after the coup attempt, which could help that. It is getting difficult for Erdoğan to have a better reputation in the West as long as there are politicians, journalists and intellectuals in prison mostly without solid and convincing evidence.
Speaking of the West, it is not only the EU but the U.S. as well. Turkish-U.S. relations have been experiencing one of its lower points since three years when the U.S. (both ex-president Barack Obama and the incumbent Donald Trump) opted to cooperate with the Syria branch of the PKK in the fight against ISIL and refuse to extradite or even take legal action against Gülen and his network living in the U.S.
Erdoğan says he doesn’t care but Turkish diplomats are trying hard to arrange state visits to Western countries not only for Erdoğan but for cabinet members as well. As the diplomacy outlook is heading toward a sort of isolation from the West, Turkey’s relations with Russia, Iran and Qatar are developing with no sign of any strategic future.