On mending Turkey-US ties, a little
The U.S.’s decision last month to suspend processing visa applications for Turkish citizens at its diplomatic and consular missions in Turkey was a humiliating move, not least because Washington is supposed to be Ankara’s “ally and strategic partner.”
Has the tension now dissipated? Well, the two countries have announced the resumption of processing visa applications for each other’s citizens, albeit on a “limited basis.” Why on a “limited basis,” if Turkey has already capitulated to U.S. demands not to bring charges – or at least not before notifying the U.S. missions in advance – against Americans and people employed by the U.S. missions?
No resolution will come from belittling the crisis between the U. S. and Turkish governments, which began when Turkish police arrested U.S. Consulate employee Metin Topuz over his alleged links to the so-called Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).
Topuz was arrested as a criminal, though his main job consisted of liaising between Turkish and American drug enforcement agencies. His contributions proved so valuable for the two countries that the Turkish authorities even granted him the privilege of having his own room at the Istanbul police headquarters.
Topuz’s arrest and detention might seem a surprise development for the Americans. But was it really so? From the top to the bottom of the Turkish executive, security and intelligence networks, it was normal to share a bed with members of the Fethullah Gülen Islamist brotherhood.
But the problem currently runs deeper and will not disappear if Turkey frees Topuz. Of course no one can claim that the Turkish state is holding him hostage. There ought to be something “tangible” in the hands of the investigators and prosecutors examining Topuz’s connections with FETÖ.
If such a move has come on the eve of a trip to the U.S. by Turkey’s lame duck Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, could it constitute a political bribe? Surely there is nothing abnormal about the Americans wanting to improve ties in order to appease Yıldırım. If President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was traveling to the U.S. in person, perhaps Turkey would have won a bigger bonus. Would the greatest gift be the extradition of Pennsylvania-based Fethullah Gülen?
The problems between Turkey and the West do not stem from the imprisonment of a U.S.-employed Turk, German, Dutch or Danish citizen. The problems are related to whether this country has an independent judiciary. The recent release of the human rights activists was a welcome development, but what has it achieved? Was it not a humiliation for those Turks who still try to believe that the Turkish justice system has not been completely compromised?
Comprehensive and radical judicial reform should top Turkey’s democratization wish-list. If a nation’s confidence in its own justice system falls as low as it has in Turkey, how can foreigners believe that justice prevails?
Fethullah Gülen’s continued residence in Pennsylvania is a scar on Turkish-U.S. relations. But his extradition to Turkey cannot be won by hard words from the Turkish executive or a bunch of newspaper clippings insisting on his role as terrorist chieftain. His extradition requires a judicial verdict, not an executive order. Turkey needs to come up with indisputable evidence.
But if the current ruling elite of Turkey and the Gülenists ate out of the same political trough until only yesterday, is it possible to prove the guilt of one without harming the other? Whether compatible or not with the norms of justice, a verdict could be made at home. But would the Americans accept the result?
The Reza Zarrab case in the U.S. has seen charges brought against some prominent Turkish figures, including former Economy Minister Zafer Çaglayan, over alleged fraudulent financial activities that involved violating sanctions on Iran. The prospect of Zarrab - the gold trader and dual Iranian-Turkish citizen at the heart of scandal - informing against Turkey is just another factor currently poisoning Turkish-U.S. relations.