There is a fundamental and structural problem, not only between the United States and Turkey but with the entire Western world. There is, of course, the conjectural problem of intolerance to criticism, occasional restriction of the right to demonstrate, or as was seen in the Catalan case, excessive use of state power on those trying to exercise their right to self-determination. Yet, institutionalized authoritarianism can definitely not be said to be a common practice in today’s democratic league of nations.
It can also be argued that while demonstrations in support of a certain foreign leader might not be tolerated, let’s say by the German, Belgian, French, Dutch or the American police, the same police might be rather tolerant to demonstrations by supporters of a group considered by one of Berlin’s important allies as a separatist terrorist organization. Was such behavior by the police of Turkey’s allies a product of a perennial conspiracy, as thought by the Turkish establishment and large majority of Turks, which not only brought the end of the Ottoman Empire but has been instrumental in stalling Turkey’s progress?
The perception of many people in this country, particularly those at the helm of the Turkish state today, has been that Americans and Europeans wanted Turkey to be with them as a “buffer state,” or worse a “client state,” that should neither die, nor prosper. Based on this conviction, stated in a recent analysis of Turkey also published in Le Figaro, there was an assumption that the current surge in tensions, initially between some European countries and Turkey and lately between Ankara and Washington was a byproduct of Turkey. According to the analysis over the past couple of years, particularly since 2007, Turkey stopped being a “client state” and started developing its own policies, priorities and pursuing its own interests, even if those interests contradicted the interests of the Western alliance.
Differences over the overall Iraq situation, northern Iraqi Kurds, Syria and Syrian Kurds, Islamist terrorism and most lately, the Idlib situation as well as the Fethullah Gülen issue, the desperate rights situation in Turkey, violations of freedom of expression were just some of the accumulating strains poisoning Turkey’s relations with the West. What lies at the very roots of these differences? Was it just different perceptions and contradicting expectations, conflicting interests? Or, could it be a more structural, ideological issue?
Donald Trump’s presidency of the United States might not be the most preferred administration regarding the very values Americans profoundly boast to possess. Yet, there is such a state mechanism and democratic institutions performing checks and balances efficiently, there might not be that serious of a derailment of democratic governance in the U.S. In Turkey, however, is there not a legitimate concern and often more than a concern about the bitter reality of authoritarian governance?
The detention and arrest of a U.S. consulate employee, efforts to persecute some others and refusal to abide with the diplomatic code of conduct and not adequately informing the American mission of the charges and the evidence against the accused were probably the last drops that spilled the glass already full with bilateral tensions with the U.S. If Turkey maintains anti-terrorism laws that have such a wide description of terrorism and can be used arbitrarily against any individual or group as part of a drive to silence the opposition, if presidential guards exceed limits of being guests on trips abroad and start behaving as if they were in Turkey and use excessive force on demonstrators, restoring normalcy in Turkey’s relations with the West will not be as easy as it restored ties with Russia.
Let me conclude with a personal anecdote. Last Friday, when I arrived at home there was a notice in my post box that I had a note from the chief prosecutor’s office. I was not at home and it was left with the muhtar (neighborhood head). I was terrified. A journalist getting a note from the prosecutor’s office was definitely something worrisome. Office hours were over. The muhtar’s office was closed over the weekend. I spent two days with stomach pain in anguish. On Monday morning, I went to the muhtar’s office and I received the note, read it and immediately grabbed my telephone to call my wife. “Aydan” I said, “It was a note that the court rejected my case against that swindler. I only lost money, I am safe.”