Ankara, Berlin debate over İncirlik continues

Ankara, Berlin debate over İncirlik continues

Ankara, Berlin debate over İncirlik continues

This file photo taken on January 21, 2016 shows German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen chatting with soldiers during a visit of the German Armed Forces Bundeswehr at the air base in Incirlik, Turkey. AFP photo

The debate is continuing over German parliamentarians’ request to visit the İncirlik Air Base, where German soldiers are deployed as part of the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with Germany pushing to get permission to visit the base and Turkey saying that talks are ongoing. 

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said on July 11 that Turkey and Germany will continue to talk about a potential visit of German MPs to İncirlik, citing legal technicalities rather than political disagreements. 

“There is a difference between the legal frameworks [of the two sides]. For us, the İncirlik base is a military issue. On Germany’s side, deploying soldiers to İncirlik - or to anywhere else - and monitoring the deployed soldiers, comes under the responsibility of the German Parliament. So in this sense visiting a base where German soldiers have been deployed is a political issue for Germany,” Kurtulmuş told reporters. 

The Turkish government last month barred German lawmakers from visiting the base, saying only military or technical teams are permitted to visit the base.

However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she will continue to push for a reversal of Turkey’s block on German lawmakers visiting İncirlik.

Merkel said in an interview with public broadcaster ZDF on July 10 that “it is necessary that our lawmakers can travel to İncirlik,” according to the Associated Press. 

The İncirlik base, located in Turkey’s southern province of Adana close to the border with Syria, is one of the main bases used to conduct the anti-ISIL fight in Syria and Iraq. 

Germany sent more than 200 troops, six Tornado surveillance jets and a tanker aircraft to İncirlik late last year as part of the international coalition. 

 “A way must be found for the lawmakers to visit the soldiers. We must continue to work on this, the solution is not yet there,” Merkel said.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen visited the base on July 1 and met with her Turkish counterpart, Fikri Işık, after Turkey’s prime minister approved von der Leyen’s visit, during which she said she told Işık how important it was to give German lawmakers responsible for military matters access to their troops in Turkey.

There are currently aircraft from the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Saudi Arabia and Qatar at İncirlik, all contributing to the fight against ISIL.

Merkel said she raised the topic during a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Warsaw on July 9 but she stopped short of threatening to withdraw the soldiers.

Relations between the two countries have been tense since the German Parliament voted in early June to recognize the killings of Ottoman Armenians during World War I as genocide.

German lawmakers say soldiers in İncirlik should be withdrawn

Several German lawmakers had said on July 10 that the country’s soldiers at İncirlik should be brought home if Ankara continues to prevent parliamentarians from visiting the station. 

A leader of Germany’s opposition Greens, Cem Özdemir, who is of ethnic Turkish origin, told ARD television that the situation was “unacceptable.” 

“As lawmakers who send soldiers to places, we must know where they are, how they are, and be able to talk to them. If that is not possible in Turkey then the soldiers must come back to Germany,” Reuters quoted him as saying. 

Lawmakers approve military spending and investment in infrastructure at the base. 

Andreas Scheuer, the General Secretary of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) who is part of Merkel’s conservative bloc in parliament, also said lawmakers had to be allowed to visit soldiers. 

“As a result of his behavior, Turkish President Erdoğan is risking the withdrawal of the German army,” Scheuer told daily Tagesspiegel on July 11, according to extracts sent in advance to Reuters.