Good with Erdoğan, not so good with his imitations

Good with Erdoğan, not so good with his imitations

Burhan Kuzu, one of the advisors of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, wrote in on Twitter. Justice and Development Party (AKP) Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Bülent Turhan said it in an interview with a newspaper.

They said if the deal collapses they will put refugees on buses and send them to the European Union.
President Erdoğan had used such a sentence at the G-20 summit in Antalya last autumn while talking with EU officials.

He talked about putting refugees on buses and opening the borders with Greece and Bulgaria.

The minutes of the talks were leaked and his words created quite a sensation. “Erdoğan threatens the EU with refugees,” “Dirty negotiations” and “Blackmail against the EU” were among certain headlines in Europe. At that time I criticized these headlines and found Erdoğan to be right.

It seems that Kuzu and Turan were inspired by Erdoğan and found the courage to utter these words, encouraged by the rhetoric he uses against the EU.

Yet I don’t find them to be right and I don’t think they are doing any good. In addition, I condemn their messages. And I do not think to fall intro contradiction when I treat Erdoğan one way and his replications another.

When Erdoğan uttered these words, conditions were different. It had nothing to do with the current situation.

Fundamental differences

There are a number of fundamental differences. First, these words were voiced during a closed meeting. He was talking with European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk. His statement came as an answer to them and it was voiced in an environment where there was a war of words.

The leakage of the minutes was beyond Erdoğan’s will. Therefore there was no intention to humiliate his interlocutors or the refugees in front of the public.

It was not a show; it was within the discreteness of tough negotiations.

Second, the headlines were not displaying Erdoğan as a person who blackmails, threatens or conducts shameful negotiations over the lives of refugees. On the contrary, he was portrayed as someone who is struggling behind closed doors for the interests of his country. No one was to condemn Erdoğan for cornering the EU, because the EU was caught in a worse situation in terms of morality. The Mediterranean and the Aegean seas had turned into a refugee cemetery; the dead bodies of babies were hitting its shores and the EU was not moving a finger. Erdoğan was talking as a leader of a country who was assuming alone the burden of hosting 2.5 million refugees.

He was facing an EU which did not want to spend a penny, dragging its feet at the expense of watching the deaths of refugees on its doorsteps.

That was enough to make the EU the bad interlocutor of these talks. The EU had lost the moral high ground to Turkey.

Third, at that stage there was no deal and it was dubious whether there would be one.

Then Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s game changing formula was introduced. An agreement was reached at the Turkey-EU summit in Brussels.

Is it the same thing to voice words that mean to raise a finger and say, “You will see what will happen if that deal is not put into force?”

Saying that refugees will be put on buses and sent to Europe… Wouldn’t what was not perceived as blackmail then be perceived as blackmail today?

That might not have sounded bad in the days when the EU was dragging its feet. But today it is irritating.

There is a risk of spiraling from a game changing, constructive approach to a point of game spoiling.

It will create the impression that Ankara is using the refugee card and is benefiting from human trafficking.

Last but not least, this can end by losing the moral high ground. Turkey could be accused if, God forbid, there were to be similar tragedies as baby Aylan in the future.