An unholy Turkish barter: Keep the migrants, forget democracy

An unholy Turkish barter: Keep the migrants, forget democracy

It has been 10 years since Turkey started membership negotiations with the EU.

Over the weekend, we didn’t do much to recall it since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was busy shouting “Allahu Akbar” to thousands of potential Turkish voters who had gathered in Strasbourg.

Ironically, it is in Strasbourg, the capital of Europe’s democratic values, that Erdoğan in his initial years as prime minister delivered the most promising speech in terms of improving Turkey’s human rights record.

Strasbourg hosts the Council of Europe, as well as the European Court of Justice. Together with Brussels, these two capitals and in fact many European capitals, have contributed to Turkey’s democratic journey to reach universal values.

The blend of genuine but resolute criticism, together with the prospect of a reward – starting accession negotiations – did the trick. That was possible because Europe then used to have visionary leaders.

In the 1990s, when Kurdish leaders would be harassed or sent to jail only for their thoughts, European leaders used to pick up the phone to tell how worried they were about the human rights violations. The European troika (then it was the current, previous and succeeding term presidencies) would issue a statement to ring alarm bells about Turkey.

I am told there is no such thing left as the troika anymore.

But I vividly recall that when Europe failed to reach consensus on what to say to Turkey, two or three European leaders would agree to send a joint letter or publish an editorial. When a highly controversial incident took place, the reactions came directly from foreign ministers or prime ministers.

Today, some would recall that an ambassador visited Hürriyet’s premises and another one invited the assaulted journalist Ahmet Hakan to be a guest of honor at receptions in Ankara. But this is reminiscent of what Erdoğan said days after Ahmet Hakan was attacked by Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters in front of his house, namely, that his press adviser had called Ahmet Hakan to convey his message.

I am not suggesting the initiatives of diplomatic envoys are devoid of empathy as is the case with Erdoğan. But it is too little, too late.

The level of gravity has passed beyond initiatives at the ambassadorial level.

I have to confess that I, myself, underestimated the dimension of the threat. When I was asked by foreign colleagues, diplomats or members of think tanks about whether the lives of journalists were under threat in Turkey, I used to become resentful. “Turkey is no Russia or Burma; this is an EU candidate country. Journalists are not kidnapped or harassed physically. Journalists don’t lose their lives, but their jobs. Turkey’s modern-day authoritarian ruler is using more subtle methods like tax fines to exert pressure on media owners,” I used to say.

I have been proven wrong after Ahmet Hakan was attacked by AKP supporters in front of his house.
Now are European leaders waiting for the assassination of a journalist to show the proper reaction?

End of lucrative business

In the 1980s and 1990s, of course, Turkey was not perceived as an Arab country where the Western business world could exploit the richness of the country at the expense of turning a blind eye to tyrannical rule. As such, Europe had the luxury of criticizing.

Turkey’s initial economic successes changed the equation, but there is a limit to what Turkey can offer as a lucrative business at it lacks the natural resources of Arab countries.

Currently, however, it is not even economic interests that ties the hands of the European leadership. They are now saying, “Keep the migrants, and we will forget about democracy.”

Europe’s lack of far-sighted leadership is increasingly turning into a curse for Turkey.