‘Justice March’ and US apathy

‘Justice March’ and US apathy

If anybody is wondering whether the “justice march” in Turkey, which was initiated by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) to protest the arrest of one of its own lawmakers, is drawing attention in Washington, the coverage by top American newspapers might give some clue. American media jumped on board roughly around the 20th day of the march, which was only a few days ago. 

Until then, not only the march was quite invisible in the U.S. public domain but it also lacked interest from even devoted Turkey watchers who seem to have lost their faith in the opposition long time ago. 

To be fair, American journalists have been vigilantly attentive to democracy failures in Turkey and reporting extensively in the last years. Therefore, their late arrival in the march’s zone is perhaps more to do with the logistics than apathy. The march coming closer to its final destination in Istanbul is a key factor in the sudden attention. Furthermore, the decision of the Kurdish issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to join the march, despite their fundamental differences with the CHP, probably made the whole protest more newsworthy for Western media outlets. 

Undoubtedly, the U.S. mission in Turkey is closely following every detail at the “justice march.” But the question is how much those diplomatic cables are resonating in the U.S. capital. When I first raised the question about the arrest of CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu, a former journalist with 33 years of experience, in a briefing of the State Department, the spokeswoman was stunned. Indeed, I did not expect Heather Nauert to be deeply invested in the Turkey file given the bulk of matters she has on her plate. However, it was evident that Berberoğlu was not in her famous binder full of notes provided by the relevant desks at the Foggy Bottom. 

A week later in the briefing room, Nauert finally provided an answer on the case of Berberoğlu, who was arrested for being the source of a video showing trucks of the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MİT) allegedly delivering weapons to rebels in Syria. “So I’m not going to have a lot new for you on that because we’re still trying to gather information on that case of the jailed opposition politician,” Nauert said on June 22. 

It is hard to believe that the U.S. intelligence was not aware of the details on the infamous MİT trucks and anything related to that incident. Thus, the non-answer of Nauert demonstrated nothing but the unwillingness of the State Department to give any message that might result in dragging the U.S. further into the MİT trucks case. Nonetheless, refraining from expressing concern over the jailing of an elected opposition politician did not save the U.S. from being bashed by pro-government media in Turkey just this week for allegations of a suspicious connection with two Gülenist figures in the MİT trucks case. 

In fact, Donald Trump’s officials do express concern about the greater pattern of what they see of Turkish government targeting and silencing people whose views differ from theirs, but only when they are pressed hard by the media. Mass protests, the detention of human rights advocates, liberal academics losing their jobs, and the ever-growing number of jailed journalists do not anymore top the U.S. agenda on Turkey. 

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will arrive in Turkey on July 9 for talks with his Turkish counterparts. The number one priority for Tillerson is to urge Turkey to refrain from any action against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria in general but especially in Afrin, which according to the U.S. could jeopardize the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and then Levant (ISIL). Then there is the business of calming the Turks to prevent the Turkish army sending troops to Qatar. 

The drastic consequences of the ongoing state of emergency in Turkey probably made their way to Tillerson’s talking points in a rather mild tone. However, the grand finale of the “justice march” in Istanbul, which turned into a broader manifestation of a rejection of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule under the state of emergency, will overlap with Tillerson’s arrival at the World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul on July 9. Will it catch Tillerson’s eye? It is worth paying attention to, despite no sign of interest so far.