Chancellor Merkel comes to Ankara

Chancellor Merkel comes to Ankara

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in Ankara on Thursday. This was her first visit after the July 15, 2016 failed coup attempt. Like all other visitors, she was shown the section of the Turkish Parliament that was bombed by Turkey’s own fighter jets on that dreadful night. In the past, foreign dignitaries would visit Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s Mausoleum when they visited Ankara. Now we have a more authentic experience to offer, like war tourism. Why are Turks keeping that part of the building in shambles? It’s strange. For example, when businessmen are played, they often try to cover it up out of fear of looking weak. Why do we enjoy showing what is clearly our weak spot to everybody visiting the country? It only shows that Turkey still has not recovered.  

The last time Chancellor Merkel visited Turkey was in April 2016. Ahmet Davutoğlu was the prime minister then and the EU-Turkey refugee deal had been signed only a month before. The name of Donald Trump had only stood as an obscure, albeit colorful business figure, flirting with politics. The U.K. was part of the EU, and the whole referendum issue seemed like a quaint exercise of an advanced democracy. The EU was in crisis of course, but it wasn’t necessarily an existential one. Turkey and Russia were in crisis because after continuous border violations, Turkey had eventually shot down one of Russia’s jets. The world wasn’t doing very well, but my generation in Turkey has seen worse.

Then we suffered a failed coup attempt in July 2016, which slammed the country into permanent emergency mode. The state of emergency declared days afterwards to extract the Islamist Gülen network that had been infiltrating the government apparatus for decades. The state of emergency led to a weakening judiciary control over public prosecutors and police forces as a matter of course. Purges in the army, judiciary, public prosecutors and the police accelerated. Gülenists purged many from these institutions in 2008-2009, and a purge started against them in late 2013, which went into hyper drive in 2016. A look at the portfolios of those institutions makes all this rather worrying. Huge attacks by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which most recently attacked an Istanbul nightclub just by the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul. This is like putting someone through chemotherapy and expecting them to go through a boxing match.

So our situation since October 2015 all seems relatable to Nobel laureate Bob Dylan’s lyrics. 

“There’s a battle outside ragin’

It’ll soon shake your windows

And rattle your walls

For the times they are a-changin’”

But let me tell you about 3 constants that haven’t changed since April 2016. 

First, Turkey’s stability is still important to the post-Cold War order in Europe. The EU-Turkey refugee deal worked. It was not the Balkan deal, but the EU-Turkey refugee deal that stopped migrant flow to Europe over the Aegean Sea. The deal hasn’t been maintained very well, and there are still a lot of refugees stuck on Greek islands, but the deal hasn’t broken down yet. There are no changes in the importance of Turkey’s stability to Europe and Germany.

Second, German-Turkish commerce is still mutually beneficial. Turkey is an integral part of German value chains. From 2003 to 2014, 14 percent of foreign direct investment (FDI) to Turkey came from Germany. If you only look at the FDI to the Turkish automotive sector, the share of Germany is raised to 25 percent. No wonder Germany is Turkey’s number one export destination, getting mostly intermediate goods. Turkey’s stability is important to Germany in this sense too.

Third, the EU remains very important to Turkey. Despite everything that went wrong, there is no possibility of a stable Turkey without European transformation. Why? The stability of Turkey is dependent on Turks getting wealthier and coping with modern challenges. Turkey cannot increase its GDP per capita from $10,000 to $25,000 without the EU acquis. In the short run, visa liberalization is an important step. But the strategic objective remains the European transformation. 

It’s good to know that through all the ups and downs, there is mutual understanding on these major issues. As long as that understanding holds, today’s problems can be solved.