Tough questions on Turkey

Tough questions on Turkey

In the last two days, I have attended a number of meetings in Brussels concerning the state of Turkey after the bloody coup attempt on July 15.

The meetings with European politicians, European Union officials, think tanks, business associations, universities and the like occurred within the framework of a civilian initiative called the Democracy Platform of Turkey (TDP), a diverse group consisting of investors, academics, members of NGOs, journalists, minority representatives and politicians. 

The aim is to tell about the trauma that Turkey is still experiencing because of the coup attempt and try to close the increasing gap between Turkey and the EU in its wake.

It is not difficult to observe a list of frequently asked questions and standard remarks following two days of intense contacts.

Here are some of them which would be better for President Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım to take into consideration both in terms of Turkey’s relations with the EU and also in the fight against the secret network of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Islamist preacher who is accused of masterminding the coup attempt.

- First of all, the theory about the coup attempt being a scenario of Erdoğan in order to consolidate his power is no longer considered valid; perhaps it was in the first few days, but not now. On the other hand, there are a lot of questions about the “evidence” showing that it was really Gülenists who did it.

- This is not an easy issue. Because the contemporary European mind is so far away from the concept of a military coup, it is approaching it like an ordinary criminal case. And the Turkish concept of evidence is sometimes limited to the evidence of being linked to the Gülenist network, for example through the ByLock platform.

- Mass detentions and mass dismissals from public jobs are a subject of strong criticism in decision-making mechanisms in Europe. Particularly the arrests of journalists and writers without any criminal evidence are troubling European minds, as well as Turkish intellectuals. This is a delicate matter and not something to be proud of.

- The gap has to be closed: A military coup is not a police investigation in which you are looking for fingerprints, while an organizational link may not be the only proof showing that you took part.

- The Gülen network was able to promote itself as a peaceful international initiative for education and interfaith dialogue. For a European mind, it is hard to shift this perception overnight. And guess how this perception was formed? It was thanks to Turkish governments over the last three decades, but especially the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government which has been ruling Turkey for the last 14 years.

- A number of decision-makers made the same remark: “It was this Turkish government which put pressure on the U.S. for years to make things easy for Gülen initiatives. Now it is the same government asking the U.S. to close them down in one day. We are confused.” Turkey suffered a terrible coup attempt, but it will need some time and patience to get it understood. Also Erdoğan’s suggestion that “I am sorry, I was fooled” is not enough to be taken as self-criticism.

- One of the most important things for Turkey is not to lose the EU perspective. There is a common concern in Brussels due to the recent Turkish-Russian rapprochement. It is important for the EU not to lose the Turkish link as well. That is why keeping the migrant-visa deal is crucial.