Turkey-US crisis must be worked out with diplomacy
The closure of the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey in 1975 to non-NATO U.S. flights was considered the lowest ever point in relations between Ankara and Washington. The closure came as a move by the Süleyman Demirel government in retaliation to the U.S. arms embargo on Turkey, which itself was in reaction to Turkey’s resistance against the U.S.’s forced stopping of opium farming by Turkish peasants, imposed by without an alternative. The 1974 Turkish military intervention into Cyprus to protect Turks there after a right-wing coup by a Greek junta also contributed to the negative atmosphere.
Even at that low, Washington never stopped visa proceedings of Turkish citizens traveling to the U.S. But today, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara has decided to stop all visa proceedings. This move came in retaliation to the Oct. 5 arrest of a Turkish citizen employee of the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, identified as Metin Topuz. Topuz is alleged to have connections to a number of police officers and prosecutors who are now being prosecuted in connection to the illegal network of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher believed to have masterminded Turkey’s July 2016 military coup attempt.
Washington’s move to halt visas for Turks, a rare step that has previously only been applied to citizens of countries like Iran, Somalia, Syria and Libya, came on Oct. 8, one day before Columbus Day in the U.S., a public holiday. The Turkish Foreign Ministry took a retaliatory step on the same evening, stopping visa proceedings for U.S. citizens through a statement that was almost a carbon copy of the American one.
There are some in Turkey’s media and politics who are proud of President Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government for “standing firm” against the U.S. and showing that Turkey is a tough nut to crack. Some even say that the Americans must be kicked out of the İncirlik base and all relations must be cut if necessary.
But the business community - including the Turkish top investors club TÜSİAD and the Turkish Chamber of Commerce (TOBB) - have asked for moderation and for the problem to be solved through diplomacy, amid the plunging value of the Turkish Lira against the U.S. dollar and concerns about a worsening investment climate and the economy in general.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has also asked for diplomatic channels to be resorted to, saying the people should not be made suffer because of political problems between the two governments. Even MÜSİAD, a business group close to the government, has stressed that trade relations must continue.
On Oct. 9, the deputy chief of mission of the U.S. Embassy to Ankara was called by Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Ümit Yalçın, who requested a reconsideration of the decision. But shortly after this diplomatic channel was tested, an Istanbul court issued an arrest warrant for another Turkish employee of the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, as well as the detention of his wife and son in the northern province of Amasya. They were all immediately arrested.
If the current pattern continues on both the Turkish and the American sides, relations will only get worse. This will not be to the benefit of either the U.S. or Turkey - and it will also not be in the interests of the West in Turkey’s neighborhood, which is already burning in the flames of civil wars and armed conflicts.
A diplomatic path has to be found to talk this crisis out, through the mediation of a friendly country if necessary.