Why Europe still matters for Turkey

Why Europe still matters for Turkey

Thanks to social media, government secrets are less protected today than they were in the past. Every “secret document” can easily leak online and every covert scene can easily go viral. This lets us citizens discover some nasty stuff that our rulers would not like to share with us. The disgusting tortures that some American soldiers imposed on Iraqi inmates in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, for example, were made public thanks to cell phones. 

A similar sort of scandal broke in Turkish social media the other day, when a document stamped “secret” appeared on Twitter. The document was apparently an order from the national police headquarters, located within the Ministry of Interior, to various police stations across the country. By referring to “coordination meetings” held first at the Ministry of Justice and then the Foreign Ministry, the document informed its receipts that:

“The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture is due to visit our country and may make spontaneous visits to any detention center. It is therefore demanded that places such as sport halls are not used as detention centers, that current laws and international standards must be abided by, and that all current detention centers must be made suitable for the committee’s visits.”  

In other words, the document was basically telling the Turkish police to clean up before the arrival of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. 

I cannot confirm or deny whether the document was authentic. I also don’t want to buy into either pro-government or anti-government propaganda – both of which exist. I have a few friends who have been detained by police since the coup and they have told me that they have not faced any bad treatment, let alone torture. However, there are other testimonies, reported by Amnesty International, that claim very serious examples of bad treatment. 

But what I want to emphasize here is the positive effect of the European visitors in question — the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), to give it its full name. The CPT was established by the Council of Europe in 1949 to promote human rights and the rule of law in the European continent. Turkey has been a member from the beginning, which means it is also subjected to the European Court of Human Rights. 

So apparently Ankara does not want to lose face to the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, and Europe in general. That is why apparently it took some precautions regarding its “detention centers.” Of course, one wishes that those “detention centers” did not need clearing up to prepare for “spontaneous visits” by the CPT in the first place. But one also appreciates that this leverage at least remains in place, and wishes that Turkey does not go any further in its current mood of fury, insecurity and revenge. 

Which brings to me to the crux of the matter: Having seen the authoritarian drift in Turkey, some voices in the West have lately called for “kicking Turkey out.” All the anti-democratic or anti-liberal trends in Turkey, in this view, are a reason for the West to cut or minimize its ties with Ankara. But this is wrong, very wrong.

Quite the contrary, at such a time we need to deepen the ties between Turkey and the West, particularly European institutions, so that the country’s authoritarian drift does not go too far. Just one visit by the CPT is enough to see why that is the case.