Time for Turkey and the US to rebuild trust

Time for Turkey and the US to rebuild trust

This week’s visit to Turkey by U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden may well be a turning point in U.S.-Turkish relations. It’s vitally important for both sides and for our region that it is a success. Turkey and the U.S. have been allies and close partners for more than half a century and both sides have gained immensely from it. So I offer here a few thoughts which I hope may be useful to our American guests in mapping a way out of the present difficulties between us. 

Of these the most important is that they appreciate fully that Turkey is a country dazed by the brutal events on July 15. They were a shock to the nation that it will take long to recover from - the equivalent for Turkey of the 9/11 attack. 

We suffered another appalling blow with the explosion in southern Gaziantep last weekend in which 51 people, many of them only children, were cruelly murdered at a wedding. 

Whatever their views or background, all the people of Turkey feel that they are directly under attack by enemies trying to plunge our land into civil war.

But the messages coming from the Western world are messages which I fear are far from fulfilling the expectations of the Turkish people.

Since the coup, Turkey’s opponents have been using their considerable international influence to simply document the reaction inside Turkey without fully appreciating what lies behind it. 

The attitude of hostility and skepticism is deeply wrong for two reasons. First, Turkey has a democratically-elected and fully representative government, subject to scrutiny from the public and the parliament. Second, our state is the only guarantee of stability and prosperity that we have at times like this. Without it, we are nowhere.

Since that terrible night in July we have discovered - beyond any reasonable doubt - that for decades key institutions in our state and society were targeted insidiously by the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), acting under the orders of a retired cleric living in self-imposed exile. The aims of the coup-makers were not to seize power but to overthrow the entire constitutional order of the Republic of Turkey. During the first few hours to seize control, they were responsible for about 240 deaths, shooting at ordinary people. It is pretty clear from this what sort of administration would have followed if their coup had succeeded.

Turkey is immensely fortunate in that it has a population who, as the events of July 15 showed, are firmly determined to support democracy and the constitution, even at the price of their lives. This was true too of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), the main body of which demonstrated their firm attachment to democracy and the tenets of the Turkish Republic as created by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk with the people some 96 years ago and put up a brave and decisive fight against the plotters.

Because of the solidarity of the people, this unique event has fostered unprecedented cooperation and mutual understanding between the country’s political leaders and parties of all shades of opinion. Party rhetoric has grown much softer and there is now cooperation over the task of drawing up a new constitution. It is true the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was not invited to take part in this process, though it too firmly opposed the July 15 conspiracy from the moment it struck. That is because the HDP did not oppose the wave of outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terror attacks which resumed after the June 7 general elections last summer as firmly as it should have done and its messages on the matter have not been completely clear.  If the HDP emphasizes the support it gave to democracy during the coup attempt and distances itself more clearly from PKK violence, it will open up a new era for itself and for the Kurds.

When terrorists struck at the United States on 9/11, the United States declared war on terrorism and carried it out across the globe, striking at its enemies. By contrast Turkey is only seeking the extradition of persons whom it is as certain as it reasonably can be plotted and carried out a murderous coup attempt which has inflicted an enormous trauma on our country. If they are returned, Turkey has a manifest duty to see that due process of law is observed and that it upholds its obligations to international conventions on holding a fair trial and human rights.

These are the things that much of the Turkish public opinion is asking for on this occasion. If they are granted, the U.S.-Turkish partnership will revive and trust will increase – at a time when both sides need each other.