Ankara’s proclivity for painting itself into a corner

Ankara’s proclivity for painting itself into a corner

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is hopeful that the strains in Turkish-German ties will end once the German general elections are held on Sept. 25. 

This is what he said in an address to mark the opening of a new Coca Cola and soft drinks factory in the western province of Isparta over the weekend. 

He was arguing, in so many words, that the German government had fueled tensions with Ankara in order to increase its support base at the polls. Sometimes, though, a message tells us more about the messenger than the target of that message.

The target in this case is clearly the foreign and local business communities in Turkey. It is no secret that they are seriously worried about deteriorating ties between Ankara and Berlin. 

There is also evidence to show that Berlin’s threat not to provide guarantees to new investors in Turkey, and the warning it issued to its citizens not to visit Turkey, have hit the mark.

This comes after it was revealed in Germany that Ankara had furnished the names of hundreds of German companies to Berlin and Interpol, accusing them of collaborating with the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), the organization said to be behind last year’s failed coup attempt.

Germany is also angry about the arrest and imprisonment of Deniz Yücel, a Turkish-German journalist, and the German human rights activist Peter Steudtner on terrorism charges. Pointing to the difficulties it faced in having access to its citizens in prison, Berlin is telling those planning to visit Turkey that if they get into trouble with Turkish authorities, Germany may not be able to do anything for them.

The government of Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım is worried and has been desperately trying to convince the German business community that their money is safe, as are Germans visiting Turkey. 

Yıldırım and his ministers clearly act on the basis of presidential directives, so we have to assume that Erdoğan and his advisors are also worried about deteriorating ties with Germany, even though they still have more than one axe to grind with that country. 

Erdoğan’s remarks about the improvement of ties after the German elections can therefore be taken to mean that he will tone down on his vitriolic anti-German rhetoric. There is no other way to take his words. 

It is clear, after all, that Berlin is just as unlikely to meet his demands following those elections. For instance it would be naive to expect Germany after the elections to go against its own laws and start extraditing people to Turkey on the basis of evidence that would not stand up in a German court.

It is equally unreasonable to expect Berlin to stop pressurizing Ankara over the German citizens held in prison in Turkey. Neither is it likely that the German authorities will allow Erdoğan and Turkish ministers to hold rallies and canvass Turks in that country any time soon.

The fact that Turkey was forced to take back the list of German companies with alleged links to FETÖ is enough to show which side is the weaker link in this equation. Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci is on record, saying that preparing this list was a grave mistake “which will never be repeated.”

It has also not passed unnoticed at a moment like this that Turkey selected the German Siemens’ company for its $1 billion dollar wind power project, although this decision was clearly in the making for some time.

Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has always claimed to be pursuing an “honorable foreign policy.” The way it backpedaled with Israel after the “Mavi Marmara incident,” with Russia, after downing a Russian fighter jet in 2015, and the signs that it is preparing to do the same with Germany now belies that claim. 

It seems that reason spurred by realities on the ground is about to trump impulse again, leaving many wondering why Ankara insists on painting itself into a corner like this time and again, only to come out of that corner in a way that can hardly be considered honorable.