Europe must decide on Turkey

Europe must decide on Turkey

As details of the failed coup attempt continue to unravel, big questions are also looming about Turkey’s future ties with the U.S. and Europe. With anti-western sentiments among Turks reaching fever-pitch, it seems that something will have to give soon.

Whether they are left-wing, nationalist or Islamist, the automatic assumption among many Turks has traditionally been that the U.S. is behind every successful coup in Turkey. The same knee-jerk reaction is active today and leading many to believe that Washington is also complicit in the failed coup attempt of July 15.

The government is also fueling this notion without restraint. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, for example, did not mince his words during a TV interview on Sunday.  

“The U.S. knows that Fethullah Gülen [the Islamic cleric who lives in Pennsylvania] carried out this coup. Mr. Obama knows this just as well as he knows his own name. I am convinced that American intelligence knows it too,” Bozdağ said. 

This belief goes all the way up to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. It implies that Washington knew what was coming and did nothing to warn Ankara. The pro-government Islamist media has even claimed that the U.S. tried to kill Erdoğan with this coup attempt. 

Meanwhile, anger among Turks - mostly among Islamists and nationalists - against Europe is also peaking. EU Minister Ömer Çelik has already noted how few European leaders bothered to rush to Turkey to express solidarity with the democratically elected government that foiled a coup attempt. He noted cynically that European leaders watched events in Turkey unfold as if they were watching a game of Pokemon. 

Every call from European capitals for democratic principles and the rule of law to be respected, as the government goes after the perpetrators of the failed coup, is only increasing hatred of Europe among many Turks. 

It was already difficult before the coup attempt to find three Turks on the streets with anything nice to say about the EU anyway. Looking back at all that has transpired since Turkey applied to join the union, Turks cannot be faulted for assuming that Europe’s position on Turkey is driven more by prejudice than fact. 
The negative manner in which Turkey was used by the Brexit campaign provided vivid proof of this. The British example is cited as a particularly clear case of perfidy, as London had always presented itself as a keen supporter of Turkey’s EU bid.

Despite the tough exchanges between Ankara and Washington, Turkish-U.S. ties will most likely survive for strategic considerations, even if this remains a loveless relationship. The Obama administration has agreed to cooperate on the extradition of Gülen, by promising to work with Turkey to try to convince the Department of Justice in this regard. This shows that it is trying to appease Ankara.

Europe, however, which has shown time and again - from the Yugoslavia crisis to the war in Syria - that it is unable to muster strategic clout as a collective entity on key international issues, has diminishing political and military value for Turkey. 

There are even some analysts who argue that the true reason behind Ankara’s recent reconciliation with Russia and Israel is to come out of its international isolation and shore up its hand against Europe. The bottom line is that “dumping the EU,” which is currently threating to “dump Turkey” if it strays from democracy and the rule of law, would not be too difficult for Erdoğan. 

How true the opposite would be remains debatable. In other words, can Europe really afford to dump Turkey when the chips are really down, regardless of what the right wing there is clamoring for? 

It is up to Europeans to answer this question.  The messy way in which the EU is trying to cope with the Syrian crisis and the related refugee problem must be kept in mind when trying to answer this. To answer the question properly, however, Europeans must overcome the mental blocks they have set up in their minds against Turkey. 

History tells us this will not be an easy task for them.