Detentions of academics overshadow PM’s Europe visit

Detentions of academics overshadow PM’s Europe visit

One of the conclusions in the aftermath of the suicide bomb attack in Istanbul last week, which claimed the lives of 10 German nationals, was that the perpetrators, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in this case, was aiming at targeting the image of Turkey as a safe touristic country. 

Turkish and German officials were swift in redressing this endeavor of the jihadist organization by making clear that such attacks won’t cast a shadow on either bilateral relations or on Turkey’s status as a safe country for tourists. Almost all important members of the international community condemned the incident and expressed their solidarity with both Turkey and Germany, reinforcing the commitment of the modern world in the fight against all sorts of terrorism. 

However, despite all of these efforts and positive messages, it’s also possible that deteriorating security conditions inside Turkey would not only cause foreign tourists to hesitate but also big global investors and foreign entrepreneurs who might consider doing business in this country. The deterioration of security conditions is partly because of ISIL’s terrorist acts but mainly because of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) continuous violent acts in the East and Southeast Anatolia region. 

Under these circumstances, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is set to embark on a week-long tour to Europe next week that will include London, Davos and Berlin. In the first two legs of his itinerary, London and Davos, his agenda will overwhelmingly be economic issues with an effort to make sure institutions like Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, leading global investment firms, that Turkey will continue its economic reforms to offer a stable and safe environment for investors from all over the world. Davutoğlu will also meet a group of leading businessmen in London to promote Turkey as a suitable and stable political environment for business.   
Prime Minister Davutoğlu’s second stop is Davos, Switzerland, where he will attend the annual World Economic Forum (WEF). He will not only meet a number of representatives from leading global business circles and address some of the panels as speaker, but will also hold talks with other key participants of the organization. This will constitute an important venue for the prime minister to explain the short- and long-term economic and political objectives of his government and make connections for future investments. 
The last leg of his tour will be Berlin where he will chair the first high-level cooperation council meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Jan. 22. Davutoğlu and Merkel will be accompanied by a number of ministers from their respective cabinets in order to widen the scope of their future bilateral cooperation. As this meeting comes only 10 days after the bloody terrorist attack in Istanbul, the two leaders will also talk extensively about ways to fight all sorts of terror together.     

Apart from terror and diversifying areas of bilateral cooperation, Turkish and German officials will also evaluate ongoing Turkey-EU talks on the refugee problem. The Syrian question and the fight against ISIL will also be on the agenda, as Germany recently provided some military contributions to the anti-ISIL coalition and deployed Tornado warplanes to Turkey’s İncirlik base. All of these contacts will be followed by Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Turkey on Jan. 23 where the two governments will discuss the developments in Iraq and Syria. This intense diplomatic mobility is, of course, very important and valuable as it could produce some concrete results to the benefit of the Turkish nation. 

But there are some bitter developments that could make Davutoğlu’s efforts to improve Turkey’s image abroad more difficult. Among many others, like poorer performance of the Turkish economy, there are two developments that augment concerns about Turkish democracy. The first is arrested journalists and the second is a recently-launched chase of some academics that happened to be signatories of a declaration criticizing the government’s fight against terrorism. 

While the first one is regarded as an open threat to the freedom of press, the second one is seen a major concern on the freedom of expression of thought, two fundamental principles of a genuine democracy. No doubt Davutoğlu’s hands would be stronger if he would be in a position to resolve these challenges in front of Turkish democracy.