Turkey and West: Break is very dangerous


President Erdoğan personally declared that since July 15, no one, including himself, can afford to act as if nothing has happened

After the July 15 coup attempt, the divide between European media and the Turkish government has become crystal clear. The American press is no better either. Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are seen as a menace to democracy in the West. This sounds like a bad cliché, but all we have done since the coup attempt is try to understand and explain what has happened through the use of clichés.

There have been alarming developments in the international press. Steven Cook and Michael J. Koplow wrote a harsh and somewhat irresponsible article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Turkey is no longer a reliable ally.” The French weekly Le Point prepared an entire special issue on Turkey calling it “the country that scares Europe.” Renaud Girard, a professor at Sciences-Po Paris and a renowned international policy editor, recently gave a long interview to Le Figaro titled “Erdogan est une menace spécifique pour l’Europe” (Erdoğan is a specific menace for Europe).

Examples abound. The Turkish media lives in another dimension when they look for the culprits of coups in foreign countries. If they cannot find any, Photoshop software is there to doctor up phony pictures and to herald them as proof of international conspiracies on their front pages.

The government has had the good idea of sending abroad not only Justice and Development Party (AK Party) representatives, but also delegations that include opposition parliamentarians to explain what happened on July 15. Not only did they come back empty-handed, but the opposition representatives were deeply shocked that they were only politely listened to. The decision makers they met are convinced that the coup attempt was a conspiracy fomented by Erdoğan himself to increase his power.

A former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, James Jeffrey, gave an important interview to the Turkish press through Cansu Çamlıbel’s diligent writing. This was a very good journalistic performance, however it only helped us see the magnitude of the abyss that separates us from the EU and the U.S., and it did not give many clues about how we are going to surmount our present difficulties.

Jeffrey used language uncommon to diplomats, even when they are retired. He insisted that the Turkish public does not understand how the system in the U.S. works. It is a fact that the Turkish public has been continuously and steadily fed with conspiracy theories for decades, and it is not very surprising that people in Turkey fail to understand that state authorities cannot be omnipotent. It is because we are not familiar with the U.S. system of tribunals; there are at least three or four series on TV depicting U.S. justice at work. Still, tribunals have seldom been independent. For us Turks, whose daily lives are full of uncertainties and coups and attempted coups, it was almost customary to see military judges try civilian defendants. State Security Courts (DGM) existed for a very long time and have been abolished gradually mainly because of the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999. Exceptional tribunals have never been exceptional in the Republic of Turkey’s short history. Late Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was put on trial, condemned and executed by an exceptional court.

We have immense trouble understanding how a court can be totally independent and how a state authority can be turned down by an independent court on the grounds that the demand is not supplemented by enough judicially acceptable evidence. Not so long ago, a large chunk of the Armed Forces were dismantled through the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) case, even though it was evident that most of the evidence was forged and definitely not acceptable for a panel of judges.

Now we want the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gülen to Turkey. Everything points in his direction regarding the preparation and launching of the coup. U.S. courts might decide otherwise. For the average Turk, this will be blatant proof that the U.S. administration was behind the coup.

We cannot just continue our external relations this way. Obviously, the Western media wholeheartedly dislikes President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. His rhetoric against our Western allies is hardly diplomatic. But he was elected in democratic elections, and more than once. His prerogatives are not very clearly defined in the Constitution, because it was prepared in the aftermath of the deepest coup ever seen in Turkish history. The idea then was to elect a retired general to the presidency and give him enough powers to have some weight to control the government. All the governments and parliaments that came into office after 1980 – that was 36 years ago – failed to properly amend the Constitution. So it has created a presidency with some real powers and not many responsibilities. This is not a conspiracy on Erdoğan’s part, this was the clever idea of the military high command who carried out the coup in 1980.

Western countries dislike Erdoğan, this is their choice. A number of reasons can be given to explain but hardly to justify this stance. The mass media in Europe dislikes all politicians in power, be it Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, French President Françoise Hollande, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, former British Prime Minister David Cameron or Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain. We go through a much larger crisis of confidence that is turning into a systemic bottleneck. But at this juncture, Turkey pays the debt of an ill-functioning democracy, ill-defined separation of powers and ill-designed Constitution through the hatred concentrated over Erdoğan.

We cannot go on this way. Erdoğan himself declared that since July 15, no one, including himself, can afford to act as if nothing has happened. But the things we have to implement, the policies we have to espouse go much further than some clever steps taken by the government. We might even be in need of a national unity government that includes the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to really offer the people of Turkey a perspective they largely deserve. This is a challenging and provocative idea and I would like to continue with this perspective in my coming columns.

*EMRE GÖNEN is a Turkish academic. He writes columns for Daily Sabah Turkish newspaper

              (Published in Daily Sabah on Wednesday 17, 2016)