Why is Erdoğan targeting the West?

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Hello and have a good day. Today President Erdoğan uttered harsh words against Europe again for some reason. Caused by the incidents with The Netherlands, permissions that were not given and police violence to supress protests, he gave a clear speech including statements like “If you go on like this no European or Westerner will be able to walk in the streets anywhere in peace anywhere in the future. “If you pave this dangerous road, you will be the ones to suffer the biggest harm.” This speech will probably have repercussions. Strong reactions will come, especially from Europe. Today Frank-Walter Stenimeier, newly elected president of Germany, gave a large coverage to Turkey in his speech independently of Erdoğan’s statements and said that President Erdogan puts everything Turkey has built in the recent years in harm’s way and risks its achievements. Like Prime Minister Merkel, he stated that Nazi and fascist comparisons must be abandoned. This is an escalating incident.

We titled this broadcast as “Why Is Erdoğan Targeting the West?” It looks like the West, but if we look closer it is actually Europe. If you look carefully, you see that there are no outbursts towards the USA neither from the President Erdoğan nor from government spokesmen nor circles close to the government. However, Donald Trump, the newly elected president of the USA, wanted to implement a travel ban against some countries just because they are majorly Muslim countries. It was annulled by the court, he tried it one more time but the court annulled it again. And lastly they banned electrical devices larger thane mobile phones in direct flights to America from some places and some airlines including Istanbul Atatürk Airport and Turkish Airlines. It was followed by England. Actually this is a very serious implementation. There are surely other countries. These are generally gulf countries. But this implementation will put Turkish Airlines and Atatürk Airport in serious trouble. There are no comments about this aside from the “bans do not settle this, we should speak mutually” which is a statement of Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who is currently in America. We know that the same Minister of Foreign Affairs, Çavuşoğlu, made very serious and shocking statements in the crisis with Netherlands and Europe.

Is it just the referendum?

What is this then? The first thing that comes to mind is increasing the “yes” votes in the referendum and thus they exploited Turkey’s existing hostility towards the West. In a previous broadcast I said that I didn’t find this logical. I underscored the possibility of an impact in the opposite direction. What I said in that broadcast is: If the target is the indecisive voters, they usually search for rationality and want to make a rational choice, but there is no rationality in these crises. This crisis still continues even though one of the main reasons of the crisis was the election in Netherlands and the ruling party our government conflicted with won again and the prime minister remains the same.

And now there is an issue with Germany and it looks like it is escalating. What is interesting is that France has not indulged in this business yet. There may be many reasons for that. One of them is the ruling party in France and President Francois Hollande is in a very weak state and France is in a serious election period. But the far right and Marine Le Pan may surely target Turkey in this election period even though they haven’t yet. France is not in the play currently. Netherlands was, Germany is and Austria and Sweden is on the way to join but it is mainly an issue with Europe. So is this about the referendum? We have to accept that it has at least a partial connection with the referendum. Because those who work for the “Yes” result, government and President Erdoğan do not have a great potential for justifying the “Yes”.

And as I say constantly, there is a need for an escalation to transform pre-7th June election atmosphere to pre-1st November atmosphere. They might be doing this with Europe. It has this aspect but it also has a very different aspect.

The forgotten “axis shift” controversies

During JDP (AKP)’s rule, in the West, Europe and especially in the media and think tanks, there has been a controversy of an axis shift from time to time. “Is Turkey shifting its axis?” That means: Turkey is a country that turned its face to the West and started full membership negotiations with the EU but during JDP (AKP)’s rule and especially with the outbursts and searches of the then Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan – additionally with some policies during the key advisor, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister periods of Ahmet Davutoğlu- there has always been this conversation. This premise, this problem was also some kind of extortion against Turkey. Is Turkey shifting its axis? Is there a shift in Turkey’s axis? Now, if you look close enough you see that this controversy has vanished. I think this is very important. There is no longer the controversy of an axis shift or a change in the course of Turkey. Because in the West and especially in Europe, the opinion that Turkey’s axis has already shifted and the Turkey’s goal of full membership to EU is no longer possible has established substantially. Let’s put aside how much of the blame is on Europe or those who govern Turkey.

There is a common understanding that the axis of Turkey is no longer full membership to EU and in my opinion what is most shocking and saddening is that public opinion in Turkey is not much troubled by this. I am one of the diminishing troubled minority and actually this upsets me as a citizen of the Republic of Turkey. Turkey looks like it has abandoned the full membership to EU which was shown as the second biggest civilization project of Turkey after the Republic until recently. We can see the recent conflicts with Europe as the formalization of this. While there still were possibilities like visa exemption now Turkey’s only leverage is letting the refugees into Europe, which is constantly brought forward in the Europe.

Trump factor

The fact that the USA’s relations with Europe and the NATO is changing and will continue to change is a very important aspect. Trump has been taking different positions in transatlantic relations. Footage of his last meeting with Merkel and the words he said in that meeting are evident. He made statements corresponding to “We went to great expenses, Germany should pay them.”  The whole thing is transforming into a give-and-take relation and his position disturbs nearly all European Countries. There has been comments indicating that NATO’s future is not really under guarantee due to the USA’s and Trump’s policy. There are many cues to that. Such an environment enables Turkey and Ankara to behave more coarsely in its relations with Europe. In recent history, USA always played the role of facilitator in Turkey’s relations with the EU. It played the role of intermediator when there were problems. Although the presidents changed, the USA’s and Washington’s fundamental strategy was to support Turkey’s full membership to the EU to the full extent. For that matter, Bush’s suggestions to the EU before the Copenhagen Summit in this matter disturbed the French and German executives- Germany and France had been acting in unison in that time, Jacques Chirac was a very important figure- very much. There were statements like this in that date.

Washington is not eager for or persistent on Turkey’s full membership to the EU and it is not willing to help solve the problems if need be right now. Washington’s own relation with the EU is also problematic. The positon of the ambassador to the EU on the EU is also controversial. He actually argues that the EU should be dissolved. And there are also the consecutive elections that were held and will be held this year. There is the rise of far right. With all this, Ankara thinks it can mess around with Europe. It is not very troubled by the possible escalation of the problems in this sense.

Can Turkey abandon Europe?

This can contribute to Tayyip Erdoğan’s popularity – for the referendum or other things- etc. in the short term. It may increase his votes a little. But it will absolutely cause a big damage to Turkey in the long run. Turkey does not have the luxury to abandon Europe right now. It neither has the luxury to reduce its relations with Europe to a give-and-take relationship. Turkey has very strong historical and economic relations with Europe. Moreover, hundreds of thousands, even millions of Turkish people reside in almost every prominent European country. The condition of these people concerns Turkey closely and this is only normal. There are already talks about those people’s dual citizenship being at risk because of this crisis with Europe. There are very negative assessments on how Turkey’s and Ankara’s polemics and arguments with European Capitals may reflect on civil life in those countries.

Recently, in Fırat Fıstık’s interview here, a Turkish citizen who has been living in The Netherlands for 32 years gave very negative examples concerning this matter. As a result, this incident is not one of the forgettable outbursts or promises that are made during the election periods. In an atmosphere where some notions and accusations that have significant place in Europe’s history and mindset are used downright, Turkey’s relationship with Europe becomes problematic.

The tone cannot be interpreted differently

This cannot be explained with only the referendum. This demonstrates that those who have been governing Turkey for a long time and are willing continue to do so, especially President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have moved on to a very different position towards Europe from their recent positions, for example their old approach until 2007-2008. “If you pave this dangerous road, you will be the ones to suffer the biggest harm.” Such statements of the President can be interpreted differently but his tone cannot be. I don’t think- as a person, a journalist and an observer who presumes to know Europe well enough- it is not possible to establish a relationship with Europe with this tone. These conflicts and polemics are very hard to compensate. Media from the both sides gets involved in a serious manner. Turkey’s pro-government media’s publications about Europe and European leaders and European media’s publications about those who govern Turkey and especially the President Erdoğan demonstrate that the gap has widened.

Then there is the cherry on the cake. Maybe we should discuss this in another broadcast but we should stress it all the same. Partially the USA and the West but especially European countries do not support the government at all in it’s one of the biggest fights which is about Fethullah Gülen’s cult, FETÖ with their words. We see that in many occasions such as the most recent statement of the chief executive of German secret service to Der Spiegel. Today there were reports of Norway providing political asylum to some soldiers relating to the coup. The West doesn’t find Turkey’s and Ankara’s dissertations convincing. I promise another broadcast particularly on this matter but let me express this briefly: The point here is not that “Fethullah’s followers wouldn’t do this, they are good guys.” Even if they thought the followers of Fethullah attempted the coup, even if they were sure of it, the gap between the executives of European countries or partially some circles in the USA and Erdoğan government is so big that they are able to regard –in their own imagination surely – Gülen as the lesser evil. What I mean is they might not necessarily think that Gülenists are not behind the July the 15th. But in their eyes, they don’t think he can be worse than Tayyip Erdoğan. This is another angle of this matter.

The gap won’t be closed easily

In the current situation, after the gap has widened so much, I don’t think it can be closed easily. There is no need for unwarranted optimism. This is the truth. We see that Turkey is on the verge of parting ways with the West, especially the EU and the gap is constantly widening. So what comes after? Where we will look? This is a very big uncertainty.  Shanghai Cooperation Organization etc. is absolutely not an option.  Turkey’s relations with Russia, which are claimed to be improving, don’t seem to be under guarantee after the incidents in Syria and Afrin. And we must state that we have not heard a statement or seen a stern poise on this matter. Turkey wants to improve its relations with Trump, who governs the USA, somehow but we must note that there are already speculations that Trump’s administration might be on shaky ground concerning his relations with Russia.

Trump is not in a strong standing. But even if he were: relations with Trump- even if they were good and serious to the full extent – cannot be as permanent, long- reaching and organic as Turkey’s expected relations with the EU.  Relations established with a president like Trump – we must stress again that this is not certain – won’t make it possible for Turkey look to the future comfortably no matter how good they are. Relations with Trump can only exist to save the day at best.

However, Turkey really needs a civilization project and these kind of alliances and the only possible option was the European Union. This option seems to be off the table with the latest incidents. It is too late now. I am aware that this broadcast has not been a positive and optimistic one; but what is there to do, the situation indicates that. This incident can’t be just about the referendum and to be honest, after April the 17th, when the election and referendum are over in Netherlands and Turkey, we cannot expect Turkey to continue full membership talks as if nothing happened. That’s all I’ve got to say. Have a nice day.

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