Last Monday, John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, participated in the EU Foreign ministers’ council in Brussels, where the main topic on the agenda was the attempted coup in Turkey and its aftermath. The obvious reason for this joint Euro-American session of foreign ministers was to clearly show and for everybody to understand that the West stands united vis-à-vis Ankara’s brutal reaction towards the mutineers. Washington is even more concerned about that for many reasons. Let’s see the details.
Firstly, the US needs Turkey’s cooperation in the fight against the ISIS murderers in Syria. Secondly, because of the fact that the political rival of the Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, the self exiled Muslim imam Fethullah Gulen who is based in the US, is accused by the Turkish government of being the mastermind of last Friday’s coup. Of course, Gulen flatly denies any connection with the insurgency. Ankara said that within this week they will ask the US to extradite him.
A fight over Gulen
Washington replied though that they are prepared to hand Gulen over to Turkey but only on hard evidence linking him to the coup and not on vague accusations. The Turkish Prime Minister Yildirim rebuffed this US response. He added that “At this stage there could even be a questioning of our friendship.” In any case, the Americans are frustrated with Turkey’s over reaction to the attempted coup and have clarified that their relations with Ankara will now depend on the way Erdogan hunts down Gulen and the extent of the cleansing up process. Everybody knows that Gulen in many ways is under the spell of Washington and the Americans consider him to be a valuable asset for their foreign affairs strategy.
Gulen has worked together with Erdogan in the past in forming together the AK party and winning Erdogan’s first electoral fights during the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, Gulen distanced himself from Erdogan, after the latter introduced the Muslim religious element in his political ideology and started dismantling the institutions of the civilian state and longing to reform the constitution, in order to prolong his autocratic grasp on Turkey.
Ankara – Washington relations are in dire straits after Erdogan managed to brutally suppress the coup and arrest 20,000 people allegedly implied in the coup. He is now the absolute ruler of his country and almost directly accuses the US, at least for covering to the masterminds of the coup attempt. The truth is that Erdogan waited for a long time for the opportunity that this failed coup is offering him, in order to purge the army, the state machine, the judiciary and the police from people accused of being aligned with Gulen.
In many respects the political, judiciary, armed forces, administrative and even financial and business circles affiliated to Erdogan now see a golden opportunity to re-tailor the entire country according to their will. Erdogan himself proclaimed this cleansing by saying the mutineers actually deserve to be killed and ordered some tens of thousands of violent arrests and dismissals reaching up to the Constitutional Court, as if the judges had organized the military insurgency. He went so far as to say that there is no reason to keep feeding some of them in prisons, so it’s better to slay them.
The brutality of the oppression
As expected, the unbelievable extent and brutality of the purge has provoked strong reaction in the West. The European Commissioner Johannes Hahn, responsible for Turkey’s EU accession progress stated that the government had prepared the lists of the purges before the attempted coup. In this way, Brussels is indirectly accusing Erdogan that in a way he either engineered the coup himself or at least he let it develop and brake out. The obvious reason for this is that he now has the opportunity to kill, imprison or simply dismiss all and every civil servant, military, police and judiciary functionary who is not a strong supporter of him and his AK party.
In view of that, the West has voiced strong reserves. For the US and Europe what is at stake today is that Erdogan is about to create a new Turkey, under a semi totalitarian regime under him and his AK party. The US have expressed concern even about Turkey’s position in NATO. Kerry said that Ankara has the right to prosecute those involved in the coup, but as a NATO ally, the country has the obligation to safeguard democracy and human rights. It’s obvious by now that Erdogan has gone too far in suppressing the insurgency.
Europe opens fire
Along the same lines, Federica Mogherini, the EU Chief for Foreign Policy asked Ankara not to “damage the constitutional order”, that Erdogan is ostentatiously protecting from the insurgents. Mongherini also clarified that if Turkey re-introduces the death penalty in order to exterminate the heads of the rebellion, the country can no longer hope of becoming an EU member. The Brussels authorities have already announced that the negotiations for a visa free travel regime for the Turkish citizens visiting the EU have already been revoked.
Turkey has responded in its usual unrestrained way to the Western reactions, by very quickly bringing the exchange to its limits. The Foreign ministry in Ankara declared that the criticism against the Turkish government’s response to the insurgents, is tantamount to supporting the coup. Of course, the West didn’t react in the same manner. The truth is, however, that both the US and the EU would not back from their threats regarding Turkey’s position vis-à-vis the EU and NATO.
It’s pretty clear though, that the West will not let Erdogan become another Middle Eastern autocrat. Such a prospect would have a strong impact on the greater Middle Eastern region. In particular, Erdogan’s plans for Turkey would affect the US schemes to create another semi-autonomous Kurdish state in Northern Syria. The US supported by Europe will just make sure now that the Turkish President’s grip on Turkey and his plans for the greater region will be effectively contained.