Europe’s “Turkish Awakening”
By Burak Bekdil
March 14, 2017
officially, is a candidate for full membership in the European Union. It is also
negotiating with Brussels a deal which would allow millions of Turks to travel
to Europe without visa. But Turkey is not like any other European country that
joined or will join the EU: The Turks' choice of a leader, in office since 2002,
too visibly makes this country the odd one out.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is now campaigning to broaden his
constitutional powers, which would make him head of state, head of government
and head of the ruling party -- all at the same time -- is inherently autocratic
and anti-Western. He seems to view himself as a great Muslim leader fighting
armies of infidel crusaders. This image, with which he portrays himself, finds
powerful echoes among millions of conservative Turks and [Sunni] Islamists
across the Middle East. That, among other excesses in the Turkish style, makes
Turkey totally incompatible with Europe in political culture.
Yet, there is
always the lighter side of things. Take, for example, Melih Gokcek, the mayor of
Ankara and a bigwig in Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP). In
claimed that earthquakes in a western Turkish province could have
been organized by dark external powers (read: Western infidels) aiming to
destroy Turkey's economy with an "artificial earthquake" near
Istanbul. According to this conspiracy theory, the mayor not only claims that
the earthquake in western Turkey was the work of the U.S. and Israel, but also
that the U.S. created the radical Islamic State (ISIS). In fact, according
to him, the U.S. and Israel colluded to trigger an earthquake in
Turkey so they could capture energy from the Turkish fault line.
between Turkey and Europe are far more tense today than ridiculous statements
from politicians who want to look pretty to Erdogan. The president, willingly
ignoring his own strong anti-Semitic views, recently accused
Germany of "fascist actions" reminiscent of Nazi times, in
a growing row over the cancellation of political rallies aimed at drumming up
support for him among 1.5 million Turkish citizens in Germany.
Erdogan apparently thinks, are no different. In a similar diplomatic row over
Turkish political rallies in the Netherlands,
Erdogan described the Dutch government as "Nazi remnants and
fascists". After barring Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu from
entering the country by airplane, the Dutch authorities also escorted another
Turkish minister out of the country. Quite a humiliation, no doubt. An angry
the Netherlands would pay a price for that.
just Germany and the Netherlands, looks united in not allowing Erdogan to export
Turkey's highly tense and sometimes even violent political polarization into the
Old Continent. There are media reports
that the owner of a venue in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, has now cancelled a
pro-Erdogan rally, although Sweden's foreign ministry said it was not involved
in the decision.
anti-Erdogan sentiment is going viral. Denmark's prime minister, Lars Loekke
Rasmussen, said that he asked his Turkish counterpart, Binali Yildirim, to
postpone a planned visit because of tensions between Turkey and the Netherlands.
Although Turkey thanked France for allowing Foreign Minister Cavusoglu to
address a gathering of Turkish "expats" in the city of Metz, French
Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called
on Turkish authorities to "avoid excesses and provocations".
None of the
incidents that forcefully point to Europe's "Turkish awakening"
happened out of the blue. At the beginning of February, German Chancellor Angela
Merkel and Erdogan held a tense meeting in Ankara. Erdogan clearly rejected
Merkel's mention of "Islamist terror" on grounds that "the
expression saddens Muslims because Islam and terror cannot coexist". The
row came at a time when a German investigation into Turkish imams in Germany
spying on Erdogan's foes made signs of reaching out to other parts of Europe.
Peter Pilz, an Austrian lawmaker, said that he was in possession of documents
from 30 countries that revealed a "global
spying network" at Turkish diplomatic missions.
beginning of March, after Turkey said it would defy opposition from German and
Dutch authorities and continue holding rallies in both countries, Austrian
Chancellor Christian Kern called
for an EU-wide ban on campaign appearances by Turkish politicians.
further challenging Europe, Turkey arrested Deniz Yucel, a Turkish-German
reporter for a prominent German newspaper, Die Welt, on charges of
"propaganda in support of a terrorist organization and inciting the public
to violence." Yucel had been detained after he reported
on emails that a leftist hacker collective had purportedly obtained from the
private account of Berat Albayrak, Turkey's energy minister and Erdogan's
propaganda war on "infidel" Europe has the potential to further poison
both bilateral relations with individual countries and with Europe as a bloc.
Not even the Turkish "expats" are happy. The leader of Germany's
Turkish community accused Erdogan of damaging ties between the two NATO allies.
Gokay Sofuoglu, chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany, which is an
umbrella for 270 member organizations, said:
"Erdogan went a step too far. Germany should not sink to his level".
recent wave of tensions between Erdogan's Turkey and Europe, which it
theoretically aspires to join, have once again unveiled the long-tolerated
incompatibility between Turkey's predominantly conservative, Islamist and often
anti-Western political culture and Europe's liberal values.
increasingly looks like Saddam Hussein's Iraq. During my 1989 visit to Iraq a
Turkish-speaking government guide refused to discuss Iraqi politics, justifying
his reluctance as: "In Iraq half the population are spies... spying on the
other half." Erdogan's Turkey has officially embarked on a journey toward
Western democracy. Instead, its Islamist mindset is at war with Western