At the end of November, President Erdoğan declared Turkey’s love for the EU. “We see ourselves in Europe, not elsewhere, we envision building our future together with Europe”! For those who are less familiar with Erdoğan, or unaware of the crisis within Turkey, this came as a complete surprise.
What had happened to the Erdoğan, who, only recently, had been roaring criticisms against Europe and America? How could he suddenly be looking to a future in Europe? What had made him start to say that he wanted good relations with America, as if he had just discovered America’s existence? Has he been dreaming of love? Has he realised that he had taken the wrong path, and made a serious decision to change direction? Or are his words prompted by nightmares brought on by the crisis that he is now facing?
This is no dream of love, and it is not evidence of fundamental change. It is nothing more than an expression of a cunning mind. Erdoğan’s words have been forced by the realities he is facing within Turkey. He hopes that they will enable him to receive support from the European Union and the United States that will translate into an extension of power for himself and his party. When he came into power after the general election of 2002, he gave similar messages and received the necessary international support; but after becoming stronger, he had started to reverse his approach.
After Trump, who supported him under all circumstances, lost the US presidential election, Erdoğan could clearly see that things would not work the same way with President Biden. In addition, Angela Merkel, who has been a powerful advocate for Turkey, has left the chairmanship of the German Christian Democrats. Her successor, Armin Laschet, is expected to become chancellor after the September elections, and it is not yet known what kind of relationship he will have with Erdoğan. Relations with France are strained as never before, and Turkey’s aggressive foreign policy is generating many new enemies. At the same time, EU and US sanctions, though largely symbolic, have further decreased confidence in the Turkish economy, which is already in crisis.
Turkey has gone from near zero problems with neighbours, to near zero friendships. There is almost no state in the world with which it can establish relations, other than Azerbaijan. Relations with Russia are only good so long as they serve Russia’s interests.
Russia can tolerate Turkey in some respects, as they have done in Syria and Nagorno Karabakh. They may even encourage actions that can help promote their own strategies. Russia can give Erdoğan the weapons he wants, such as the S400 air defence system; but they are not in a position to save Turkey from economic crisis, even if they wanted to, because they have a lot of economic problems of their own.
The scale of Turkey’s economic crisis should not be underestimated. Erdoğan’s son in law, Berat Albayrak, who was Minister of Finance, spent 120 billion dollars to protect the value of the Turkish Lira before realising his plans were not working and resigned from his post. The officials who replaced him sought a remedy through increasing interest rates, but they have only been able to put a temporary stay on the falling value of the Turkish currency. Economists have described this as misleading and false relief, and warn that, if no action is taken, the economy risks an imminent major disaster.
Politically, Erdoğan faces new problems within his party, and in his wider political alliance with the ultra-nationalist MHP, on whose support he depends. In recent days, contradictions with the MHP have been growing on many issues, which can no longer be concealed. Even within his own AKP, it is apparent that there is enormous unrest coming from the bottom.
On 22 December, the European Court of Human Rights announced their decision in the case of Selahattin Demirtaş, the former co-chair of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). They judged that Turkey had violated four articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, and they demanded his immediate release. Most importantly, the court ruled for the first time that Turkey had violated Article 18, meaning that the arrest of Demirtaș and his subsequent detention, are not legal but are politically motivated. This decision is recognised as a testament to how the judicial system in Turkey has been politicised.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, rapporteurs on Turkey, and many governmental officials in Europe and the European Commission have all made statements calling for implementation of the judgement. On 21 January, the European Parliament held a special session on Demirtaş’ situation, and approved a draft resolution supported by 590 votes to 16. In this resolution, the European Parliament especially emphasised the need for the release of Demirtaş and the other detainees who are in prison for their political opinions.
At the same time, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu came to Brussels and met with major figures in the European Union in an attempt to reduce the impact of the human rights case on EU institutions. He also met with the Secretary General of NATO, who supports Turkey under all circumstances. In the statements made after the EU meetings, both sides emphasised what they wanted from the other, but not what concessions they would be prepared to make themselves. Cavusoglu demanded a revival of negotiations on Turkey’s accession process to the European Union, visa liberalisation, and an updated customs union. EU officials drew attention to the need to reduce tensions over access to gas in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey’s role in keeping refugees out of Europe, and also their concerns over the Turkish judiciary and fundamental human rights. However, the EU spokespersons did not fail to emphasise Turkey’s relevance to EU strategic interests.
Despite all the positive messages coming from both Turkey and the European Union for the further development of relations, reports from Turkey indicate that the country is moving further away from the criteria required for EU membership.
As though it were not enough that thousands of HDP executives and members are in prison – including co-chairs, parliamentarians, and mayors – Erdoğan’s MHP coalition partner, Bahçeli, frequently asks for the HDP to be closed down completely. In fact, Erdoğan wants the same thing, though he doesn’t know how to handle this. According to recent public opinion polls, Erdoğan can no longer expect to win a majority, even with his coalition partner. The economy is in crisis, as we have seen, and the social situation is unsustainable. He needs an early election before things get worse, but support for the HDP threatens to derail his plans.
Even without closing down the party, and despite the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, a further indictment against 108 HDP members, including Demirtaş, has been accepted by the Turkish courts. And, again despite the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, the philanthropist, Osman Kavala, continues to be detained.
Summaries prepared for lifting the immunity of nine HDP MPs have been sent to parliament so that they too can be arrested. Despite the reports of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and the decision of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, the isolation imposed upon the imprisoned Kurdish People’s Leader, Mr. Abdullah Öcalan, is being aggravated – prompting hunger strike protests by thousands of political prisoners. And the slightest demonstration or protest is faced with brutal police attack. This list could go on much further.
While all this is happening in Turkey, Erdoğan’s warm messages to Europe and talk of Turkey’s future in Europe are nothing but dishonesty.
And the fact that Europe, which is aware of the disparity between Turkeys’ words and actions, sends warm messages, and gives signals for the development of relations, is a reflection of equal dishonesty on their side. Universal human rights, rule of law, and democratic values do not have much place in these relationships. Strategic interests underly the approach of both sides.
Fayik Yağızay is the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Representative for the European Institutions in Strasbourg.