BY RAFFI BEDROSYAN
Last week, for the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic, one of its ministers was declared persona non grata—an undesirable alien—and was deported from Netherlands, a state which is a NATO ally of Turkey. Again for the first time, the Turkish Foreign Minister was told not to visit Rotterdam in Netherlands, and his flight landing permit was cancelled after he ignored the Dutch orders not to come.
The previous week, the same Turkish Foreign Minister’s plans to address Turkish-German dual citizens in various rental halls in several German cities were cancelled, and he could only speak from the balcony of a Turkish Consulate residence to a few gathered in the garden under the rain. This week, Denmark cancelled the visit of the Turkish Prime Minister. Switzerland cancelled the visit of other Turkish ministers. Austria proposed to have a European Union (EU) ban on visits of any Turkish politicians to Europe.
Why is this unprecedented humiliation and embarrassment happening to Turkey? What did Turkey do to deserve this? How is Turkey, Turkish government leaders, and Turkish people reacting to this humiliation? What are the lessons to be learned by Turkey, and more importantly, how is it relevant to Armenia? This article will attempt to shed light on these questions.
Turkey is getting ready to vote Yes or No on April 16 for a referendum to change the constitution so that all governmental, legislative, and judicial powers can be concentrated in one person—President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan had already started exercising most of these powers under a state of emergency, declared after the failed military coup against him on July 15, 2016. And now, it is time for Erdogan to legitimize these de facto dictatorial powers by entrenching them in the revised constitution.
Erdogan fully blames the failed coup on his erstwhile ally Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric who lives in exile in Pennsylvania. Once close allies against the previous secular regimes, the Islamic leaders had a falling out a few years ago, and everything wrong happening in Turkey now is blamed on Gulen and his followers.
The witch hunt to identify and punish followers of Gulen has created great turmoil among Turks in all levels of society—the army, academia, government bureaucracy, media, and business world. Add to this the ongoing war between the government forces and the Kurdish militants in the east and southeast, the human toll is unprecedented.
Since the July 2016 failed coup, 128,625 people have been fired from their jobs, including state officials, teachers, bureaucrats, security forces, academics, lawyers, and journalists. There are 94,224 people of various professions, arrested and jailed under state of emergency powers. 2,099 schools and dormitories and 15 universities have been shut down. 7,316 academics, including many top professors have lost their jobs, resulting in many faculties of still open universities to be closed, with hundreds of thousands of university students left in limbo. 4,070 judges and prosecutors are dismissed, some of them jailed, ironically, in the same prisons as criminals that they had convicted previously. 149 media outlets, television stations, and newspapers have been shut down, allowing only pro-Erdogan media to exist, and even then, undesirable headlines still result in the dismissal of editors. And finally, 162 journalists have been jailed, the highest number in the world.
The human toll resulting from the war on Kurds is even more grim. A recent United Nations investigative report estimated that at least 2,000 Kurdish civilians have been killed since 2015. There are an estimated 50,000 injured and more than 500,000 citizens left homeless after Turkish army tanks bombed and burnt several towns in the southeast. The bombardment of hundreds of apartment buildings was followed by the demolishing and bulldozing of the rubble, sometimes still containing burnt bones and body parts. Since 2016, 13 Members of Parliament belonging to the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have been arrested and jailed, including the two co-chairs, after their political immunity was removed by dictatorial legislation. The democratically elected Kurdish mayors of 35 municipalities in the east and southeast are removed from their posts and jailed, replaced by Turkish bureaucrats appointed from Ankara.
Against this truly anti-democratic backdrop, Erdogan and his ministers planned to come visit Europe to convince the 3 million Turks living in various EU states to vote Yes in the referendum, in order to give more dictatorial powers to the President. It should be pointed out that EU legislation prohibits political rallies of non-EU persons. What is even more interesting, Turkish legislation, passed in 2008, also prohibits Turkish politicians from holding political rallies outside Turkey. Ironically, this legislation was proposed by Erdogan’s party itself, in order to give it an advantage over other Turkish parties. At that time, Erdogan was still allies with Gulen, and could use Gulen’s vast network in Europe and U.S. to carry out propaganda rallies for Erdogan. But now, the situation has changed. The Yes and No votes are almost even and Erdogan desperately needs the support of Turks in Europe in order to win the referendum. So, to hell with any EU or Turkish laws…
It seems the European leaders decided to show some backbone and refrain from participating in Erdogan’s mission to become a dictator. Hence, the cancellations of halls, flights, and meetings.
Turkish government reaction to these rejections? Blaming German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Dutch Prime Minister Rutte as Nazis, accusing them of preventing freedom of speech and freedom of movement.
Erdogan stated that if he is not allowed to speak in Germany, he will still come to Germany and “turn the world upside down.” The Foreign Minister bellowed that “Nothing and no one can stop him from coming to Holland regardless of what the Dutch say.” In addition to insulting the German and Dutch leaders as Nazis, they also accused the mayor of Rotterdam as an Islamophobe, who happens to be a well-liked Muslim, originally from Morocco.
As a state that has committed and still denies genocide of its minorities, Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, Alevis, and Kurds, the Turkish government officials accused the EU leaders as followers of Nazism.
Turkish public reaction to these rejections? The rabble rousing mobs took to the streets to protest against the Dutch, by burning French and Russian flags (the flags all the same colors, they look alike, so who cares, right?). They also piled up many oranges and repeatedly stabbed them with knives, because orange is the color of the Dutch. One “hero” climbed the flagpole of the Dutch Consulate in Istanbul and replaced the Dutch flag with a Turkish one. A member of Istanbul Municipal Council threatened to slaughter his cow imported from Holland, if the Dutch don’t apologize within two days. One unfortunate Norwegian journalist got beaten up by mistake, as the mob thought he was speaking Dutch. But these are normal occurrences in Turkey. A couple of years ago, when the Turks heard that the Chinese government oppressed their cousins the Uygur Turks, Turks had started beating up many Korean tourists in Istanbul by mistake. They look alike, so who cares…right?
Lessons to be learned? Based on history repeating itself, it is highly unlikely that Turkish authorities will ever learn how to behave democratically. They will either see themselves as poor victims, unfairly and anti-democratically treated by the Europeans who refused them freedom of speech, or they will bully, threaten, and insult by demanding apologies, ban of flights or sanctions against Netherlands and other EU states, completely ignoring the fact that Turkey is totally dependent on the EU states for tourism, investments, and trade. They did the same bullying and bravado against the Russians after downing a Russian plane in Syria, which resulted in the total crippling of Turkish economy due to Russian trade and tourism bans. At the end, Turkish government capitulated by profusely apologizing to Putin and agreeing to Russian terms—especially regarding Syria—before normal relations could resume. The same routine will happen again with EU.
There is, however, a lesson to be learned by the U.S. in these episodes. Rather than giving in to all the demands of an anti-democratic state which acts like a spoiled child, the U.S. should start behaving more responsibly, fairly, and firmly against Turkey. It is scandalous that Mike Flynn, the recently fired nominee for the National Security Advisor post in the Trump Administration, had collected $530,000 for lobbying services that benefitted the Turkish government. Lobbying for what? Is that money wasted now?
And lastly, lessons for Armenia and Armenians? We have to be well informed about the Turks’ weaknesses and strengths. We have to learn from their mistakes. For a nation of 10 million people with a tiny country sandwiched between two belligerent adversary states, we cannot afford to be as divided as the Turks, as anti-democratic, or as ignorant as them… But perhaps most importantly, we cannot afford to be as mistake-prone as them.