Friday, May 19, 2017

Erdogan is Grandstanding to Western Democracy

This week, president Erdogan was welcomed at the White House by President Trump. Amid tensions regarding American support for Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Syria which greatly offends Turkey, the meeting was supposed to be a reiteration of mutual support nonetheless. It turned out to be a power play, a statement of assertiveness on Turkey’s part, both verbally and physically.

After a brief private meeting, the two leaders held an equally short press conference. Trump shook Erdogan’s hand, called it “an honor” and declared relationship with Turkey will become even greater in the future. Erdogan, on his part, used this meeting and photo-op to his utmost advantage: he called partnership with the Kurds in Turkey and Syria “unacceptable” and emphasized once again the expectation Ankara has for the US to extradite Fetullah Gülen. From a podium bearing the US seal- symbol of freedom and democracy- Erdogan doubled down and reinforced demands to carry out injustice and persecution. Erdogan’s presence and his speech at the White House also affords him validation and legitimacy: Trump had indeed called him after the referendum to congratulate him on his victory and now has sealed his approval of the Turkish authoritarian by giving him a smile and a platform at the White House. No mention of the journalists jailed or killed, no condemnation of human rights abuses, no talks or even pressure for the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, an American citizen jailed in Turkey on trumped up charges. Feeling emboldened, a few hours after the Trump- Erdogan meeting, the security detail of the Turkish leader attacked a group of peaceful protesters- American citizens- gathered in front of the Turkish embassy in Washington; nine people were hurt, two were arrested. The Western voices who are supposed to be strong and united in sounding the alarm on such grave violations of human rights are silent and shy.

The leaders of the European Union have acted in similar ways. While some have acknowledged the actions of the Erdogan regime to be worrisome, concrete action is lacking. When will European (and American) leaders understand that a strongman will only be impressed and persuaded by equally strong men and women who take decisive action? We will continue to lose as long as we allow Erdogan to hold the threat of stopping the refugee deal as leverage over us. One of the losses is a disadvantage in fighting ISIS. The YPG and the PYD are Kurdish rebel groups who have been hailed as being extremely effective in fighting ISIS and tremendously valuable in the ongoing fight for Raqqa; United States and its European allies are using them extensively. For Turkey to ask for that to stop and to actively bomb them, it virtually means Erdogan is hindering the fight against ISIS.

So, Europe, what is the cost of the diplomatic games, of the side-stepping and the avoiding of speaking out against Turkey and is it worth it? Let’s face the truth: Turkey, as it stands now, does not belong in the European Union. Maybe other bilateral deals and agreements can be reached between various countries in Europe and Ankara- an avenue we could explore. But for now, sign the petition to signal to the European leaders that we are done pretending!