Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1332, (16 - 22 February 2017)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1332, (16 - 22 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan under German fire

Tension is heating up between the ruling echelons of Germany and Turkey, with each a thorn in the side of the other

On the whole, most European countries do not harmonise well with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Some are not fond of him at all. However, Germany stands out as the loudest and most annoying, a perpetual thorn in the side of the Anatolian leader who may soon be officially confirmed as that country’s sole decision-maker. In addition to its ceaseless criticisms, Germany has become the main harbour for the whole gamut of his opponents, whether secularist and liberal lawyers and journalists, Kurdish and Alevi rights activists, or those fellow Islamists who allegedly support that Pennsylvania-based preacher Fethullah Gulen and who until not so long ago had been his close allies.
After concluding the refugee deal with the EU in March last year, Erdogan imagined that he now had Germany in his pocket. Of all Turkish leaders, he has been the fiercest critic of Germany, the main promoter and sponsor of the agreement, but he seemed to have developed a decent working relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Yet now senior officials in Berlin seem to be taking every available opportunity to lash out against him, enumerating his autocratic ways, his atrocious human rights record, his repression of civil liberties and his vindictive attacks against adversaries. In fact, one of the main reasons for Merkel’s declining popularity ratings and, perhaps, her fall from power later this year, is her support for Erdogan.
Lower ratings were undoubtedly one of the sources of pressure that “forced” Merkel to take a number of measures that expressed her concern (not condemnation) regarding the policies emanating from the presidential palace in Ankara. He was particularly incensed last year when she bowed before a constitutional court ruling preventing him from directly addressing his supporters in Cologne following the 15 July coup attempt.
Then barely a few months later, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas invited the Turkish journalist Can Dündar to a reception. Dündar, former editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper, together with the newspaper’s Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül, had been arrested years prior in connection with an expose on Turkish arms shipments to jihadist forces in Syria. After more than 90 days in prison they were released pending trial. Dündar, who has been living in exile in Germany since June last year, was asked to deliver a speech about press freedom at the reception that Maas hosted in order to demonstrate the importance Germany attaches to democracy and freedom of the press, both severely abused in Turkey which is racing into the embrace of a dictatorship in neo-Ottoman garb.
Another German grievance against Erdogan and Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule in Turkey has come to light recently. A government bureau in North Rhine-Westphalia found that 28 imams and 11 institutions connected with the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) had been spying on Turkish communities in Germany on behalf of the Erdogan regime.
Meanwhile, German newspapers reported last month that around 40 senior military officers working at NATO facilities in Germany have applied for political asylum. In a conference in November, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg mentioned that some Turkish military officers posted to NATO in Europe had requested asylum but he gave no specific numbers.
Lawmaker Stephan Mayer of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) and spokesman for Home Affairs of CSU and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) parliamentary group, held that the soldiers could not be extradited to Turkey because “they would land in jail immediately”. Another legislator, Norbert Rottgen who serves as chairman of the Bundestag’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, stressed that political considerations should not play any role in the asylum procedure.
On cue, the AKP media apparatus blared a chorus of curses against “conspirators” and their allies and called on Berlin to reject the “traitors’ applications”. True to form, Bekir Bozdag appeared on Twitter to complain of the strident voices abroad that sought to teach his country “their double standards”. Harbouring terrorists, criminals and coup-makers can not be justified by such notions as the “rule of law” or “judicial autonomy” said the Turkish minister of justice. Although he was referring to the recent rejection by the Greek Supreme Court of the Turkish government’s extradition request for eight Turkish servicemen, he used this as his platform to lash out against “the Franks” in general.
Against this fraught backdrop, Theresa May followed by Angela Merkel paid visits to Turkey. Both leaders received heavy doses of censure in the German press for calling in on Erdogan at time when he is steering his country so far away from democracy. The British prime minister was derided for her sad attempt to search for trading partners following the British exit from the EU. Merkel came under criticism for sending “completely the wrong signal”. Left Party MP Sevim Dagdelen said in an interview on German public radio that the visit came at an “inopportune moment” and that Merkel’s visit, coming only weeks before the constitutional referendum, could only be seen as providing support for Erdogan.
Curiously, the AKP government and its mouthpieces had a different opinion. They enthused over the Theresa May visit. It was “positive” because her administration has adopted the economic outlook of the new US president’s adviser Steve Bannon, which is to promote “nationalist economics” without wasting time on liberal notions such as human and civil rights. For Ankara this is the recipe for a strong bilateral relationship with London.
Germany, on the other hand, sought to “restrict Turkey’s freedom of movement to fight terrorism” while it “sheltered terrorist organisations” in German territory. It also “constantly intervenes in Turkish domestic affairs”. Merkel, moreover, had the nerve to criticise the DITIB in Germany for spying on Turkish communities there. Perhaps the Turkish security agencies should keep closer tabs on German NGOs in Turkey, AKP apparatchiks held.
But Erdogan supporters also knew that the German chancellor’s visit was to secure his support for preventing the flow of Syrian refugees to Europe and to win the support of German Turks for Merkel in the forthcoming legislative elections. Therefore, they held, the way to punish her and to pressure Berlin in general was to bring the refugee deal under review and to tell Turks in Germany not to vote for her in September.
A German court in Hamburg upheld a ban on many segments of a poem by a German comedian satirising Erdogan. This is unlikely to stem the mounting animosity and incitement against Germany by his supporters and media. At the same time, German anger at the lead of European opposition to Erdogan in general is unlikely to abate as long as he remains fixed on his dictatorial course.

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