Boris and Vladimir
EKREM IMAMOGLOU in Istanbul but for how long?
The current new Mayor of Istanbul- but his position is still being challenged and who will face an odd future as the leader of a council largely composed of AKP councillors.
UPDATE: Monday 6th May:
There will now be another election in 2 months’ time.
The current stand-off between Holland and Turkey actually centres around the divisive figure of Gert Wilders and his supporters across Europe. Certainly, his attitude to Islam and to the treatment of refugees makes the charge of Fascism seem quite reasonable. What is more worrying is that this current fight may well bounce Wilders into power after Wednesday. The whole story shows Europe in the very worst light possible. It looks xenophobic, cheap and chaotic.
A few points are well worth noting. The first is that the various attempts to stop Turkish ministers from speaking in Europe have been couched in the language of “putting public order and safety in jeopardy”, but in fact there is clearly an agenda going back weeks if not months to stop these rallies at all cost. Indeed, this is what Mark Rutte originally wrote on his facebook,
“Many Dutch people with a Turkish background are authorized to vote in the referendum over the Turkish constitution. The Dutch government does not have any protest against gatherings in our country to inform them about it,…But these gatherings may not contribute to tensions in our society and everyone who wants to hold a gathering is obliged to follow instructions of those in authority so that public order and safety can be guaranteed.”
What I find particularly disturbing, therefore, is the late claim by the Dutch Prime Minister filmed by AlJazeera that holding a rally to promote a political cause in another country is actually illegal in Holland. This is how the AlJazeera joiurnalists have documented the comments later:
In the Netherlands it is illegal to hold a public rally about another country’s politics.
“The Dutch authorities appear not to want to allow any Turkish government minister to address any rally in this country,” Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Rotterdam, said.
“That’s in their law, and all the parties appear to be supporting the position of the government.”
However, no one appeared to think it was illegal before Saturday and before the damage had been d0ne! Indeed, Dutch News reported a few days ago ”
Legal experts say that the government has few options but that Aboutaleb can ban the meeting on public order grounds.
It would have made so much more sense, then, if it is truly the case that it is illegal to hold foreign rallies, to have said that at the outset, rather than to have whimpered on about “security and timing”. It smacks of mendacity. It is certainly not straightforward and it is thoroughly regrettable.
More to the point, there is a good record of Mr Wilders’ lengthy campaign to stop these rallies and of his personal opinion of Mr Erdoğan. The British press have chosen to conflate the various events of the last few days, suggesting that Mr Erdoğan’s language was intemperate and that the removal of the Family Minister was sparked by that. In fact, Mr Erdoğan was simply articulating the fact that Mr Wilders’ campaign was winning and I certainly do not see a vast gulf between the sort of things Mr Wilders promotes and the views of Fascism.
It has been a view certainly shared by the UK which issued its own travel ban to Mr Wilders, in force from 2006 to 2009. Following his most recent visits at the request of Lord Pearson, and Baroness Cox, and the screening of his film, “Fitna”, the Home office noted that his “statements and behaviour during a visit will inevitably impact on any future decisions to admit him”. It is unclear what the official British position might be, but Maxime Verhagen was quite candid. She said,
“He incites discord among people in a distasteful manner. And in the meantime he damages the interests of the Dutch population and the reputation of the Netherlands in the world”. In the article where this is quoted, Wilders is also abusive of the President Erdoğan: “En de Turkse premier Erdogan noemde hij een ‘total freak’.”“Verhagen: Wilders beschadigt reputatie Nederland”
Indeed, as Lord Ahmed said, Mr Wilders’ presence in the UK was a platform to “provoke violence and hatred”. He has clearly done that in Holland, and the effects of his manipulation are now dictating the way Turkey behaves. What a mess!
Today the Dutch authorities denied entry to the Turkish Foreign Minister who was to address a rally in the Netherlands in support of proposed changes to the Turkish Government. This comes on the back of a denial for a similar rally in Germany.
This makes uncomfortable reading. Today’s action was apparently taken directly by the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, himself who said that, as Holland is approaching a General election on Wednesday in which “the immigration issue” plays a significant role, a the visit of The Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, was “a threat to public order”.
While authorities may disagree with the proposals presented by Mr Erdoğan’s government, what appears to be a prolonged demonstration of pique by Europe’s ruling elite is almost unprecedented. Other countries, admittedly, like Russia (which banned 89 EU politicians from entering Russia in 2015, among them Nick Clegg and Uwe Corsepius) have also denied senior politicians from visiting their counties, but this sets a foolish precedent and one that the EU itself protested about in 2015. It causes offence, inconvenience and, more importantly, it closes opportunities to engage these people in meaningful conversation. If the Foreign Minister is coming to speak to a rally in Holland, it stands to reason that he should make time to talk to the Foreign Minister in the Netherlands. It makes no sense that his plane should be re-routed.
Our future rests on an ability to talk to one another. It is talking that has kept world peace for 70 years and if we abandon that, we are taking a very uncertain step in a new direction.
The Presidential system
If we think the changes proposed by President Erdoğan threaten democracy in Turkey, then we should engage with the Turkish leaders. Personally, I think the proposals will enshrine in law a constitution that finally pushes the army into its proper place. There is much to commend in that fact alone. Moreover, there seems little point in having direct elections for a President who is then denied the appropriate executive power of a democratically-elected leader. The change to the Presidential system simply recognises what is already happening.
The Language of Europe
Of course, there have been some high profile incidents in Turkey where journalists have either been detained or denied entry. While the arrest of Daniz Yüzel who is currently held in Silivri prison is by no means straightforward, despite the rather glib reports in the media, he is certainly not alone and that is worrying. Again, this runs in the face of free speech and the chance to engage and inform. But there is, I am afraid, a big difference between turning away, for example, Rod Nordland, a New York Times Journalist, and turning away a senior leader of a Democratic country and Nato ally. And for EU leaders to hide behind bureaucratic nonsense about security or to treat fellow leaders so casually and repeatedly is concerning. The EU is here being less than honest because the repeated problem suggests an overall policy to stop Turkish leaders from addressing their own people. So this is not so much about a threat to democracy from Turkey- it is a demonstration that democracy is itself threatened in Europe. You cannot have it both ways!
At a time, then, when Europe needs the voice of reason, we are packing our bags and planning to leave. Maybe we are going too soon- because we cannot leave Europe in this mess, where mendacity has evidently replaced diplomacy.
To make matters worse, this comes across in the Turkish media as something of an EU agenda. An event in Zurich scheduled for yesterday was cancelled as also rallies in three other Austrian towns. In the south German town of Gaggenau, the Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ was to address a rally organised by EETD (the Union of European Turkish Democrats). At the last minute the event was cancelled by the local mayor who cited security concerns about on-site parking. Later, the authorities in Cologne said that a meeting scheduled for 5th March when the Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci was to have addressed a rally was cancelled because the appropriate permission had not been granted “There was no agreement for March 5, and there will not be”.
This might have been dismissed as some sort of bureaucratic mess-up but that Germany’s opposition party is already on record in advance of the Gaggenau rally demanding that their government deny the Minister entry. There are 2.3 million Turks living in 57 countries outside Turkey and legally entitled to cast a vote in the forthcoming referendum. The largest community of expats is in Germany and came to Germany at Germany’s request. Cologne’s decision about the visit of the Turkish Economy minister looks political whatever excuse is provided. More than that, it is the same city which prevented President Erdoğan from addressing supporters by video link after the FETÖ coup last year, and that had meanwhile allowed a senior PKK commander Murat Karayılan to address a rally at a culture festival. PKK is a group that both the EU and the US label as a terrorist organisation and yet it still able to raise nearly £12 million in Germany alone. The EU approach is inconsistent and insulting. It is not calculated to win hearts and minds.
Mr Erdoğan has already reacted with fairly fierce rhetoric but his real response may well be to “open the gates” allowing migrants back into mainland Europe. Already, the EU has indicated that Turkey does not meet the requirements agreed last year for visa-free travel in Europe. Turkey has already shouldered the migrant-burden and should get something more than snubs for its goodwill.
Is it wrong for one country to appeal to expat voters by holding rallies in another country? The present Papacy, for example, has built its entire ministry on the principle that it can hold rallies anywhere in the world. But certainly, when Turkish Prime Minster Binali Yildirim spoke to 10,000 countrymen in Oberhausen in February, a debate was sparked across Continental Europe.
Yet rallies to support foreign groups take place all over the place- indeed, there is a german anti-Islamic group called Pegida, led by Lutz Bachmann, which has now launched its own political party (FDDV with links to AfD) and which has held rallies here in the UK – rather pleasingly, while it commands rallies of up to 25,000 in places like Dresden, only 375 people marched to support the group in Newcastle, and an estimated 2000 Brits staged a counter-demonstration. That’s surely the way democracy should work!
This evening the family minister, Dr Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, already in Germany for other talks, was denied access to the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam. The Consular staff are not allowed to meet her and she is also so far not allowed into her own Consulate. Instead, the Dutch authorities have invited her to be escorted out of the country. Presumably, she was not stopped on the German border: none of this makes alot of sense but it most certainly raises tension; already Geert Wilders has gone public with a cry to “Clean our country” referring to the Turkish protestors as “500 allahu akbar screaming Turks in Rotterdam”. This was action calculated to play into the hands of Right wing bigots and it has. I am deeply shocked. This is not the sort of Europe I think we should be seeing. It is certainly not the sort of Europe I could ever or would ever support.
I was due to give a talk at a conference in Ankara yesterday. I made a video for the conference, finishing it just a few hours before the attempted coup.
I have now posted this online and added a brief introduction. I am pleased it has attracted some attention, and one particularly brilliant person added the following:
The military coup was not handled with a precise hand. It was a sloppy grab at power and hopefully Turkey won’t forget the collateral damage. And instead of letting it justify more death and destruction, will use it as a motivator for peace and civility.
I kind of want to get some things about debate off my chest. I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but modern debates often suffer from a type of information overload. I should probably point out that I am from the USA, so I have a very limited perspective on European events. I think if you asked any common person in any system, they are well aware that politicians shift focus and are masters of rhetoric designed to conceal any information they desire to conceal. But this isn’t really what I mean by information overload.
It seems to me that any “viral” idea or claim can become popular without any evidence or relevance in a post internet era. I see this constantly on social media and have been both a victim and a perpetrator of spreading some of these fallacious and incorrect views.
It was interesting to see that happen with the EU referendum. Claims that could not be substantiated and debate that was more nationalistic than informative spread much quicker because people got more caught up in the message rather than the truth.
So debates often end up being events where experts try to clarify why certain ideas or views lack evidence. But in these modern debates the side with the confident leader that recapitulates their views with impunity often ends up being more popular. I guess what I am trying to say is that people are more concerned with how people perform, in a sort of theatrical way, instead of challenging ideas and views.
This ended up being more of a rant than I wanted it to be, but I would love to see you do a video on effective debate as mentioned above. And thanks for the great content.
He is right in so many ways. How Erdogan deals with the army will determine the rest of his Presidency and the future of Turkey, but it will also send out a message to other states controlled by a powerful military. Personally, I see no real distinction between what happened on Friday night and what happened in Nice- both events seem to me to be a form of terrorism and innocent men, women and children mindlessly killed.
Visa difficult days
There is talk today that Turkey may be offered easier access to European membership should she stem the flow of Syrian refugees coming through the country and thus sort out what is fast becoming the biggest threat to the Union in its history. This is rather an interesting proposition, mostly because it looks at the issue from a Eurocentric angle- assuming two things, (a) that the prize of European membership is indubitably worth having and (b) that Turkey can indeed shut its border with Syria.
Mrs Merkel says that Turkey has requested EU aid to the tune of $2.2 billion, apparently. She is due in Turkey this weekend. I find it astonishing that there is any deliberation about this- the more aid Turkey is given and the more assistance it gets, the easier it is to keep the refugees near their home so they can eventually go back. Instead of making a noble effort to help (isn’t it our moral duty?) or offering a Cameron-cloaked calculated bribe to keep the refugees where they are, the EU has dangled a podgy carrot and expects Turkey to bray like a donkey in gullible, nay, even in priapic excitement. It simply will not happen. It is absurd politics and utterly insulting. The only donkey in this equation is tethered in Brussels.
In fact, the dead-slow progress of entry negotiations has soured Turkey’s interest in joining the Union and it’s already looking elsewhere. This is not to say that Turkey has neither the right nor the continued opportunity to join eventually, but simply that it has responded with a shrug to the “go slow.” It has seen other lesser-nations leap-frog into accession and it feels rightly put out. In addition, it is not likely to get excited about joining a club that has so publicly and shamelessly criticised its religious and cultural identity. (Islam has actually played a major role in the formation of modern Europe- we would not have parachutes, torpedoes or distillation without the impact of islamic research- in short, there would be no drams of whiskey in Scotland, and precious little Plato, without Islam) We have played this game foolishly if we now expect a proud country to bow down to our coquettish advances. In the end, we in Europe will be the loser if Turkey rejects our advances and forges alliances of its own in defiance of European membership. Byzantium, Constantinople or present day Istanbul remains a European City and should take its proper place geographically and historically with the other great cities of Europe. More than that, we desperately need Turkey’s help managing the coasts. The first practical link between Turkey and Europe should not be a pointless carrot, but the addition of Turkey to the Frontex system of EU coast patrols. This would be the first step towards full integration with Europe’s security system which is inevitable anyway if we want to be realistic about policing the mediterranean. At the same time, the EU needs to relax its demands about Cyprus. Now is not the time to deal with the broader resolution of the Cypriot situation and we need to be offering Turkey support in its own struggle to define islam in the face of ISIL/ISIL – a stronger Turkey helps the EU.
As for the relationship with Syria, well that is more complex. It is astonishing that, despite the crisis, the rule remains that Syrians do not need to apply for a visa to enter the country and they have leave to remain there for 90 days without any issue. That makes for a strange situation, because, presumably, a person who has wandered into an hospitable country is not strictly-speaking a refugee. Turkey has taken in over 2 million Syrians (and about 300,000 Iraqis). When it comes to neighbourly good-will, Turkey has done well. As Erdogan has said of European efforts to accommodate Refugees, “They announce they’ll take in 30,000 to 40,000 refugees and then they are nominated for the Nobel for that. We are hosting two and a half million refugees but nobody cares.”
If only it were that simple, though.
Just across the border from Turkey, there is the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of Osman I the founder of the Ottoman empire and this, 16 miles into Syrian territory, remains Turkish land. It used to be guarded by 15 soldiers though today that has been increased to 30. Turkey would certainly fight if that territory were attacked or invaded.It also helps to explain the acceptance of a fairly chaotic border arrangement.
Despite the open border, however, and its interests across the border, Turkey has a fractious relationship with Damascus, has condemned Assad, and, indeed, severed official diplomatic links when the Turkish embassy closed in 2012. Added to this is long suspicion about Syria’s support for ASALA and for PKK, – until 1998 Syria openly hosted the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. In the last few years, there have been air-space violations and bombings in Hatay province. Syrian terrorists were caught with cylinders of Sarin gas.
But despite this, Erdogan has said, “we are not interested in war, but we’re not far from it either.” Reassuring and at the same time, Worrying.
Difficult to sit on the fence when the border is so long and the fence so insecure. But why move from there when a neighbour who has been scathing suddenly offers lollipops. It is not enough: that fence looks more inviting than the lure of joining the European Union. Personally, I think we would be the better off for having Turkey in Europe, but we have to work harder now to convince the Turks that we really want them. We cannot tease them with the scraps that fall from Merkel’s lusty table. They are wise to that – many of them have been working in Berlin for years, after all and we have all seen the way Germany has treated other southern European nations.