Turkey, the EU and US: How to mend our ties

The coup attempt in Turkey was averted. Even such a short sentence to summarize what has been happening for the last two weeks is frightening. No one, including myself, thought that a coup could take place in Turkey in 2016. But it was attempted, claiming the lives of more than 300 people in less than six hours.

We have to underline some major issues without getting into detail. The details will perhaps be known in future. For the time being, there is obviously a plethora of information, but it is uncontrollable. This neutralizes our perception. However, some issues are so blatant that we can take them for granted.

The first issue is that the attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government met a swift and strong reaction from society and the country’s institutions. The majority of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and conscripts refused to follow the insurgents. The population took to the streets to stop the armored vehicles and tanks. The institutions, traditionally reluctant to oppose the military, have taken very strong and unequivocal stances. Political parties represented in Parliament responded very quickly and very gallantly to the coup attempt. They became the target of the insurgents who bombed the Parliament building in the heart of Ankara while parliamentarians were holding an impromptu session. Turkish society collectively spat out the coup attempt. This is a first in the Republic’s history and it is a very important dynamic.

The second issue is that none of our allies and supporting countries seemed overwhelmingly distressed that a coup attempt was being conducted in Turkey. Obviously, generic support messages were sent to stress solidarity with a democratically elected government. But that was it. Nothing more, as there was not even a courtesy visit in the aftermath of the failed coup. The only real and strong solidarity messages came from Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran. Carl Bildt, the former foreign minister of Sweden, expressed his astonishment publicly just days ago in front of this disdain.

The third issue is the repercussions of Turkey’s developments in the international media. This has gone beyond all understanding. The government, the presidency and the political parties are shown as the culprits of what happened. Never in Turkey’s history has the image of the country as a whole has been so tarnished. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been accused of fomenting the coup himself, even though he was almost assassinated by the insurgents. The arrests and detentions that followed the coup are shown as a very serious breach to democratic functioning. The coup attempt, its preparations, the presence of Gülenists within the state apparatus, the judiciary and the military are not really taken seriously.

This deepening of mutual distrust can become extremely dangerous and can create full-size diplomatic conflicts if not taken care of. The U.S. media and most European media outlets have been influenced by the Gülen Movement. At first, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) governments thought they could let the external relations and lobbying operations in the capable hands of Gülen’s followers. When the reality of Gülen’s deeds was discovered, it was too late to establish good relations with foreign media.

The extremely tense political life in Turkey, the incisiveness and violence of political dialogue has also given a very bad image of Turkey abroad. Government circles and the opposition have been treating each other so badly that Turkish political life can hardly look democratic from abroad.

Now how to mend this situation? Obviously, the government is taking some steps to establish better contacts abroad, but at the present stage of our relations, such steps are not likely to yield strong results any time soon. Turkish politics must be totally redesigned in terms of political dialogue and the reforms that must be established.

Erdoğan has given important signals to overcome the absence of dialogue between political parties. This bodes well for the immediate future. But more should be done, especially regarding external relations. A much larger front must be established, incorporating all the representative political parties – and yes, that includes the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) as well. Only this kind of a political front will be likely to influence foreign decision makers and the media.

The coup attempt has shown everyone what the divide existing in Turkey is. This is a very visible divide between the proponents of a democratic regime, participative and transparent, where accountancy must have an important place, and those who do not believe in democratic functioning.

Turkey needs to be deeply self-critical and deepen political dialogue. The terrible developments of July 15 have opened a perspective for everyone to become more responsible. It is up to the government and the opposition parties to take this opportunity to make out of Turkey a real democracy with good relations with its democratic allies. Nothing less will be enough to secure the country’s future.