In troubled times, when pragmatism almost always overrides idealistic concerns, Turkey’s rulers may believe that they are beyond reproach; their cooperation far too valuable to be jeopardized.
First, the key role assigned to Turkey in dealing with Europe’s refugee crisis and now, the fragility of the latest diplomatic push to end the conflict in Syria have evidently further emboldened Turkey to violate the fundamental rights of its citizens with impunity.
As John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Program Director put it in an interview to NRT, the Turkish government has been incredibly successful in leveraging its importance to the wider world to subdue criticism.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos on Thursday, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told his high-profile audience that “Turkey was an island of stability, surrounded by several fragile states in a troublesome region,” and it has a strong self-confidence because it has ‘a stable political framework’.
After at least four terrorist attacks on its soil in less than a year, with three million refugees to house and a raging hot conflict inside its own borders, does Turkey really project an image of stability?
In Davos, Mr. Davutoglu also claimed that the media was free. There was no pressure or limitations on freedoms. Nobody was arrested because of their media activities.
Yet, this was the week when the ninth anniversary of the assassination of the Turkish -Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was commemorated with his murder still unsolved. The IMC TV reporter and cameraman Refik Tekin was shot and injured by security forces while filming, surrounded by other civilians in Cizre. At the Parliament, Utku Cakirozer, an opposition deputy declared that the threat of physical violence is the greatest danger to media workers in Turkey. He gave concrete examples of intimidation and abuse. The European Court of Human Rights once again ruled against Turkey for violating Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Filiz Kerestecioglu, another opposition deputy told the Parliament this week that the President has sued more than 1500 people for insulting him since he has taken the post a year and half ago. Instructed by the President himself, prosecutors have launched investigations against more than 1200 Turkish academics who signed a petition calling for an end to military and police operations in the south-east. Some of the signatories have already been sacked; others had crosses painted on their doors.
Turkey’s Prime Minister may see these as elements of a ‘stable political framework’, but even among the most pragmatic, they are perceived as signs of Turkey’s further drift to authoritarianism, undermining the long-term stability of the country.
In Davos, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told Bloomberg that the crackdown on universities had a “chilling effect” and it would lead to an exodus of academics. “You can’t become a knowledge economy by going after your brightest minds,” he added.
US Vice President Joe Biden’s critical comments and highly-publicized meetings with representatives of civil society and media are another example of the importance Turkey’s allies put on democratic stability. On arrival in Istanbul, Biden said that the strength of Turkish democracy had a direct impact on the strength of ties with the United States.
This weekend, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and a high-level delegation will be visiting Turkey. Even if their priority is the issue of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, they, too, will raise matters relating to human rights and media freedoms.
Nobody is questioning Turkey’s central role in dealing with Europe’s refugee problems. With sensible foreign policy decisions, it has the potential to influence the region’s geopolitical agenda. Turkey has already proved that it can compete with the world’s leading emerging economies.
Its biggest vulnerability, its real Achilles’ heel, is its weakness in its democracy- both institutionally and culturally.
This post is also available in: Turkish