Turkey is one of the most powerful countries in the Black Sea region, and the new reality in the Middle East even boosted importance and role of the country. Location of the Turkey is a huge advantage, but it is also can be a burden, in some meaning. The country is surrounded by many different societies, cultures and powers, that’s why it was always a big task for the Turkish leaders to find a balance, to be able to deal with the East and the West, with friends and not very friendly neighbors. Recent events in this region and in Turkey, in particular, have put the country in a difficult political and international situation, and now it has got even harder to find this, well known, Turkish balance.
More than two months have passed since a coup d’état in Turkey, but up to now, it is not easy for the rest of the world community to understand the situation. It seems that failed to overturn made the current Turkish leader even stronger. However, the question of what had really happened in summer and, more important, what will be the consequences, remains open for now.
Charge d’affairs of the Embassy of Turkey in Ukraine Ozgün Talu tried to explain the situation and expressed his thoughts about future Ukraine-Turkish relations.
(Denis Iatsyshyn) The whole world was watching for Turkey. Everybody was shocked because of the events that took place couple of months ago. What is the current situation? What is the mood of Turkish society?
The coup attempt which took place about two months ago in Turkey was a great shock for all of the Turkish citizens and our friends abroad. This is the first time in our history that some units of our army attacked its own people, targeted civilians and bombed parliament. This is the only example of the parliament directly attacked and bombed while extraordinary session, which was called against the coup attempt, was taking place. It started around 10 pm in the evening and by the morning everything was under control, but this night was terrible. I was in Ankara, so I heard myself all shootings, I saw fighter jets flying in very low attitude which was quite dangerously, we saw that the state television was captured.
During the live broadcast our President he urged the people to go to the streets to stand against this rebels, it was Turkish people itself who stopped this attempt; it was a general attack against our way of life, against future of our children. So everybody declared in a right way, opposition parties also declared openly and quickly that they will stand with the democratically elected government and president as they also saw this attack against us. It wasn’t a matter of political discussion or politically different views, it was an attack against democracy, and we defended it together. Now the situation is under control. The criminals involved in this crime, who presented themselves as a group of people with some strong religious beliefs, which is not the case because what they did it has nothing to do with the religion, of course, they committed a crime and they will be punished according to our law, within our international obligations. The charges imposed on them are in line with our own legislation and our international obligations.
Were the rebels rebelling against Turkish way of life or against the President?
Not personally against the President, he was also attacked, they probably planned to assassinate him in the small town, where he was on vacation, but he managed to escape in 15 minutes before the assassins arrived. He managed to fly to Istanbul and then started to resolve the crisis by himself. So, it was not against the President it was against our democratic way of life. But we, Turks, always can see some positive moments in all those tragic events, because, first of all, if they had waited for 2-3 more years, they could have been able to capture the government. It seems that they had been infiltrating to our security bodies, judiciary and police forces for the last 20-25 years, so if they wait a bit more this coup might be bloodier.
Do you know, why they have chosen that particular day? Why didn’t they wait longer?
First of all, it will be enlightened by the prosecutors, who are working on the case and will come up with the correspondent charges against these people. And I think we will hear every detail during court proceedings. I think we will hear every detail. But the objective was to seize the control of the state through the shortcut, not through the democratic election and change our life and the social order in Turkey.
What is the current situation in Turkey?
This attack unified our people, they have been on the streets since the coup attempt. Maybe you saw on the TV last Sunday that millions of people gathered on the square, but the most important thing is that the opposition was also there, they stood together with the government. All parts of our society are unified. A state of emergency was declared by the parliament, it will last for 90 days, during which we will clean our states mechanism from these criminal groups. According to the statements of the government, it will take short time, everything will be done within our legislation according to the laws and it is with the line of our obligations with the Council of Europe, so nothing extraordinary. We found out that all of these criminals are in all institutions; they were infiltrated in many government organizations, so now we are checking everything.
Recently there were rumors about applying death punishment, as a temporary measure, so the President said that there might be an initiative to set this sort of punishment to these people ad hoc.
We don’t have such kind of measure, such penalty is prohibited by our constitutions, if we will decide to renew this kind of punishment, then the Parliament should make an amendment to the constitutions which require special majority and thus, it requires agreement between different groups in the parliament. There is a strong demand from our people and our President said that he must listen to the voice of our people, as it happens in democratic countries, but the death penalty is not on agenda today. First of all, we should finish this cleaning. We are not the country, that was created 10 years ago. We are matured enough and we have legislative tradition, we know how to trial people, the appeal court is open for them and then they can apply to the Court of Constitution, and of course, The European Court of Human Rights is opened.
Many people who were fired from their work because of the connection to the rebels. What is the destiny of these people? How can you determine it? Did they support the coup or not? Could they turn into the new opposition?
They are not fired from their work if you mean the civil servants, their service is suspended until the completion of the investigation. So, if they will be found guilty they will carry the punishment according to the law, but if they will be found innocent they will return to their job. But yes, there are thousands of people whose service in the government is suspended until the completion of the investigation. For those who work in the private sector, the companies will take their own decision according to the labor law.
Who are those people who started the coup and those who supported it?
Well, there is a preacher living in the US, his name is Fethullah Gulen. He started this movement in the late ‘70s in Turkey. It is quite hard to understand, because when you look at the schools, cultural centers and business associations, which has nothing to do with the politics, there is an external circle and the circle that runs these organizations. Fethullah Gulen is the head of this inner circle. When you understand the actions of the inner circle, you can come to the conclusion that all the others are masks. They are pretending that they are running a school but they are appointed by the decision of someone abroad to make proper actions needed for the management of this organization. It is quite dangerously for all the countries where this schools and cultural centers are located, this is a national security threat for Turkey. We will overcome it, but we should keep in mind that this organization has representatives in more than 130 countries. Many members of this organization have infiltrated in the army, that is why there were too many generals in this coup attempt. The previous leader of our Army was detained, it came out that all of them were found innocent by the decision of the court. But during this period recruiters appointed people on high-rank position.
Can you name some organizations?
Some of these organizations are in Ukraine, we shared the necessary information with our Ukrainian friends. I think, they will make the necessary steps within Ukrainian law and within Ukraine national security. In Turkey these schools are closed, the students are transferred to the public schools, where they will continue their education. Regarding those schools that which are abroad, some countries decided to close them as well, for example, Azerbaijan, Cypress, and others. As I said each and every country will take its own decision according to the legislation.
Which country has supported the Turkey during these events?
All of them. But we are thankful to the president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko. At the first hours of this coup attempt, we received his message of solidarity with elected government and president. Frankly speaking, there is a sort of disappointment of our people, because they think there was not enough support from our western partners. Instead of supporting the democratically elected government, they made some general statements and then they adapted it according to the approach of “wait and see”. But we are aware of everything, we know who did what and when. It is a disappointment, of course, some of them made even warnings, of course, we respect their decision, but I think this is not right place when you display your solidarity with the democratic government and then you make your criticism. Of course we are opened to all constructive critics but first, they could have shown their solidarity with Turkish people, express their condolences. We have around 250 causalities, most of them are civilians.
There is one country that you haven’t mentioned. It’s, of course, Russia. If we look at the situation after coup attempt – the relationship between the countries has changed. We also heard the Mr. Putin expressed his solidarity with Mr. Erdogan as well. So can you comment this turnaround?
Well, I can confirm that Mr. Putin telephoned our president to express his solidarity and support, that’s true. But we should not confuse the timeframe because bringing Turkish-Russian relations back before the aircraft incident in November 2015 was something agreed upon at the beginning of June if I’m not mistaking. Lack of dialogue between Turkey and Russia was an abnormality, we are two neighboring countries, and Russia is an important player in our region. It would be just normal to be in a kind of dialogue with them. This doesn’t mean that we are sharing the same views on each and every issue; we have different views on a number of international and regional problems, including Ukraine. Before the shooting down of the Russian jet we were supporting the territorial integrity of Ukraine and its sovereignty, during this crisis period with Russia, we continued supporting and after the normalization of our relationships with Russia, we will keep supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Our approach towards Ukraine or any other international and regional issue is not related to our bilateral cooperation with Russian Federation, there is no such kind of correlation.
However Still, everything is connected. For example, building a pipeline, so-called “Turkish stream” – this is definitely own Turkish business, but it can eventually affect Ukraine.
Definitely, but if we are talking about this “Turkish stream” projects, first of all, we have to define what is it? Because there are different variants, some people are talking about four pipelines: one for Turkey and three for the European Union. If this is the case, then there should be some buyers in Europe, we cannot consume that much Russian gas. And if there are no potential customers there will be no point to construct and invest in such kind of big projects. We haven’t agreed to construct it yet, this proposal was made by Mr. Putin in December 2014 and after that, we started working on that idea; we are not the only actor in this project, there should be customers and suppliers. So, I think it is too early to make any conclusions about this specific project. The construction of Akkuyu nuclear power plant, which was undertaken by Rosatom, and during this crisis the process was going on without stops, actually nothing has changed. There were some sanctions against Turkey introduced by the Russian side, and recently Mr. Putin declared at the press conference that they will withdraw these sanctions on a step by step basis. We will see how things will develop but Turkish policies, foreign policy let’s say, is I determined by our elected government, they are in charge, after this coup attempt they stayed in charge, so I don’t expect any big changes in our foreign policy – government is the same, president is the same. Turkey is a good neighbor and a friend of Ukraine and we will stay as we are.
Can Russia start using the economic factor as an instrument of pressure in the politic field?
I don’t think so because the proposal to construct “The Turkish stream”, came from the Russian side and we just agreed to work on it. It is hard to say “yes” or “no” in one moment. I have never heard Russians say “stop supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and we will construct this pipeline”. They are suppliers of the gas and if this project will be materialized the will get money out of it.
You’ve already mentioned that in your opinion there will be no crucial changes, but we know that right now there is some tension between Turkey and the EU, especially related to the free visas regime and an Agreement on the migrants.
It was a package deal, the visa-free regime and our cooperation on illegal human trafficking, let’s say. We have been honoring our commitments and expecting the same from the EU side. They haven’t said say that they will not give us visa-free regime, but of course, if they fail to honor their commitments we will act in the same way, but we are not at that point yet. People (Turkish – UaAway) are confused about the statement of the certain European leaders about Turkish EU accession, and the EU leadership as an institution. Our relationship with the EU is not something new, we have signed our Association agreement in 60’s, we have been in the customs union with them since 1996 and we are an accessing country. Of course, this should be a political decision made by both sides – the EU side and Turkey. Now we are not at the stage of arguing about Turkish membership in the EU, first of all, we have to finish accession negotiation, we have some work to do and when we are ready, this political decision will be made. It is too hypothetical to talk about the crisis in the Turkish-EU relations.
We have a partly similar problem of waiting for this visa-free regime. The date has have been already postponed few times.
As a friend of Ukraine, I just only hope that the relations between Ukraine and the EU will develop further. This is not just a friendly will, this is a strategic interest of Turkey. As long as Ukraine gets closer with the EU-Atlantic unions, it serves our interests in the region.
Unfortunately, we have very few arguments which could speed up this process, for example, the Agreement on migrants?
But, thank God, you won’t font have this problem with migrants, we are now hosting around tree million people, it requires big financial resources and others, we are carrying this burden without a help of our international partners. But, of course, every country has its limits, once the limit is if reached, all these migrants will start moving to Europe. We remember all these horrible videos from the Adriatic Sea last summer. This Agreement was a solution to this problem – our joint problem with the EU, and so far it is has worked well – the number of migrants sharply decreased. But there are commitments from both sides and it is important to honor them mutually.
Maybe we don’t have the problem with migrants in a scale that you faced, but we have other problems like temporarily occupied territories. In particular, we would like to talk about Crimean peninsula, that has strong historical and cultural links with Turkey. What will be the policy of Turkey towards this region after renewing a dialogue with Russian Federation? Will you try to avoid this topic now?
The illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by the Russian Federation is not and will not be recognized by Turkey, this is first of all. When I spoke about the territorial integrity of Ukraine – that means including Crimea, needless to say. There is some special connection between Turkey and Crimea, we have big Crimean Tatars Diaspora, there is information about 5 million of people. We should bear in mind that all these people are Turkish citizens and are able to vote, so no Turkish government can’t remain indifferent. So, when we lost this dialogue with Russia we also lost an opportunity to give them clear and correct messages about illegal annexation. Before that happened, we managed to use our bilateral communication channel with Russia in order to convey, to advise them to act in line with the principles of international law. So, if we will bring our relations to the situation before this jet incident, this the means we will again have this channel of communication and that is useful for our partners in the West, our allies in NATO and Ukraine. We were criticized by our Western partners that we stopped dialogue with Russia because Turkey was one of the few countries, who had this direct dialogue channel with Russian leadership at the highest level.
So, can we say to Crimean Tatars now that their situation will probably get better, because of a chance to talk to Russians directly and convince them to act differently?
Well, of course, it will be a strong promise, because Crimea now is effectively under Russian control, and I am not in the position to make promises to the people living on this peninsula. But, of course, Russia is the responsible one for the human rights violation in Crimea, according to the international law. We will continue to stay on our position, we will keep telling to stop violation of human rights and to end the occupation.
by Denys Yatsyshin