Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Before UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson dash off to Turkey again in search of “a jumbo trade deal,” they would do well to consider the implications of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report on the UK’s relations with Turkey.
Incidentally, it was Boris Johnson, a former mayor of London, who was one of the leaders of the Brexit campaign.
It was also Johnson who prior to his appointment as foreign secretary won The Spectator’s
President Erdogan Offensive Poetry Competition.
The report cautions that the UK’s promotion of fundamental values cannot be predicated on “good trade” or any other preconditions.
It is also striking that, while the Turkish embassy’s submission to the committee’s inquiry opened with a reference to the “shared values” between the UK and Turkey, the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) submission made no mention of these values. Indeed, the FCO’s language emphasizes a “strategic” relationship with Turkey and the importance of “understanding” the threat that Turkey faces rather than taking a critical stand.
In fact, when it comes to the attempted coup and the fact that the blame has been placed wholly on the Gülen movement, the committee finds that the FCO seems willing to accept the Turkish government’s account at face value. To the detriment of the British government’s attempts to shore up the UK’s relations with Turkey ahead of Brexit, as one of the contributors to the report has noted, in opting to leave the EU it has lost its main negotiating card. Not that Turkey cares that much about its accession prospects any more, but it was nice to have a friendly face in Brussels.
Seven years ago former UK prime minister David Cameron also went to Ankara to drum up bilateral trade with Turkey and he definitely succeeded. On the same occasion, he declared that Britain was Turkey’s “strongest possible advocate” for EU membership, and in this respect his trip was a woeful failure.
However, the pretender to his job, Boris Johnson, backed both horses and raised the specter of Turkey’s membership in the “Leave” campaign. Afterwards he declared the UK’s support for Turkey’s bid.
The committee is not convinced that the Gülen movement as a whole was responsible for the coup and finds the FCO’s account “confused.” Furthermore, it states that a vaguely-framed definition of terrorism, a pliant media, and a politicized judiciary have allowed the Turkish government to silence a broad spectrum of critics by labeling them as “Gülenists” or “terrorists.”
The hallmark of the Gülen movement is education, which is why it has established an international network of some 2,000 schools in 160 countries, 800 of them in Turkey. It is for the same reason that its cadres have been able to occupy leading positions in public administration, education, the military, the police, the judiciary, technology and other fields in Turkey, and why the current purge has resulted in more than 135,000 being dismissed from public sector jobs.
Over 7,000 academics have lost their jobs, 44,000 at the Education Ministry have been sacked and the licenses of 21,000 teachers working in private schools have been revoked. In an article for the Hurriyet Daily News
called “The dumbing down of Turkey,” Turkish columnist Semih Idiz quoted an imam who prayed, “Oh God, please protect us from the wickedness of the educated!” He also explained why universities and independent-minded academics are among the prime targets of the ongoing purge.
Six years earlier Idiz also noted that more educated people are less likely to vote for Erdogan’s governing AK (Justice and Development) Party. This does not augur well for Turkey’s future and tallies with the results of an OECD survey two years ago that found that Turkish adults had below-average proficiency in literacy, problem-solving and numeracy skills.
At present, Turkey is being torn apart, not only by what the committee terms “a fratricidal conflict” between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his former ally, Fethullah Gülen, which has resulted in 113,260 being detained and 47,155 arrested, but also by the war with the Kurdish PKK, which has devastated several towns in the southeast.
The referendum on April 16 will decide Turkey’s future direction, but as the committee points out, it is difficult to foresee a fair, free and credible referendum when media, opposition MPs and civic organizations critical of the government have been closed down or silenced. The Venice Commission (the Council of Europe’s advisory body) also concludes that the proposed constitutional amendments represent “a dangerous step backwards” and a “degeneration” towards an authoritarian and personal regime.The author is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press.