Germany-Turkey: Are definitions of terrorism really divergent?

Published 29.08.2017 02:03

The failure to define those who kill civilians or attempt to topple a government as terrorists cannot be dismissed simply as differences of interpretation

The political and diplomatic tension between Germany and Turkey continues, as every single minister from both countries tirelessly express, one after another, their anger at the other side. Last week, for example, the German defense minister once again evoked the crisis over the request from German parliamentarians to visit their soldiers at İncirlik Air Base, and then German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel repeated what his country thinks about the ongoing crisis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is not absent from the debate either, as she regularly express her frustration with Turkey and its government while the usually silent German president does not miss any opportunity to criticize Turkey.

Gabriel has even clearly mentioned the possibility of suspending Ankara's EU accession talks and the German justice minister reminded that demands made by Turkish officials for the extradition of people who took part in last year's coup attempt cannot be met as quickly as Ankara is asking.

Therefore, members of the German cabinet are confirming on a daily basis that Germany is not bluffing and that under present conditions Germany's relations with Turkey will not get any better in the foreseeable future.

Let's not forget, by the way, what German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said last week in this context. You may recall that de Maizière was formerly Germany's defense minister and he was accused of covering up a scandal concerning the bungled purchase of Euro Hawk surveillance drones, which proved too dangerous to be flown in European airspace. This was a case of wasting money to an unimaginable degree, but Merkel decided to keep him in the cabinet for some reason. One can only suppose that de Maizière is indeed very loyal to the chancellor. This is, of course, Germany's problem.

Turkey's problem with de Maizière is his statement regarding the differences in the definition of terrorism in Turkey and in Germany. He is right when he says the two countries have different approaches on terrorism, as Germany's main terrorism-related security problem is with Daesh militants. As for Turkey, throughout its history the country has faced myriad types of terrorism. So it is not surprising that the two countries' experiences with terrorism are radically different.

As a matter of fact, terrorism has 108 different legal definitions around the globe, and therefore, divergent approaches are expectable. Germany insists on keeping a legal tradition of considering a person a terrorist only if he or she commits a terrorist attack in Germany or is caught while preparing one, again, in Germany. This is a very narrow definition that creates many complications in the fight against terrorism.

We know that all the recent terrorist attacks in Europe were committed either by driving cars into crowds or attacking random people with knives. It is very difficult to predict such attacks because you can't follow every person who drives a car or buys a knife. Fighting against this new kind of terrorism is indeed complicated for all countries, including Germany and Turkey.

Nevertheless, theoretical explanations are not enough to understand the conflict between Germany and Turkey. What de Maizière is trying to say is that those people Ankara calls terrorists, for example PKK members or officers involved in the coup attempt, are not considered as such by Berlin. I wonder what Germany calls people who shot at innocent civilians and tried to overthrow a democratically elected government or those who use landmines to kill police and soldiers.

Ankara perfectly understands that some differences in legal definitions are always possible. The problem is Ankara has serious doubts about Berlin's real intentions, as it is now acting like an antagonist power.

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