The West has a new approach toward Turkey. On issues like terrorism and the refugee crisis, in which Western nations have a vested interest, they engage in constructive dialogue with the government. Just in case negotiations don't go as planned, they threaten to complain about Turkey's purported slide into authoritarianism and the decline in press freedom. This two-pronged strategy not only provides the Western media with verbal ammunition to badmouth Turkey but also makes it possible for Western governments to tolerate terror propaganda citing freedom of speech.
Most recently, U.S. President Barack Obama and European Parliament President Martin Schulz directed the same kind of criticism toward Turkey while members of the PKK and the Gülen Movement staged protests in the streets of Brussels and Washington, D.C. On the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit, Mr. Obama said he found Turkey's "approach toward the press could lead Turkey down a path that would be very troubling" - an issue, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan later said, that had not come up during an informal meeting in the NSS's margins.
Days later, Mr. Schulz told the German press that "it is not acceptable that the president of another country demanded Germany limits democratic rights because he felt caricatured" after Turkey summoned the German ambassador over a video broadcast by NDR, a German broadcaster. "We struck a [refugee] deal with the Turkish Republic as opposed to Mr. Erdogan. We worked with the government of Prime Minister [Ahmet] Davutoğlu. He is a highly serious partner."
Both leaders paid lip service to the long history of their partnership with Turkey and proceeded to "criticize" the state of Turkish democracy. Needless to say, they conveniently ignored the Turkish leadership's warning that the West's continued support for the PKK tested the limits of the partnership.
The West's "criticism" of Turkish democracy employs four tactics.
First, they use strongly worded statements to twist Turkey's arm on terrorism and the refugee crisis. The United States, for instance, wants to keep distinguishing between the PKK, a globally recognized terrorist organization, and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the PKK's Syrian franchise and U.S. subsidiary. European leaders, in turn, want Turkey to not use the refugee crisis as leverage in EU accession talks and keep ignoring the PKK's recruitment and fundraising efforts on European soil. The more Mr. Erdoğan calls on Europe to take a genuine stand against terrorism, the harsher the Western media criticizes Turkey.
Secondly, they contribute to the domestic opposition's anti-Erdoğan campaign to keep the public occupied with negative coverage and fuel tensions between political rivals. This deliberate effort has effectively made it impossible for the Turkish people to agree on even non-partisan issues such as foreign policy and national security.
The Western media and European leaders, moreover, constantly and passionately criticize President Erdoğan whenever they get the chance. The fact that mounting pressure fuels popular fears about Turkey's territorial integrity and the terror threat apparently doesn't register. Likewise, Western critics have been unable to understand that they are hurting their long-term interests by promoting anti-Westernism among Turks.
Finally, Western pundits have been criticizing the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) policies in an effort to drive a wedge between President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Davutoğlu. By making a fictional distinction between the two leaders, they are trying to fuel tensions within the AK Party and promote anti-Erdoğanism among the ruling party's supporters.
For a second, let us entertain the idea that Western leaders are targeting President Erdoğan to strengthen Turkey's democracy and keep a NATO ally in good shape. What Turkey needs today certainly isn't a hostile approach that fuels polarization and isolationism. As the strongest democracy in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Turkey urges the West to make a genuine effort to cooperate on Syria and Iraq. But all the Turkish people hear back is noise.
About the author
Burhanettin Duran is General Coordinator of SETA Foundation and a professor at Social Sciences University of Ankara. He is also a member of Turkish Presidency Security and Foreign Policies Council.