Pro-Western circles face isolation in Turkey

Published 19.08.2016 21:50
Updated 21.08.2016 20:23

The civilian spirit of democracy not only thwarted a coup attempt on July 15, it also challenged traditional politics and sentiments in Turkey. Over the past month, a handful of concepts, including nation, homeland, independence and democracy, emerged as cornerstones of society's future. In the wake of the failed putsch, people from across the political spectrum turned their back on polarization and embraced the idea of reconciliation. In the process, pro-Western sentiment has been the fastest depreciating idea.

To be clear, Western ideas have never been embraced by the masses. Even though there was broad support for EU membership in the 1990s and early 2000s, people were primarily motivated by economic factors. Joining the EU, many reasoned, would have contributed to Turkey's welfare and economic development. Pro-Western ideas, in the sense of becoming part of Western civilization as opposed to others, however, have always been more popular among the elites.

Over the years, Turkey's elites credited Sultans Selim III and Mahmud II for making a meta-strategic decision to Westernize the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century. Even though Islamists, nationalists and leftists have been questioning the Westernization project, elites who controlled the state apparatus have always been on board.

The first giant leap forward toward Westernization was Turkey's decision to join NATO. In 2005, the country got closest to accomplishing the mission by launching accession negotiations with the EU. European integration was a long way off, but things were finally moving in the right direction.

The 2008 global financial crisis, coupled with the rise of anti-Turkey politicians in Germany and France, brought the process to a screeching halt. Before long, the Syrian civil war put additional strains on Turkish-EU relations, as Europe got trapped in an existential crisis over migration and Islamophobia. Just when observers thought that the readmission agreement would usher in a new era of cooperation, European leaders backtracked on visa liberalization. Having committed to granting visa-free travel to Turkish citizens in exchange for Turkey stopping the flow of refugees, EU officials started dragging their feet and eventually issued an ultimatum for Turkey to meet the benchmark concerning its anti-terrorism laws. In response, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu both warned that the readmission agreement and visa liberalization must take place simultaneously. Unless Ankara and Brussels can reach a compromise by October, Turkey's relations with the EU will ostensibly become tenser.

Meanwhile, Washington's reluctance to extradite Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) leader Fethullah Gülen to Turkey and its continued support for the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the PKK's Syrian affiliate, adds to Ankara's tensions with the United States.

Finally, the weak response from Western politicians and media to the July 15 coup attempt makes it impossible for secular elites to advocate their pro-West position. With the Western media's stance against Erdoğan turning into anti-Turkey sentiment, the country's elites find themselves increasingly disillusioned with the West's moral claim to democracy, human rights and rule of law. After all, it is pretty clear that Western interests trump moral values when they have to choose one over the other.

The Turkish people clearly understand that what Western leaders like to call the Erdoğan problem is a nice way of saying they have a problem with Turkey's self-confidence and courage to redefine its relationship with the West.

In a recent interview with Turkish media, a former U.S. ambassador to Ankara, James Jeffrey, made it clear that the West's real problem with Erdoğan is his willingness to point out contradictions in U.S. policy.

The time has come for the West to revisit its definition of friendship. At this rate, soon there will not be a pro-Western elite left in Turkey with the exception, of course, of FETÖ and PKK leaders.

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