There are two conflicting viewpoints on Turkey in Europe. The first is a realist and pragmatist viewpoint that considers Turkey as it is, in its own realities and with its own limitations and capacities. The second is the irrational and emotional viewpoint that defends the need to immediately steer Turkey away from the wrong path it is set on and to change the present administration as soon as possible, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan foremost among them.
Between the two, the second viewpoint – the irrational and emotional one – is more decisive compared to the first. The first considers Turkey from a much more realistically and offers to establish relations with Turkey in a pragmatic approach based on mutual interest, but unfortunately, it is the marginal position in Europe.
This situation is the primary factor negatively effecting Turkish-European relations and which keeps these relations from normalizing. The Turkish public regard the efforts expanded by Europe to reshape Turkey and effect administrative change and its irrational and emotional reactions as attempts to directly intervene in domestic affairs. At its core, this causes alienation from European countries and culture.
Today, European countries' attitudes on Turkey's struggle with terrorism stems from this continued approach based on irrationality and emotion. Just as the dimensions of the threats facing Turkey are ignored, the fact that Turkey will not give up its fight and that it will continue decisively with its actions against these threats are miscalculated. Extremely naively, Europeans assume that their critique of Turkey's struggle with terrorism in European Parliament or even in their own media organizations will have an effect. However, the results are never what they want. Rhetoric is not enough to conquer the political arena.
The viewpoint I tried to describe above is the one displayed mostly by realist European politicians and bureaucrats. But their numbers are not high. The second viewpoint that I have been criticizing is one that is rehashed every day by mainstream European media and which affects many politicians.I would like to continue with an example. Last week, I attended the Munich Security Conference. On the second day of the conference, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım gave a speech on Turkey's security perspective and its conception of fighting against terrorism. It was a speech filled with clear, explicit and empirical data. Yıldırım spoke of the successes Turkey had in the fight against Daesh, how Turkey was able to successfully prevent the mass flow of refugees to Europe and the justifications for the ongoing counterterror operation in Afrin. Yıldırım said that Turkey is not just protecting its own borders, but those of NATO and Europe, as well. It was both a realist and pragmatist speech, mentioning deepening relations with European countries and allies. However, the questions that came from the room afterward serve as prime examples of just how overarching a view the one I detailed above has in Munich, and among the European public. Yıldırım was asked three questions.The first was about the meaning behind the "Ottoman slap" that Erdoğan had mentioned. Yıldırım explained that this put forward Turkey's determination to eliminate all terrorist organizations that threaten it. The second question was along the lines of why the country began an operation in Afrin when the Assad regime did not invite it to do so. Yıldırım said that none of the countries involved in Syria had gone there following an invitation, and that as a country that shares a border with Syria, Turkey is using its right to self-defense as set out by the U.N. and in accordance with international law. The third question was about the release of Deniz Yücel. In truth, there was no actual question – what was present was simply the need of one person to perform, based off of the Deniz Yücel example, by way of using generic expressions such as Turkey is a country that lacks human rights and freedom of the press and that democracy cannot exist without them. This performance received a standing ovation from the room.
However, there is a massive deception facing us. Those who think they can direct Turkey through with this naïveté to pull it wherever they want are losing Turkey. As of today, Turkey continues with its operation in Afrin against the Democratic Union Party's (PYD) People's Protection Units (YPG) terrorist organization. Since the day this operation began, Western media has been trying to paint it as one targeting Kurds as a separate ethnic group. However, Turkey is not fighting against Kurds but with Kurds against the PKK's Syrian affiliate YPG, which has oppressed all of the people in the region.
Interestingly, over the past few days, there have been even more publications praising the Assad regime in European media. The reason for this is the allegations that the regime will come to an agreement with the YPG and that together they will push Turkey out of Syria. Suddenly, German media began speaking of something called Syrian democracy. They are talking about Afrin being rid of the YPG as a loss for Syrian and the region's democracy.
All of these are truly saddening developments that remove the opportunities available in bilateral relations and upend Turkey and the public's trust. If it even matters to Europe.