Why doesn't the West like Erdoğan?

Published 17.08.2016 22:58
Updated 18.08.2016 11:57

The West's obsession with Erdoğan is the greatest obstacle preventing them from understanding what is happening in Turkey

It has been a month since the failed coup attempt in Turkey, and the rift between the U.S. and Turkey shows not much progress of coming to an end. Almost all Turks see Fethullah Gülen, the leader of Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) who lives in the United States, as the leader of the coup plot, while the U.S. continues to let him live as a free person. While Washington insists on sufficient evidence to extradite or even arrest Gülen, the American media makes a huge effort to hide Gülen's dark face and whitewash his crimes. The European media is no different, as it has continued to portray the situation as a politically motivated conflict between the good Gülen who is an ally of the West and the bad Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the president of Turkey, who is an enemy of the West, during the post-coup attempt period.

It is obvious that Westerners have already lost sight over Turkey as they have become obsessed with Erdoğan. Erdoğan, who was prime minister for three consecutive terms, gaining the majority of the vote, and was elected president in 2014 with nearly 52 percent of the vote, has recently increased his popularity more than ever after the failed coup attempt as many things have come to light from the night of July 15. Turks, who were confused because of the non-stop propaganda against Erdoğan over the last three years, understood that it was all part of systematic attack against him and Turkey as well. However, Westerners quickly started to worry and complain that Erdoğan would gain more power in the aftermath of the failed coup instead of stopping for a moment and trying to feel sympathy for Turkey and its people. Of course, this relentless approach has fueled anti-Western sentiment in Turkey, and we find ourselves going around in a circle once again.

The key to break the vicious cycle in question is to understand each other. "The Turkish public does not understand how the system in the U.S. works," a former U.S. ambassador to Ankara, James Jeffrey, said in an interview with a Turkish daily last week. But the problem is the U.S. does not understand Turkey and its people either. The West sees Erdoğan as a menace, but the people in Turkey want to see him as their leader. Since there is a democratic political system in Turkey, and people choose their leaders in democratic elections, what is wrong with it, Turks ask. As they know, democratization in Turkey has made huge progress while Erdoğan has been in power compared to the past, and they get more confused.

What Jeffrey said about Erdoğan in the interview gives Turks the answer they are seeking in my view. That is why I would like to quote his exact words by translating the related part of the interview published in Turkish into English: "Erdoğan is not liked in Washington. He is not liked in Europe either," Jeffrey said, and added: "He is seen as authoritarian and widely accepted as not a good player. The West dealt with more authoritarian leaders before Erdoğan, and it still does. But the difference is that the Saudis, the Egyptians - please excuse my language - wheedle us in all circumstances. They act as if they share the same values as we do considering the F-16s, the alliance relations, etc. But Erdoğan confronts us, flings our contradictions in our faces. He is not trying to become a pal, while leaders who are more authoritarian than him don't see a problem in posing as if they are good friends of ours. Even [Russian President Vladimir] Putin was acting likewise until recently. That's why Erdoğan is not liked in Washington. I know it is not fair at all."

When asked if the problem is only Erdoğan, Jeffrey continued: "Beyond Erdoğan, there is an overall dislike of Turks in Washington. The Turkish military is so difficult, they do not just present arms and go to fight DAESH, they negotiate for months while the other countries send four planes and say they are fighting DAESH. They in effect do nothing, but they still get positive points. What I am saying is that there is an overall distrust of your [Turkish] government, and they are not liked in Washington."

Jeffrey's comments as a former diplomat prove that our intuitions are right. It is now certain that the West's problem regarding Turkey is not about democracy, human rights or freedoms. It is because Erdoğan's behavior against the West, reflecting the attitude of the Turks who do not try to influence Western states, do not feel obliged to make them satisfied, do not lick their boots, do not act as their aides and treat them as if they are equals. If Erdoğan is depicted as authoritarian just because he does not bow down in front of the West, it just shows the hypocrisy and ill will from the West. Turkish people do not care if he does not make things easier for Western countries for the sake of their interests. They just look to what he does for Turkey's benefit, and until now, he has been doing great for his country, his people and the future, and the majority of the Turks agree.

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