German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel spoke of "immense relief" on Monday in front of the press following the release of another German citizen from pretrial detention in Istanbul. Meşale Tolu, a German citizen of Turkish origin, was released from prison after serving a seven-month pretrial detention which resulted from accusations of being a terrorist group member and spreading terrorism propaganda. Her time in jail, along with other matters, has put an abysmal dent in the relations between Turkey and Germany.
In the wake of the releases of German human rights activist Peter Steudtner and another citizen, whose name was not disclosed, in October, the decision on Tolu marks another step forward in the ties.
"It is a clear signal of alleviation [of the tensions], a step in the right direction," Gabriel said. "We are making progress, step by step," the German foreign minister noted.
That being said, everything is still not quite rosy after the two countries let their relations hit rock bottom over a handful of controversial matters. "This does not mean normalization. This does not mean going back to a time when everything was fine again," is how Gabriel opted to display the current state of the ties. "Both sides by all means strive to find ways to deal with each other appropriately. Both sides are trying to approach each other again."
In order to return to the good old days, the German government's expectations have clearly been defined for Ankara by Berlin. "We are closely following the proceedings against all Germans detained or charged due to political reasons in Turkey. … We will continue to work for them," the German Foreign Ministry told Daily Sabah, signaling that the bumpy road will not smooth out until all are set free.
Ankara, however, points at the independent judiciary. Sources from the Turkish Foreign Ministry said the responsibility is solely on the shoulders of Turkish justice and underlined that the Turkish government cannot comment on ongoing legal proceedings against German citizens. "We are pleased when legal decisions lead to the bettering of the ties though," the sources said.
While Berlin insists on the release of all German citizens in Turkish prisons to put everything back on track, the Turkish government has stipulations of its own. The alleged support or indifference of the German government toward the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) and the PKK is also working to cripple the ties.
As nearly 800 FETÖ-affiliated high-ranking military officers and public servants consider Germany their new safe haven, seeking asylum there since the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, thousands of PKK sympathizers enjoy a wide range of rights and freedom across the country. Ankara expects more mobility. "Collaboration and new steps are expected above all in the fight against FETÖ and the PKK," the sources said.
"Sadly, FETÖ carries out anti-Turkey activities using Europe and Germany. We want them to be extradited to Turkey within the framework of legal obligations, including its leader [Fetullah] Gülen. These are our expectations of Europe and the U.S.," presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın said in July. Just as the Turkish government points at the judiciary for the processes of German nationals, Berlin says the ball is in the court of the legal experts for the extradition of Gülenists.
In spite of all the aforementioned squabbles, Ankara and Berlin still place great emphasis on each other. "Turkey remains our neighbor. We depend on each other," Gabriel said after complaining about a series of issues troubling the German government. Ankara is more or less the same. "I don't see a reason for Germany and Turkey to have problems. … If you take one step toward us, we will take two steps toward you," Çavuşoğlu said in October.
It remains unclear if Gülenists in Germany will be extradited, or if German police will toughen their stance against PKK sympathizers. Likewise, there are no clear answers concerning the German citizens in Turkish prisons and their release dates. Yet, the two sides seem to have weathered the storm in their relations for the time being.
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