German ambassador to Ankara, Martin Erdmann refused to respond to questions about the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) at a luncheon he hosted for the editor-in-chiefs of Turkish dailies Wednesday, drawing criticism from media outlets for failing to mend relations between the two countries and casting a shadow to the meeting by failing to recognize the threat posed by FETÖ to Turkey's national security.
Hosting the luncheon at his residence with his wife Marion Erdmann in Istanbul, the ambassador told media chiefs that 2016 represented an "ice age" in terms of Turkey-Germany relations.
He claimed that the "ice age" harmed both countries and that the ice is now melting, and relations can now take off, although he made controversial statements regarding FETÖ and Turkey's internal affairs and the anti-terror operation in Syria.
In response to a question about if he thinks FETÖ was behind the July 15, 2016, failed coup attempt based on German intelligence reports, the ambassador gave an extremely vague answer, by saying that whoever is responsible for the attempt "must be punished and held accountable."
He also noted that the FETÖ members who are seeking asylum in Germany, and for whom Turkey has issued extradition requests, Erdmann said that the crime committed by the FETÖ members must be proved in line with German laws and regulations, "concrete proof" about the suspects must be presented and that the proof of the person's relations with FETÖ through his/her bank accounts, education or use of encrypted Bylock messaging app does not count as sufficient proof.
Over 1,000 FETÖ suspects holding Turkish diplomatic or service passports have applied for asylum in Germany since the July 15, 2016, coup attempt, according to a German government report.
Ankara singles Germany out among European countries for embracing hundreds of fugitive diplomats and soldiers accused of involvement in the coup. The U.S. is the second-most preferred destination for Gülenists fleeing their native Turkey, where the terrorist group's leader Gülen lives in a sprawling retreat in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. FETÖ said following the coup attempt that Germany would be their next headquarters. FETÖ's German imam, Ercan Karakoyun, said in an interview with the German Die Zeit newspaper: "The [Gülen] movement cannot survive in Turkey. Germany is to become the new center."
Besides his failure to recognize countless evidence showing direct links between coup perpetrators and FETÖ, the ambassador said that the U.S., —where the terror group's self-exiled leader Fetullah Gülen resides — also has not imposed any sanctions on the group.
With regards to Operation Olive Branch in Syria, the ambassador started off by saying that Turkey is entitled to defending its borders against the terror threat, as he noted that Germany thinks the operation needs to protect civilians and prevent any damage, and not pose any danger to Syria's territorial integrity, even though Turkey already pays utmost care to make sure that the aforementioned points are fulfilled by preventing civilian casualties, which was one of the reasons why the operation lasted longer than usual, according to Turkish officials.
Ambassador Erdmann also criticized the Astana peace process initiated by Turkey and Russia and Iran, saying that the process did not meet the expectations, claiming that a permanent solution will only be possible through a U.N.-led initiative.
Referring to the visa liberalization process, Erdmann said that Germany is in favor of ensuring EU visa liberalization for Turkish citizens, but pointed that Turkey needs to make changes to its existing anti-terror laws, even though it has fulfilled most of the criteria.
"Turkey is an indispensable partner [of the European Union]" Erdmann said, adding that it is not reasonable to look for an alternative, in reference to Russia and China.
"I am saying this on the next day Turkey and Russia laid the foundation for the nuclear power plant," the ambassador said, as he claimed that Turkey's economy is integrated with the bloc and has significant trade volume with Germany.
"There are of course obstacles in front of us, but we can overcome these issues," Erdmann said.
Turkish media outlets criticized the ambassador's attitude, as they noted that even though he tried to portray a friendly stance, he subtly refused to address Turkey's concerns regarding many issues, including its anti-terror fight and the involvement of FETÖ in the coup attempt.
Germany's uncooperative stance with regard to FETÖ has been a source of tension between Ankara and Berlin.
Relations between Turkey and Germany initially became strained when local authorities canceled public appearances of Turkish ministers and government officials campaigning ahead of the April 16 constitutional reform referendum in several different German towns and cities. Officials based the cancellations on poor excuses such as inadequate parking lots and security concerns; however, they allowed no-campaigners and PKK sympathizers – who were against constitutional reform – to rally.
Additionally, Turkish officials indicated their disturbance by Germany's stance regarding terrorist groups, including the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), numerous times.
On June 7, 2017, Berlin announced German troops stationed in the southern Turkish base would be moved to a military facility in Jordan over the coming months.
PKK sympathizers have long used Germany as a safe haven for activities, including recruitment and collecting financial support, as well as openly holding rallies in German cities, despite the group being listed as a terrorist organization by the EU, U.S. and Turkey.