Europe overlooks severity of terror threat in Turkey, yet ramps up its own anti-terror measures

Police patrol the surrounding area of the Leiria stadium in Portugal before the friendly soccer match between Portugal vs Belgium. Portugal stepped in to host their Euro 2016 warm-up match with Belgium after the terrorist attack in March in Brussels.
Police patrol the surrounding area of the Leiria stadium in Portugal before the friendly soccer match between Portugal vs Belgium. Portugal stepped in to host their Euro 2016 warm-up match with Belgium after the terrorist attack in March in Brussels.

There is a rising trend in the European continent to beef up security and tighten anti-terror laws against the global terror threat of Daesh. Yet the same Europe demands that Turkey, which is fighting against multiple terrorist organizations, soften its definition of terrorism. Experts believe that such double-standards will only further increase tensions between the EU and Turkey and mar a potential and - essential - cooperation to overcome the global terror problem

Amid tattered relations with the European Union, whose member states continue to amplify their own counterterrorism measures in the face of the growing global terror threat, Turkey which grapples daily with terror issues is isolated in its struggle when it most needs Western cooperation. If anything, Turkish critics believe, at such times when there is almost no place in the world that is safe from the terror threat, the EU should let go of delivering constant blistering warnings against Turkey regarding its anti-terrorism measures - that risk sundering ties outright - and instead cooperate for a collective solution to a global problem.

A deal was negotiated last March between Turkey and the EU to hinder illegal migration that reached an alarming rate after thousands of refugees who sought to reach Europe from Turkish coastal towns were killed during their perilous boat journeys. To impede more deaths in the waters and halt illegal migration that brought European countries on the cusp of a refugee crisis, the EU rushed to put in force a deal that in the most general sense, required Turkey to take back the refugees who had crossed over to Greece. And in return, Turkey was promised visa-free travel for its Turkish citizens. This was then followed by Turkey embarking on working on the 72 criteria imposed by the bloc, and it was doing quite well in fulfilling most of those criteria until it faced an impasse regarding its anti-terror law. The EU asked Turkey to soften its definition of terrorism and reform it so that it aligns with EU laws. That criteria choked the deal, as Turkish authorities stringently refused to change it, given the predicament Turkey is currently in, fighting on all fronts against more than one terrorist organization.

When the issue first popped up in May, spawning an exchange of hard-hitting statements between EU officials and Turkish authorities, Turkey's vocal president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, rebuffed with a clear "no" to that requirement. "Asking to change the definition of terrorism is to say give up your fight against terrorism. This means siding with terrorism," was how he responded to the EU.

While the issue heated up debates, calling into question the demand's applicability, experts agree Turkey's current plight renders it impossible to be realized.

"It is impossible to adapt the current Turkish definition of terrorism with the EU's interpretation of it," says Beril Dedeoğlu, an academic who served as the minister of European Union Affairs in the latest interim election government. She says the EU's definition is too narrow and Ankara would lack the free hand in its fight against all kinds of terrorist organizations that way.

"That would only be possible if Turkey was in a state it did not have to fight terrorism. Or it would be easier if Turkey was fighting against the separatist PKK or Daesh only. But there is also FETÖ [the Gülenist Terror Group] which is atypical," she adds. She says since it is merely Turkey that defines the group as terrorists, adapting the definition as the EU demands would create serious setbacks in the adoption of preventative measures against FETÖ.

Police officers seen among locals at the Berlin Christmas market following a deadly truck rampage on Dec. 19.

Turkey is grappling with a slew of terrorist organizations, from the PKK, Daesh to FETÖ. There are also other minor terrorist organizations that pose a threat to its public order and security. The nation is currently reeling from a wave of shocks after being hit by two PKK terror attacks in a week that killed 58 people in total. These latest incidents aside, the PKK continues to carry out heinous attacks on the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in eastern Turkey.

Bordering a war zone, Turkey could not escape a spillover of the violence committed by the terrorist Daesh either. Notwithstanding the fortified border controls, due to its open-door policy regarding the refugees fleeing Syria, Daesh militants disguised as refugees can transit to Turkish soil. (Turkey is currently carrying out a cross-border operation in Syria to enhance security at its borders to cleanse the region from terrorists.) Not to mention FETÖ, whose members that leached into the military attempted a coup on July 15 last summer, which almost brought the country on the verge of a catastrophe.

Since then, a state of emergency has been in force in Turkey, with thousands of public servants, army members, police officers suspected to be linked to FETÖ purged. These purges form the main basis of the European Parliament's latest non-binding decision to suspend EU-Turkey negotiations. Western concerns are that these purges and detentions are violating basic human rights.

While the entire nation, opposition parties and the ruling party is in consensus that FETÖ is currently one of the biggest threats against the Republic of Turkey, experts believe that it might be difficult for the West fully comprehend the complexity and shadowy structure of FETÖ.

The movement that is now accused of committing dozens of crimes with its adherents nestled in the government's key institutions, the judiciary, police department, army and bureaucracy, was initially founded as a humble education-centric religious organization and was once perceived with veneration from international circles due to its apparent activities to promulgate a mild understanding of Islam. How the group morphed into a terrorist group might be recondite for the uninitiated, but experts believe the dangers it poses to the state must be relentlessly conveyed to the West.

"It must be told to the West. Tirelessly, without taking offence, without getting angry. We have to coax the West into believing our fight is legitimate. But not merely with committees affiliated with the ruling party... With our nongovernmental organizations and opposition parties as well... It is hard for them to understand our public reactions. Turkey must also show it has no issue with Kurds. If it did, we would not be Irbil's best friend. The biggest investments in Irbil are made by Turkey. There are also no political hurdles. Kurds might demand more rights. There is a legitimate ground for that too. We need to tell them, the only issue we have is with terrorism," says Ali Faik Demir, an academic at Galatasaray University.


Europe is also alarmed by the terror threat. While on one hand speaking critically of Turkey's anti-terror regulations, EU states' hands are full tightening their own. France extended its state of emergency for the fifth time nearly a week ago. When the French president declared the country is in a "state of war," the government tightened its countererrorism measures amid concerns of violation of civil liberties and rights by NGOs. It expanded police powers to carry out searches and putting people under house arrest, it victimized many French citizens, media reports revealed. The exceptional measures also allowed authorities to ban protests and close mosques, which were also deemed as a blatant breach of human rights. Human rights advocates expressed fears that this state might turn into a "norm."

The German interior minister proposed new anti-terror measures that aimed to beef up security in August, which included giving extra personnel, equipment and surveillance powers to the police. The Bulgarian parliament passed an anti-terrorism legislation in mid-December that allows security and law-enforcement officers to take suspects into custody with the right to use force.

Hungary in early December handed down a 10-year sentence to a man who said he was helping his family escape war during the 2015 clashes at the Serbian-Hungarian border. He was sentenced as a terrorist rather than a rioter.

These all raised serious concerns among civil rights groups.

"We are seeing a clear trend across the European continent of countries adopting vaguely worded counterterrorism laws that carry the risk of endangering fundamental rights and freedoms. The adopted measures have restricted the right to free expression and assembly, and have in some countries weakened judicial oversight of police work. While the risk of terrorism is real, it should not become an excuse to undermine the rule of law and human rights," Nadim Houry, director of the terrorism and counterterrorism program at Human Rights Watch, told Daily Sabah.

Human Rights Watch in a report published on Nov. 30, also warned against a fresh EU directive on combating terrorism. It said the directive which has an "overly broad language" might lead to "criminalizing public protests and other peaceful acts, to the suppression of freedom of expression protected under international law." It expressed concern that the directive's punitive measures "also pose the risk of being disproportionately applied and implemented in a manner that discriminates against specific ethnic and religious communities."

"No right can be absolute. But the European tradition is to make it explicit, in fundamental legal documents, that rights must have limits, and that 'public order' is one of those limits. Combined with the flexibility granted to government to define what constitutes a threat to 'public order,' this tradition means that measures adopted to combat terrorism will generally be approved by the courts," says Professor Daniel Gordon, a historian at the University of Massachusetts.

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