President Erdogan of Turkey is blackmailing Europe by threatening an influx of refugees, while journalists and activists are being persecuted for criticizing Erdogan in Europe, explains Giran Ozcan of KurdishQuestion.com
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Both France and Germany are concerned about journalists of French and German citizenship arrested in Turkey after the referendum that expanded and consolidated power for the President’s office in Turkey, which took place in April. Tensions between Europe and Turkey have increased. This is due to disagreements they had over the kind of campaigning that President Erdogan of Turkey may or may not do to court the Turkish communities in other countries, mainly Europe. As the tensions escalate, politicians in Germany with Turkish roots report that they live in constant fear of attack by pro-Erdogan activists who consider them to be traitors. Giran Ozcan is a sociology graduate from the University of Warwick in England and an editor at KurdishQuestion.com. He joins us today. Thank you so much, Giran. GIRAN OZCAN: Hi. Thanks for having me. SHARMINI PERIES: Giran, President Erdogan of Turkey has been consolidating his power after the coup attempt of July 2016. The latest move happened this week, an overhaul of his own party’s structure, leading up to the elections scheduled for 2019. Was it not enough that Erdogan now had this referendum, affirmed himself and consolidated his powers in the presidency? Does he fear losing this upcoming election? GIRAN OZCAN: Well, the referendum was to change the Constitution. So after that was voted in, narrowly we must add, that set the election. The actual first presidential election for which Erdogan pushed for is in 2019. So yes, the actual narrow margin of the referendum has got Erdogan worried about whether he can actually pull off an election victory in 2019, because we must remember that in the referendum it was just two choices that was available to the people, whether they wanted this Constitution of change or not. And Erdogan was able to rally around Turkish nationalists, right-wing nationalists, ultra-nationalists from the MHP, which is the nationalist movement party in Turkey. And they have about 9 to 10%, they pull in about 9 to 10% in general elections. So if we take that out of the equation, then Erdogan himself is … if you look at polls as well, can muster about 40, 42% of the general vote. So on its own, his party’s support will not be enough to get him the presidency, especially with the opposition parties like the CHP and the HDP hoping to maybe come up with a candidate that they can both support in the presidential election. The referendum, the narrow margin which Erdogan won with, has actually now got him worried that the presidential system that he wanted he might not be able to occupy the presidency, he might not be able to win the seat that he had constitutionally changed through the referendum itself. SHARMINI PERIES: Do you think that Europe can stand the pressure that Erdogan is placing on them? GIRAN OZCAN: In all honesty, Erdogan’s been able to use certain realities on the grounds to his advantage. I mean, he’s basically holding Europe to ransom. He’s actually blatantly blackmailing Europe, and he’s been doing this for the past few years with the Syrian conflict, with the influx of hundreds of thousands, millions of refugees into Turkey. He actually opened the threats on Europe just a year and a half ago in a public meeting where he said, “What would happen if I allowed all of these refugees to cross … to just break through my borders and cross into Europe?” This has by all accounts scared Europe a lot, and although when we listen to European leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, none of them are happy with the way Erdogan is conducting himself or administering the country. They’re full of criticisms, whether it’s press freedoms, whether it’s just all the pressure he’s putting on the opposition, the political opposition within the country. No one’s happy with the way he’s running the country, but in the same breath you can see that these leaders aren’t actually doing much to change what’s going on in Turkey. People are expressing their discontent to Erdogan, especially to Erdogan, but no one’s actually following these up with any actions that might change the way Erdogan is running the country. And it seems that Erdogan’s threats have done the trick, especially in Germany where the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees had a lot … the opposition put a lot of pressure on Angela Merkel and she was criticized severely even by the left in Germany. I mean she’s not a leftist herself, but we’re talking about a country where even the Social Democrats were criticizing Merkel for allowing so many people into the country. She was almost championed by … she was the leader of the Christian Democrats that was humanitarian and allowed so many refugees coming in. But she was criticized for it, and it seems that she’s unable to handle that criticism now, especially with the German elections coming up so close. What we can see is that Erdogan’s threats have really worked in preserving his style of government, his authoritarian style that he’s been practicing in the country now for the best part of a decade. And although after last year’s attempted coup Erdogan really raised the level of suppression in Turkey against everyone … even people of his own party are very, very wary of where Erdogan might target his fury against. What we can see right now is that Erdogan is doing a good job in preserving his style of government, preserving his personal status and also the status of his family. A lot of his family members are now in government or they are reaping the benefits of him being in government, with his sons stashing millions of dollars in shoe boxes and whatnot. So what we can see is that Erdogan is really pulling this off quite magically actually in some ways, because he does have certain things that he can use against the western countries that sometimes raise a voice against this style of government, and it seems to be doing the trick. SHARMINI PERIES: Speaking of raising his voice against these governments, the language that Erdogan has been using has been extremely harsh, antagonizing, commenting that Turkey could conquer Europe in three days, calling the Dutch government a Nazi government and warning Europeans that they wouldn’t be able to walk safely in the streets of Europe if it wasn’t for him because he had the power to unleash refugees on them therefore creating this sort of hyper-anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe. What response do such statements invoke in Turkey? There has already been a worsening of trade relations between Turkey and Germany for a long time now, but this must not be faring well in Turkey itself. GIRAN OZCAN: Surprisingly, Erdogan has consolidated support amongst about we can say roughly 40% of the population, and by and large they support their charismatic leader … the way they see Erdogan … they support him whatever he does, whether he’s ruining relationships with Russia or whether he’s tarnishing the reputation of Turkey across the whole western world, they don’t seem to mind too much. And right now from what we can see from election results is that he’s always able to preserve that 40 to 42% support amongst Turkey’s citizens. This shows a couple of things. One, that Erdogan really is happy with just polarizing the country, which he’s done very, very well. I mean you either love him or absolutely detest him in Turkey. And I think that polarizing politics has served him well and that’s why he doesn’t mind continuing that polarizing rhetoric that he’s always using. And the other thing is that he can then stand up against the leaders of any western country. Whether the economy of the country is going down the drain or not, he seems to be able to rally support through either a religious rhetoric … What you said earlier, this neo-Ottoman rhetoric that he develops actually rings very well with a certain part of the country, because as you know Turkey is a predominately Muslim country. Although not many would like distancing Turkey from the western world, there is a certain segment of the country, a high majority in Central Anatolia, centrally in Turkey, that responds to the rhetoric that Erdogan develops against the West, where the West want to rid the world of Islam and Erdogan is the sole leader in the Middle East that is willing to stand up against the West. Almost the champion of the religion itself against the colonizing West. SHARMINI PERIES: This is my last question. How is it that Erdogan is able to repress, suppress people living outside of the country in the diaspora, or how is it that he’s able to repress people of German and French descent in Turkey itself? How is he conducting these two sets of activities? GIRAN OZCAN: I’ll be very crude with how he’s doing it outside the country, because in 2013 three women Kurdish politicians were assassinated in Paris, in the center of Paris, by Turkish intelligence services. The person that was actually imprisoned by the French authorities, the main suspect of these murders, was associated with the Turkish intelligence services. He died, he had a brain tumor and he died in prison, before the case could even be tried. So that’s one tactic. The intelligence services of the country are operating in Europe. We’ve had some other cases come out in Germany where even religious clerics have been used to gain intelligence from within their own communities, and the Turkish state has been using these as well. And these were actually announced by the German government. That’s one way he’s been doing it outside. He’s been using Interpol, for example. Angela Merkel, again the German leader, only a couple of days ago actually said that Turkey was abusing the Interpol system to suppress opposition voices even outside of the country. And that’s how a German national was arrested in Spain, a journalist was arrested in Spain through Interpol. The Turkish authority, the Turkish government are using Interpol for their own means, for their own political aims and ambitions. So that’s one way he’s doing it outside of the country. Inside of the country, he’s pretty comfortable, to be honest. Inside of the country he’s taken charge of almost every single security institution, or even judicial institution, in the country. There is absolutely no one to stand in his way while he rids the whole country of any opposition voice. And those that want to report on it are also closed down. As you know, there is over 160 journalists imprisoned in Turkey right now. They’re only doing their jobs. There is no other allegation against these people other than reporting on what the government is doing in the country. And the sad fact is, there’s absolutely no way that anyone can resist against this in the country right now. Although there are politicians and activists who are trying to get their voice heard inside the country, Erdogan, especially after last year’s coup attempt, has used that coup attempt to tremendous effect to shut up any voice that may criticize his government at any level, or himself at any level. And so, yeah, inside the country it’s much easier for him, but he’s also able to use a lot of means and tactics outside of the country as we’ve seen in only the last few weeks where he’s imprisoned journalists all over European countries. But the sad fact is that in Turkey he’s able to do this much easier, and with the threats that he’s sending out, dishing out to Europe, these are going largely unchallenged in the international community. SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Giran. I so much appreciate the time you’ve given us today and look forward to further analysis with you on Turkey and obviously beyond. Thanks so much. GIRAN OZCAN: Thank you for having me on. SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.