What post-election Turkey expects from Ukraine and EU

What post-election Turkey expects from Ukraine and the EU: Turkish ambassador's op-ed

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (R) next to Ukainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kyiv on 9 October 2017. Photograph: president.gov.ua 

Op-ed

Article by: Yönet C. Tezel, Ambassador of Turkey to Ukraine

On 9 July, two weeks after having been re-elected by the Turkish people, President Erdoğan was sworn in, this time as the head of the executive of the new presidential system in Turkey. Since people had also voted for the Parliament, the configuration of political parties was also altered. The ruling party lost votes but can reach the majority required to pass laws with support from other parties.

The President is accorded greater executive powers and, as a consequence, assumes additional responsibilities. Unlike in the former system, he has formed the new cabinet of ministers and will preside over it. State administration is being restructured accordingly.

The emergent system will not change the essence of Turkish foreign policy.

To see this, one only needs to glance at last week’s NATO Summit conclusions which reflect Turkey’s positions as well. Turkey’s place within the Euro-Atlantic community is unaltered. Its strategic choice to become an EU member continues despite challenges on both sides.

Turkey and Ukraine

Clearly, Turkish-Ukrainian relations will remain on the upward slope. The two Presidents have a very good rapport and are determined to make use of the great potential which exists between the two countries.

As Prime Minister Groysman of Ukraine summarized it, Turkish-Ukrainian cooperation can extend from the depth of mines underground all the way up into space. Both sides are working on concluding the Free Trade Agreement, preferably within this year. Turkey’s principled position on Crimea and Donbas as well as its support for Ukrainian people’s choice to integrate with the Euro-Atlantic community are well-known.

These policies are sincere and will prevail because they are good for Turkey, Ukraine and for the whole region. And Ukraine understands well and appreciates Turkey’s role in the region.

Ankara and Kyiv see eye to eye on many international issues. We are working on ways to make use of the complementarity and comparative advantages existing between us.

At a time when there is so much unpredictability and friction on the international stage, Turkish-Ukrainian relations are a good example of mutual respect and cooperation.

Elections and Anti-Terrorism

Democracy is not one of the obvious global winners of the 21st century so far. That is why it is important to value instances of resilient democratic expression by the masses especially in regions where democracy is in short supply. The voter turnout in the Turkish elections was over 86 percent.  Although Turkish people have been voting into and out of office governments since 1950, elections continue to draw people to the ballot box in much higher percentages than the world and European average where voter apathy is a concern.

When published, the OSCE’s election monitoring report, hopefully, to be based on objective observations, will possibly make recommendations so as to avoid any shortcomings in future elections. But the monitors have already declared, unsurprisingly, that “voters had genuine choice” and they “energetically demonstrated their commitment to democracy.” While polarization was a downside of the election atmosphere, its competitive nature was telling.

Turkey went into elections while fighting – rather successfully – several terrorist campaigns simultaneously.

Admittedly, this required a slight, inevitable recalibration of the balance between security and freedoms, though not affecting people’s daily lives. The state of emergency was one such undesirable, yet legitimate, measure following the failed coup attempt of 15 July 2016. It will be lifted this week now that much of the criminal infrastructure of the plotters is demolished.

One of the paradoxes of globalization is the failure to properly understand societies beyond our own, although we now have more information about them. Surprising electoral wins in many Western countries and the unfortunate and, in fact, dangerous corrosion of certain basic human values and principles have led to calls for self-reflection.

Within that on-going intellectual debate in the West about the fate of liberal democracy, it is honestly recognized that the ruling elites have failed to understand their own societies. It follows, then, that those same elites need to demonstrate even more humility when passing judgment about other societies. Turkey’s relations with Europe have suffered from this.

Turkey is not perfect but nor is Europe, as seen increasingly over the last several years. We need to try to understand and help one another more.

Failed coup attempt

One area where Turkey had hoped for greater understanding and solidarity was the failed coup attempt. At its second anniversary, Turks around the world have just commemorated the loss of 251 people who died while trying to stop a renegade group within the military from putting an end to democracy in Turkey. Like Ukraine’s “Heavenly Hundred” who lost their lives during the Maidan events, these people taught the anti-democratic perpetrators of the coup a hard lesson through their ultimate sacrifice: It is the ordinary people who have the final say, not tanks and F16s; hence their recognition as “Martyrs of Democracy.”

It was surprising to see how a cultish, criminal group could have infiltrated Turkey’s strong state institutions to such a great extent. In many ways, the coup attempt was Turkey’s black swan event. In its aftermath, many of our partners refused to believe who was responsible despite all the smoking guns. Two years on, with so much hard evidence presented to courts tying FETO – the pseudo-religious group hiding its dark side for years in Turkey and abroad – to the coup attempt, Turkish people across the board have no doubts about FETO’s culpability.

All political actors during the recent elections, including the most ardent opponents of the government, were in unison on this. The concern about the possibility of innocent people having been caught up in the detainment process did not change this main consensus. Obviously, legal remedies are open to such people.

Growing number of FETO affiliates are under investigation around the world too, including in Ukraine.

But some are still enjoying misplaced welcome. At a time of transnational disinformation campaigns and cyber-attacks, governments around the world are well advised to be concerned about non-state actors like FETO that pose a new kind of hybrid threat. The rules-based international order we want to preserve has to factor in such asymmetric challenges.

But the need for defensive vigilance need not lead to the surrender of liberal values or the noble promotion of human rights.

For example, the challenge of managing migration should shift its focus from pull-factors, that is, how to make Europe less accessible, to a focus on push-factors, that is, how to help deal with the problem at its source. If nothing else, that should be the lesson to be drawn from the Syria crisis.

Turkey and Europe

In the same vein, the campaign for human rights should not be a selective preoccupation. Too often, in major European forums, in-group solidarity trumps consistency in principles. Human rights advocacy suffers in its credibility and effect when it is politically instrumentalized. In the past, Turkey benefitted much from its interaction with the EU and the Council of Europe in upgrading its human rights credentials. A non-biased, constructive approach towards Turkey is possible and will facilitate, as in the past, Turkey’s work to improve its standards. That possibility should not be confiscated by narratives in Brussels and even in Strasbourg which are sometimes hostage to the exclusivist logic European politics seem to be generating these days.

With the elections, Turkey has turned a new page. We have to make the best of it. For example, we must preserve a high economic growth rate, like last year’s 7.4 percent, and focus on generating production-based economic vibrancy. It will not be easy. We must fully overcome the democratic challenges of the post-coup period.  We must make the transition to the presidential system a success. The Turkish people have given the Government the license to work towards that; our Western friends can at least give us the benefit of the doubt.

Frankly, Turkey and Europe have much more to give and help each other, more so now that it is much clearer that the world does not revolve around either of them.
Article by Yönet C. Tezel, Ambassador of Turkey to Ukraine.
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