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21 Jul 2017

Germany and Turkey at odds again

Apparently, the Germany versus Turkey brawl won’t reach an end any time soon. The latest episode in a series of diplomatic rows is a warning from the German government towards the German tourists visiting Turkey to stay vigilant during their trips there. Germany and Turkey have been at odds for many months, starting from the period of the failed coup against the government of Tayip Erdogan, exactly one year ago.

Turkish authorities arrested six human rights activists, including German national human right consultant Peter Staudtner, for alleged terrorist activity. All six are now waiting for their trial to begin on Turkish soil. Pre-trial detention can be extended up to five years. Deniz Yucel, a journalist working for the German newspaper Die Welt, has been held in detention since the beginning of the year. Yucel, who holds a dual German-Turkish citizenship, was arrested on charges of propaganda in support of a terrorist organisation and inciting the public to violence.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, had criticised the Turkish action at that time saying that the Erdogan’s government should take into consideration the high value of the freedom of the press and called the move “disproportionate, bitter and disappointing.” Yucel, of course, is not the only journalist that has been jailed in the crackdown that started after a small army group tried to overthrow Tayip Erdogan last July. The failure of the coup gave Erdogan the power to use martial law and fill prison cells with Turkish citizens that seemed to be against his authority or sceptic of his actions in general.

Thousands were imprisoned, tens of thousands were fired from public services, and many were left stranded abroad when the authorities cancelled their passports rendering them country less. It has been exactly one year now from the failed overthrow attempt and, still, Erdogan is ruling, counting on the martial law which is extended every three months, using his presidential authority in any way he sees fit. The “sultan”, as he is called in an ironic way, appears as a guarantor of democracy in the region and, knowing that the European Union (EU) is not satisfied with his actions, prefers to use tension in his relationship with the EU to rally the support of his voters.

Germany, as one of the strongest countries in the EU, has repeatedly used harsh rhetoric against Erdogan’s actions, threatening the Turks that their country won’t be able to join the EU, if the government’s irrational and violent behaviour against a part of its citizens continues. Erdogan picked up the gauntlet when he denied some German parliament members to visit the German military contingent that was based in Incirlik, in south-east Turkey. The German air force unit was serving there as a part of NATO mission, helping in the war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The Turkish government stated that it won’t allow the visit because Germany has granted asylum to people that participated in the failed coup.

Finally, the decision taken by the German government was to relocate the Tornado warplanes to a base in Jordan, which offered to assist. Today, Sigmar Gabriel, who is the German foreign minister, said that his country will re-evaluate its policies towards Turkey, especially after the last incident regarding the detention of the human rights activists. Gabriel said that Germany must make clear to Turkey that it will be hold accountable for its actions and suffer the consequences.

Gabriel told journalists that the German government can’t no longer guarantee corporate investment in Turkey, while Erdogan has accused some German firms of helping his ex-ally and now rival Fethullah Gulen. According to Gabriel, Germany can’t continue talks on expanding customs union with Turkey anymore and urged the rest of the EU leaders to talk about reviewing pre-accession funds offered to Erdogan’s country.

Germany, as well as the rest of the EU countries, are having difficulties in their relationships with Turkey since Tayip Erdogan took absolute power in the country. He disguised himself as a protector of democracy, but in the same time his actions remind of past times dictators. With him in charge, Turkey will have to forget about joining the greater European club.