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Don't mince words with Erdogan

December 12, 2018

Turkey tortures supporters of Fethullah Gulen in secret prisons, according to Germany's ZDF TV broadcaster. Europe should toughen up and follow Donald Trump's example in dealing with Ankara, says Erkan Arikan.

Turkish police detain suspected Gulen movement supporters
Image: picture-alliance/Zumapress/Depo Photos

After the failed coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016, the country's MIT intelligence service became very active in its search for "enemies of the country" even beyond Turkey's borders. Accusations that the Turkish government runs secret prisons where supporters of the Gulen movement are tortured are not new, these rumors have surfaced again and again over the past two years.

Western reluctance

Turkish media regularly describe arrests abroad of Gulen supporters as successful accomplishments, while the government virtually flaunts its secret service's activities. Researching the practices of the Turkish secret service and following leads is any independent journalist's job. We can rest assured that Western secret services have long had this very information.

But what happens with this information? What do the western countries that clearly know about these practices do? The answer is obvious: Nothing!

NATO member Turkey supposedly runs torture prisons, abducts alleged "traitors" all over the world and the MIT increasingly acts abroad. However, instead of taking a clear stand and openly addressing these issues, the German government continues its "steady hand diplomacy."

The truth is painful

A Turkish proverb says, even if a friend says painful things, he will always be speaking the truth. Bearing that in mind, Turkey's foreign partners should all tell President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the painful truth. But they confine themselves to the threat that EU accession negotiations could be stopped, which Ankara these days sees a bad joke. Such remarks always play into the hands of Erdogan and his supporters, along the lines of "that club of Christians doesn't want us, anyway!"

Erkan Arikan
Erkan Arikan leads DW's Turkish deparmentImage: DW/B. Scheid

Turkey sees so-called "traitors to the fatherland" as the country's worst enemies. The Turkish president has made it his life's work to hunt down and fight against the people responsible for the failed coup in 2016. The Gulen movement and its members top that list. It's what Erdogan uses to stop any further discussion, an approach that is more than accepted in Turkey. Obviously, democratic foreign states have a different point of view.

Read more: EU calls on Turkey to release 13 people arrested in Gezi Park protests

'Steady hand diplomacy' isn't enough

In his abrasive style, US President Donald Trump showed how to handle Turkey. Washington reacted immediately when it became clear the chances of pastor Andrew Brunson's release from a Turkish prison were waning. Trump speaks a language that Erdogan, too, understands, and that meant pressure on Turkey's AKP-led government, sanctions against Turkey and increased tariffs on goods imported from Turkey. The economic consequences of the US move are still noticeable in Turkey months later.

Turkey must show its colors at last — display transparency to its partners in the West, shut down the secret prisons and grant all prisoners, including the Gulen supporters, constitutional treatment. Otherwise, there can be no trusting relationship with the West — not now and not in the future.