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Erdogan in Erzurum
Image: picture alliance/abaca/Y. Balbul

Short term tactics bound to fail

October 11, 2017

While Ankara calls for good relations with the West, arrests of foreign nationals in Turkey on terrorism-related charges continue. DW’s Seda Serdar asks: Is Turkey using foreigners as diplomatic bargaining chips?


The Turkish government is obsessed with putting all Gulenists behind bars. Yet it appears the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) doesn't have a long-term strategy. Instead, it is acting impulsively in an effort to force the West's hand.

Tolu: One among many

Turkey has been in a state of emergency for more than a year now, since the failed coup attempt in July 2016. More than 50,000 people have been detained since then: among them, 54 German citizens, 11 of whom are political prisoners who are part of terror investigations that started after the failed coup. Translator and journalist Mesale Tolu is one of them. Her trial begins October 11, more than five months after her arrest. She is accused of "being a member of a terrorist organization."

Tolu is not the only one. Just this past Sunday, Turkish prosecutors asked for 15 years' jail time for the German human rights activist Peter Steudtner for terror-related charges. And it's not just Germans. American citizens have also been targeted in the arrest spree. Pastor Andrew Brunson, who ran a small church in Izmir, is considered "a threat to national security" by the government.

Exchange of prisoners

The crackdown on alleged Gulenists continues. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will not rest until he gets Fethullah Gulen, the man he has accused of being the mastermind behind the attempted coup, back from his self-imposed exile in the United States. When Erdogan offered Pastor Brunson in exchange for Gulen during a televised speech, this was a clear message that the Turkish president would not shy away from making further arrests in order to push the West into meeting his demands.

A decree issued this August under the state of emergency allows for the exchange of convicted foreigners with other prisoners, with the approval of the president.

No de-escalation in sight

The Turkish government is sending mixed signals. On the one hand, it insists it wants good relations with the West. On the other hand, the arrests of both foreign and Turkish nationals are fueling the tension between Turkey and its allies.

As long as Ankara lacks sound diplomacy and a longterm strategy, there is no de-escalation in sight. Germany especially can expect more difficult bilateral relations with Turkey if Greens Co-chair Cem Özdemir ends up becoming the new foreign minister.

If Turkey is trying to use foreign nationals as bargaining chips in an effort to force its allies to see eye-to-eye, it must soon realize that such short term tactics will only add to its diplomatic isolation.

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