Erdogan tells Merkel to abandon ‘Islamist terror’ phrase

Merkel and Erdoğan in Ankara. [Turkish Presidency]

Ahead of today’s EU summit in Malta (3 February), German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid a visit to Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lectured her not to use the expression “Islamist terror.”

Answering questions at the presser in Ankara yesterday (2 February), Erdoğan objected to is guest’s use of the well-worn expression.

He said, as quoted by the website of the Turkish presidency:

“The ‘Islamist terror’ expression gravely saddens us as Muslims. Such an expression cannot be used; it is not right because Islam and terror don’t go side by side. Islam literally means peace, it cannot be associated with terror. Therefore, mentioning it side by side terror saddens adherents of this religion.”

Merkel, for her part, underlined the importance Germany attaches to the freedom of religion as a necessity of democracy. She said:

“We are making every effort in our power in order to enable Muslims in Germany to live their faith freely. And Islamic associations in Germany have stood against every kind of terror. Thus, there is a difference between the terms of ‘Islamic’ and ‘Islamist.’ I am of the belief that our people greatly appreciate Muslims and we need to join forces against this terror.”

In her first trip to Ankara since a failed military coup in Turkey last July, Merkel, said she had agreed with Erdoğan on the need for closer cooperation in the fight against terrorism, including the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Germany and Turkey have been at odds over Ankara’s crackdown on dissidents since the abortive 15 July coup, as well as its allegations – rejected by Berlin – that Germany is harbouring Kurdish and far-leftist militants.

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“With the (attempted) putsch, we saw how the Turkish people stood up for democracy and for the rules of democracy,” Merkel told a news conference, when asked about concern over proposed constitutional changes that would strengthen Erdoğan’s powers.

“In such a time of profound political upheaval, everything must be done to continue to protect the separation of powers and above all freedom of opinion and the diversity of society,” she said, adding she had also raised the issue of press freedom.

“Opposition is part of democracy,” Merkel said.

Merkel also reportedly said the EU will complete the payment of €3 million as soon as possible. The amount was pledged against Ankara’s cooperation for limiting the arrival of refugees from the Turkish shores to the Greek islands in the Aegean.

Turkey’s allies, including Germany, fear Erdoğan is using the coup attempt as a pretext to curtail dissent and Erdoğan’s opponents fear the planned constitutional changes will lead to an authoritarian state.

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President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Friday’s failed coup (15 July) was a “gift from God”, giving him the chance to re-shape the country, and purge the country’s elite from enemies, who accuse him of creeping Islamisation in the traditionally secular state.

The constitutional reform bill was submitted to Erdoğan later on Thursday, parliamentary sources said. Once he approves it, the electoral commission will set a date for a referendum, expected in April.

“It is out of the question for the separation of powers to be abolished,” Erdoğan said of the proposals, which would replace Turkey’s parliamentary system with an executive presidency.

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“It gives more opportunity for the executive branch to work more swiftly. The judiciary will retain its power and function as usual with the new system.”


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Post-coup crackdown

Erdoğan also said Turkey may provide evidence to the German government after around 40 mostly high-ranking Turkish soldiers who worked at NATO facilities in Germany were reported to have requested asylum.

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Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak said on Wednesday (1 February) that Berlin was sheltering members of what Ankara calls the “Gülenist Terrorist Organisation” (FETO), the network of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, which Turkey blames for the coup bid. Gülen denies involvement.

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“If the Gülenists involved in the coup are fleeing to Germany, the Justice Ministry may send information and documents,” Erdoğan said, adding that the United States should take quicker action on an extradition request for Gülen.

Turkey’s defence minister has urged Berlin to reject the asylum applications and warned that a failure to do so could damage relations. Berlin has said the applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

More than 100,000 people have been sacked or suspended from the police, military, civil service and private sector on suspicion of supporting Gülen since the attempted coup. Some 40,000 people have been jailed pending trial.

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Merkel, who later met Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, said the two countries could do more together to fight the PKK, considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union and the United States. Turkey wants European countries to do more to root out PKK members there.

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“We talked in particular about how the PKK and everything associated with it in Germany is being observed and how we’re also taking action against it because as I said, the PKK is, as a terrorist organisation, banned in Germany too,” Merkel said.

“Our intelligence services and interior ministries need to work together more closely.”

In January, Germany’s chief prosecutor launched an investigation into possible spying by Turkish clerics and Merkel said during her visit to Ankara that “irritation or the feeling that people are being observed or spied on needs to be eliminated from the outset”.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said in an interview with Passauer Neue Presse newspaper that domestic Turkish conflicts should not be played out in Germany and that the country would not tolerate violence, spying or surveillance.

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