Our 9/11. That is how many Turks see the failed 15 July coup d’état, writes Daniel Kawczynski. But it’s not a sentiment that resonates in the United Kingdom, Washington, Berlin or Brussels.
Daniel Kawczynski is a UK Conservative MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham and a member of his country’s foreign affairs select committee on Turkey.
Ask people in the UK what they think and they are likely to say: the attempt failed, so let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill.
But it isn’t that easy. President Erdoğan demands a reckoning, and so do Turks of every stripe, including the country’s traditional, secular opposition to the president. They have every right to do so.
The dramatic cooling of relations between Turkey and the United States makes it very clear: we cannot hope to maintain our own good ties with Turkey, if we don’t accord the coup its rightful place.
The stakes are high. Vast swathes of the Middle East and North Africa are at risk of plunging into lawlessness. Iraq lies in ashes. Refugees continue to pour out of Syria’s killing fields. While the defeat of ISIS seemingly beckons, we are nowhere near reaching an enduring peace settlement for Syria.
That makes our alliance with Turkey, and its security and domestic stability, of the greatest importance.
Britain and the West need Turkey to be a beacon of stability. We need a stable Turkey to keep jihadi terrorism at bay. We need Turkey’s help to manage the flood of refugees to Europe, a thankless task it is performing admirably well, even as EU politicians stall on their promise to grant Turkey visa liberalisation.
Yet few of us realise how close our NATO ally came to the abyss of civil war earlier this year. Few of us understand the country’s struggle with its own terrorist demons.
According to the Turkish government, the coup was perpetuated by a shadowy organisation known as the Parallel State, an all-pervading structure led by the Imam Fethullah Gülen, who since he fell out with his former political ally Erdoğan years back, is holed up in a mansion in rural Pennsylvania.
“Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” For now this seems the principal question in Turkish politics, much in the same way as the hunt for Osama bin Laden was the superseding issue in US politics. Until they “got him”.
It is a question that is playing havoc in Turkey’s relationships with its allies in the West. Because right now, in Turkish eyes – as in American eyes after 9/11 – you are either with us, or you are against us. And the West is badly flunking the test.
Vladimir Putin, by contrast, is manoeuvring in his usual deft fashion to not only repair but strengthen Russo-Turkish ties to unprecedented levels of cooperation, including in deciding Syria’s fate.
So, what is to be done?
The situation in Turkey today is precarious. Reports that tens of thousands of Turkish state employees with alleged links to Gülen have been fired from their jobs, seemingly without due process, cannot but evoke a response in West. We cannot, and should not, endorse the strong-arm efforts that are being used to bring the plotters to justice.
The wholesale purging of school teachers, journalists and judges smacks of McCarthyism. This sits at odds with our most fundamental convictions of fairness. And these convictions cannot, in realpolitical fashion, be entirely removed from our foreign policy.
But the West has too easily glossed over the undeniable fact that some highly organised entity, some closely-knit conspiracy of plotters, be it abroad or in Turkey, orchestrated the July coup and is consequently responsible for the deaths of over 270 citizens.
As Britain sets out to redefine its relations with Turkey in the post-EU era, we mustn’t run away from this. It wouldn’t do justice to what happened. We need to do our part to uncover the truth, in a level-handed and judicious manner.
For what do we really know about Gülen? Do we know enough about his strange, quasi-Masonic cabal, whose chapters, orders or guilds are operational not only in Turkey, but in Germany, the Netherlands, the United States, and indeed on our own soil? What did – and does – this network purport to achieve?
We may not like the root-and-branch approach used in post-coup Turkey. And we should always urge our Turkish friends and allies to ensure the state of emergency in Turkey does not undercut the many hard-won, democratic achievements of the last decade.
But we also owe it to them to properly investigate what happened in July, and to help them bring to justice those responsible, wherever they are.