Last week, the Turkish Government attached necessary documents to its demand to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish missionary and political figure who is living in Pennsylvania. The Turks blame Gulen for the July 2016 attempted coup. If the U.S. Department of Justice accepts the materials, the Federal Court will have to satisfy Turkey’s demand. But whatever the Americans decide, their relations with the Turks will be spoiled.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants Gulen to be extradited immediately and the Americans have all grounds to fear that the short-tempered Turkish president may lose his temper. Erdogan has already said that the United States must not give shelter to a “terrorist.” He also wants the Americans to keep Gulen in custody until they decide on his extradition. The Americans can’t do this. Meanwhile, Erdogan’s claims against the Americans are fueling anti-American sentiments in Turkey and are making the Turks believe that the attempted coup was a plot organized from abroad.
As a result, many Turks are already convinced that the Americans were at least aware of the planned coup and failed to warn their Turkish allies. Some Turkish officials say that Gulen’s extradition will be decisive for Turkish-American relations. In the meantime, foreign mass media report Erdogan to have told his men that the western powers are seeking to get rid of him. So, Gulen may become a factor that will loosen Turkey’s political ties with the United States and the European Union.
The Turkish authorities were critical of the United States’ and the European Union’s reaction to the post-coup developments. The EU suspended its education program in Turkey. The U.S. Department of State also terminated a number of exchange programs for Turkish students. They in the West were concerned to hear that as many as 40% of senior Turkish officers had been dismissed. Some European politicians said that they could not imagine Turkey as EU member in near future. In the meantime, Erdogan was expressing his displeasure with the reaction of his NATO allies.
Turkish EU Minister Omen Celik said that Turkey did not receive the support it expected from its western friends and allies. The Turkish authorities were puzzled to see that Barack Obama and his European counterparts were more concerned about Erdogan’s post-coup repressions than about the coup as such. And this may become one more blow on Turkish-U.S. relations.
The Americans have serious grounds to fear this. Today they are trying to show good will and to play nice to Turkey. On July 19, Obama had a phone talk with Erdogan and promised him that the United States is ready to help the Turkish authorities to investigate into the coup but on condition that the investigation will enhance public confidence in democracy and supremacy of the law.
During his visit to Ankara U.S. Vice President Joe Biden promised that the Americans will help the Turks to find out if Gulen is actually privy to the coup. The U.S. Department of Justice has already sent legal experts to Turkey. In the meantime, the Department of State welcomed Turkey’s rapprochement with Russia – even though in reality the Americans are not happy about it and, together with Gulen’s men, are doing their best to prevent this process.
In contrast with its earlier criticism, the U.S. administration is now ready to endure Erdogan. Over the last months, the Americans have been trying to ease their tension with Turkey. They have admitted that they were not indignant enough when they first heard about the coup. During his visit Biden urged the Turks to make it up. At the Turkish parliament he apologized for being late with his visit of solidarity.
Biden did not mention the post-coup repressions in contrast with his Jan visit when he made it clear to Erdogan that his model of “Islamic democracy” – when mass media are controlled and oppositionists are repressed – is a bad example for neighbors. Now the Americans have set aside their charges and assure the Turks that they believe in the firmness of their relations with the West. Erdogan’s visit to Moscow last month was taken by the Americans are an attempt to enlarge foreign political relations in spite of the United States and the European Union. But now the Americans say that everything is good and Turkey needs contacts with Russia because they are good for its economy.
Erdogan and Obama met during the G20 summit in China with a special purpose to prove that everything is OK. After a meeting with his Turkish colleague, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford declared that the U.S. and Turkey continue closely cooperating in the framework of NATO. All the European officials that have visited Turkey over the last two weeks were in tune with Biden’s conciliatory attitude.
But it is obvious that U.S.-Turkish relations are strained. Last week, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that his government does not need the Americans’ “democracy lessons.” He said that in response to the U.S. Embassy’s concern about continuing conflict in southeastern Turkey. There the police dispersed a demonstration protesting against Erdogan’s decision to dismiss 28 local mayors for their collaboration with Kurdish resisters. Yildirim said that the Americans’ statement was “unacceptable” as the mayors “supported Kurdish terrorists.”
With this respect, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said that the diplomats of the countries they regard as their friends and allies have no right to comment on this issue. The Turkish Foreign Ministry said that it would be better if the criticism of the “friends” be more constructive.
The Turks do not however want any serious conflicts with the Americans and their every harsh statement is followed by a conciliatory gesture. Recently a delegation of the ruling Justice and Development Party visited Washington and met with some U.S. congressmen. The guests tried to explain their country’s position and to find ways to improve relations. The Turks are maneuvering and this is making the Americans more and more suspicious. They have always had complicated relations with the Turks. And now that their alliance with Ankara has been compromised, they cannot but be worried.
EADaily’s Middle East Bureau