Saturday

4th Feb 2023

Opinion

Overcoming the plot against Turkish democracy

  • Istanbul on 15 July 2016. "Turkish citizens' resistance has become a symbol for all who undertake a struggle for democratic values."

Each nation has major turning points in their history. While Turkey has a long history as a nation, we will soon celebrate the centenary of establishing our Republic.

Throughout this nearly 100 years, our underlying goal has been upholding universal values such as democracy, rule of law and reaching the highest standards for all our citizens. Thus, our quest for EU membership should be seen in this perspective.

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It has not been a smooth process. We have gone through several difficult phases and our democracy has not only survived but matured as well. Nevertheless, it has come at a cost and at times a very high one.

One year ago, on the night of 15 July 2016, the Turkish nation, stood united in solidarity without any hesitation, against a heinous coup attempt by the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO).

By proving their loyalty to democratic values and universal standards, Turkish citizens’ resistance has become a symbol for all who undertake a struggle for democratic values. The people of Turkey were united as a whole, including opposition parties and civil society organisation as they stood against the coup.

Unfortunately, Turkey has a bitter political history marked with several coups and various types of military interventions against the will of the people. However, this coup attempt organised by FETO would have been the most dangerous for our democracy if it were to succeed.

For the first time in Turkey, coup plotters opened fire directly on citizens, bombarded the parliament, as well as the premises of the Presidential Palace.

We had believed that the era of military interventions were over in Turkey. By standing up together the Turkish people maintained their commitment to protect democracy.

As the confessions of numerous FETO members who were involved in the coup attempt proved without any doubt, the heinous coup attempt was deliberately planned and carried out by Fetullah Gülen and his supporters, who already have made several attempts against the will of the people. This is acknowledged by all sections of the society without any reservation.

Further transformation

Since then, Turkey has undergone a further transformation into a more democratic system in order to restore the damage afflicted by FETO members during the terrible night of 15 July. It was all the more shocking to discover how they had infiltrated the Turkish state structure as well as all other segments of society for decades.

Turkey needed a shock therapy to overcome this threat. Thousands of clandestine members of FETO have been dismissed from the state services, mainly from the army, the judiciary and the police force. Inquiries revealed their tactics to capture the state structure and to conceal themselves within.

With the cleansing of the members of FETO from the state institutions, Turkey has now become even more transparent.

In order to be successful in the fight against such a complex network, the first step was the declaration of an emergency rule.

The emergency rule which had been declared under Article 120 of the Turkish Constitution, is also prescribed by Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights and is a purely legal measure applied by all countries when necessary to cope with extraordinary situations. It was not just legitimate for Turkey but was the only option.

The hierarchy between the civilian authorities and military has been redefined, to assure the full control of the civilian over the military.

Throughout this unique process, Turkey has been careful to uphold the rule of law during the emergency rule. Effective redress mechanisms have been established and strong measures such as period of detention and incommunicado detention were modified.

Turkey has kept close contact with the international community and followed the recommendations of the Council of Europe. In addition to the modifications on detention, Turkey also established an Inquiry Commission on the Emergency Measures, which was accepted as a legal domestic remedy by the European Court of Human Rights recently.

The members of this commission were designated and it will become active shortly. Applications to the commission will be made in a transparent manner and the decisions of the commission are subject to judicial review.

All this demonstrates that Turkey continues its struggle for democracy even under the emergency rule.

The referendum

The referendum held on 16 April on the presidential system, once again demonstrated the strength and resilience of the Turkish democratic tradition.

With a participation rate of around 86 percent, Turkey delivered another example of a democratic process.

However, the emergency measures received harsh and unjust criticism from some parts of the international community. Even the role of the FETO in the coup attempt was not properly accepted. Most shockingly, rather than rights of the people defending democracy on the streets, “democratic rights” of the putschist were raised as an issue.

However, as the evidence came to the light, suspicions withered away. We are sure that the suspicions on the need for the emergency measures will also diminish.

It was disappointing for Turkey to feel the lack of full support of its long-standing western allies right after the coup. Indeed, we felt that the Turkish nation deserved a better understanding. Nevertheless, we appreciate the belated efforts to condemn the attack and to show solidarity with our people.

Even though the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament stood against the coup attempt, they also took steps that could undermine our efforts in the aftermath.

Placing Turkey under political monitoring and calling the suspension of accession negotiations, on the grounds of measures of the emergency rule and constitutional amendments, is not just a mistake, but also a denial of the core values enshrined by the international conventions and ignoring what has happened during the coup attempt.

Condemning terrorism

Furthermore, terrorist attacks has increased throughout the world recently. We believe that there should be no discrimination between different forms of terrorism and various terrorist organisations whether it is DAES, PKK or FETO.

For us, a terrorist attack in Ankara, Baghdad, Islamabad, Paris or Manchester should equally be condemned.

The attempts to leave Turkey alone against its fight against FETO and other terrorist organisations are biased, politically motivated and cannot impinge upon our motivation to pursue the golden goals of freedom, democracy and rule of law.

Turkey is committed to achieve higher standards of democracy, economy, security and welfare. The success of Turkey will be the success of its neighbours, region and international partners.

It should not be forgotten that, despite this upheaval, Turkey continues to host more than 3 million refugees, mostly from Syria, and has undertaken an enormous burden.

The coup attempt or other terrorist attacks were never seen as an excuse to disregard our international commitments. Turkey has kept its promises and expects its partners to honour their obligations as well.

One year after the coup attempt, Turkey achieved a great deal of progress to secure and enhance its democracy. This fight against FETO is not over and will continue in line with the principles of national and international law. Turkey will never refrain from upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

However, international support in this struggle is essential. Most of the perpetrators are now residing in the US and EU member states and they are seeking asylum. We regret to witness an increasing number of the acceptance of asylum applications of FETO members. It will be a grave mistake to tolerate FETO members in any country.

What we need at the anniversary of the coup attempt is not sympathy for coup plotters and members of terrorist organisations as well as biased and groundless criticism but more cooperation, dialogue and understanding.

As a candidate for EU membership and part of all western institutions, we believe that more support for upholding universal values within our struggle will enhance mutual trust and solidarity.

Omer Celik is minister for EU affairs and chief negotiator of the Republic of Turkey.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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