(ANTIMEDIA) Turkey has built a reputation as the model for secular and stable government in the Middle East. It is the only Muslim-majority country in the NATO alliance and was inducted along with Greece back in 1952. One of the goals was to create a political bridge between Western and Arab nations that could improve relations in the region.
Unsurprisingly, Turkey has always been a controversial addition to NATO, but things began to unravel in 2015 when Turkish forces shot down a Russian fighter jet. For the first time, the mutual defense clause of the alliance brought the prospect of an international war in Syria to the table. Just a few months later, Russia claimed to have proof that Turkey had been illegally purchasing oil from ISIS, furthering skepticism about the current regime. The failed military coup last year was the final straw, and now there are calls for them to be kicked out of the organization altogether.
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President Trump has increased this pressure by openly criticizing NATO and asserting the United States has not been properly compensated for their military role in defending Europe. All member states are supposed to spend two percent of their GDP on defense, but only five met the standard in 2015, putting an additional burden on the U.S. Considering the uncertainty surrounding the future of the European Union, these new rifts in NATO only intensify an already fragile situation. Diplomatic stability is more important than ever for Europe as it deals with a perfect storm of economic, political, and cultural upheavals.
Turkey has played a pivotal role in controlling the immigration crisis currently plaguing Europe. There are over 2.9 million registered Syrian refugees living in Turkey, and without them acting as a buffer to hold back this flood of people, the current problems facing Europe would be substantially worse. Despite this mutual dependence, recent events have only continued to incite division between Turkish President Erdogan and European leaders.
The population of Turks in Europe is massive, with over 1.4 million in Germany alone who are still eligible to vote in Turkish elections. Even the relatively small nation of the Netherlands has nearly 400,000 Turkish citizens living there. These typically peaceful communities have been stirred up by the upcoming referendum in Turkey planned for April 16th. There has been a series of protests and political rallies in cities like Rotterdam and Frankfurt. If the Turkish referendum is successful, the newly approved constitution would place a huge amount of power into Erdogan’s hands. In an effort to maintain order, the German and Dutch governments have taken steps to prevent foreign political struggles from boiling over onto the streets of Europe.
The Netherlands recently refused to allow Turkish Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglur entry into the country and has also banned foreign politicians from campaigning within their borders.
After being denied access, the Turkish Foreign Minister made some incendiary remarks:
“Now the election is over in the Netherlands…when you look at the many parties you see there is no difference between the social democrats and fascist Wilders…All have the same mentality. Where will you go? Where are you taking Europe? You have begun to collapse Europe. You are dragging Europe into the abyss. Holy wars will soon begin in Europe.”
The German state of Saarland has taken similar action following complaints by local representatives that Turkish officials were causing disturbances within their communities. Even though Chancellor Angela Merkel has not approved any national legislation, Turkish officials immediately exploited Germany’s history of Nazism to smear the perceived censorship of political expression.
President Erdogan himself has made several inflammatory statements in the last few weeks.
At a rally in Istanbul, he said:
“Your practices are not different from the Nazi practices of the past….I thought it’s been a long time since Germany left [Nazi practices]. We are mistaken”
He also spoke at an event for journalists in Ankara:
“If Europe continues this way, no European in any part of the world can walk safely on the streets.”
And while campaigning in the city of Eskisehir, he addressed Turks living in Europe:
“Go live in better neighborhoods. Drive the best cars. Live in the best houses. Make not three, but five children. Because you are the future of Europe. That will be the best response to the injustices against you.”
This controversy comes just as the newly established Turkish-Dutch party, called Denk, secured their first seats in the Dutch parliament. The fear of foreign governments manipulating elections through campaign funds even led to the introduction of a bill that would have made those contributions illegal. Although the bill was rejected, it exemplifies the distrust brewing in Europe’s political systems.
It should be recognized that Turkey accusing other NATO nations of human rights abuses is extremely hypocritical. The attempted coup in 2o16 has been followed by one of the most brutal purges seen in decades. The Turkish military, academia, and press have all been targeted by the regime in an effort to remove opposition. A recent report by E.U. intelligence organization Intec claims the coup was conducted by top generals in response to President Erdogan’s imminent plan to crackdown on dissenters. Since July 15th, 2016, government decrees have been used to shut down 149 media outlets and more than 2,000 schools. These decrees have also led to the arrest of over 47,000 people — including 162 journalists — and the dismissal of 4,200 judges and prosecutors.
Western bureaucrats choose to remain silent as allies like Saudi Arabia and Turkey have committed acts that go against their core values. The systems of government that were set up for the post-WWII era seem to be falling apart before our eyes. Alliances that used to unify different peoples and cultures towards a common goal now seem to be driving a wedge of resentment between societies across the world.
For now, diplomatic relations are just being tested through rhetoric, but these issues are not going away anytime soon. NATO, the U.N., E.U., and even the United States all represent a top-down and centralized model of government. That kind of system will never be equipped to handle the dynamic changes in the current age of technology, mass immigration, and ideological warfare.