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[OPINION] European opportunism makes Erdoğan more reckless

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Türkmen Terzi

During the first 10 years of his rule, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan worked hard to improve the economy and introduce reforms in healthcare, turning Turkey into an important player in the region. He also developed Turkish democracy in many ways, expanding the rights of minorities and Kurds. Erdoğan’s Turkey, however, is far from what it once was and has instead been a hub of human rights violations and lawlessness since 2011. Amnesty International Secretary-General Dr. Agnes Callamard and Research and Advocacy Director Netsanet Belay said on Monday at a press conference in Johannesburg that the judicial system is non-functional in Turkey and that public servants, the opposition, journalists, women and students face oppression from the government. Erdoğan is currently taking advantage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, behaving increasingly carelessly with regard to foreign policy. Turkey, which is a NATO member, has failed to join the international sanctions against Russia and is instead welcoming Russian oligarchs to Turkey.

Callamard, who presented the main findings of the “Amnesty International Report 2021/22: The state of the world’s human rights” during her first trip to South Africa as Amnesty International’s secretary-general, answered questions about Turkey’s crackdown on critics of Erdoğan at the press conference, saying, “Our colleague at Amnesty International, the former chair of Amnesty International Taner Kılıç, has been harassed and detained and is at present still dealing with a lawsuit and could end up in jail.” Callamard said Amnesty was aware of Greece’s pushback of asylum seekers to Turkey as well as of refugees in the Mediterranean off the coasts of Italy and Malta and also mentioned photos of Rohingya people in boats attempting to enter Thai waters and being prevented from doing so.

“We’ve again seen deep flaws in the judicial system that were not addressed. Opposition politicians, journalists, human rights defenders and many others faced baseless investigations, prosecutions and convictions. Turkey outrageously withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, denying many women the right to protection. Government officials have targeted members of the LGBT community with homophobic rhetoric,” Belay said, adding that Amnesty’s findings were quite shocking and that the issue of Turkey’s human rights violations was deeply disturbing.

Erdoğan remains unperturbed by reports from international human rights bodies on the unlawful practices of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). US President Joe Biden did not invite Erdoğan to the Summit for Democracy, which was held online in December 2021, and in 2022 Freedom House put Turkey third on the list of countries with the largest declines in freedom in the past 10 years, after Mali and the Central African Republic; yet Erdoğan has been posing with Western leaders as a fellow peacemaker since Russia invaded Ukraine. Erdoğan praised the success of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, which was held in March in Turkey. It was the first high-level meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met with Erdoğan days after Turkey hosted the high-level talks as the Berlin government has been trying to end Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through diplomacy. Erdoğan has on many occasions fiercely criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for having supported Greece’s energy exploration in the contested eastern Mediterranean waters. France claimed in 2020 that the Turkish navy harassed a French warship on a NATO mission in the Mediterranean. Macron, however, seemed to have forgotten all the disputes as he leaned over to rest his hand on Erdoğan’s shoulder during the NATO summit in Brussels last week. Macron said he would work with his Turkish counterpart Erdoğan to achieve a “cease-fire” and an agreement for “lasting peace” in Ukraine. Moreover, the world’s attention moved to Turkey as diplomats from Ukraine and Russia met in İstanbul on Tuesday for another round of peace negotiations.

Turkey abstained from voting on Russia’s suspension from the Council of Europe in February. Many Russian diplomats have pointed out that Turkey is one among only a few countries in the world that haven’t isolated Russia since President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. According to Turkish media reports, many Russians have left home to settle in Turkey, especially in the Mediterranean city of Antalya.

US officials and European leaders have long turned a blind eye to Erdoğan’s massive crackdown on his critics and countless human rights violations despite international nongovernmental organizations’ damning reports on Turkey. Western leaders criticized Erdoğan for having turned Turkey’s axis from the West to Russia and China. It seems, though, that European leaders are now willing to use Erdoğan’s close relationship with Putin as a means to calming the situation in Ukraine.

Erdoğan’s main concern is not Russia’s military threat in the Black Sea, but on Turkey’s deteriorating economy that is currently threatening his political grip on the country. A decade ago, Erdoğan welcomed many Turkic oligarchs such as Azerbaijani businessman Mubariz Mansimov to Turkey. It seems that Erdoğan now has his sights set on Russian oligarchs such as Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who had a chat with Erdoğan at the Russia-Ukraine talks in Istanbul, where his superyacht is docked in a sanctions-free Turkey.

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