“Americans simply cannot understand how, especially during an election campaign … such a government, which is such a close friend and ally, whom we always regard as a member of the Euro-Atlantic club of first-class democracies – put a flat-out ban on Twitter and YouTube. It makes no sense to us. Because we consider Turkey as a Western state of law and democracy,” US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone said in an interview with the Hürriyet daily, an English version of which appeared in Hürriyet’s sister newspaper, the Hürriyet Daily News.
“The damage from the campaign is something that is still playing out in Turkey’s international standing,” said Ricciardone.
The government blocked access to Twitter and YouTube after a series of leaked recordings of conversations involving government ministers, senior officials, members of Erdoğan’s family and the prime minister himself were published online in the wake of a corruption probe that erupted on Dec. 17 with a wave of detentions. Most of the recordings appeared to provide evidence of corruption, while a more recent leak of a high-level security meeting allegedly exposed a confidential discussion on preparations regarding the Syria war, including a possible false-flag operation that might trigger a war with Turkey’s southern neighbor.
Access to Twitter was restored last week after a Constitutional Court decision ordering the ban to be lifted, but the ban on YouTube remains in effect.
“It disappoints me when things come out about Turkey that make it look less attractive, like closing off Twitter or YouTube. Allegations of corruption really hurt the branding of Turkey,” Ricciardone said. “As a foreigner who wishes to see more trade between Turkey and the U.S., I would recommend that Turkey act very strongly to show that this country is a serious place where rules and laws apply and American businesspeople can expect to be treated in accordance with Turkish law. And bribery is not something that American businesspeople can deal with, because they are forbidden under our law. I hope Turkey will fix the damage to its international reputation that has come out of all these allegations of corruption.”
Ricciardone also revealed that the Turkish government, which has blamed the Hizmet movement inspired by US-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen for the incriminating leaks, has raised the issue of Gülen’s extradition, even though he suggested that no formal request had been made to that effect.
“We will respectfully and seriously respond to any request regarding legal issues. But we are just not going to get involved in the exercise of individual Turkish citizens’ rights while residing in our country,” said the US envoy.
Asked to comment on the “parallel state,” a term Erdoğan uses to refer to an alleged group of Gülen followers within the state bureaucracy, Ricciardone said the concept is unfamiliar to any American and that it is up to the Turks to decide what it means and what should be done about it.
Ricciardone himself was subject to accusations from the pro-government media about his involvement in the corruption probe. The US Embassy swiftly denied claims that Ricciardone told European envoys in Ankara that they were witnessing the “fall of an empire” at a meeting that allegedly took place in the immediate aftermath of the corruption probe.
“A truly strong state of law must address such serious allegations – not try to blame them on foreign conspiracies or otherwise change the subject,” Ricciardone said, adding, “Truly independent, impartial judges and prosecutors, whose only loyalty is to the law and the citizen, must investigate credible allegations.”
The US ambassador also played down the prospect of Turkish military involvement in Syria, as the Turkish government shares US concerns about foreign fighters transiting into Syria through Turkey, something which he said had “alarmed” Washington.
“In particular, it’s clear to me that neither of our countries wishes to intervene militarily in Syria,” he said.