Merkel’s visit to Turkey: Smokescreen and illusions

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The picture revealed a true story, which was sort of foretold.
It was showing German Chancellor Angela Merkel alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was all smiles. The two leaders were seated on gold-gilded thrones at Yıldız Palace (that symbolizes, in its own way, the downfall of the Ottoman Empire), with Merkel visibly uneasy, as if to signal, just where Turkey has gone.

The scenery looked surreal, a world of past dreams that certainly sends the wrong messages about both countries.

The chancellor was in İstanbul for a one-day visit for what many critics in Germany and elsewhere have called a “dirty deal” — an agreement between the EU and Turkey, which means that the latter will be paid billions of euros to “contain” the refugee crisis within its borders, much to the “comfort” of Europe, and will supposedly get some concessions in return — such as the easing of visa restrictions and the opening of some EU negotiation chapters.

Those who, like myself, have sharply questioned the timing, nature and content of this visit, have to a large extent been proven right. The meeting between Merkel, Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was clearly intended to be choreographed as a PR ploy by the hosts, and the press conference did not go beyond a blend of well wishes, memorized Turkish discourse on a desired “safe zone” in Syria and Merkel’s half-hearted “pledges” on opening the following EU chapters: number 17 this year and numbers 23 and 24 in 2016.

Merkel obviously knew that for all the decisions of this “deal,” she would need to get the EU’s approval through a labyrinth of decision-making processes and that most of what she said was a lie.

The Turkish side was obviously satisfied that it now had the EU in its hand. Its satisfaction is now expected to be raised if the annual progress report on Turkey, deliberately delayed for realpolitik reasons so as not to anger Erdoğan, is issued with content that falls short of calling Turkey “no longer meeting the Copenhagen criteria.”

Overall, this may be a visit that, for various reasons, Merkel comes to regret. The editorial by the Observer on Sunday summed it up eloquently, and it will remain valid for a long time to come.

“Dangling the prospect of accelerated accession negotiations sets a terrible precedent… Offering a de facto bribe to pay for police to keep migrants away from Western Europe’s borders, turning Turkey into a sort of low-rent buffer zone, is offensive and wrong,” it said.

”More dangerous still for a Europe that continues, despite growing evidence to the contrary, to pride itself on its liberal, democratic values is Erdogan’s implicit, reciprocal demand: that the EU turns a blind eye to the many abuses that have become routine in what, under this divisive president and his ruling Justice and Development party, is rapidly turning into a frightened, violent and authoritarian police state.”

No matter how much Merkel will try to conceal the worrisome facts on the ground in Turkey, she will continue to hear increasingly loud alarm bells ringing from within the country.

“It’s the worst period that I’ve seen in Turkey during the time I’ve worked on Turkey’s human rights, which is since the beginning of 2003,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, the senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch, a voice of authority on those issues, to Today’s Zaman over the weekend.

”Because the EU is so concerned about the refugee crisis and so willing to outsource it to the neighboring countries of the EU, I have a real concern that the EU itself and European governments will soft-pedal on Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record. What the EU member states have to remember is that [the] erosion of [the] rule of law and deep setbacks for democracy in Turkey are going to affect the refugees as well. Refugees look for a safe country,” she continued.

“Turkey has improved its system of processing and is generously hosting over 2 million refugees — but refugees do not have legal rights, Syrians are offered only temporary protection. So it is quite wrong for Europe to depend upon Turkey to hold millions of asylum seekers, while EU member states shirk their own responsibility to offer access to asylum and resettlement.”

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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