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[OPINION] Don’t Let Turkey’s Hostage Diplomacy Spread


After the Gezi protests in June 2013, Turkey’s strong man President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has changed his path from democracy to an authoritarian rule. Since then, Mr. Erdogan has been gradually consolidating his power. To this end, he has silenced the free press, intimidated the opponents, dismissed more than 130,000 public servants, and put around 60 thousands dissidents in jail, including journalists and academics. Currently, Turkey is jailing more journalists than any other nation.


In order to establish his authoritarian rule in a country which has been an EU candidate, a member of the NATO, and part of the Western world for decades, Mr. Erdogan continuously breached the Turkish law, even the constitution. He abolished the rule of law, destroyed the long lasting customary practices in the functioning of the state, and violated well established rules and norms in Turkey.


With his increasing self-confidence stemming from his success at demolishing democracy and establishing one man rule at home, Mr. Erdogan step up to the next level, and began violating international rules and norms. He has used inappropriate language -amounting to insulting and even threatening- towards Turkey’s allies in many occasions. For example, he called the German authorities “Nazis” and the Dutch “Nazi remnants”. Mr. Erdogan many times accused the Western countries of supporting terrorism. He even threatened the Europeans saying that (if Europe does not change its policy towards Turkey) “no Europeans in any part of the world will be able to walk the streets safely”. Due to President Erdogan’s political rhetoric quite frequently accusing the West to make plots against Turkey -Mr. Erdogan and his followers blame the U.S. and NATO for the failed coup in July 2016 too- today anti-Western and anti-American sentiments in Turkey reached at a historical high point.


As a violation of international law by Mr. Erdogan’s government, Turkish spies and diplomatic agents abducted around one hundred dissidents across the world, such as in Sudan, Gabon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar and Saudi Arabia. It was revealed that Turkish spy agency (MIT) had planned similar plots even in Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands. Recently, Turkish agents abducted a Gulenist school principal in Mongolia. Mongolian authorities did not allow the agents to take the principal out of the country, and they officially protested Turkey over its “unacceptable act of violation of Mongolia’s sovereignty and independence”.


A new trend in President Erdogan’s foreign policy making is hostage-taking. After the failed coup attempt in July 2016, Mr. Erdogan has jailed a great number of foreign nationals. Among them are numerous German citizens including journalists and human rights activists, two Greek soldiers, around twenty U.S. nationals including an Evangelist pastor and a NASA scientist, and also local staff of the American Consulates in Turkey, as well as many others from various countries. Mr. Erdogan’s tactic is putting them behind bars over trumped up accusations and using them as bargaining chips in Turkey’s bilateral ties with their home countries.


Because of such illegal and immoral practices Mr. Erdogan’s government resorted to and of Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism and massive crackdown in Turkey, many analysts and commentators currently list Turkey among the rouge states. In the 2000s it was unimaginable to consider Turkey in the same league with North Korea, Iran and Syria, because in those years Turkey under Mr. Erdogan’s rule was implementing democratic reforms which were quite often being praised by the West.


Mr. Erdogan’s hostage diplomacy over American pastor Andrew Brunson currently led to a serious row between Turkey and the U.S. Already troubled relations between the two countries have hit an all-time low. Mr. Erdogan, by using the pastor as a bargaining chip, aims to reach more than one goals. In return for the release of pastor Brunson, Mr. Erdogan asked the American side -release of a Turkish journalist detained in Israel over allegedly providing financial support to Hamas, -extradition of Turkish citizen Hakan Atilla, former deputy general manager of Halkbank, who has been sentenced to 32 months in a U.S. court in Iran sanctions-busting case, -keeping the expected fine on Halkbank at a low amount, -closing two new investigations in the U.S. on Turkey’s violation of American sanctions on Iran. It is reported that these two new investigations might involve members of Erdogan’s inner circle.


When he addressed President Trump in a public statement, President Erdogan himself made it clear that pastor Brunson’s imprisonment was not a judicial but a political decision to use him as a bargaining chip. “Give me the pastor (implying Fethullah Gulen), and I will give you the pastor (Brunson)”, Mr. Erdogan said.


Germany too had to deal with Mr. Erdogan’s hostage diplomacy early this year. After German officials mentioned possible sanctions on Turkey, some meetings took place between the two sides, and subsequently German journalist Deniz Yucel was released from the prison. However, what concessions German government made in this bargaining has not been disclosed. This initiated a hot debate in Germany. Many criticized the German government over this deal and Deniz Yucel himself, besides others, called it a “dirty deal”.


Having seen that his hostage diplomacy bears fruit, Mr. Erdogan continued to seek reaching his goals using this immoral tactic. Pastor Brunson crisis is, in a way, the result of Mr. Erdogan’s victory in his hostage diplomacy in Deniz Yucel case.


Therefore, the U.S. administration should not reward Mr. Erdogan’s hostage diplomacy by meeting his demands using an innocent preacher as a bargaining chip. If President Trump gives in to Mr. Erdogan’s immoral tactic, Mr. Erdogan would most probably keep ruining many innocent people’s lives to reach his goals.


Even worse is that President Erdogan’s success in his hostage diplomacy would set a negative example for other countries, and encourage other leaders who have authoritarian tendencies to follow the same path. This would not only risk many innocent people’s lives, but also destruct established and respected international rules and norms of conducting foreign relations. It would damage international order by making it less predictable and more chaotic. This is not something the countries would desire, especially the democratic ones.


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