First part of our interview with prof. Mehmet Ugur, a member of Academics for Peace Initiative, has received much attention.
Today we publish the second part of the interview.
In this part, Prof. Ugur shares with us his opinion on Turkey’s EU membership process and the renewal of the Customs Union Agreement, arrest of Kurdish MPs and the EU’s current Kurdish policy.
You argue that Turkey’s EU Membership process should be frozen until its democracy is fully restored.
However, European leaders nowadays tend to act otherwise by renewing the Customs Union Agreement. Although the renewal pushes the membership issue further down the EU agenda and limits the relations to the economic domain, it will surely be a gift to Erdogan while Turkey’s economy is faltering due to bad governance and political turmoil.
What do you think the impacts of this renewal will be on democracy and human rights in Turkey?
I have analysed the relationship between the European Union (EU) and Turkey as an anchor-credibility dilemma. The framework has enabled me to see beyond the smokescreen created by political rhetoric on both sides.
On the one hand, the Turkish ruling elite has declared intentions to join the EU but it always refrained from democratisation reforms and did not want to tie its hands through various versions of the EU conditionality. On the other hand, the EU has proved to be incapable of anchoring Turkey’s democratisation reforms through a transparent framework of rewards and sanctions – even though it has declared ‘commitment’ to Turkey’s integration in the EU.
I have also criticised the EU’s open-ended membership framework of 2005 for reducing the probability of meaningful reforms in Turkey (and other candidate countries) and for weakening the prospect of the latter’s EU membership.
The ‘special partnership’ option in that framework has been designed to cater for the preferences of the conservative European elite. In contrast to European progressives who have been in favour of integrating Turkey in return for democratisation reforms, the conservative European elite has always been in favour of keeping Turkey in the European orbit mainly for trade, investment and security transactions.
In this vision, the quality of democracy in Turkey or the fate of civil society actors fighting for democracy and rule of law in the country has been of secondary importance at best and an unwanted source of complication at worst.
What we observe now is yet another manifestation of this hypocrisy, marketed as ‘real politic’ or ‘statecraft’. That is why in a couple of interventions in December 2016 and April 2017, I have argued against deepening of the customs union and called for suspension of the EU-Turkey membership negotiations.
From a European perspective, suspension was (and still is) necessary because we have damning reports on the scale of violations documented by European institutions and the European Parliament’s has made a call to that effect. A suspension conditional on returns to democracy would have checked the AKP elite’s authoritarian drift and strengthened the hands of the pro-EU forces who also tend to be suffering from oppression. Such a decision would have also sent the right signals to international investors.
Instead, the EU, led by Merkel of Germany and supported by a plethora of think tanks and ‘policy advisers’, opted otherwise. It signalled to the AKP regime that it can have as much as it wants when it comes to trade and arms deals – irrespective of what treatment the Turkish regime accords to its citizens.
The conservative European elite wanted to kill two birds with one stone:
(i) protect or increase their countries’ share in the lucrative business/arms market in Turkey; and
(ii) push the prospect of Turkey’s EU membership into a distant future, or killing it altogether.
It is sad but true: currently, Europe is ruled by a political elite that do not show a credible concern about the human, institutional and moral costs of such a short-sighted policy. This policy has done nothing but bolstering a dictatorial regime at the gates of Europe – and under the gaze of European institutions established to uphold democracy and rule of law.
This is why European civil society is the last line of defence in the struggle for democracy and rule of law. European progressives have been making the right voices and calling for the right course of actions against the AKP regime: urope should use its leverage to strengthen democracy and rule of law in Turkey – and this should not be conditional on short-term electoral or trade/investment costs-benefits.
I hope these calls will inspire the wider and increasingly vocal sections of the European civil society – including academics, professional associations, trades unions, teachers, students, etc. – to pressure their governments and their political representatives to act in accordance with democratic values. This will be a win-win option, in the sense that the threat of authoritarianism will be defeated both within Turkey and within the wider Europe.
Kurds have long been bashed and suppressed in Turkey. In European platforms, the Kurdish issue attracts significant attention in rhetoric but even the arrest of Selahattin Demirtas and HDP MPs seems to have been somehow accepted even if not approved.
What would you like to say about Europe’s current Kurdish policy?
I am not a student of Kurdish politics or history. So instead of providing my own summary of the Kurdish issue in Turkey, I would like to draw the attention of your readers to two works by two Academics for Peace colleagues who are experts in the area:
Cengiz Gunes’s The Kurdish Question in Turkey: New Perspectives on Violence, Representation and Reconciliation and Veli Yadirgi’s The Political Economy of the Kurds of Turkey: From the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic.
In these works, there is both historical and current evidence on Turkish elite’s discrimination against the Kurds and its hostility towards their ambitions for self-determination, which is spelled out as autonomy rather than secession. The discrimination and hostility have always had economic, political, cultural and military dimensions at varying proportions.
The Kurds’ demand for self-determination resonates positively with the European public because self-determination is a key liberal value. In addition, the Kurds in Syria and Iraq have been fighting against Jihadi terrorism; protecting and building alliances with vulnerable minorities such as Yezidis, Christians and Assyrians; and placing a significant emphasis on gender equality. It is in this context that one needs to read the news about European fighters among the ranks of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Defence Units (YPJ) in Rojava (Western Kurdistan in Syria).
In contrast, the European governments only pay a lip service to the contributions of the Kurds in the fight against (and defeat of) ISIS. Instead, they appease the Turkish government. The evidence on the ground clearly demonstrates that European governments have sided with, or tuned a blind eye to, aggression by the Turkish government against the Kurds. This was evident in the case of the hostility towards the referendum in Southern Kurdistan in Iraq and its massive military crackdown in Northern Kurdistan in Turkey.
But the most shameful example of failure on the part of the European governments concerns their silence against the arrest of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chairs and MPs; and the confiscation of locally-elected municipalities in Kurdish cities and towns by the Turkish government.
The politicide (political genocide) against these elected representatives is driven by a Turko-Islamic political project aimed at maximising the oppressive nature of the Turkish state and place it at the heart of a religio-fascistic polity, where the institutions of market relations, patriarchy, religion, neighbourhoods, etc. are all reshaped to ensure obedience to political authority and punish dissent.
Therefore, I have no doubt that we should accuse our governments for leaving the elected representatives, the HDP co-chairs and the elected mayors to their own devices in the face of an evil political project determined to crash all sources of dissent – one by one and in an order that suits the regime’s interests.
The same can be said about academics, journalists, human rights defenders, and ordinary citizens too. The only ‘crime’ that this wide range of actors has committed is to have a strong and honourable commitment to democracy, justice and rule of law – values that European governments also claim to uphold.
In a recent conference organised by Solidarity with the Peoples of Turkey (SPOT), one commentator voiced the following concern: how can we consider ourselves as free in Europe when elected representatives, dissenting academics, truth-seeking journalists or human rights activists are in prison in Turkey?
I fully share this sentiment. We may be enjoying relative freedom in Europe, but I truly believe that this freedom is tainted by continued violations in Turkey – a member in all European institutions except the EU.