By M. BEHZAD FATMI
After over a year of the failed attempted coup in Turkey, the international community may still not be certain as to who orchestrated the putsch but it is more or less sure that the Hizmet/Gulen movement was not responsible for it. More than anything else, the words and actions of the Turkish government itself serve as evidences to prove that their claim of the movement’s role in the coup is totally baseless. However this article is not about highlighting the evidences that prove Hizmet’s innocence, but about making sense of Britain’s inglorious stance with regards to this issue.
The British government is curiously the only government in the West which despite conceding that there is no evidence incriminating the movement as a whole has been giving statements that have strengthened the authoritarian Turkish hands in persecuting the alleged participants of the movement in the country.
In an interview to CNN Turk on July 23, 2017, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Turkey Richard Moore said, “we know very well that the Gülen movement was behind this coup”, whereas the Director Europe of Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Lindsay Appleby, in his testimony to the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee said:
…It is not consistent with membership of the military to be a member of an alternative organisation, so it isn’t clear how many of the military people were Gülenists, nor is it clear the degree to which the organisation—or the multiple organisations that make up Gülenism—were themselves directing or driving any of the activity.
Furthermore, the Committee itself has concluded in its report that there is no “hard, publicly available evidence” to substantiate the “Turkish government’s account of the Gülenists and the coup”.
In the wake of the first anniversary of the coup, Mr Moore published an op-ed commending “the extraordinary bravery of the Turkish people in facing down the coup” in Turkey’s staunchly pro-Erdogan English newspaper, Daily Sabah.
In this piece while he rightly praised the Turkish people’s determination to protect their democratically elected government from being overthrown in a military coup, but he fails to underline the bitter fact that despite the democratically elected government being protected the Turkish democracy has utterly failed.
He refers to the Turkish media as “free” when 274 Turkish journalists are languishing behind bars and over a hundred journalists have arrest warrant issued against them. But given he was writing this piece for what is often referred to as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ‘family newspaper’, he had no option but to sound uncritical of the government at best, and a propagandist of it at worst.
The vital questions here are: why the British government has adopted a policy to appease the Turkish government? Why has it largely remained ignorant of the gross human rights violations that have followed the coup attempt? Why is it tainting Britain’s image as a human rights defender by extending support to the Turkish government in punishing a peaceful social movement for a crime that it has not even committed?
This however doesn’t mean that the rest of the countries have been sufficiently critical of the Turkish government’s alarming encroachment on citizen’s rights but there is no doubting the fact that Britain has been the least critical of all.
One obvious reason behind it is the chaos that the United Kingdom finds itself in after the Brexit referendum. The unexpected result – which is almost certainly going to have consequences for the UK – forced David Cameron to resign, and this year when his successor Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election to strengthen her hands in Brexit negotiations, she ended up losing a parliamentary majority that her Conservative party previously enjoyed.
Meanwhile the Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was triggered which began a two-year countdown to Britain’s departure from the European Union. Now a daunting task of negotiating agreements on trade, immigration, security and other crucial issues with the 27-nation bloc lies ahead of the May government and according to a report published in POLITICO her team seems unbelievably ill-prepared in the early rounds of the Brexit negotiations.
As the British government is uncertain about its future with the EU member states, it is trying to solidify its relations with nations outside the bloc. But in its effort to do that it is dangerously coming closer to a deeply authoritarian regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This will certainly stain Britain’s standing in the world as a champion of human rights.