Western leaders should visit Turkey to show solidarity

güven sak

There are two types of countries in the world: Countries where life is predictable and countries where it isn’t; dull countries and interesting ones. The basic difference between these two categories of countries is the strength of their institutions. The weaker your institutions, the higher the chance that your country is interesting. I live in Turkey. Life is very interesting here.

It was a calm Friday night last week. I was thinking about my weekend plans when I first heard that a military junta was trying to take over the government. Turkey is a country with a GDP per capita income of $10,000. Last time something like this happened was 1980 when Turkey was a county with a GDP per capita of around $1,500. You have to be at least around 55 years of age to have an idea of what that was like, meaning that around 85 percent of Turkey’s population lived through their first coup attempt last Friday.

Try to put yourself in the average citizen’s shoes: After a tiring week at work you would like to go home via the Bosphorus Bridge. You’re looking forward to having a drink and relaxing. Then you see a division of soldiers in your path. They’ve set up a barricade and your find yourself stuck in a huge traffic jam. Why? A coup. You think it can’t be possible. That sort of thing belongs in the history books; it doesn’t happen when you’re around. But there it is. Then, things get out of control. Mobs of people start shouting and moving up against the soldiers. The soldiers start shooting at them. You hear that jets are bombing Ankara, the very city they are supposed to protect.

Then we are told that this is not the army chain of command trying to take over the country, but rather a small group of religious fanatics that first started to infiltrate the army around three decades ago. Disguised as ordinary officers, they hijacked the situation room and started sending out seemingly legitimate orders to all garrisons. All this sounds outlandish, but the Gülenists are a silent force that those in Turkey have long felt creeping through the system. If you are a civil servant, they might even have cost you a promotion or two. They are religious fanatics as purposeful as the Sparrows in the Game of Thrones — yet more crafty. At least you can distinguish a sparrow by his appearance. Here, some of the agents of the fanatics were hidden in plain sight, until the day they chose to reveal themselves.

As the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so a country is only as strong as its weakest institutions. Wonder how a state of emergency can be managed with a collection of weak institutions? Double jeopardy, if you ask me. Turkey needs to strengthen its institutions. The best way to do that is to redeploy engagement with the EU. The EU is the only force in the region that can transmute interesting countries into dull ones. You may ask, why not just let Turkey be? Because the stability of Turkey is important to our civilization. It is a critical place for the West’s security and its contact with its near abroad.

Yet there are no signs that the West is prepared to show solidarity with Turkey. It has been a week since the attempted coup, and as far as we know only Alan Duncan, UK Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office visited Ankara. No plans of other visits, so far. The secretary general of NATO, who does not have to worry about public opinion, has not visited Ankara.

They should stop to consider what all this meant. This is a time when Turks have stood on the edge of democracy, and they did not like what they saw below. But they also see the world as a more dangerous place now and they question the loyalties of their friends, especially those in the West. Western leaders should come to Ankara and reassure Turks that they are there to help make things boring again.

This commentary was published in Hürriyet Daily News on 23.07.2016 Originally published at https://www.tepav.org.tr.

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Notes from Turkey and its vicinity: It’s the economy, stupid

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güven sak

Notes from Turkey and its vicinity: It’s the economy, stupid