Ambassador Kerim Uras’ interview has been published in the weekend (13-14 August) edition of Kathimerini. Failed coup attempt in Turkey of 15 July, Turkish-Greek relations, Cyprus and refugees issues have been covered in the interview. The English text of the interview is presented below:
Question: The authoritarianism, abuse of power, and Islamic nationalistic frenzy, that some see in present day Turkey is creating a rift in its relationship with the West.
Answer: These are false impressions. Turkey has strong and unshakable bonds with the West. Turkey is a founding member of the Council of Europe, a bastion of democratic universal values and norms, along with human rights and the rule of law, a negotiating candidate country for the EU and a staunch ally in NATO. There is and will not be any change whatsoever in our orientation and fundamental foreign policy principles.
On the other hand, it is worth taking a closer look at latest events. In order to properly analyse recent developments, we must put things in context: In a nutshell, one beautiful summer night, Turkey went through a nightmare, a failed coup d’etat attempt on 15 July, organized by FETÖ (the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization). In the troubles 246 citizens died and 2185 were wounded. There was an attempt on the life of President Erdoğan. The Turkish Parliament with the MP’s inside, the Presidential Palace and other institutions were bombed by hi-jacked military aircraft and fired upon by helicopters and tanks, by the putchists. The coup was averted mainly because the Turkish people took to the streets and stood up for their democracy and rule of law. All opposition parties in Parliament, squabbling before the coup attempt gave unequivocal support to our elected President and the government during and after the coup attempt. A state of emergency was declared for 3 months and now we are picking up the pieces.
With these facts in mind, I would define the failed coup on 15 July as BC in recent Turkish politics (in the sense of “Before and after the Coup”). We must all question previous cliches and wake up to a new democratic reality and unity in Turkey. Indeed, the Turkish people and all the opposition Parties are united, much different from before, as we saw in the 7 August Democracy Rally in Istanbul, with the participation of 4 million in Yenikapı and around 10 million, synchronously participating in other cities, watching the speeches through large screens. This was the largest political gathering Istanbul has ever seen, perhaps the largest one in the world. It was a sterling performance for the Turkish Democracy. I believe that all democracy loving countries, including ofcourse our important neighbour Greece, should be pleased with this positive development and give us support, as they indeed do.
I would say that the ones that were after an “authoritarianism and abuse of power” are those who attempted the coup and conducted serious crimes on 15 July.
On the other hand, our President was quite vocal in reaching out and referring to some past choices as mistakes, asking for forgiveness from the Turkish people. A self-criticism you do not find even in countries that are generally accepted as advanced democracies, let alone authoritarian ones. In face of the coup d’etat, all opposition parties in Parliament gave unanimous support for the establishment of a joint investigation committee. They also signed a joint statement against the coup. At the same time, not only all opposition parties, but also the Turkish people gave unequivocal support to our elected president and government in its recent actions. They are continuing to do so, as we see in “democracy watch” rallies held every night, all across Turkey, since the failed coup attempt. This does not look like an authoritarian rule to me.
I also beg to differ with your comment on “...Islamic and nationalistic frenzy...”. The Turkish people are no doubt patriotic, as we saw them recently lying in front of and jumping upon tanks when there was a sudden threat to their democracy and way of life. But I would not define this as “nationalistic frenzy”. As you should also very well know, the Turkish Anatolian interpretation of Islam is a benign and tolerant one. There may be pockets of fundamentalism in any country, but we combat extremism and any false interpretation of our religion, as we are indeed an active part of the coalition against DEASH. Therefore, I find such generalizations not just off the mark, but dangerous in the sense that they lead to Islamophobia.
As for the reaction of the West; the general perception in Turkey is one of frustration and disappointment. Although there was widespread support for our struggle against the coup attempt, we were disappointed that Western leaders have been quite slow in visiting Turkey and were not vocal enough. This perception is also valid for the Western press in general. As the Ambassador in Athens, I must add however, that the Greek leadership was an exception to this general picture, as we were given strong support at all levels, as events were yet unfolding.
A noteworthy development is that the Turkish economy is chugging along as well as ever. This is also an indication of our national solidarity. The Turkish people bought 9 billion Dolars worth of Turkish Lira in the first week after the coup attempt, in a strong display of patriotism. Our first half growth in this year will still be %4.
Question: There is a widespread belief that voices opposing the government, including many journalists, are being silenced by force, and that the rule of law is being violated.
Answer: These claims and concerns are unfounded. The emergency law powers are used very carefully. A meticulous cleaning-up process is going on against FETÖ. This process naturally does include some journalists, newspapers and tv stations, but this can not be defined as “silencing the opposition”. The journalists and institutions in question are those who were part of this terrorist organization.
In Turkey today, everyone is aware of the important role the press played on 15 July and we treasure our freedom of press very dearly. In fact, it is due to the strong freedom of press that the coup was averted in the first place. The turning point was when President Erdoğan appeared live, through face-time on Turkish TV and called on the people to take to the streets, resist the coup and uphold democracy.
Regarding FETÖ militants, all investigations and court cases are conducted transparently, based on solid evidence and fully respecting human rights, in accordance with international norms. Indeed, all developments are closely followed by opposition parties and democratic institutions. There have been no considerable complaints that state of emergency powers are misused. It is also best to keep in mind that all proceedings are in any event subject to judicial review, both at domestic and international level.
Actually, there is now abundant evidence that our legal system and country have suffered for some time from the manipulations and infiltration of the FETÖ prosecutors and judges. These militants who exploited their important positions are now being removed, as new evidence is emerging by the day. In this process, many important unsolved cases are also coming to light. This process should be supported by everyone respecting democracy and the rule of law.
We are realizing as a nation that some recent mass court cases (such as Balyoz, Ergenekon, Oda TV etc) which were built on shoddy and fabricated evidence were used effectively to get rid of competent high officials and push FETÖ militants up in the ranks of all institutions of the state. It is very clear to anyone following Turkey closely that the measures taken today will result in a much healthier and transparent legal system, solidly based on the rule of law.
Question: Will Turkey continue implementing the agreement with the EU on the refugee issue?
Answer: Turkey is determined to continue implementing the refugee agreement with the EU. We have fulfilled our part of the deal since day one. We are now expecting the EU to fulfill its side of the deal, namely visa liberalization, financial support and controlled repatriation. We have readmitted all of the persons for whom the Greek authorities sent a request. This is a total of 468 people. There are three more operations planned on 17 August. It would also be helpful if returns from Greece are speeded up, in order to prove that the system is working. We are cooperating and coordinating effectively with our Greek colleagues on its implementation. I think it is not fair to expect only one side to keep its promises with regard to Turkey-EU agreement. I strongly believe that the agreement was an important success and must be honored by all sides.
Question: What is the state of relations with Greece, in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt ?
Answer: Our relations are very good and stable, as always. I believe we mutually have a very good understanding of each other’s positions on various issues. Minister Çavuşoğlu expressedly thanked the Greek government for their support after the failed coup, in an interview on Turkish TV, on 5 August.
Question: Independent of potential developments in the EU-Turkey front, would Ankara work on a bilateral agreement with Greece - which is an honest supporter of her European path - on the refugees ?
Answer: We already have a well functioning bilateral protocol signed between Turkey and Greece in 2001, long before the finalization of a readmission agreement between Turkey and the EU. Maybe it is not so visible in the shadow of the current emphasis on the islands, but according to this bilateral protocol of 2001, since the beginning of 2016, 1.098 irregular migrants have already been readmitted to Turkey from the İpsala-Koipoi border. This means that the bilateral protocol is actually working better than the Turkey-EU one. We are of course in close contact with Greek authorities at all levels and the bilateral implementation protocol of the Turkey-EU Readmission Agreement is also underway between our two countries.
Question: Would a meeting between the leaders of the two countries prove useful ?
Answer: Our leaders meet regularly at every level, including in the margins of international meetings. Naturally bilateral contacts are always useful and we are working on them as much as the busy schedules of our leaders permit.
Question: Is Turkey prepared to accept the termination of the anachronistic security guarantees in Cyprus, a move that would facilitate a solution ?
Answer: Turkey strongly supports a solution in Cyprus. However, I would not define security guarantees as anachronistic. We are all witnessing for the last decades a series of security problems in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, all close to, or actually in the Mediterranean basin. It is obvious that human nature has not yet evolved to a point where we can afford to not take security measures. The rise of the extreme right in the latest elections in South Cyprus is also a source of concern to us.
On the other hand, I would not define the 1960 Treaties that established the Republic of Cyprus as sacred texts either. We can and should revisit all aspects of the Cyprus question in a fresh light and with an open vision, including the security and guarantees aspect.
As in every negotiation process, it is important for all interested parties to agree on relevant aspects with their free will and be fully satisfied with the outcome. This of course does not mean that each side would get %100 of what they want. Such an expectation would be contrary to the nature of any negotiation process. So there is bound to be give and take.
With this in mind, I must emphasize that the Turkish Cypriots being numerically fewer on the Island feel insecure and that there is near-consensus on the importance of Turkey’s continued guarantee and provision of security, at least for the Turkish Cypriots. We also understand that the Greek Cypriots have their own concerns. Both communities have bitter experiences for different reasons, regarding the near past. We must find ways to satisfy both these sets of concerns. In that spirit, Turkey is determined to contribute to the indigenous negotiation process with a constructive approach and an open mind.
Question: President Erdogan has been very critical of the US. Some in Ankara are suggesting Washington might have supported the coup attempt.
Answer: I would describe President Erdoğan’s comments as realistic, rather than critical. As for the speculation of “some in Ankara”, I do not want to comment on conspiracy theories.
In various statements, President Erdoğan emphasized that Turkey, which is a strategic ally of the US, faced an attempt to overthrow the freely elected government, yet, the show of solidarity came rather later than expected. He stated that the US Secretary of State, for example, planned to visit Turkey on August 24, in other words, 45 days after the coup attempt. President Erdoğan also expressed his desire for US officials to come up with stronger words. It does not help much that the leader of FETÖ is residing in Pennsylvania… This being the case, the US is Turkey’s most important ally and will remain so. We have a strong and multi-faceted relationship and we all strongly believe that we will overcome any misunderstandings quite soon.
Question: The role of Gülen, and the next steps if the US does not extradite him?
Answer: There is no doubt Mr. Gülen is behind the failed coup d’etat in Turkey. The State was gathering evidence on FETÖ for quite some time. However, what did come as a surprise to many, was how far Gülen and the FETÖ terrorist organization he is heading can go in its criminal activities, including firing upon unarmed civilians. I understand abundant evidence is being given to US authorities and that contacts are continuing. It is our strong expectation that he must be extradited to Turkey, to face justice. The US is our important Ally and I am confident that we will see a reasonable solution to the issue at hand.
Question: On different occasions, officials and analysts from the US, European countries, and Russia, have criticized Turkey for supporting ISIS. Is it their imagination ?
Answer: The assumption that Turkey supports DEASH is completely false. Turkey is an active and crucial player in the fight against this terrorist organization. We have been a member of the International Coalition to Counter DEASH since its inception. We have mobilized our resources for its success. Turkey has opened up its bases to Coalition aircraft. We have also been conducting comprehensive operations against this terrorist organization through our own means. Turkey is not immune from DEASH terror either. This organization is responsible for grave terrorist acts that led to the loss of life in Turkey. It is a primitive organization which distorts the peaceful teachings of our religion and is certainly not worthy of the name it gives itself. We are determined to continue our support in combatting the DEASH terrorist organization, with strong international support and coordination. Indeed it is our bedrock principle that we can not and must not differentiate between terrorist organizations. There is no such thing as a benign terrorist organization or “my terrorist” “your terrorist”. All terrorists are a threat to humanity and the peaceful international order and must be treated accordingly.