Akyol: Europe should not abandon
Turkey to this authoritarian destiny
Azzurra Meringolo 20 October 2016

In the aftermath of the attempted coup, you described Europe as unable to fully understand Turkey. Why and what are we missing?

There were big mistakes in interpreting what was going on in Turkey. Especially in the European media there was—and still is—the idea that Turkey is just represented by president Racep Tayyip Erdogan. Western media talk about him as an authoritarian leader. This is true, but it is not the only problem we have in the country. This is just one part of a bigger story, which must be fully understood. Besides Erdogan, for example, we have problems with violent Kurdish nationalism, above all with the PKK. Why do you only criticize Erdogan when you should see that the PKK is killing innocent people with suicide bombers? For some reasons, people in the West do not see any other Turkish political actor than Erdogan. And they are not aware of Fetullah Gulen (the preacher accused by the Government of being the coup plotter) and his community. The few who knew about him before the coup, above all for his interfaith dialogue, were fascinated by him because he has very good campaigners. With all this public relations activity, most of the people would have never imagined Gulen as the architect of a coup.

There is another thing that the Western media misses. You do not realize that after the coup there was a national unity against those who planned it. This national sentiment and unity should not be underestimated.

By missing these parts of the whole story, you are left with only misperceptions. Turkish people who observe Western reactions and inabilities to fully understand the country think that there is a bias behind it. Everyday more and more people are talking about a Western conspiracy against Turkey, and this feeds anti-Western sentiment.

After surviving the coup, is Erdogan trying to create a bigger alliance around him?

He has more power than ever and he will have it unless there is an economic crisis. The coup helped him enlarge his base and his supporters. He is starting to establish an alliance between his party, the AKP, and the national action party, the MHP—which was, from its origins, a party motivated against the state’s enemies, especially Kurdish rebels and the PKK. As a result we can say that the new alliance—Turkish Islamists plus conservatives and nationalists—represent, all together, around 60-70% of our society. It is a big block to contrast, and a block that does not invest in liberal values. This is the mission of the CHP, the main secular party that represents the opposition. Even if it is standing against the excessive purges, it also condemned the coup and supported the AKP in the aftermath of this incident.

Can Europe and the European Union still play a role in the Turkish political evolution and society?

Of course, they can play an important role in shaping politics and society. Leaving Turkey alone would be a mistake and would have incredible consequences on its population, above all civil society.

Turkey does not come from a very liberal background. The Ottoman Empire was an autocratic state. When it collapsed, we had a republic that never implemented a liberal democracy. Things got better when we had stronger relations with the West, above all the during the European annexation process. At this time, we made important reforms, asked by the European Union but supported by lots of citizens. Europe has had a positive influence on our society. It is very important, for example, that Turkey is tied to the European Court of Human Rights. That’s a guarantee for Turkish citizens and for the respect of human rights and rule of law. These values need to be supported in Turkey and Europe has always been very influential in defending that. The alternatives would be Turkey having greater relations with China or Russia, which is trying to bring Turkey into its sphere of influence. After the coup, president Vladimir Putin was wiser than the majority of Western leaders. He was the first leader to call Erdogan  and support him.

That is why I would urge European intellectuals and leaders not to leave Turkey alone. I suggest to be critical, but at the same time to understand what is going on and to use their influence to positively shape the evolution of the country.

As an intellectual critical to the government, are not you afraid of becoming a victim of the most recent wave of purges?

Of course I am afraid. The post-coup witch-hunt has already hurt innocent people who are now in crowded jails. But what worries me the most is not my personal future, but the one of my country, its politics, its intellectuals and its civil society.