First the U.S. senators on Feb. 9 and later, on Feb. 26, 170 members of the House of Representatives have sent letters to the Biden administration urging Washington to put pressure on Turkish President Erdoğan regarding human rights issues.
One sentence in the last letter particularly grabs my attention:
“President Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have used their nearly two decades in power to weaken Turkey’s judiciary, install political allies in key military and intelligence positions, crack down on free speech and press, and wrongfully imprison political opponents, journalists and minorities.”
The emphasis on the “two decades” is crucially important. Here is why:
Shortly after the AKP, lead by President Erdoğan, rose to power, the infamous Ergenekon and Balyoz cases started. (allegation)
The cases, lead by state attorneys close to the Gülen movement, preceded very fast. Hundreds of intellectuals, writers, journalists, academicians, and soldiers were accused of being members of a secret organization called Ergenekon. Allegedly the organization aimed to topple the government via a military coup d’état. There was no solid proof, just allegations and illegally recorded phone conversations. The indictment was full of holes.
However, with the power of the pro-AKP media, any opposition to the cases was silenced.
People who were put in jail as a result of these cases were mostly secular. Among the arrested there were high ranking soldiers, most of whom worked in NATO headquarters and worked closely with their American colleagues. They were the soundest supporters of Turkey’s allegiance to the West and to NATO. Generals were stripped of their ranks and put in prison.
Back then it was certain that there would be some reaction from the U.S. and other western allies. The allegations about them were nonsense and the judicial process turned out to be a huge sham. However, the reaction from the U.S. was a breaking point.
In spite of all the unlawfulness of the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases, government backing of those cases had the full support of the U.S. and the EU, which resulted in lasting trauma for those generals who spent their lives serving under NATO missions.
Ergenekon was the biggest breaking point for Turkish secular intellectuals with NATO and the West. It will likely take yet a generation to mend ties and make those individuals believe in the commitment of the U.S. governments to democracy and rule of law.
Today those NATO generals who were jailed after the Ergenekon cases, have turned into the biggest proponents of Turkey breaking up the West and supporters of a kind of neo-Euroasianism.
This letter references a period of time two decades ago. That signifies, how perceptions of Ergenekon have changed. Back then it was perceived by U.S. politicians as a move to strengthen Turkish democracy. Today, it is understood that those sham cases were just a means of excluding secular intellectuals from the institutions and public life. It took a coup attempt by a religious sect for the world to restore the honor of those who were jailed.
Erdoğan is a seasoned politician. He has known how to talk to the West and how to appeal to its interests. But perhaps now his talents may have finally run out.