The way Europe appeases despots like Erdogan is not new

by Gokcan Aydogan    


After the West's complicit silence on the occupation of Afrin, and in a time when human rights, the freedom of the press and the rule of law are more than ever violated in Turkey - the European Union appears as an ally to Turkey. Over the course of recent years, the European Union has seemed like a promoter of the dictatorial and expansionist aims of Erdogan, an obedient subject that acts in a manner reminiscent of the worst era of Europe. She has dusted off the worst pages in European history, and with no shame continues to be party to the crimes of despots.

On Sunday, as Turkey's army and it’s rebranded-al-Qaeda jihadists entered Afrin, the journalist Charles Enderlin, who for 35 years was France 2's correspondent in Jerusalem, asked a captivating question. If the occupation of Afrin was "the Munich of the Kurdish people” as he tweeted, then “Who plays the role of Chamberlain?”

Neville Chamberlain, a Prime-minister of the UK amid the Second World War, was a man of appeasement. It was under his watch that the Munich Agreement in 1938 was signed, and allowed for the annexation of the German-speaking parts of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany. Chamberlain wasn't the only accomplice in this unglamorous episode of European history. In September 1938, six months after the annexation of Austria by Germany, France represented by Edward Daladier had co-signed the deal with the Führer, giving him full permission to annex the region. Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia eventually led to the dismantling of that country.

France and Great Britain were supposedly the allies of Czechoslovakia, but in a matter of hours, they were happy to sell the sovereign state off for political expediency to a dictator.

History is repeating itself again, tragically.

This shouldn’t be a cause of surprise, of course. If the past two centuries can tell us anything, then an accurate deduction of the prevailing political attitude of Europe can be summed up as thus: In word, Europe claims to subscribe to democracy, human rights and "civilisation", in action it does so only when politically convenient.

It is loathsome today to see that Germany, France and Britain continue to collaborate with despots. Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has backed Turkey's Afrin attack under the name of "border security" and "counter-terrorism." French President Macron has confined himself to warning Erdogan that he must stop an “invasion”, only to backtrack less than a day later. And what of Germany? "Made in Germany" tanks and arms have been put in the arsenal of the Turkish army as it advanced in its assault on Afrin. Europe has been party to the murder in Afrin, and it has failed to reflect deeply on what this means.  

Europe's alignment with Erdogan is a recurrent symbol of cowardice and submission to a new-born dictator. The Kurds, who were, in Iraq as in Syria, the main force that defeated ISIS, the enemy against whom Europe was also fighting in principle, have been abandoned by the European countries, just as the people of Czechoslovakia had in Munich.

On Sunday, to commemorate the victory of the Ottoman Empire over the French and British in the Battle of the Dardanelles, the Turkish President Erdogan drew a historical parallel with the entry of his troops the same day to Afrin: "We thundered those who thought they were setting up a terrorist corridor along our borders, as we defeated those who came from all over the world (that is, the British and the French, ed) in the Battle of the Dardanelles. " Erdogan, in almost every case, will never miss the chance to spin a historical metaphor for his ambitions of greater control in the Middle East. Paradoxically here, he invokes a last attempt to defend the remnants of the Ottoman Empire (the battle of Canakkale) to embolden his imperial fantasies. Such is the Orwellian simulation that the civil society of Turkey has become under the reign of Erdogan.

Between silences and euphemisms

It is not enough, however, to just condemn Europe for its silence, we must also condemn her for tiptoeing around Erdogan’s flagrant disregard for the rights of peoples’.

On March 15, in the statement of the European Parliament following the plenary session on the situation in Syria, there was absolutely no mention, whatsoever, of the attack on the Turkish army and jihadists against Afrin. Only "the regime of Assad, Russia and Iran" are summoned "to respect the 30-day ceasefire”. Why was Turkey not called upon to respect the ceasefire? And on that very same day, the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) -- considered to be Europe's corrective to the wrongdoer -- carefully avoided offending Erdogan after releasing its position on the state of civil society in Turkey. Why not be upfront about your analysis of the situation of the rule of law in Turkey?

These are rhetorical questions. We know why. Europe stays silent if Erdogan takes the refugees. Europe stays silent if Erdogan buys the guns.

It’s probably for this reason, that in the first report on the independence of the judiciary, GRECO confines itself to "expressing concern" with "the fact that the Judicial Council, (...) is composed of members appointed by the President of the Republic and the Parliament, and that none of its members are elected by the magistrates themselves.

GRECO, in other words, is merely concerned with the absence of an independent Judiciary. And when it comes to political financing, they can only express their “disappointment”.

Disappointment and concern are not enough though, especially when considering the fact that GRECO found that from among their recommendations to Turkey, only "2 out of 22" were respected.

But not to worry. The European Commission is still happy for Turkey to ward off a potential influx of refugees and appease growing xenophobia and racism in its own countries. It’s probably why, only a day before they investigated Turkey’s crimes, the European Commission announced that it will again pay 3 billion euros to Turkey, the second tranche of financial assistance it has provided to help Turkey cope with its refugee population.

This isn’t, of course, to say that Europe doesn’t have a conscience. Often it does, and it often raises its voice in the most inconvenient places. Speaking to the European Parliament, MP Marie-Christine Vergiat, a member of the European United Left-Nordic Green Left, expressed her deep anger towards this state of affairs. "I am not satisfied at all to have subcontracted the reception of refugees to a country that is not a signatory of the Geneva Convention, and whose authoritarian drift and violation of fundamental rights in all areas can no longer be ignored by anyone” said, “so the European Commission and the Member States are preparing to sign a new blank check for the Erdogan regime," she continued with a sigh of hopelessness.

The European Commission, European Parliament, Council of Europe, all institutions which supposedly represent European values, had over the course of 24 hours, given free reign for Erdogan to do what he wants. How can these three messages to Erdogan, as his troops march alongside jihadists in Afrin, be not interpreted as a sign of encouragement?