ISTANBUL — Turkish E.U. Affairs Minister Omer Celik recently sat down for an interview with The Washington Post. What follows is an excerpt from the discussion.
Are Turkey’s ties to the West weakening after the coup attempt?
What cannot be questioned is the fact that Turkey is an integrated member of the Western alliance. Turkey is one of the founding members of the Council of Europe, a member of NATO, OECD, candidate country in negotiations with the E.U., and a strong ally of the U.S. Even during the times of the Cold War, Turkey played a crucial role within this Western alliance and has always been and will remain a member of the Western alliance. Turkey at times may have displayed different preferences with respect to its foreign policy. Some people made up this concept of quote, “Turkey shifting its axis in foreign policy.” But that’s made-up. That’s not true at all. It has no grounds, no basis. Turkey is a country that knows the history of this region very well, and it’s quite natural for Turkey to display different preferences at different times with respect to its foreign policy.
What harm has been done to relations?
Turkey endured a very heinous attack of an attempted coup. … It has not seen the support it expected from its friends and allies. But after the attempted coup, we should be focusing on the agenda, on a positive agenda. Let’s not put the context on how much damage has been inflicted on relations between Turkey and the West, but let’s focus on this: We have had a very brutal attack on our democracy. What would have been much better is for our friends and allies, after the attempted coup, to come to Turkey, to visit Turkey to express their solidarity. That would have been much better, but what happened instead is, within one month of the attempted coup, we have heard some very racist narratives, in some statements, and we even heard some statements where some leaders wanted to stop the negotiations taking place between Turkey and the E.U. And these statements are not helping relations between Turkey and the West.
Did some in the West want the coup attempt to succeed?
After the coup in Egypt, [Gen. Abdel Fatah al-]Sissi was invited by some for a visit. I consider this double standards. Faced with this, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the only leader who was brave enough to speak the truth with respect to this. But of course this created some discomfort among some. … Yes we started to get some solidarity and some statements, but these were belated.
He is a leader who refuses to shake hands with General Sissi. Some other leaders were shaking hands with General Sissi, then thought they had the right to question the credentials of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan has restarted relations with Russia. Is this meant to show a message to the West?
There has been a rapprochement between Turkey and Russia. There have been some voices where people ask whether this is a disconnection, or whether Turkey is turning its back to the West. No, not at all. There is no shift of axis whatsoever. I believe that those who claim it have their compasses wrong. Their compass shows the wrong direction. Those who have failed to support Turkey after the coup are using it as a kind of propaganda. Turkey’s closer relations with Russia are in no way a substitute for relations with the Western alliance. On the contrary, they’re complementary to each other.
There’s so much anti-American rhetoric in Turkey right now. Are you worried that hurts relations?
I don’t agree with you. There is not such a movement, not such an escalation of anti-Americanism. But when you think about what happened, 240 people died, thousands of people injured because of this brutal attack, attempted coup, staged by the Fethullah Terrorist Organization [ed.: the Turkish leadership’s name for the Gulenist movement], the leader is still living freely in the U.S. And I think it’s quite normal for Turkish people to feel that reaction. Because this person who was behind the attack lives freely. Yes, we talk about legal procedures. Yes, we talk about extradition. And according to the extradition agreement we have signed, when a country makes an extradition request, the other country that has received the request is supposed either to extradite them or detain the person, but this hasn’t happened. He’s still living freely in the United States, and he continues to manage his organization and produce new strategies. So I think it’s quite normal and natural for Turkish people to feel that way. We need to make a very clear distinction between anti-Americanism and criticism of American policies. So at the moment it’s quite normal for people to criticize the policies of the United States.
Would Turkey ever close U.S. access to Incirlik Air Base if it was angry that Fethullah Gulen had not been extradited?
The U.S. and Turkey enjoy relations on very different dimensions. The relations date back to old times of history. Both sides, Turkey and the U.S., know very well to consider different files separately. But I must say Turkey has endured one of the biggest attacks perpetrated by the Fethullah Terrorist Organization. And its leader still lives freely in the U.S.
Many of your critics in the West say that Turkish leaders are using the coup attempt to purge their critics, and that tens of thousands of people couldn’t have known about the coup attempt in advance. What do you say to that?
We are still abiding a zero-tolerance for torture policy. And we are still respecting rule of law and human rights, even throughout the state of emergency. … We’re not trying to take revenge. We’re not pursuing a revanchist policy at all. All we want is to bring those perpetrators to justice. All we want to make sure is the plotters of the coup are brought to book.