By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
BERLIN — Relations between Berlin and Ankara, already strained by the German Bundestag’s June 2 resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide, have ratcheted down since, reaching a new low point in the wake of the Turkish government’s responses to the failed coup attempt on July 15. Though sighs of relief could be heard throughout Germany when it was confirmed that a military coup had been defeated (albeit at the cost of many lives), new apprehensions arose with the blow by blow reports of mass arrests, not only of military actors who had commanded tanks and occupied buildings, but of legions of others whose alleged crime was association with the movement of Fethullah Gülen, the man promptly designated as the mastermind behind the coup. After the military officers of various ranks, it was the police, the magistrates, lawyers and court officials, then teachers and university professors and rectors, media outlets and their journalists, then public officials, bureaucrats in the public administration, even personnel in the ministries who were either carted off to rapidly overfilled prisons or summarily dismissed from their jobs and their institutions shut down.
President Ragip Tayyip Erdogan was apparently not playing with metaphors when he announced that the failed coup had been a “gift from heaven,” which made possible and necessary the broad purges of all suspected Gülen associates throughout the institutions of the nation.
This did not sit well with the German political elite, whose spokesmen expressed “concern” and urged Erdogan, even in the heat of crisis, to respect the rule of law in his pursuit of those deemed responsible for the putsch attempt. When Erdogan mooted that the death penalty might be reinstated to punish the golpisti, alarm bells went off in Germany and the rest of Europe. Were that to be the case, as not only German Foreign Minister Steinmeier, but also EU officials said, such a move would compromise Turkey’s bid for membership in the EU which does not admit capital punishment; accession talks would be put on ice.
Turkish government representatives forced the issue. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu, in a full page interview in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on July 31, suggested that “the decision might be made in a referendum,” adding that the “people” were demanding the death penalty in thousands of tweets and SMS to the government. The same Cavusoglu demanded that the EU deliver on its promise to lift visa restrictions for Turkish citizens as part of the agreement on refugees, and gave a deadline for it. The EU reiterated its refusal on official grounds that Turkey, like any other country, had to fulfill the 72 conditions for that privilege. For Cavusoglu it was a simple bargain: either the EU granted visa-free travel or Turkey would renege on its agreement with the EU on refugees. The response from Germany and Brussels was immediate and unequivocal: we will not be blackmailed.