Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Hostage to Erdogan


BERLIN — When Turkish authorities arrest German citizens they are not taking prisoners, but rather collecting hostages. What was mooted as a hypothesis months ago has been confirmed by the detention of two more individuals holding German passports.

On Thursday August 31, upon their arrival at Antalya airport a married couple were arrested and taken into custody. German consular authorities, who learned of the action through non-official channels, inquired officially and received confirmation from airport police, that the two were indeed German citizens of Turkish descent. Although no formal charges had been made, it was said that the reasons were political. The two were apparently accused of being members of the movement of Fethullah Gülen, who is officially designated a terrorist in Turkey, for his presumed role in the failed coup attempt last summer. Thus, they brought the number of politically motivated detentions of Germans in Turkey to 12.

For days, German authorities had no access to the two individuals and the foreign ministry confirmed their identities only on September 3. The same day, it was announced that a lawyer had established contact with them. On the next day, it was reported that the woman had been released. Although initially it was said that both were only German citizens, remarks by the Turkish foreign minister indicated he considered them dual citizens.

Cause Célèbre in Berlin

In what has become almost a ritual, political figures in Berlin denounced the arrests and fed the debate on what new measures should be pursued to pressure the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Chancellor Angela Merkel blasted the move, saying such arrests “in most cases have no basis” in law. She called for “a determined response” and added, “Perhaps we have to rethink our Turkey policy further.” Concretely she said that talks on expanding the EU customs union were out of the question. These continuing arrests have “nothing in common with our principle of the rule of law,” she stated. Rejecting Erdogan’s earlier public appeal to German voters of Turkish background, not to cast their ballots for the CDU, SPD or Green party, Merkel said, “That is alone the decision of people in our country who have German citizenship.”

In a nationally televised debate on September 3 between Merkel and her SPD challenger, chancellor candidate Martin Schulz, viewed by 16 million people, Turkey was a central issue. Schulz promised that he, as chancellor, “would terminate talks on Turkey’s entrance into the EU,” saying that “A point has been reached where we have to end the economic relations, financial relations, customs union talks and negotiation for membership” into the EU. Merkel explained that according to regulations, the EU as a whole would have to agree to end negotiations. She stressed that her party the CDU — unlike Schulz’s SPD — had never been in favor of Turkish membership at all, and had proposed a “privileged partnership” instead. The negotiations “are non-existent, anyway” she said. The real problem is the direction Turkey is heading in; Merkel said Turkey “is distancing itself from all political manners at a breathtaking speed.” The question is: where will it all lead?

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Creeping Dictatorship

There are no serious doubts regarding the game Erdogan would like to play with the Wild West tactics he has ordered his police force to follow. “Catch a German” is the name of the game, and the more citizens of the Federal Republic he can put behind bars, the better his chances (he figures) of forcing Berlin to extradite to Turkey targeted persons he believes are on German soil. As he himself said, “If they [the Germans] are not helpful in extraditing, then they should know that they will not be able to have the citizens that fall into our hands either.”

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a daily of record, published an extensive report on September 2, with background on Erdogan’s hostage-taking policy. The FAZ quoted remarks that an unidentified official, involved in bilateral Turkish-German relations, had made to the paper back in the middle of July: “By now we have the impression that the Turkish government is following a plan to systematically arrest Germans,” he said. “They apparently want to reach a critical mass, with the expectation that they will be able to exchange the hostages for Turkish citizens who have filed for asylum in Germany, since they are suspected of terrorism there.” The FAZ quoted the person’s travel warning. Germans who might have reason to believe that they could be arrested should cancel plans to travel there, even for a stopover on a longer flight. It has become evident that the energetic efforts undertaken by Merkel and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, to free the prisoners, or even to enforce consular contact with them, have failed and that does not bode well for future captives.

Prisoner exchanges are generally associated with wartime situations, or post-war negotiations between former belligerents. Or with crises between nations whose diplomatic relations are strained or even cut; one thinks of the Cold War spy-exchanges, the US hostages in post-revolutionary Iran, or American prisoners in Vietnam or North Korea.

Germany and Turkey are not at war, and their diplomatic ties are still officially valid. That notwithstanding, Erdogan is proceeding as if they were engaged in hostilities. As the FAZ and other media reported, Erdogan has arranged to be given enhanced powers enabling him to play the role of negotiator in a hostage-exchange scenario. On August 15, a decree was issued in Turkey, which, one should remember, is still in a state of emergency. A similar decree was blocked by the opposition back in 2015, but today the situation is much changed. Article 74 of Decree 694 confers on Erdogan the power to swap foreigners detained in Turkish jails for Turkish prisoners detained in foreign countries, “if national security or the interests of the country require it.” The new decree applies not only to indicted felons but also persons detained who are awaiting trial – precisely the category into which the 11 German political prisoners fall. As for the formal procedure, according to the FAZ report, it is the Turkish foreign minister who must initiate the process, which the interior minister then is to propose, followed by the president, who is to confirm it. At the same time, the authorities ruled that the length of time that persons may be kept in detention awaiting trial should be extended from 5 to 7 years. This would apply to Germans like Deniz Yücel et al.

The problem that the Turkish president faces, but refuses to acknowledge, is that neither Germany nor the European Union as a whole are likely to act according to his adventurous script. The EU has legal proceedings to regulate the transfer of citizens back to their home country to serve their sentences after they have been imprisoned abroad, for having committed a crime. But here, what is the crime? What legitimate court has heard the case and ruled in fairness?

Topics: erdogan, Turkey

The same may be said of those persons Erdogan seeks to extradite. Among the names mooted in the German press are Adil Öksüz, an Islamic theologian, attorneys Zekeriya Öz and Celal Kara, who had carried out investigations into alleged corruption among persons in Erdogan’s entourage, and numerous military and diplomatic personnel who have applied for political asylum. Have they committed any crime?



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