How Turkey’s Witch Hunt Spread to Europe
THE NEXT BIG THING
In recent years, the relations between Turkey and the Western countries have been steadily deteriorating. One of the contributing factors is Turkish government’s effort to suppress the members and sympathizers of The Gülen movement, a religious organisation led by Fethullah Gülen, who reside in Europe and the U. S.
The Gülen movement used to be one of the most influential organizations in Turkey and a powerful ally of President Erdoğan’s party AKP. However, since 2011, the relations between the two former allies worsened. Most members of the movement were purged from the AKP, as well as state administration, and its schools were shut down. The Gülenists responded by launching an anti-AKP campaign in their media outlets and leaking tapes and documents implicating the involvement of the ruling party members, as well as Erdoğan’s family, in several corruption scandals. The struggle culminated on 15 July 2016, when a fraction of the Turkish Armed Forces attempted to stage a coup, which eventually failed.
Whether the coup was really orchestrated by Fethullah Gülen, or it was a false flag carried out by Erdoğan to strengthen his position, is a matter of debates. Either way, it was followed by an unprecedented purge of Turkish military and police forces, state apparatus, education system and public companies. Tens of thousands of people were arrested or lost their jobs, thousands of companies were seized, and dozens of media outlets were shut down due to their alleged ties to the Gülen Movement. It is not surprising that in such a situation, many members of the Movement fled to Europe. After all, it had a well-established network in Western countries. The turkish government, of course, demanded extradition of Fethullah Gülen and accused Europe of harbouring members of “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization”, FETO, as the movement was branded.
It was a matter of time until Erdogan’s security and intelligence apparatus focused its attention on Gülen’s followers in the West. Turkish Intelligence Service (MIT), spied on hundreds of individuals and organizations in Germany with links to the Gülen movement. MIT hoped that the German secret service would help to gather intelligence on Gülen’s supporters in Germany, but its proposals were refused. Intelligence services are not the only tools of Erdoğan’s regime used to put pressure on the Movement members in Europe. Several Turkish-German imams, who belonged to the Turkish-Islamist Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), an organization comprising hundreds of mosques which is subjugated to Diyanet, Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs, were involved in gathering information about Gülen’s followers among Turks in Germany and neighbouring states.
Turks living in Europe came under pressure to distance themselves from the Gülen Movement and its affiliated organizations. Those who were known to be members or sympathizers of the movement faced threats and harassment by their pro-Erdoğan counterparts. Turkish diplomatic missions in Germany (but also other countries, for example, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Austria) allegedly gathered information about the Gülenists. Turkey also attempted to upload a list of 60 000 people linked to The Gülen movement into the Interpol database. This is a non-binding request, which nevertheless could have led to their arrests. Multiple citizens of European countries, mostly Germans, were arrested in Turkey due to alleged ties to the Gülen Movement. Turkey also launched a diplomatic effort to persuade governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and other European and non-European countries to shut down schools founded by The Gülen movement. This step is the most dangerous for the Movement since the schools are its most effective tool for raising funds and recruitment.
Erdoğan’s regime has devoted considerable effort to destroy the Gülen Movement both at home and abroad. While the political system and climate in Turkey allow Erdoğan to achieve his objective, the situation in Western countries is different. Respect for democratic principles, human rights, and religious freedom are some of the core Western principles that work in favour of the Gülenists, despite the controversies surrounding it.
Western officials do not believe that the Gülen Movement was behind the July 2016 coup attempt and condemn the purge and human rights violations that followed it. The reluctance of European countries to assist Turkish government in its struggle against Fethullah Gülen contributed to the deterioration of Turkey’s relations with the EU and the U.S. For now, the main criticism towards the West focuses on its support of Kurds, but it is possible that anti-Gülen rhetoric will become dominant again in the future. Spying, harassment, and threats against European followers of the Gülen movement will very likely continue and may even escalate because Erdoğan’s regime and his supporters in Western countries are not afraid to stir up violence. We could see that during the incident with Turkish bodyguards attacking protesters in Washington in May or during the unrest in the Turkish Dutch community.
Worryingly, westerners detained in Turkey under dubious circumstances may be used as bargaining chips in order to achieve extradition of alleged Gülenists to Turkey. It is unlikely that Erdoğan’s effort to destroy the Gülen movement in Western countries will succeed due to their adherence to democratic principles and the refusal of Erdoğan’s practices. Regardless of the outcome, the damage to the already frail Turkish-Western relationship has been done.
Author: Martin Dudáš
Democracy and Cybersecurity
STRATPOL Brief Review
The modern era brought threats like cyber-espionage, cyber-activism, or internet propaganda. The response was solutions in the form of NSA surveillance, the “Great Firewall of China” or shutting down the internet when deemed necessary. These solutions, of course, had real-life implications such as the “chilling effect“, loss of privacy online, or, in some more extreme cases, even imprisonment.
Ted Piccone, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution, in his policy brief specifically addresses the “Community of Democracies”, and looks at direct implications of different cyber-prefixed threats for human rights and democratic health. These are ushered by rapid technological changes and progressive digitization of society.
The report provides valuable recommendations and suggests concrete steps to ensure a change for the better. The debate about democratic processes and online human rights is an important one to have, especially facing the hybrid warfare or ever-increasing malware threat.
Firstly, human rights are both strengthened and undermined by the rise of technology. While the internet greatly empowered some groups it also, in many cases, diminished privacy and created a “chilling effect”. This means that people often do not speak up, knowing that their data are monitored or archived. Digital surveillance also has implications in the physical world.
The protection of human rights online and offline is obvious for liberal democracies. The general recommendations are that democratic states should serve as a positive example in cooperating with civil society, developing concrete laws and initiatives as well as supporting the development of proper international norms. Importantly, the author also stresses the responsibility of private companies in the protection of data. Given that most cyber-attacks are for-profit, private companies need to withstand the highest cyber pressure in terms of number and rate of attacks.
Secondly, the internet was conceived as a trans-border, self-organised and decentralised information flow. This is being eroded by the push towards internet governance. Piccone points out the debate about the “global interoperability of the internet” and the fact that the current (multi-stakeholder) model is disproportionately skewed towards the US as the outlier in the internet development.
His argument is that some level of internet governance needs to be enacted. It is important to keep the internet as “open, diverse, neutral, and universal” as possible while not limiting the free flow of information. This should be achieved by the shared leadership and should involve the civil society as well as the private sector. This would create a community of states which will be, in theory, collectively able to better protect themselves and more effectively respond to cyber-attacks on its members.
Lastly, democratic elections as an essential democratic process are increasingly threatened by foreign and domestic actors (be it foreign states, terrorists, or non-state actors). Cyberspace is a powerful platform which can, directly or indirectly, produce threats such as propaganda or direct tampering. Democracies should see the protection of the democratic processes as a necessary thing. It is difficult to disagree with the importance of the fair election and the recommendations to keep the systems updated.
However, with real accountability almost non-existent, the actors who are already messing with democratic processes of certain states are unlikely to be dissuaded by an international norm the author suggests.
Furthermore, the author suggests that the democratic elections should be promoted to the level of critical infrastructure. While the democratic elections are important, critical infrastructure is called critical for a reason. A damage to critical infrastructure can directly disrupt the way of life of a society. A threat to critical infrastructure should be more real than propaganda, which is now hyped by the result last year’s American elections.
A far better option would be to focus on strengthening critical infrastructure as it is defined now, echoing a long-standing academic and policy debates. The critical infrastructure, particularly for its ability to cause debilitating damage, should be the main focus of any policy debate cyberspace.
The bottom line is, that the “Community of Democracies” should take the initiative and become a front-runner in securing human rights and make the internet governance as non-interfering as possible.
Author: Martin Brezin
EU Policy towards Azerbaijan: Coherence, Policy Shifts and the Upcoming Agreement
STRATPOL Policy Paper
This policy paper examines the relations between the EU and Azerbaijan. It focuses on the vertical and horizontal coherence of the EU foreign policy towards Azerbaijan and identifies key politically contested areas the EU should focus on in reformulating its position towards the country. These policy recommendations are aimed at the EU and interested member states in the context of the negotiations and finalisation of the new agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan to be signed in 2017-2018.
With regard to the overall policy of the European Union towards Azerbaijan, it is essential to further strengthen both internal and vertical coherence of the EU policies though increasing coordination:
- In terms of internal coherence between the European Parliament and the European bureaucracy.
- In terms of vertical coherence between individual member states and their policies in working towards common EU foreign policy goals, which particularly concerns the important trading partners of Azerbaijan.
In terms of the content of the new framework agreement, EU should aim to leverage on the politically contested areas, namely the formal recognition of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the rule of law and human rights conditionality in Azerbaijan. If possible given the internal political realities concerning the two actors, there is a need to outline concrete steps to be taken by each party:
- In the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict by the EU, for example, starting with the replacement of France’s co-chair position in the OSCE Minsk group with the EU’s.
- In the rule of law and human rights agenda by Azerbaijan, starting with the application of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights by Azerbaijan.
- The European Union needs to focus on concrete and specific policies related to structural reforms in areas like justice sector, education, rural development and diversification of the economy; rather than on human rights in general, and use diplomacy to convince Azerbaijan that these are in its own interest in the first place.
All the above efforts need to be supported by the high-level diplomacy, which seems to have had a relatively successful record in the case of Azerbaijan.
Responsible editor: Ondřej Zacha
The next big thing: Demonstartion of president Erdogan supporters, Istanbul 2016 | Source: Wikimedia Commons / Mstyslav Chenov
Stratpol brief review: AlphaBay Shutdown Notice
Policy Paper: Signing Mobility Partnership between the EU and Azerbaijan in 2013 in Vilnius | Source: European Council Newsroom
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