Amid rising German-Turkish diplomatic tensions, Ankara has allowed seven German lawmakers to visit German servicemen deployed at Turkey’s Konya NATO air base. For several months, Ankara had banned such visits, saying the climate in bilateral relations was inappropriate.
“The way the Turkish side is billing it is that it’s a multilateral visit, it’s not bilateral,” said political columnist Semih Idiz of the al-Monitor website. “They say this visit comes from NATO, therefore Turkey has to oblige, being a NATO member.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reportedly had been lobbying intensively to allow the German lawmakers’ visit. The ban on German lawmakers already had resulted in Berlin relocating its reconnaissance planes that had been engaged in anti-Islamic State operations from Turkey’s Incirlik air base.
“The visit by German lawmakers is significant. It eliminates one major factor, political factor, of irritation in the relationship,” according to Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Institute in Brussels. “However, there are still a number of outstanding important problems. So this will help, but it’s not a solution in and of itself in the difficulties we are witnessing.”
Coincidentally or not, Friday also saw the release of the second Turkish German national, detained last Friday. The two detentions had marked a new low in German-Turkish relations, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel calling them political. Berlin claims 12 German citizens, including journalists and human rights workers, are being held for political reasons since last year’s introduction of emergency rule in Turkey following a failed military coup. Ankara has strongly defended the detentions, claiming its judiciary is independent.
‘Effort’ by Turkey
German-Turkish relations have been plummeting in the last few months. Berlin has become increasingly vocal in its concerns over the ongoing crackdown since last year’s failed coup, and Merkel on Sunday said she was opposed to Turkey becoming a member of the EU. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday shot back, accusing Berlin of following policies of the Nazis.
But analysts suggest Ankara could be trying to contain the crisis.
“There is an effort, at least part of the Turkish administration, to prevent a further degradation of the relationship,” analyst Ulgen said. “There are many people in Ankara within the government which are concerned about the state of the affairs. But I think these efforts so far at least have proved to be piecemeal in nature.”
Turkey’s increasingly precarious diplomatic situation is being cited as a key factor behind efforts to contain current German-Turkish tensions. Ankara is facing strained relations, not only with Berlin, but the wider European Union and Washington.
On Friday, Erdogan slammed the indictment by a U.S. prosecutor of a former Turkish minister and former head of a Turkish state bank on Iranian sanction-busting charges, claiming they were with “malicious intent.” Last month, U.S. prosecutors indicted 15 of Erdogan’s security detail for allegedly attacking protesters during a visit to Washington.
“Increasing isolation has started costing Turkey a lot, not only in Europe but also the Middle East, where Turkey is being basically sidelined on issues of crucial importance to it, whether it’s in Iraq or Syria,” said columnist Idiz. “So as far as the [Turkish] policy planners are concerned, it’s a matter of concern. But as far as the president is concerned, it seems he is more concerned, sending the right message to his constituents, a message that goes down well with his constituent.”
Erdogan faces a re-election bid within two years and already is campaigning hard on a nationalist platform, with a message that a strong independent Turkey can stand up to western powers.
Some analysts suggest that given the turmoil on Turkey’s southern borders and the need to maintain economic stability, Erdogan will need to balance nationalist campaign rhetoric and populist policies with diplomatic pragmatism.