Donald Trump in the White House will be good for Recep Tayyip Erdogan and will also significantly boost the chances of extraditing Fethullah Gulen, the exiled cleric blamed by Ankara for the summer coup attempt. That is the view of senior Turkish officials as they watch the new administration take shape in Washington.
President Erdogan has been increasingly vocal in his support for Mr Trump, condemning the European Union for its “negative” reaction to the US election result and declaring that those protesting against the President-elect should “learn to respect democracy”. Mr Trump’s anti-Islamic rhetoric, the leader of a predominantly Muslim nation of 80 million insisted, was a “mistake which will be corrected.”
Mr Erdogan, who has been strongly criticised in the West over his autocratic rule, especially following the failed putsch, mocked European Union politicians for expressing foreboding about a Trump presidency. “Aren’t you democrats? Isn’t democracy about the ballot box? Why are you not respecting the result of the ballot box? The result came out, Trump came out. Respect it” was his advice.
The attacks on the European Union have continued from the Turkish president. He stated that a vote held in the European Parliament calling for suspension of negotiations with Turkey because of Ankara’s civil rights violations “has no value for us, whatever the result is. We have made it clear that we take care of European values more than many EU countries.” Western Europe, he charged, is siding “with terrorist organisations” by criticising his security policies.
In marked contrast, say the Erdogan camp, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who has just been appointed national security advisor by Mr Trump, will be a valuable ally against the “terrorist threat”. They point out that the General has publicly called for Mr Gulen to be expelled from US, where he is in exile, to Turkey.
Mr Gulen has vehemently denied any involvement in the coup attempt. However his trial in absentia, along with 72 other alleged member of his organisation, started in Ankara on Tuesday with the prosecution demanding multiple life term sentences for the defendants in addition to imprisonment of up to 132 years and one month each. An application by the state-appointed lawyer for the cleric to withdraw from the case was refused by the judges. Around 78,000 people have been jailed and more than 115,000 have lost their jobs in the crackdown following the coup attempt.
Writing in The Hill, a political newspaper published in Washington, on election day, Gen Flynn said “We need to see the world from Turkey’s perspective. What would we have done if right after 9/11 we heard the news that Osama bin Laden lives in a nice villa at a Turkish resort….The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gulen, who is running a scam. We should not provide him with a safe haven. In this crisis, it is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.”
There was no mention in the publication that Gen Flynn works for a consultancy firm which has received payments from Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman who heads the Turkish-American Business Council and helped organize President Erdogan’s visit to the US last year.
Mr Alptekin, while acknowledging that he had a commercial relationship with the Flynn Intel Group, insisted that it was “not about representing the position of the Turkish government”. He was not, he has said, affiliated to the Turkish government and Gen Flynn had not spoken to him about the Gulen article. Any suggestion that Mr Erdogan or his government had paid for the article was “ preposterous” said Mr Alptekin, pointing out that it was also critical of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation the Turkish President has supported in the past.
Gen Flynn had initially declared that the coup attempt was something “worth clapping for” because President Erdogan was taking his country down an “Islamist path”. His friends have insisted that his change of stance has nothing to do with his subsequent work with the consultancy firm with Turkish links, but came after studying the accusations against Mr Gulen.
Gen Flynn, who was dismissed from his post of director of the Defence Intelligence Agency by President Obama, also claimed in The Hill article that Bill and Hillary Clinton are linked to Mr Gulen whose “Cosmos Foundation is a major donor to the Clinton Foundation. No wonder Bill Clinton calls Mullah Gulen ‘his friend’”. The General held that it was no coincidence that Huma Abedin, an aide and confidant Hillary Clinton called her “second daughter”, worked for “12 years as the associate editor for a journal published by the London-based Institute of Muslim Affairs. This institute has promoted the thoughts of radical Muslim thinkers…”
This has found resonance with Mr Erdogan, who has alleged that Hillary Clinton’s election campaign received funding from Mr Gulen. “What were financial sources for her campaign? Feto [Fethullah Terrorist Organisation] which we are fighting in Turkey, was one of the structures which gave her strong support”, he said earlier this week. For good measure, the Turkish President added “Donald Trump carried out his own campaign, he has not been involved in politics before. I view certain statements in European countries as disrespectful to democracy.”
A senior Turkish official commented: “We feel there is hypocrisy in Western Europe when it comes to security. France has had a state of emergency ever since last year’s attacks. Yet when we take security measures we are accused of repressing human rights. Governments in the EU say that Daesh [Isis] are using the refugee route to smuggle in terrorists. We put in more checks, take back refugees from Europe despite the fact that we are hosting three million Syrian people at the moment. The response from the EU is an attempt to suspend talks with us over EU membership.
“We think President Trump’s people recognise terrorism in all its forms. Gen Flynn is right, how would Americans have felt if Bin Laden was in Turkey when 9/11 took place? We have sent the indictments against Gulen and Feto to the American authorities, now we are waiting for them to act.”
Jason Weinstein, one of Mr Gulen’s legal team in Washington, stressed that Mr Trump would have to follow due legal process and could not just kick the cleric out of the country arbitrarily.
“As the president-elect has said many times in the campaign, we are a nation of laws. Because of that we hope and expect the law will be followed here. And, if it is followed here, we are confident that Mr Gulen will not be returned to Turkey where it is certain he will be subjected to torture, a sham trial and, ultimately, execution.”
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