August 07, 2022
German Foreign Minister Annelena Baerbock last month paid her first visit since taking up the role to two NATO allies, Turkey and Greece. Both Ankara and Athens have a well-established practice of carefully watching every step of the favors done to either of them. This scenario was repeated during this recent trip.
Before her visit, Baerbock issued a written statement praising the importance to Germany of both Turkey and Greece. She remarked on the atrocities committed during the Nazi occupation of Greece during the Second World War. Talking about Turkey, she said it was an indispensable partner that is more closely linked to Germany than almost any other country. “The hearts of millions of people beat for both our countries,” she continued, referring to Germany’s 3 million-strong Turkish community.
Analysts in Turkey interpreted these nicely worded statements as sweeteners before the more difficult issues would be discussed between Turkey and Germany.
Her first remark was about her disapproval of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s participation in the trilateral Tehran summit on Syria. She probably was not properly briefed about the summit. Otherwise, a foreign minister would not make such a remark.
Baerbock also raised the issue of Turkey’s military operations in Syria, Greece’s complaints about certain islands in the Aegean Sea and Ankara’s failure to implement a verdict of the European Court of Human Rights regarding Osman Kavala, the detained human rights activist and philanthropist. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu explained Turkey’s perspective, sometimes forcing the limits of diplomatic niceties.
As a rule, the EU gives priority to the rights of its own members in any conflict with a nonmember state. This rule is applied from time to time in a manner that entirely ignores the rights of the nonmember states.
Having underlined this general rule in the EU, the Kavala case has become farcical in Turkey. On Feb. 18, 2020 — in a verdict that surprised many observers as an important concession — a Turkish court acquitted nine people of trying to overthrow the government. Among those who were acquitted was Kavala. But within hours, the Istanbul prosecutor ordered that he should remain in custody in connection with an investigation into a coup attempt dated four years before the initiation of the prosecution. He was transferred back to prison, where he had already spent more than two and a half years. What is more, he was then accused of more serious crimes.
So, Cavusoglu was trying to persuade the German foreign minister that the first verdict of the European court was duly implemented, but there is now an entirely new injunction against Kavala. This new case is now on the agenda of the higher court in Turkey. After that, the case will probably be submitted to the Turkish Constitutional Court and eventually to Strasbourg, so Cavusoglu believes there has been nothing irregular in this process.
On Turkey’s military operations in Syria, Cavusoglu said his country was faced with a threat to the security of its borders, so it needs to carry out such operations despite the fact that no other country in the world approves of them. Some countries, like Russia, ignored some of Turkey’s military movements in Syria while objecting to others. The US only approved of the operations that were aimed at weakening the Syrian government’s position.
On the question of the sovereignty of some Aegean islands, Baerbock might not have been briefed that these islands were transferred to Greece by the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 “on condition of being kept demilitarized.” Athens has to abide by the clauses of the Lausanne Treaty. It has tried to create the impression that the demilitarized status erodes as the years go by and that it will eventually fall into oblivion. The German foreign minister is expected to look into this question and see both sides of it.
Cavusoglu explained Turkey’s perspective to Baerbock, sometimes forcing the limits of diplomatic niceties.
Cavusoglu also underlined that Greece was much more in default than Turkey regarding the European Court of Human Rights, as it has long refused to implement a ruling on the appointment of a mufti elected by the Turkish Muslim community in the country. As if this was not enough, the Greek government last month prepared a new law to erect more obstacles to the implementation of the court’s verdict on this subject.
Is there not an imbalance when the German foreign minister raises the failure to implement a European court verdict by Turkey while she keeps silent on a similar case in Greece?
There seems to be a long way to go for Germany to be even-handed regarding these two NATO allies.
- Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar
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