Estonia is harboring terrorists from Turkey, chairman of the Turkish parliament’s foreign relations committee Volkan Bozkir says in an interview.
After the interview took a turn for the dramatic, Bozkir said he regrets giving it and tried to demand Postimees bury the piece. The interview will remain an exclusive as the politician’s interview to ERR, scheduled for the next day, was canceled after his conversation with Postimees.
Where does Turkey currently stand on the EU?
EU membership is a strategic goal for us. Unfortunately, it has been a very long time. We first applied for membership in 1959. This shows how stubborn, decisive and tolerant Turkey can be.
But the process must continue. It benefits both sides. Turkey has benefited from accession talks. We have carried out reforms – political [reforms], improved our democracy and human rights situation (Freedom House moved Turkey from the “partly free” category to the “not free” category last year; all EU members are in the “free” category”. Turkey and Albania are the only NATO members that are not in the “free” category; Albania is classified as “partly free” – E. K.).
It is not just being part of an organization, being a part of the EU affects daily life – air pollution, quality of water, environmental considerations, workers’ social guarantees, food safety. That is why the people of Turkey like the idea; they can see standards provided by EU regulation giving them better quality of life, a better future for their children.
What about talk of a referendum on whether you want to continue talks?
The referendum will happen eventually as we want to finalize our part in the chapters whether or not talks continue, whether the EU is with us or not. We know the opening and closing benchmarks, we have European Commission reports.
We opened all the chapters in Turkey and will be able to close them in a few years’ time (official talks have seen 16 of the 35 necessary chapters opened and just one concluded or closed so far – E. K.). When we bring Turkey to the level of membership, Turkey will have a referendum, just like you and every other country did.
Once we get to that point, perhaps the Turkish people will say: okay, we want that membership. Or that we don’t want to become a member as the EU might not be attractive anymore. The EU is facing tremendous difficulties. It’s not the EU as it was the day it was created.
Public opinion polls show that 65 percent of people in Turkey support membership in the EU. If we ask whether they believe the EU will accept us, the score drops to 25-30 percent. The slow pace of talks has resulted in loss of confidence.
I believe there are great benefits for both sides. For example, the customs union – no country dared enter the customs union before becoming an EU member (the EU had a prior customs union with Andorra and later San Marino – E. K.) because it is expensive, you are facing European industrial giants without any ammunition. But Turkey succeeded here without the benefits of membership.
Our trade volume is $150 billion (€131 billion) and it is balanced trade. If we upgrade the customs union relation to cover agriculture, services and public procurements, it will grow to $300 billion (€262 billion).
It is not difficult for us to maintain relations, but it takes two to tango. Unfortunately, we can see new waves against expansion and new dimensions in the EU that are holding governments back.
But everything is temporary in politics. We will wait for a more comfortable time to continue our relations.
There will not be a referendum any time soon regarding this course?
We will have local elections in March, we have neither the time nor energy for a referendum now.
I read today that the European Parliament will likely request an official halt to accession talks with Turkey. What would that mean to you?
It is not up to the European Parliament to decide, it is just a suggestion for the Council of the European Union [made up of leaders of member states] that will make the decision. Absolute majority is needed in the Council to halt accession talks with Turkey. I do not believe all EU member states will support such a drastically negative decision.
Unfortunately, very negative winds are blowing in the European Parliament for Turkey. We need to work with MEPs to discuss issues, exchange views and make them understand the exact situation. However, I do not believe a formal end to talks will occur.
We find ourselves in a situation where new chapters are neither opened nor closed. That is a shame.
The European Parliament has received complaints. Its official rapporteur for Turkey Kati Piri recently said she was not afforded a meeting with a single state representative when she visited Turkey last week. How do you plan to change these winds if you won’t meet with the official rapporteur?
I used to be EU affairs minister. I worked with the EU for 18 years. I have worked with many rapporteurs for Turkey. I had a very good relationship with Kati Piri at first. But she made grave mistakes.
She was in Turkey when Ankara buried 28 people who were killed in an attack by a terrorist group. She went to [one of the largest cities in southeastern Turkey sporting a large Kurdish population] Diyarbakir on the same day and reported that the Turkish army was killing people. She said she saved five lives by intervening.
It is nonsense because the city was held by Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists. All the residents had fled; there were barricades and trenches, and the security forces were trying to purge the city of terrorists; at the same time, Kati Piri said the government is killing people, even though they were terrorists.
I announced that I would no longer agree to meet with Piri as EU affairs minister or in any other official capacity. I recently repeated myself in an interview where I said that Piri is not someone I would ever agree to meet, no matter the circumstances.
She was the only rapporteur whose reports the Turkish government opposed as she has no control over them. She simply includes everything she’s given and acts as if she is representing her voters in the Netherlands, preparing for her future life in Dutch domestic politics. She is sacrificing the future of Turkey and misleading MEPs.
Her predecessor [Ria] Oomen-Ruitjen was a good friend of mine. She never did anything like this. And her predecessor before her didn’t do anything of the sort either.
Kati Piri met with all the radical elements in Turkey, and we did not want to do her the honor of meeting with her. We will not see her if she comes here. She wants to be part of delegations which is the only way we’ll receive her. Otherwise, she is a nobody in our eyes.
As you said, Piri is the third Dutchman to serve as your rapporteur in the European Parliament. How are relations between Turkey and the Netherlands today? You had a falling out recently (last spring, the Netherlands did not allow Turkey’s Minister of Families Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya to campaign with the local Turkish community. When the minister tried to enter the country from Germany, the Netherlands dispatched a rapid response force to escort her car back to Germany – E. K.).
It was a difficult moment during elections campaigns. They are a difficult time for countries. Not just for Turkey, but also for Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Estonia. What happened was unnecessary. However, the sides found a way to repair relations. We have ambassadors in place again; the Dutch ambassador is already in Ankara and our ambassador is in the Hague.
The Netherlands is our friend. Our relations go back 400 years and have always been good. The Netherlands is the biggest investor in Turkey. They have thousands of companies in Turkey and are among our best trade partners. That is why the incident had to be removed from our relations.
Another thorn in your side – people who were detained after the failed coup attempt, including over 100 journalists, who still haven’t been given a chance to defend themselves in court. When will those matters be cleared up?
We need to be precise in our definition of journalists and in terms of why they are detained. An ID card that says one is a journalist does not mean one actually is a journalist. These people actively participated in PKK terrorism that has claimed 30,000 lives in Turkey or in the military coup attempt where we lost over 250 lives and where special forces almost succeeded in killing the president and the prime minister.
Can you claim that without a court hearing having taken place? Without a court seeing the evidence and making the decision based on that evidence? Many of those people haven’t had a hearing yet.
That is not true. The courts will make these decisions by the year’s end. Saying they have not been given hearings is just not true.
I know at least one case.
I cannot say because his family does not want his name made public.
Look. More than 100,000 [people] were involved with this military coup attempt and scheme we call the FETÖ organization (the name is derived from Fetullah Gülen’s religious movement which no Western country has agreed to classify as a terrorist organization, while the U.S. has refused to extradite its leader to Turkey – E. K.).
The courts are trying to finalize decisions regarding 100,000 people. Those people, who have lost their jobs or titles, are trying to appeal to another commission where we have to make decisions regarding 31,000 people.
That is a lot of work to do in just two years. I don’t think any country could have finalized correct decisions in such a short time. They can all turn to the European Court of Human Rights once decisions have been made to have Turkey’s rulings reviewed.
You should not draw conclusions based on knowing a single family or person in a situation where the coup attempt concerned over 100,000 people. If someone is in prison or being detained because of a court decision…
What about without a decision?
No-no-no. Your mistake is in having listened to that family. Look, the police can only detain people for four days under normal circumstances and 15 days during emergency rule. They need to be presented to a court in order to make it possible for them to be detained. They are in prison following a court decision.
Even people regarding whom there is no court decision?
You are not listening to what I’m saying. Without a court decision, they can’t go to prison.
But why, then, do you have people in prison regarding whom no court decision has been made?
Your information is wrong. No one can be kept in prison without a court decision. They are there following decisions. A court’s final ruling is a different decision. The first decision can either allow people to be on trial without having to be in prison or, when there is reason to believe people might destroy evidence, order them to be detained for the duration of the trial.
I don’t know how it is in your system, but in the United States, for example, all the evidence is collected after which you have a single trial followed by a decision. The Turkish system – just like in many European countries – has court hearings where you listen to witnesses, defense attorneys, where the prosecutor sometimes introduces new evidence after which the court orders a new hearing to be held in a month or even two months’ time.
People are not kept behind bars for the duration of the trial in most cases, unless they are deranged killers. They are released on bail.
Because the person could be innocent?
That depends on the crime. If it is something that carries a life sentence or a 30-year sentence, they will be detained for the duration of the process. If it is something that comes with a penalty of a few years in prison, the court will decide individually.
I know you are the friend of a family here…
I also look at statistics.
So, you are trying to…
I have one specific example, but I also look at statistics.
But I have 99,000 examples.
Looking at how many former Turkish civil servants and officers have been granted asylum by your allies, doesn’t it suggest others are having a hard time trusting your justice system?
Who are they?
People granted asylum in Belgium, Germany…
Why? Why did they escape from Turkey?
But why do the allied countries…
Why did they escape Turkey? Have you thought about that? Because they were part of a military coup!
Why do you think other countries do not trust you? They keep granting people asylum. Ordinarily, if you have a criminal from an allied country in your country, you extradite them.
That is their problem. They are wrong. We have mutual agreements for extradition, but they are not following through. An example of misconduct cannot serve as proof that your information is correct.
They are wrong in refusing to deliver these people. We have given them files, requested the extradition of these people. They should not be granted political asylum. So, if you are defending a military coup in a democratic country that is trying to join the EU.
If you come to Turkey, I will show you how our parliament was attacked with helicopters and F-16 aircraft, how it was almost destroyed. And you’re saying that these officers…
They are your NATO allies who should have already seen all of it.
You should ask them. If you can find anyone who is as patient as me from countries that have granted asylum, you should put that question to them.
I’m not the one to answer it. I’m telling you that they are people who participated in a military coup attempt and escaped to other countries using helicopters where they have been given asylum (referring to eight Turkish officers who participated in the attempted coup and who took a helicopter to Greece where they were given political asylum – E. K.). Tell me, is that true or not?
As I understand it, the question is not whether these people did bad things, it’s whether your country is giving them a fair trial.
They escaped on board a helicopter!
There are two sides to this as far as I can understand. One is that the Greeks have no doubt these men participated in the coup attempt. The other is that they are not sure your country can give these men a fair trial. That is the problem.
Who have we given an unfair trial?
It seems the allies feel there have been plenty.
Ask the allies.
Okay. Finally: have you…
And Estonia has some FETÖ members we want returned.
I don’t know.
However, you ask your authorities why they are not extraditing terrorists to a friendly country in a situation where they have been given all the files. Ask them, I was not the one who gave those people asylum.
Have some countries come around on the issue?
The Balkans, African and Asian countries are returning people. And no one will be hanged or persecuted.
But no NATO or EU countries?