It was around noon near the beginning of September when news of the tragedy began to circulate around the base in Afghanistan where I live. A Turkish military officer had committed suicide near one of the residence buildings in the early hours of the morning. You could hear soldiers and contractors talking about it in the cafeteria, at the laundry point, outside the mail room — everywhere. “Did you hear….” “Did you hear….”
It was not long before I too was asked by a friend if I had heard about the incident. “In fact,” I replied, “I heard more than about the incident. I heard the suicide itself. Anyone who lives in my building or the building next to us has.” There was a single gunshot outside the residence in the early hours of the morning (which I’m embarrassed to admit I awoke to, but promptly went back to sleep without any investigation), then the sound of sirens followed not long after, then the flashing lights which burst through my window.
It was later revealed — days after the excitement had died down and everyone had gone back to business as usual — that the motive behind this officer’s action was his immediate recall back to his country. In that case, I thought to myself, I wonder if more suicides are to come. Fortunately they haven’t, but since this time, dozens of Turkish soldiers that were on the base when I arrived five months ago have left for the airport all at once (before their deployment time was up) and new ones have arrived to take their place. Unlike the old Turkish soldiers who took great joy in eating, drinking, and socializing with Westerners, their replacements keep to themselves and are often quite rude when an interaction with us is forced.
The recall of Turkish military personnel from bases in Afghanistan is but a small part of Erdogan’s “NATO purge“, where those suspected of being disloyal to the regime are imprisoned and tortured upon their return, and Erdogan-loyalists are sent in their place. As many as 400 envoys have been called back from nations like Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, and Great Britain, though — as one can tell from my personal account — there is also a purge of regular military personnel in other parts of the world that has not been as widely reported (and I suspect that purge far surpasses 400).
This “cleansing” by the Erdogan regime is no doubt prompted by the attempted coup that took place this July. A coups d’état that was, at the least, overblown in its level of severity, and at worst, entirely fabricated in order for Erdogan to dispose of potential rivals and dissidents. The Turkish president’s initial rise to power being due to intimidation rather than democracy is beyond dispute. Erdogan used virtually every weapon in the arsenal to get to where he is today: persecution of political rivals, police brutality upon the general populace, censorship, and the jailing of journalists. The list goes on.
And yet no Western world leader has had the temerity to call the man a dictator, though that is precisely what he is. Not of the Hitler variety, or even of the Saddam variety (yet), but a Franco? Yes that fits rather nicely. Germany has especially been shameful in its cowardice toward Turkey and its tyrant whilst the regime seeks membership in the EU; this cowardice includes Germany putting a comedian on trial for mocking Erdogan in a poem (what does this say for the state of free speech in the West?) And the reason for this moralische kapitulation could not be more clear — despite Turkey’s growing frequency of human rights violations, Germany needs the nation to help stem the flow of migrants through its borders; a serious problem to be sure, but not one that justifies Germany’s solution.
Turkey has further made no secret of its targeting of the Kurdish people (who, for heavens sake, can never seem to catch a break); the Turkish government has made no secret of its courting of Russia over gas and “establishing common ground” in regard to the Syrian conflict (Russia backs the Assad regime), while Russia’s hostility toward the EU has been made abundantly clear on both of those exact same issues; and perhaps most alarming of all, the Turkish government’s alleged commitment to its own secularism seems to be empty rhetoric, with the nation’s secular public school curriculum being replaced by Islamic curriculum on the orders of the Ministry of Education (which is filled with officials Erdogan has personally appointed).
So instead of the European Union considering Turkey for membership, Europe (and the United States for that matter) could call Turkey out on its flagrant disregard for freedom and human rights within its own borders, as well as its cavalier relationships with powers that are hostile to the group of nations it wants to join, and perhaps furthermore the EU and the United States should officially recognize Kurdistan as an independent and sovereign state.
As for Turkey’s NATO membership, a revocation should at least be open for discussion, given that in order for a country to qualify for NATO membership they have to follow the North Atlantic Treaty, which states that a nation must have a commitment to the principles of liberty, democracy, human rights, and international law — which Turkey has demonstrated repeatedly it does not have.