Kati Piri, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey: “The EU initially underestimated the impact of the coup attempt”

Kati Piri, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey: “The EU initially underestimated the impact of the coup attempt”

Hasan Mesut Önder

Kati Piri, the rapporteur of the European Parliament on Turkey answered questions posed by Hasan Mesut Önder from OcakMedya on the European Parliament, the European Union and Turkey.

Here is the English text of the interview:

Hasan Mesut Önder (HMÖ): With whom did you meet when you prepared your report on Turkey and which are the sources from which you received the information? Did you have doubts about whether there was any objective of the information you received? Because in the Turkish press, it took place only in the form of news that the meetings you did, have been with the opposition parties and groups in Turkey. If this news are true, how accurate is it to read the whole of Turkish politics through opposition political parties and groups?

Kati Piri (KT): I have meetings with representatives from all parts of Turkiesh society during the whole year. That includes frequent contact with the Turkish EU embassy, representatives of all political parties, civil society, trade unions, academics, lawyers, human rights activits, journalists and opinion makers. Before finalizing my draft report, I do a work visit to Turkey. Last October I had asked for meetings with several ministers and all four political parties represented in the Turkish Grand National Assembly. The Turkish government and the AKP-party declined all my meeting requests. If I have doubts about facts that certain groups are presenting to me, I don’t put them in my draft report. The final EP report is based on amendments presented by colleague MEPs – if they get a majority, it is included in the report.

HMÖ: Because of Turkey lived continuously faced by coup attempts and terrorist attacks  analysts have said that the freedom-the security balance, has changed in the favor of security. You’re watching closely the agenda inside Turkey. What do you think about the coup attempt of 2016 and the terror risk (PKK / PYD, ISIS and FETÖ)  that Turkey has faced?

KP: The coup attempt of 2016 was a blatant, unacceptable violation of Turkey’s democracy. I think the EU initially underestimated the impact of the coup attempt and the trauma it left on Turkish society. The European Parliament fully supports that the perpetrators of the coup attempt be brought to justice. We do have serious concerns about very wide purge that followed the coup attempt, whereby individuals were fired/put in prison without having the right to defend themselves.

It is clear that terrorism poses a serious risk to Turkey, as we have witnessed in the last years. The war in Syria also has severe implications for the security situation inside Turkey. However, we also see that legitimate discontent or opposition to the government and its policies is very often labelled as ‘terrorism’ or ‘supporting terrorism’. Government representatives who present everyone that doesn’t agree with them as ‘siding with terrorism’ is in my view unacceptable and it also doesn’t make Turkey safer.

HMÖ: There are some assessments about some terrorist organizations that have carried out terrorist activities against Turkey and that are conducting freely activities in Europe. For example, the militant and member of the extreme-left organizatio Fehriye Erdal who killed the businessman Ozdemir Sabanci, isn’t extradited to Turkey yet. According to the press reports there are some informations about the the PKK / PYD terrorist organization that are organizing activities in Europe and even inside the EU parliament. What do you think of the raising of left populist organizations in Europe and the PKK / PYD?

KP: In a country that respects the rule of law, it is not up to politicians to decide on who is or who isn’t a terrorist, it is up to courts and judges. If someone is convicted, they must serve their sentence. Extradition to Turkey of convicted criminals have become more difficult as EU countries must follow the principle that noone can be extradited to a country if there is a serious risk of mistreatment or torture. Judges must make that assessment in each individual case. Organizations that are on the EU’s terrorist list should not be able to organize activities in Europe.

HMÖ: In your report, you say that the use of the Department of Religious Affairs by the Turkish Intelligence Agency to cause pressure on the Gulen terrorist organization and the opposition has caused a great concern. What kind of activities have the Department of Religious Affairs and Turkish Intelligence for violating the sovereign rights of the EU?

KP: This was an amendment to the report by a colleague from the ECR-group. I voted against the amendment, but a majority of the European Parliament voted in favour so it has been included in the final report.

HMÖ: In your speech at the EU Parliament, you said that the accusations against Osman Kavala, who was accused of being the architect of Gezi Protests, were unfounded. There are some interesting information about Osman Kavala in the Turkish press:

  1. During the course of the protest, Kavala opened a bank account for the supply of food and beverages and particularly gas masks, and financed the logistic needs of this movement.
  2. On May 31, 2013 Kavala met Yuri Kim, who served as Political Affairs Consul at the US Embassy.There are some allegations that in this meeting Ms. Kim asked Osman Kavala to criticise Turkey about the Gezi Protests and ordered questions she wanted to be asked to the State Department Spokesman, Jen Pisaki at his press conference in Gezi Park events.

In these data light when you evaluate the Gezi events, isn’t it normal to perceive Turkey’s Gezi Protests as a version of the coup against the actions that resulted in the overthrow of Mursi in Egypt? Do you think that there is an analogy between these two movements? What would you say?

KP: No, I don’t see any evidence for the allegation that Gezi protests were not a legitimate opposition protest against the government, but a coup attempt organized from outside. Also in the indictment of more than 600 pages, I haven’t been able to find any evidence for this. In my view, it is an attempt to rewrite the recent history of Turkey. Osman Kavala is a well-known civil society leader in Turkey. It is not strange that he has meetings with foreign embassies based in Turkey. Embassies don’t only interact with government officials, they also have contact with other segments of society in order to get a full picture of what’s going on in a country.

During the Gezi protests, there were many EU governments and human rights organizations that were very critical of how the Turkish government dealt with the protests. And certainly that discontent was also present with a large part of Turkish society. That in itself, however, is no proof for ‘organizing the Gezi protests’, let alone that it was in any way an ‘attempt to overthrow the government’. Osman Kavala has been in jail now for more than 500 days. He was arrested without an indictment for more than a year. As a Turkish citizen, he deserves a fair trial, based on facts and an independent court. I’m convinced that under those circumstances, he will be released as he committed no crimal act under Turkish law.

HMÖ: After the adoption of your report in Parliament, Ibrahim Kalin -the Spokesman of the Presidency- qualified as there are alarming manifestations of the contraction in the vision of European politics and this will declared null and void. In addition, some analysts say that the rising Islamophobia, the overwhelming right wing and extreme politics in the EU have a negative impact on the EU’s vision of becoming a global actor. What do you say about these criticisms?

KP: For the last five years, the government’s reaction to the EP report has always been the same. Even when in 2015 we called for the opening of accession chapters, the Turkish government’s reaction was that the report is ‘null and void’. It is not a very constructive or politically wise strategy, as the European Parliament is the only democratically elected EU body, representing 500 million citizens. Furthermore, the European Parliament has co-decision power on the EU’s budget -including the funds allocated to Turkey-, visa free travel, the modernisation of the customs union and the accession process. So refusing a dialogue with the European Parliament is not in the interest of the Turkish government.

There is a serious problem with the rise of populism and islamophobia inside the European Union. This is a big concern to me and much more needs to be done to fight these phenomena within the boundaries of the rule of law. It is unacceptable that muslim citizens of the EU feel unsafe. In the EU, it shouldn’t matter who you are, where you are from or what your religion is, every person should be judged by their acts. Having said that, the rhetorics of the Turkish president is not countering, but actually fuelling these extremist views. As an aexample, last month he said in a public interview on TV that politicians like myself, Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn are ‘the enemies of Islam’. Thereby presenting EU politicians as islamophobes. This is the same sort of extremist, polarizing rhetorics as some EU far-right leaders are using.

I do agree that the EU has to do much more to be a global power. We are an economic global power, but a dwarf in foreign policy. That is all connected with the decision making process inside the European Council, which is all based on unanimity. I believe it is high time to break with the unanimity role in Foreign Policy, in order to enable the EU to be a strategic world player.

HMÖ: Finally, what would you say about the solution of the Kurdish problem in Turkey? There is an HDP that has failed to break with the terrorist organization PKK and cannot act as an independent actor. Do you think that a political party in the shadow of arms can play a constructive role in solving the Kurdish problem?

KP: There can only be a democratic, political solution to the Kurdish question. Violence will not solve anything. The HDP represents 6 million voters in Turkey. They have been legitimately elected to the TGNA and to local city councils to represent their voters in a democratic decision making process. There are only two popular parties under the Kurdish population in Turkey: HDP and AKP. Both are needed to find a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem.

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