Çavuşoğlu battles interviewer on German TV

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has appeared on German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle for a combative interview in English, giving European viewers a taste of a political narrative which has become more than familiar to observers of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

“Conflict Zone,” The DW programme that Çavuşoğlu appeared on, is known for putting hard-hitting and uncompromising questions to guests; this time, however, it was the Turkish foreign minister who set the tone of the interview, interrupting veteran journalist Tim Sebastian’s questions, hectoring the host and deflecting difficult questions by appealing to a “victim” narrative.

“You think that whatever the European Union says is right and whatever we say is wrong,” said Çavuşoğlu towards the start of the interview as Sebastian attempted to quiz him on Turkey’s deteriorating relations with its European neighbours. “This is your problem: You think that you are the boss, you are the first-class nations, Turkey is the second-class country.”

The interview from that point on was a tireless display of bluster from Çavuşoğlu that at times verged on open belligerence, with the foreign minister contradicting almost every statement from the English journalist, objecting to the wording of his questions, and accusing him of a lack of respect.

“It is not hypocrisy, it is your hypocrisy,” said Çavuşoğlu in an angry response to Sebastian’s accusation of double standards after the Turkish foreign minister complained that European countries had violated democratic standards.

As the pair continued to discuss the worsening relations between Turkey and many of its European neighbours, a careless phrase from Sebastian allowed space for one of Çavuşoğlu’s barbs to hit home.

“Of course we question the European side but you don’t represent Europe,” said Sebastian.

“I don’t represent Europe? I am a founding member of the Council of Europe, my friend – We are not outsiders, we are part of Europe if you like it or not,” Çavuşoğlu responded.

In fact, the opposition to Turkey’s accession to the European Union was not due to its recent human rights record as Sebastian suggested, but “due to the rise of racism and Islamophobia,” he later said.

The Turkish foreign minister presented his country as undermined and underappreciated by Western countries, who he addressed in the second person singular in his responses as if Sebastian was acting as their spokesperson.

This mode of rhetoric would surely play well to the AKP’s voter base in Turkey, where the narrative taken by the ruling party and pro-government media outlets frequently refers to obscure foreign powers conspiring against the nation. The performance is unlikely to go down so well with Deutsche Welle’s audience, however.

"Cavusoglu has an eye on the upcoming elections; he is currently on candidate list as a deputy, which would discount him from a ministerial role. So he probably wanted to impress the Palace by giving an eye-catching performance and up his chances of being chosen as a minister again,” Ahval editor Ilhan Tanir said of the interview.

“By Western standards, though, his performance with Sebastian might make it one of the worst interview performances in history, especially when he failed to produce any evidence for some of his boldest claims during the interview," he added.

Çavuşoğlu went on to touch on a prevalent topic in Turkey’s political discourse: the organisation built around Fethullah Gülen, an Islamist cleric living in self-imposed exile in the United States who the Turkish government blames for orchestrating the failed July 2016 coup attempt.

In the part of the interview that caught the attention of Turkey’s critical media, Çavuşoğlu accused “many Western countries” of supporting the coup attempt, but was unable to provide the name of a single one when pressed by Sebastian.

“I have evidence for that,” Çavuşoğlu told Sebastian, but did not produce anything more concrete than saying that European ministers had not asked him how he was on the night of the coup.

Later, Sebastian’s own choice of the words “Islamic cleric” to describe Gülen rather than the AKP’s chosen term of “terrorist” left Çavuşoğlu visibly irritated.

“This is what I mean,” he said, talking over Sebastian. “You like what he did in Turkey so you call him an Islamic cleric.”

Sebastian continued to push Çavuşoğlu until the end of the interview with tough questions including on the “hostage diplomacy” allegedly practiced by Turkey with the arrest of U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been held since 2016 on terrorism charges the U.S. State Department described as “not credible.”

The Conflict Zone host referred to a speech by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in which he appeared to offer Brunson’s return to the United States in exchange for the extradition of Gülen.

Çavuşoğlu brushed this off, calling the Brunson case a “purely judicial process,” though such a brisk response is unlikely to serve the foreign minister when he meets his U.S. counterpart Mike Pompeo in Washington DC on Jun. 4.