Turkey destroys strong diplomatic tradition - former diplomat

Turkey’s post-coup attempt purge has led to the collapse of the country’s previously impeccable diplomatic reputation, highlighted by last week’s news of tortured diplomats, a former Turkish diplomat wrote on Monday for the Washington Examiner.

“After the coup attempt in 2016, extensive purges have created an irreplaceable shortage of qualified cadres in almost all state institutions in Turkey, including the Foreign Ministry. More than one-third of the career diplomats were labelled terrorists and expelled,” wrote M. Bahadır Gülle, former Turkish diplomat and a visiting scholar at the University of Cologne.

Able and promising diplomats have been replaced by internet trolls and others willing to make a scene, while it has become normal for people to be beaten at Turkish consulates, according to Gülle. “Turkey’s reputable diplomatic tradition has collapsed,” he wrote.

Instead of fleeing, the diplomats ordered to return to Turkey after the July 2016 coup attempt did precisely that. They were then dismissed and their passports, and those of their spouses, were cancelled, so they could not seek a new life abroad.

“For three years, authorities failed to produce evidence that these diplomats had anything to do with the coup. And no one bothered to tell them why they were expelled,” wrote Gülle.

Then last week, authorities ordered the arrest of nearly 250 of the purged diplomats, charged with cheating on their English-language entrance exam.

Some analysts saw this as a message to former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who served as foreign minister from 2009 to 2014, when many of the purged diplomats were hired, and has signalled his interest in creating a new political party.

“The idea of a colossal exam cheating scheme with Davutoğlu at the top is completely ridiculous,” wrote Gülle. “The foreign service in Turkey has a four-step exam marathon. To cheat on all four steps and thus pass would be impossible.”

For the last part of the exam, Gülle pointed out, candidates are interviewed by a dozen ambassadors in English for a full hour.

The situation turned much darker last week, when the Ankara Bar Association found that more than 100 diplomats suffered systematic torture and sexual assault while in police custody. Doctors who treated them refused to report the torture, while judges refused to put it on the official court record.  

Gülle, whose family home in Turkey was raided last week, said that all five Turkish diplomats who had graduated from Harvard were now either jailed or in exile. “If I were in Turkey, I would be, as a Harvard alumnus, being tortured right now and made to admit that I cannot speak English,” he wrote.

In 2014, when Islamic State (ISIS) held Turkish diplomats hostage for three months, the group never tortured them.

“Turkish authorities did not hesitate to do to its best educated, most promising diplomats, for some little political gain, what ISIS had not dared,” said Gülle.