Main opposition expects Biden to focus on Turkish democracy, rule of law

Former ambassador and main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Istanbul deputy Ünal Çeviköz, said the party expects U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to place particular emphasis on democracy in Turkey.

What Biden can offer Turkey that President Donald Trump could not in mending the relations between the countries was democracy, Çeviköz said, who is also the foreign policy adviser to CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

“I think the first expectation that we would have from the Biden administration is to put a very strong emphasis on the rule of law, democracy, de-politicisation of the judiciary, the separation of powers,” he said, speaking at an online panel for the German Marshall Fund (GMF) titled Turkey’s Foreign Policy Priorities in 2021 on Friday.

Biden could ask Turkey to introduce democratic reforms, and fundamental rights and freedoms such as press freedom, and freedom of expression and association.

After calling for these principles, Biden should take steps to further develop the trade relations between the United States and Turkey, said the former ambassador, a good way for which would be new trade deals.

This could also lead to the revival of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), he said, noting however that it would require the United States viewing Turkey through a lens of democracy.

Turkish foreign policy lost its neutrality, predictability and reliability after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, he said.

Turkey losing its neutrality and getting involved in various regional conflicts has resulted in the country losing its status as a role model, and becoming a burden, he continued, adding that CHP believes reintegrating Ankara into the international community and end its current isolation.

The initial impression that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had great support among Arab countries has since faded, Çeviköz said.

There are many important roles Turkey could play in international organisations, like in the U.N. Security Council with the resolution on the arms embargo on Libya, the ambassador said as he accused the AKP of neglecting multilateralism.

Çeviköz foresaw widespread change under Biden’s presidency for improved transatlantic relations, and said Biden would likely focus more on institutional relations between Turkey and the United States, as opposed to Erdoğan’s personal friendship with Trump and the countries’ relations resting on the two presidents’ respective sons-in-law.

After Biden takes office, Çeviköz would expect the State and Defence Departments to enter the picture more.

Democracy, rule of law, and fundamental rights and freedoms are important for both Biden and the CHP, Çeviköz said, adding that the opposition party is concerned for Turkey’s situation, just like the European Union is, where the country relies more and more on military options.

Among areas that Turkey needs to improvement is anti-terror efforts, he said. According to the deputy chairman, the country needs a mechanism that effectively protects fundamental rights and freedoms, and adjustments to anti-terror laws to comply with international standards.

Currently in discussion are laws that criminalise any agreement on any political issue with any entity deemed terrorist, leading to long jail sentences both before and after conviction, in combination with a tendency to place suspects under pre-trial detention.

Creating trust in the international community that Turkey respects fundamental rights and freedoms would bring back direct foreign investment to the country, and aid in the recovery of the economy, Çeviköz said.

Foreign policy shouldn’t be religion-based, the deputy said, underlining CHP’s secular character and adding that AKP’s strong support for the Muslim Brotherhood was damaging for Turkey’s neutrality.

Political Islam was brought into Turkish foreign policy by the AKP, he said.

The lack of a strong transatlantic union under President Trump will be an opportunity for Biden to improve relations with Turkey, according to the ambassador, and relations between the EU and the United States need to be re-established. Such developments would also impact NATO’s relations with Russia, as well as other emerging powers like China.

Such a transatlantic union would “bring Turkey back to NATO member states,” he said.

NATO members have “simply and legitimately” been asking whether Turkey was drifting away from the alliance, into a strategic alliance with Russia and Iran, Çeviköz said. “This is not the case, but we must show that this is not the case.”

Not activating the Russian-made S-400 missile defence systems that have caused several crises since their purchase and delivery last year will be on the government’s agenda, “or in the next government led by the CHP,” he said, in which case Turkey would expect to be readmitted to the F-35 fighter jet programme.

Çeviköz said Turkey would continue to support Azerbaijan’s “just” operation and cause in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, but the region’s status is still undetermined and the ceasefire has no measures to remedy that. The former ambassador called for diplomatic efforts and a peace treaty.

CHP deputy chairman said the party did support the reopening of Varosha, a ghost town in the divided island of Cyprus that is part of the buffer zone between the Greek and Turkish communities, but believed that the reopening must be done in a way that doesn’t violate the U.N. Security Council resolution or international law.

CHP is open to any and all solutions in the island, including a two-state formula favoured by Turkey, a federation, or a confederation, as long as it is based on the equality of the two communities.

The party also has a strong vision to resolve the Kurdish issue, Çeviköz said. The Syria issue is connected with the Kurdish issue, and both are a human rights issue, as well as a historic reconciliation for Turkish people.

“We missed an opportunity, unfortunately, in 2015,” he said, referring to the 2.5-year-long peace process with armed Kurdish insurgents that collapsed over what was later revealed to be an intelligence false-flag operation.

“If Turkish administrations, either the current one or the next one, can’t deal with the Kurdish issue domestically and by its own capabilities and possibilities, I’m afraid the solution will be imposed on Turkey from abroad. And this is something that we do not approve of,” Çeviköz said.

Çeviköz separated the issue in Syria into two as the east of Euphrates and Idlib issues.

Idlib is devolving into a “very bad situation,” he continued. CHP has insisted that Turkey move back its observation points to the north of the M4-M5 highways, but Ankara has not realised its commitments in the 2018 Sochi deal on Idlib.

Turkey still has difficulty in getting rid of the Muslim Brotherhood approach to regional problems, he added.

When Syria achieves security and stability, Turkish troops should withdraw, Çeviköz said. CHP doesn’t want Turkey to be an invader in Syria, and when the solution process is complete, Turkish presence in Syria should “come to an end.”

The almost 4 million Syrian refugees in Turkey should have an option to go back to their homeland if they choose to do so after the country resumes a stable condition, he said.