Merkel in Erdoğanland: 'Magic mirror in my hand, who is the fairest in the land?'

Today is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz by the Soviet Red Army, commemorated since 2005 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“Remembering the crimes is a responsibility which never ends. It belongs inseparably to our country,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a recent visit to the camp, where around a million people were killed. “To be aware of this responsibility is part of our national identity, our self-understanding as an enlightened and free society, a democracy.”

“Germany continues to have deep shame for what happened in Auschwitz-Birkenau,” Merkel said. “There are no words to express our sorrow.”

There is no doubt that Merkel was sincere, but I wish she had just a slice of the same empathy for another group of victims; the citizens of Turkey who are suffering under the iron rule of her good friend President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

There, Merkel’s government bears indirect responsibility through its support for Erdoğan, through its arms deals, economic relations and its deafening silence on massive human rights violations.

Merkel’s moral stand on the Holocaust has long gone away to burnish her image as  when it comes to Turkey, neutrality, appeasement and business are the order of the day.

Her Interior Minister Thomas de Maizières said once, in March 2016, as the European Union was desperate to close a deal with Erdoğan to try to end the Aegean refugee crisis: “We are not a referee regarding human rights”. The landmark refugee deal was signed days later.

The policing of refugee movements has become the top transactional bond between Berlin and Ankara.

Not even the economic bonds – some 6,000 German companies operate in Turkey - are as important as concerns over refugees.

But here lies the paradox of German policy towards Turkey.

Germany, and Merkel in particular, see Erdoğan as a factor of stability, despite, or thanks to, his heavy handed and totalitarian practices. Because Germans and other Westerners alike, appear to be afraid of Turkey’s total collapse. Moreover, their policy of appeasement fits perfectly well with Germany’s economic stakes in Turkey and Turkey’s policing of refugees.

Unluckily though, the more Merkel appeases the more Erdoğan abuses, the more Turkish citizens take the road of asylum abroad, the more Ankara becomes belligerent abroad. For the matter, the exodus of Turkish citizens following the failed coup attempt of 2016 and the ensuing repression has reached highs not seen since the 1980 military coup. Some Western intelligence services talk about 1.5 million departures since July 2016.

Like all appeasement, especially that of Adolf Hitler in Munich in 1938, Germany’s attempts to placate Erdoğan are destined to fail. Turkey’s abuses, domestically and abroad, have skyrocketed since 2015, when Merkel was busy visiting Turkey.

The Chancellor has paid 10 visits to Turkey, setting a record among Western politicians. Of these, only three took place between 2005 and 2014. Her visit of Oct. 18, 2015, right before the rigged general elections of Nov. 1, left a bitter taste. The country was shocked by the cold-blooded murders of Kurds by security forces and a string of Islamic State (ISIS) attacks that critics say were engineered by the government to reverse the loss of the previous elections on June 7. Many in Turkey saw that particular visit as a gross insult. Nevertheless, the Chancellor did not stop there, she kept coming as part of her Faustian pact with Erdoğan, including three times in 2016, when the country was politically and morally devastated. 

Turkey’s abuses abroad became blatant as Merkel kept visiting, and reciprocally receiving Erdoğan in Germany. Starting in August 2016, Turkey launched three military assaults to seize large chunks of northern Syrian territory. At the same time, Turkey became the top sponsor, alongside Qatar, of jihadist Salafism in the region. Turkey actually became one of the main causes of mass migration from Syria next to Russia. In the meantime, the latter became Erdoğan’s main partner in arms, to the dismay and expense of the West.

Erdoğan’s latest moves in Libya, openly challenging the conclusions of the Berlin Conference that Merkel convened on Jan. 19, are an illustration of the fiasco of appeasement. During a press conference on Friday, while Merkel warned that Libya could become a new Syria, Erdoğan proudly proclaimed that Turkey would continue to provide military assistance to the Tripoli government in the form of Syrian jihadists and Turkish military trainers, a violation of what was agreed just days before. The Turkish president also detailed the gruesome ethnic cleansing and demographic engineering Turkey was involved in the areas it occupies in northern Syria. A perfect Faustian pact.

It is noteworthy that the German chancellor’s love affair with Turkey goes against the view of the Bundestag’s legal service, which continues to issue opinions against Turkey’s international dealings. For instance, it addressed the invalidity of the November maritime boundaries memorandum between Ankara and Tripoli, noting that the Greek islands, regardless of their size, have a continental shelf.

Previously, the same service declared that Turkey had “not yet provided concrete evidence of an armed attack on itself that would cause legitimate self-defence” to justify its military operation in the north-western Syrian district of Afrin, now occupied by Turkish troop.

On a minor but highly significant note, one of the reasons for latest Merkel’s visit to Turkey was the inauguration of a new campus of the Turkish-German University in Istanbul on Friday. This spectacle came two years after the forced closure of a German school in Izmir, which many in German media and political circles perceived as an act of intimidation. It appeared to be retaliation by Merkel’s best friend for his ardent desire to open Turkish schools in Germany, a call that has always been rejected. 

On the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day let me quote the director of the acclaimed 10-hour documentary Shoah (1985), Claude Lanzmann: “They (Poles) kept living their daily lives during the genocide. They heard what was happening in Chelmno, but they continued to plough their fields neighbouring the death camps. And of course, they could smell stench because all of Poland’s reeked of the smell of burning human corpses. They were all talking about the unbearable stench. They were keeping their windows closed. I kept asking them: ‘what were you doing during the summer months?’ ‘We were boiling inside!’ What struck me was the Poles were constantly oscillating between fiction and reality.”

Neither Erdoğan nor his cronies have the sense of irony, much less any sense of humour, to have had second thoughts by offering their guest a gold-plated hand mirror, which tells us so much.

© Ahval English

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.