When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured a victory in the runoff presidential election on Sunday, the leaders of Qatar, Azerbaijan, Hungary, Venezuela, Libya and Somalia rushed to be the first to congratulate him. It is not surprising given Erdogan’s close relations with those leaders and the fact that authoritarian states frequently support each other. However, opposition politicians and rights activists in Turkey are deeply disappointed with the immediate congratulatory messages from the West to the incumbent Erdogan, who allied with ultranationalist and fundamentalist groups critical of the EU, US and NATO to win the election, once again encountering realpolitik in international relations.
The first Western message of congratulations was from French President Emmanuel Macron. In a poorly written tweet in Turkish, Macron said, “There are great challenges that France and Turkey will overcome together. The return of peace to Europe, the future of our Euro-Atlantic Alliance, the Mediterranean Sea. We will continue to move forward together with President Erdogan, to whom I convey my congratulations on his re-election.”
While many made fun of the language of the message, Erdogan supporters claimed that Macron tweeted in Turkish out of respect for Erdogan’s leadership. Erdogan had previously claimed that France had no right to have a say in the eastern Mediterranean and described Macron as a novice and rookie leader.
In a response on Twitter, political scientist and former columnist for the Taraf daily, which was seized by the Turkish government in 2016, Sezin Öney claimed that the biggest concern in European Union circles was that the opposition would win in Turkey.
“If the asylum seekers policy changes and Türkiye starts to democratize, they wouldn’t know how to react. They preferred the status quo. no surprise,” she wrote.
However, the messages that received the most negative reaction were those from the heads of EU institutions.
President of the European Council Charles Michel congratulated Erdogan on his re-election and added, “I look forward to working with you again to deepen EU-Turkish relations in the years to come.”
Çiğdem Koç, the lawyer for journalist Mehmet Baransu, who has been wrongfully jailed by Erdogan since March 2015, lashed out at Charles, tweeting that the EU only thinks about its own interests and that its only interest is in preventing refugees from going to Europe.
Adding that the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights recommending release of pro-Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş and businessman Osman Kavala mean nothing in Turkey, she accused Charles of hypocrisy.
In his victory speech on Sunday, Erdogan said Demirtaş would never be released as long as he was in office, while his supporters chanted “Death penalty for Demirtaş.”
Human rights lawyer and academic Kerem Altıparmak asked ironically in a tweet if European leaders were also applauding Erdogan’s promise to his supporters that he would never implement the European Court of Human Rights judgment concerning Demirtaş.
Neşe Özgen, a member of the “Peace Academics,” who in 2016 supported a peaceful solution to Turkey’s long-standing Kurdish conflict, some of whom were fired and sentenced to prison, replied to Michel that “You now have a vested interest in every drop of blood shed in Turkey, as well as the children who will go hungry and the homes that will burn due to unemployment, the anguish of women who will be forced to live under Islamic conditions, of girls will be forced to marry at 9 age!”
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU Commission, in her congratulatory message to Erdogan said: “It is of strategic importance for both the EU and Turkey to work on advancing their relationship for the benefit of our people.”
“It’s a very clear sign that the Turkish people are committed to exercising their democratic rights to go and vote and that they value the democratic institutions,” von der Leyen said.
Bilal Uzun of the opposition İyi (Good) Party told von den Leyen that “Now you can enjoy your life in Europe without any risk of refugee invasion.”
EU leaders have long been criticized by human rights defenders who claim that they are turning a blind eye to rights violations in exchange for Turkey’s efforts to keep refugees in its territory. It is believed that money had a major impact on Turkey abiding by its obligations in a 2016 migrant agreement. EU leaders in the past claimed that it worked well given the fact that 80 percent of young Syrians in Turkey say they want to stay; 700,000 Syrian children go to school in Turkey; and irregular crossings have dropped. However, the weak lira and high inflation may change most Syrians’ attitude about staying if Turkey it no longer offers them any job opportunities. Indeed, most of them are underpaid and seen as cheap labor in Turkey.
Kati Piri, a Dutch politician and the European Parliament’s former Turkey rapporteur, reacted harshly to another congratulatory message from the prime minister of the Netherlands, accusing him of calling an autocrat a friend in exchange for limiting the influx of asylum seekers.
“F*** all the political prisoners, the Turkish youth who want to live in a democracy, the minorities who are oppressed” she responded.
Meanwhile, messages of congratulations from the United States included a NATO emphasis. By referring to Turkey as a NATO ally, President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent implicit messages to Turkey, which has been dragging its feet in NATO’s expansion. Turkey and Hungary are the last two NATO members whose parliaments have not yet approved the NATO membership of Sweden. Political experts predict that after the elections, Erdogan, who wants to improve relations with Europe and the US due to the difficult economic situation in Turkey, will approve Sweden’s membership as a goodwill gesture. Sweden is expected to attend the NATO summit in Vilnius July 11-12 as a member. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also congratulated Erdogan in a tweet, saying, “I look forward to continuing our work together & preparing for the #NATOSummit in July.”