EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW OF H.E. MR. MEHMET ŞİMSEK, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER OF TURKEY TO ROMANIAN NEWS CHANNEL DIGI24
I think it does not serve Turkey nor Europe, their interests, screaming at each other from a distance. It is time for dialogue, it is time for solidarity, "said Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey in an exclusive interview Digi24. Also Mehmet Simsek criticized the EU for not complied with its commitments to Ankara and has accused it of double standards when it comes to Turkey. In the interview conducted by Cristina Cileacu, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister spoke about Fethullah Gulen movement, accused of orchestrating the coup three weeks ago the relationship with the US and Russia, but also about how the terrorist threat has affected tourism in the Turkish state.
Cristina Cileacu: The coup attempt in Turkey was condemned by all EU and US leaders, but lately we see that relations between the EU, US and Turkey are worsening. Moreover, the President Erdogan accused the West of supporting terrorism. Why this happens?
Mehmet Simsek: First, we are happy that the EU and US have condemned the coup and supported the legitimately elected government. The problems come from the many "buts" and "ifs", which followed the condemnation of the coup and developments as a result of the coup attempt. I think our European partners should see that this is not an ordinary coup. This was extremely violent, blow and malicious. Almost 240 people, mostly civilians, have died, and we have also more than 2,000 wounded civilians in hospitals. None of the European leaders, none of Europe's top politicians has visited Turkey to show solidarity and to express their support. This is a problem. Because when an incident occurs, even at a smaller scale in Europe, we see a strong solidarity and support. Secondly, President Erdogan’s statement was a general one. We refer to the fact that unfortunately, the leader of the coup and the network that is responsible for the coup still live in the US, one of our allies.
We hope that the US will evaluate and consider seriously the evidence we have against him. And, in this case, to extradite this individual. Secondly, in Europe there were several attempts for meeting pro-democracy and pro-Turkey in several countries and the President Erdogan was not allowed to appeal these crowds via a videoconference. This is very unusual, because we have high standards when it comes to freedom of expression, fundamental rights and other freedoms in Europe. I think that anger should be understood in the context of not letting a leader of a friendly country to address a crowd, as we saw in Germany. So the President Erdogan statements were made in this context.
Cileacu Cristina: Okay, we'll take turns. Let's start with Germany, because you mentioned. Germany was Turkey's number one partner in the so-called refugees business. But now we see escalation of tensions between Berlin and Ankara. There is also another reason besides the one you mentioned?
Mehmet Simsek: We had some tension when Germany's Parliament adopted a resolution which recognized the 1915 events as genocide against the Armenians. Then, obviously, our relations have become more strained. After the coup, I was shocked by the position of Germany. It was a very hard thing to understand when Germany didn’t allow the leader of a country that is a strategic partner, which is one of the major trading partners, which is a candidate country to EU accession, to address a crowd who claimed democracy. However, relations between Germany and Turkey are strong enough to survive such tensions. There are over three million Turks in Germany, many of them are already German citizens. We have nearly 7,000 German companies working in Turkey, some of them are important producers. So I do not think the relationship is so weak that the current "tense" will lead to a rupture. Not going to happen. But it will be a war of words, which is already happening, and certainly expect more understanding from our partners and this applies for Germany.
Cristina Cileacu: Regarding the US, your president said that "it would be a big mistake for Washington to refuse to extradite Gulen." The statement could be interpreted as a threat. Is that a threat?
Mehmet Simsek: It is normal to expect the US to look carefully at the evidence that we have provided to them. There is an objective evidence that Gulen, now we call as fetal group, is behind this coup and many other atrocities. USA is one of our strategic partners, we have an old relationship with them especially in NATO,we fight against DAESH together, and we have many common interests. It is therefore quite natural for us to continue to show them what we expect and how allies will act as an ally. So it is not a threat, we are not in a position to threaten any country. But certainly, we expect the US to carefully consider the evidence.
Cristina Cileacu: Can you give some examples of evidence proving that Gulen was behind the coup in Turkey?
Mehmet Simsek: First, many of the perpetrators, who were caught on the night of the coup, have already given statements that they were part of the network and had agreed to participate in the coup. For example, the former chief of staff, who is a colonel, said that he comes from a poor family, went through the education system offered by their schools and boarding. And then in 1999, one night before the exams for Military Academy, exam questions were given to him. He could pass the exams, because he had the questions already, and then he continued to work for this network. Many civilians who were affiliated with the Gülen movement also were caught in the red-handed military bases used as a base for coordinating the coup. There are many examples, clearly, we already offered US the electronic files. We gathered evidence and subsequently after the coup. This evidence should be analyzed.
Cristina Cileacu: Should Turkey take into account that maybe someone else was behind the coup or it was about Fethullah Gulen from the beginning?
Mehmet Simsek: We knew for a long time that this Gülen movement, was infiltrated in the state system, the state departments. This movement, since 1970, has recruited smart children, from an early age, and offered a good education, often in their own boarding schools or campuses. They are clear evidence that this was done with a long-term perspective. Gulen Movement has close relations with every government in the last 40-50 years. And in 2010 it was already clear that they had the control over almost all of the top echelons of the judicial and control over the police and secret services, had an immense network of financial empires, from 2,500 high schools, up to a bank, leasing companies, logistics and others. In addition, those who are familiar with Turkey's history should know that the secular Kemalists generals were prosecuted in 2010 and 2011 under the pretext that attempted coup in the past. And this was a kind of opening the road for their officers of lower rank to be promoted. Fixed and this seems to have happened. So we knew that they are heavily infiltrated in the army and the intelligence services have prepared reports on several high-ranking officers and generals to be retired or dismissed in August this year. The coup is actually a preventive blow against such movement.
Back in December 2013, when they came up with these politically motivated allegations of corruption, it was immediately after the government's decision to close the so-called preparatory schools. In this country there are millions of students who give university examinations to enter a good university and get in a good state area. But not many are successful. So these exams are very competitive. And they have these schools in preparation for exams, and they represent for them "bread knife". When the government decided in 2013 to close these preparatory schools, then this movement used the control over the judiciary and police and brought these politically motivated corruption charges. So the battle between my government and the Gülen movement is not new. It already carries several years and therefore we had more evidence, many abuses of justice throughout this process. But of course a blow so perverse and violent was not "in the cards".
Cristina Cileacu: Who will replace all members of the Gülen movement purged?
Mehmet Simsek: To give you a perspective, we have over four million employees in the public sector. And so far, so-called treatment, removals that we have made from the state apparatus is only 3,500 people. The rest are suspended. And the suspension means taking each case individually to see if it is a militant of the terrorist groups, fetal, or if they have strong links with the complicit in the coup. The essential purpose is to clean up the remnants of that movement in the state apparatus.
It is not a foregone conclusion that all 60,000 people who have been suspended will be dismissed. It's not necessary. We took these drastic steps as part of a strategy to mitigate risk, because Turkey has just been subjected, just two weeks ago, a coup. If that had succeeded, the country would have been sent a few decades ago. The country's future would have been grim, it would have been chaos and possibly civil war in this country, unless the coup was failed. But people risked their lives, they were brave and courageous and answered the call of President Erdogan and stopped hitting with "bare hands". Note that I have suspended these people to reduce the risks. How many of them, suppose 60,000. Even if all will be dismissed, which is very unlikely, we are talking about 1.5% of employees in the public sector. It will not affect the ability to continue to offer quality services, the ability to implement reforms and the capacity to deliver public services.
Cristina Cileacu: Foreign Minister gave an ultimatum to EU related to the issue of visas. October is the deadline. What will happen if there will waive visa requirements?
Mehmet Simsek: We have an understanding with the EU. We will not leave aside the old relations with the EU, which are important both for the EU and for Turkey. Turkey needs the EU and the EU needs Turkey. But let's put aside our Association Agreement talks for accession, the customs union, free trade agreement. The agreement is an agreement on visas. Agreement has several components. We, the Turkish side, have committed to do many things and we've done almost everything, except for certain EU requirements, changing the Criminal Code and to tame our anti-terrorism law. At times when Turkey faces massive terrorist threats like DAESH, the PKK and other terrorist organizations, it was incredible that Europe thought to ask us these things. But in any case, with these exceptions, we have complied with the commitments. The flow of refugees to Europe was stopped, I gave work permits Syrians, we consider the idea of giving them citizenship, I prepared for it. I have so far spent more than 20 billion dollars over three million refugees, mostly Syrians. So we've done. In fact, the EU has asked us tied to reforms identified 72 benchmarks. According to the European Commission we have already met 67 of them. From our point of view, I have met all but those related to counterterrorism law.
Instead, the EU should do at least three things. One was that the EU would agree to allow visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens via visa liberalization, which was already given to many non-member countries that have not even in the stage of accession talks. We cannot say that these countries who applied for visa-free regime complies with these standards. It's a business that beyond meeting those commitments, Europe should think of giving permission for us to have access without visas.
Second, they had to provide three billion Syrian refugees not to Turkey. Because we do not need European money. This has not been materialized. We already spent over 20 billion dollars for Syrian refugees for retraining, education and other things.
Third, Europe must accelerate our accession discussions because opening of a new chapter as a "bait" to do more reforms in this country. This is the understanding related to visas with the EU. Clearly, we’ve risen to our commitments. We like Europe to live up to its commitments. We believe that Europe can still do that. But of course, there are all kinds of "noise" from Europe. So, not only Turkey make noise in Europe, there are all kinds of "noise" in circles in Europe. I think it does not serve neither Turkey nor Europe, their interests, screaming at each other from a distance. It is time for dialogue, it is time solidarity.
Turkey went through a very big event. A bloody coup. We expect more from our European partners. From my point of view, the prospect of Turkey-EU will survive all these difficult times. Why? Because it is a state policy for Turkey for a century or more. We want to be part of the European family, we believe in European values. Yes, we go through hard times, yes, the perception has deteriorated, but from my point of view, we have to deal with the question of why the perception of Turkey deteriorated largely related to atrocities of this network. Now when this huge threat was removed, I think Turkey will quickly return to normal and Europe will see that Turkey continues with its progressive platform. The accession process to the EU is extremely important to us and we will not give it up, and our European partners should realize that Turkey is their strategic partner, future member and you should threat Turkey as such and not to listen the remains of this network (n.red. Gulen) who are in Brussels or elsewhere.
Cristina Cileacu: Will we see again large waves of refugees on the border of the European Union?
Mehmet Simsek: What are we doing for the Syrian refugees is something in which we believe. We will never be happy to see many refugees who lost their lives while driving on dangerous waters. Clearly we do not prefer it. But again, coming back to the Agreement, which is essential in stopping refugees, if Europe does not live up to the commitments that it has taken, it could no longer exist. Why? Since signing of the agreement to take back have "killed from home" incentives to the Syrians or others to cross these dangerous waters. Why? Because normally risked their lives, paying smugglers to reach a place where they were turned back Turkey, because Turkey shall take back.
But this agreement is one of the conditions like Europe to meet its commitments. There is a threat. Simply have a deal with Europe, we were very involved and we want to keep doing this functional understanding. I do not want to think about hypothetical situations. I think it is in Europe's interest to live up to commitments. Turkey will not assume the responsibility for Europe. In fact, in my view, part of the Turks who moved to Europe in the latter decades back. Because Turkey is prosperous, rich and rise. Turkey is moving in the same direction as Europe and the idea that Turks will emigrate by using the visa liberalization is a fear that based on only suspicions, but these suspicions are obsolete. Yes, we want to see not Turkish citizens going through the process of obtaining a visa, because we have more business. Turkey's trade with Europe has 158 billion dollars. We can reach at 300 billion if we widen the customs union and we include public procurement, services and agriculture, things that are of "books". Then, our students, our businesses, tourists are in the interest of Europe. They already have such arrangements with many countries in the world, countries that do not even live up to European standards. Therefore, it is difficult to understand why Europe has these double standards when it comes to Turkey.
Cristina Cileacu: You were in Russia and President Erdogan will meet soon with President Putin in Russia. What are the main purposes of these visits?
Mehmet Simsek: As you know, our relations with Russia were encumbered by shooting down of Russian fighter. But I always had a more constructive approach and I hoped that our relations with our neighbor and trading partner will normalize. Even before the coup attempt, a month or two before, our relations began to normalize with Russia. So it's a process of normalization of relations with Russia. I was there to prepare the visit of President Erdogan. We have much to discuss, but the basic idea is to bring relations to the level of pre-November last year when the plane was shot down. So our first priority is to get back to the situation before the crisis and then build on. Russia is our main trading partner and we want to have a constructive relations mutually beneficial. We consider Russia a neighbor and not something else.
Cristina Cileacu: Romania wants a more active presence of NATO in Eastern Europe and has floated the idea of a permanent Black Sea fleet. How does Turkey respond to this proposal? And what can we expect from Russia if it puts into practice?
Mehmet Simsek: We are members of NATO, powerful allies of NATO. And during the whole history of NATO, Turkey has always played a major role in the Alliance. Clearly, NATO is very important for us, we are a leading member, and I do not think this will change. Normalization of our relations with Russia and our NATO member status and our responsibilities in this context are two different things.
Cristina Cileacu: But you did not answer the question, what about the presence of a permanent fleet in the Black Sea?
Mehmet Simsek: But it is a matter of detail. No defense minister generally take care of the economy. Therefore I cannot go into details, because I do not know in depth. What I can say is that Turkey is a stable member of NATO and will continue to assume its responsibilities. If this includes what you are referring, of course Turkey will contribute to this.
Cristina Cileacu: Turkey is one of the main destinations for Romanian tourists but lately we have seen many attacks against tourists, including coup. What would be the message that you address the Romanian citizens would go to Turkey?
Mehmet Simsek: First, Turkey, like many other countries faces terrorism threats, and had terrorist incidents, which had a negative impact on the perception of the country and tourism. Turkey is the sixth largest tourist destination in the world. Usually we receive around 40 million tourists per year. I would say that with the exception of large cities, where we have seen incidents like Paris or Germany, United States, Orlando and so on, most tourist resorts are safe and security is ensured so that the risk of these attacks to be minimal. Tourists usually go Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. We are aware of the threats and took all measures. And we have not had incidents in ordinary tourist resorts. We had incidents in big cities like Ankara and Istanbul, but as I said, there have been similar incidents in other European capitals or other countries.
I believe that no country is safe from these risks, so terrorism is a global threat, a global problem and we must all be united. There are no good or bad terrorism. Terrorism is bad, regardless of ethnicity, religion or anything else. We all must be united, we must go to the root causes and eliminate this risk. Therefore I am convinced that it is important for Turkey-EU relations remain strong, or those between Turkey and USA. We should overcome these cyclical ups and downs, because we have common interests, we must be united in common values and my call would not encourage terrorism. Do not encourage them because it is exactly what they seek. They want us all to fear, to isolate ourselves. It takes exactly the opposite. We must continue to fight against terrorism.
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