The Bosphorus Bridge linking Asia and Europe had taken on a suit lit with the colours of the French flag in solidarity with Nice following the recent tragedy, when military coup forces moved in to occupy the bridge and cut the physical link between the two worlds. But the virtual separation between Turkey and Europe has been achieved by those in official European hallways, as they remained silent on the 15 July 2016.
Turkish troops moved into the heart of Turkish cities and the coup perpetrators declared in their statement that they wanted to restore democracy in the country. It was also a message intended to flatter Europe too, but the fools did not have patience and soon bombed the parliament building, as military vehicles brutally crushed demonstrators in the streets.
In such defining moments, history tests the commitment of states to their beautiful slogans, and the test that the EU leaders and member states faced was serious: Any cover which aims to overthrow Turkish democracy would be a stain that cannot be cleansed, but how when the issue is related to a candidate that has been preparing to join the European family for decades?!
The night of the attempted coup in Turkey has made history as the night of absolute European silence. Some of the Turks in the streets and in the hallways of political, media and cultural circles have come to realise that it was a silence voicing collusion with the attempt to crush democracy, while others gave the benefit of the doubt and assumed that Europe did not care for them in the hour of truth, leaving them to meet their fate beneath the tanks.
One night prior to the onset of the military coup in Turkey, French President François Hollande came out to address his people and the world, saying that the horrific attack on Nice was an assault on the free world. The irony, however, is that the “free world” did not rise up, even verbally, during the attempt to assassinate democracy in Turkey, and the Turkish people did not receive a warm message cheering them on when they showed courage in the face of tanks.
On the following day, multiple European statements were issued after it became clear that the coup attempt had failed miserably. Even then, European positions were devoid of stringency or firmness. The statements were faint and disconcerted to a large extent. Even the best of statements, such as the one by the respected Angela Merkel, was delivered in a cold and soulless manner that did not meet the intense emotions and the gravity of the historic event.
Some wonder about the justification for all this inaction, which would not be expected if the coup – God forbid – were to happen in Warsaw, Bucharest or Sofia. Would the leaders of the “free world” have remained silent for so long as they did during the tough Turkish night?!
Several hypotheses endeavour to interpret the European silence on the night of the coup. It is indeed an appropriate circumstance for conspiracy theories, but one hypothesis sounds interesting; the suggestion that some decision-makers in Europe may have been misled into thinking the success of the coup attempt in Turkey was certain, leading them to remain silent until the last minute. That is not far from the directions of the media’s coverage in Europe, some of which ruled out the possibility of Turks being able to protect their democracy. On the night of the coup, some European media outlets failed the test of professionalism when they covered the coup allegations without verifying them first, making headlines in haste like a midsummer night’s dream.
It was astounding how some of the European coverage dared, in the shadow of a military coup, to give the impression that Erdogan was the one who had turned against the people, and not the tanks that were moving into Turkish cities.
What is certain, in any case, is that the military coup was going to take Turkey farther away from Europe, and eliminate Ankara’s hopes for EU membership – a happy ending for European parties who reject Turkey’s membership anyway. A spontaneous wave of political and media criticism of Erdogan’s leadership began in Europe, a very exhilarating twist. The wickedness of a democratically elected leadership in the shadows of a military coup is liable to draw a halo of doubt around the commitment of the parties to the slogans of democracy, especially if it has not opposed the advancement of tanks in the face of people and institutions from the start.
The dilemma is not in the European criticism of the Turkish president, rather in the fact that this criticism comes after a deafening silence.
Some facts are absent from the debate, including the fact that the end of democracy in Turkey at the hands of a military coup would have posed a risk to the future of the republic and its cohesion, which would have put Turkey on the brink of chaos, possibly attracting “Daesh” and what could follow from radical violent organisations. This would of course also have severe consequence on Europe. Furthermore, the success of the coup in Turkey could tempt successive coups, for example in the South Caucasus and Central Asia, especially following the Arab and African coups in recent years. What is certain is that the manipulation of the fate of democracy in a country the size of Turkey means major strategic shifts in several regions beyond Turkey; who could possibly bear it all?
One of the most important developments that have already made history is that Europe was lax with a military coup project in a major country like Turkey, after three years of turning a blind eye to the overthrow of democracy on the Nile. The slogans of support for democracy and freedoms were swept under the red carpet in the European capitals dedicated to the reception of tyrants whose hands are stained with the blood of their people; Sisi is only one of them.
Concerned parties in Europe have probably not realised the scale of loss caused by the political and media behaviour on the night of the coup and its aftermath; it took a sizable bite from their moral balance as in previous coups. The continent will have to exert intensive efforts with the peoples of Turkey and the Islamic world for ten years to come in order to deal with the consequences of its curious silence towards a coup which was over in ten hours.
Populations drew important conclusions from what happened, including that they must not wait for the support of democratic nations and the “free world” when faced with military coups, but it is enough to say that a scheme was not being plotted against them abroad.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.