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Event at European Parliament debates role of Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean

Turkey’s turn to authoritarianism and the Cyprus question were among the issues debated at an event organised yesterday by GUE/NGL in the European Parliament.

Guests at the event entitled “Eastern Mediterranean Furnace – the role of Turkey” discussed the imminent agreement to grant visa-free travel to Europe’s Schengen area for Turkish citizens. The agreement will have to be approved first by the European Parliament.

GUE/NGL President Gabi Zimmer, opening the event, said that this agreement is one of the few tools to influence Turkey:

“While parties of the Left support the principle of visa liberalisation and freedom of movement, we are conflicted in the case of Turkey. The pending agreement between the EU and Turkey on visa-free travel should be used to influence Turkish behaviour for respect of human rights.”

“We are concerned at the clampdown on dissent in Turkey. The removal of parliamentary immunity of over 130 members of the Turkish parliament, targeting Kurdish HDP members in particular, is one among many examples of growing repression in Turkey,” Zimmer stated.

The German MEP contended that the EU-Turkey deal strengthened Erdogan’s rule and weakened democratic voices in Turkish society. The EU must do all it can to support Turkish civil society struggling for democracy and freedom of speech.

Andros Kyprianou, General Secretary of AKEL in Cyprus reasoned that Turkey will apply the leverage it has with the flow of refugees to Europe to get an agreement on visa-free travel from the EU:

“This issue is of deep concern to Cyprus and of course AKEL since Turkey continues for 42 years to occupy 37% of the territory of Cyprus and to implement policies of colonisation and assimilation. Turkey also refuses to implement the Ankara Protocol, to recognise the Republic of Cyprus as one of the 28 EU member states and to fully comply with its Cyprus-related obligations.” 

“The complete fulfilment of all the criteria for the lifting of visas for Turkish citizens constitutes an essential prerequisite before any decision is taken. As AKEL, we expect that the European institutions will adhere to a principled position,” Kyprianou continued.

Ahmet Insel, Professor of Economy and Political Science at Galatasaray University, characterised the path Erdogan is taking Turkey as autocratic:

“Tayyip Erdogan is the President of a state that does not justify calling itself a democracy. He is transforming Turkey into an autocratic state leading the Turkish people into a chaos where he is the sole winner.”

The German parliament recently voted to recognise the Armenian genocide. The Turkish government angrily denounced the vote as “null and void,” and Erdogan recalled his ambassador in Germany back to Ankara for consultations.

One of the German MPs voting for the symbolic resolution was Sevim Dagdelen of Die Linke who herself is of Turkish descent. In a video statement Dagdelen condemned in strong terms Erdogan’s reaction to the vote and his suggestion that the 11 lawmakers [of Turkish origin] should undergo blood tests to see “what kind of Turks they are.” The German lawmakers also received death threats:

“Anyone in Turkey who calls for violence against members of the German parliament should get an entry ban to Germany. This includes President Erdogan.”

Dagdelen argued for a freeze in the Turkish process of accession to the EU for as long as these issues are not solved.

Toumazos Tsielepis, member of the Political Bureau of AKEL, international law expert and former member of the Cypriot negotiating team, concluded the event with an analysis of the current state of play in the negotiations for an end to the Turkish occupation, giving a more optimistic outlook of the constructive role Turkey can play for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. 

Tsielepis held that the status quo is not beneficial to Turkey and that the country has serious incentives to cooperate, citing the gas findings in Cyrpus’ waters, which can only be exported via Turkey if a deal is agreed.