Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s puzzlement at the fact that, at the recent EU-Turkey summit, European leaders brought up Turkey’s detention of two Greek soldiers but not the case of eight Turks whose extradition is demanded by Ankara, is easily explained and revealing. Not because his exasperation is justified but because it shows the ever widening gap between himself and the essence of the rule of law.
“It is not consistent with justice [to have] those who insist so much on the issue of the two soldiers avoid any reference to the extradition of the Turkish servicemen, who were involved in the coup and then fled to Greece,” Erdogan told journalists on the plane returning from Varna, Hurriyet reported. “Of course,” he added, “we are not linking the two issues.” Referring to the eight alleged coup-plotters, he criticized the EU leaders, saying, “Yet those who have said nothing about this issue are now saying that the two Greek soldiers must be immediately released.”
Contrary to what he states, the Turkish president is linking the two issues, and also revealing his methods: He will do and say whatever suits his interests without considering the essence of the issues. His aim in this case is to exert pressure on the Greek government for the extradition of the eight while, at the same time, insisting that the treatment of the two Greek soldiers is in line with institutional procedures, in accordance with the rule of law. In short, he throws back at the Greeks their arguments regarding the treatment of the eight and seeks to justify the detention of the two, as if the two cases were similar, creating yet another of the false equivalences that proliferate in Turkish diplomacy.
There is no common ground between the two issues other than the fact that in both cases the Greek and Turkish soldiers are being prosecuted by the Turkish authorities. Greece wants the safe return of soldiers accused of entering a prohibited military zone – something that, at another time, the two neighbors would have dealt with quietly – whereas Turkey has requested the extradition of people to be judged by a system which, according to local and international agencies, does not provide guarantees for their rights.
This is where Erdogan would be right to wonder at the European leaders’ intervention: They could have linked the two cases in order to put pressure on him regarding the undermining of the rule of law in his country. There where the victims of the government’s harsh tactics are mainly Turkish citizens – the judges, the journalists, the academics, the political rivals and the possible rivals, the many, many thousands who are detained, convicted, crushed without protection.