COMMENTARY — Turkish government claims one-third of its diplomats are terrorists

By Abdullah Bozkurt

The Turkish foreign ministry has branded one third of its diplomats as terrorists by merely an executive decision without any judicial process or an effective administrative probe, purging them summarily with a complete disregard to a due process, fair trial and right to defense.

The unprecedented and massive purge appears to be a well-calculated plan by Turkey’s Islamist rulers to overhaul Turkish diplomatic corps to reflect a political Islamist ideology in the foreign policy and utilize Turkish missions abroad to fulfill aspirations of Turkey’s strong-man, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who dreams of becoming a Caliph for all Muslims worldwide.

Responding to a parliamentary motion, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Nov. 24, 2016 that the Turkish Foreign Ministry fired 408 people by government decrees between July 16 and Nov. 7, 2016. Of these, 350 employees are career diplomats, he added.

The new government decree announced on Feb. 7, 2017 included an additional 48 Foreign Ministry employees who were purged by the government as part of escalating crackdown on critics, dissidents and anybody who is believed to be not aligned with the ideology of the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and its neo-nationalist partners. Of these, 44 are career diplomats including deputy chief of missions serving at various international postings. That brought the total number of the people purged from Turkish Foreign Ministry to 456.

This is a devastating figure considering that the foreign ministry had 1202 diplomats in total as of the beginning of 2016. Almost 400 were dismissed, corresponding to the one third of the career diplomats employed by the government. The Foreign Ministry has been known to be quite careful in screening applicants to accept as a candidate for career diplomat as they represent Turkish interest abroad. The candidates go through highly competitive written and oral exams, tested on knowledge and language skills and accepted to the Foreign Ministry only after a deep background check clears them from anything that may raise a red flag in their past.

That is why the Turkish Foreign Ministry had hired only 595 people as candidates for career-diplomats between the years of 2003 and 2015, according to the government records. That means, the government has purged the number of diplomats in six months that is equal to 12 years of careful hiring of capable people by the Foreign Ministry. This amounts to a huge waste of human resources from whatever angle you look at it. Firing people just because they are believed to be affiliated with a social group, ideologically or ethnically or not supportive of the political Islamist vision violates equal employment rights and merit-based approach in civil service.

It is also hard to imagine that these people have anything to do with a terror or a coup, usual charges the government cites as a reason for their abrupt dismissal. Considering that there are long-serving ambassadors and deputy chief of missions among the purged, the AKP government has even fired diplomats who were working at the Foreign Ministry when it came to the power in November 2002.

This is nothing but a total transformation of Turkish diplomatic corps according to whims and emotions of one-man, Turkey’s autocratic President Erdoğan. It is also a shame that Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu, a loyalist to Erdoğan, defends these purges when there was no fair trial or due process. I guess, when Çavuşoğlu was defending the rule of law and fundamental rights as the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) between 2010 and 2012, he was simply putting a charade and never actually believed in these democratic principles and rights.

This purges apparently has taken a toll on Turkish Foreign Ministry given the fact that Turkey has expanded diplomatic representations around the world by opening new embassies and joining in new regional and international organizations. There is simply not enough number of diplomats available to conduct even business as usual work at embassies let alone pursuing and following upon new initiatives.

What is more, the remaining diplomats are instructed by Erdoğan to profile and harass his critics and opponents abroad in an aggressive manner, placing them in challenging position that may very well be interpreted as a blatant meddling into host countries’ internal affairs.  No doubt that there are hard-core Erdoğan fans, religious and neo-nationalist fanatics among what is left of Turkish diplomats serving at the Foreign Ministry but many simply loathe Erdoğan and his xenophobic Islamist brethren but keep mum because they are terrified of losing their jobs.

Now the main benchmark for a success for a Turkish diplomat is not to advance country’s interests politically or pursue trade and economic opportunities but to thwart the work of Erdoğan’s critics abroad. In his remarks in Turkish Parliament on Nov. 8, 2016, FM Çavuşoğlu bragged about how Turkey’s 235 missions abroad held 8,400 meetings to raise the issue of Fethullah Gülen and his followers, had given 2,270 interview and convened 236 press events. Gülen, a vocal critic of Turkish President on corruption in the government and abuse of Islam for political gains and personal enrichment, is declared as terrorist by Erdoğan without presenting any credible evidence whatsoever.

By jailing three prominent ambassadors including Gürcan Balık, — a top diplomat who worked as chief foreign policy adviser to former President Abdullah Gül and special adviser to former Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, — without a conviction and trial, Turkish government has succeeded in scaring diplomats who used to be admired and respected by foreign diplomats because of their integrity, credentials and diplomatic manners. Now, from the conversations I have been holding with various diplomats, I only hear the pitiful and regretful remarks expressed about Turkish diplomats who are forced to conduct their businesses ungentlemanly and undiplomatically. That is a shame.

Feb. 27, 2017

 

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