German President Steinmeier supports Berlin’s tough talk on Turkey’s Erdoğan

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

As a war of words between Berlin and Ankara continues over the arrest of German human rights consultant and activist Peter Steudtner in İstanbul, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has expressed support for government statements against Turkey, Deutsche Welle reported on Sunday.

According to the report, in an interview set for broadcast on Sunday, Steinmeier criticized Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and welcomed the German government’s harsh stance toward Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

“Many — even those who in this state have worked with him and his party cooperatively in recent years — are now being persecuted,” Steinmeier told public broadcaster ZDF, referring to Erdoğan and the AKP. “And we cannot tolerate that. It is also a question of the self-respect of our land to send a meaningful message to stop,” he added. Steinmeier has also welcomed a letter from Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel to members of Germany’s large Turkish community.

In an open letter, published in German and Turkish in the mass circulation newspaper Bild, Gabriel on Saturday assured the Turkish diaspora that it is part of the fabric of the nation despite the period of difficult relations being experienced by the two countries.

Gabriel on Thursday said Germany was being forced to reorient its Turkey policy in the wake of the arrest of human rights activists and journalists in the country. Gabriel warned German citizens of the risks of traveling to Turkey. German media reported on Thursday that Berlin also decided to suspend arms deals with Turkey.


Meanwhile, President Erdoğan on Sunday accused Germany of using tension with Turkey for their upcoming elections, in reaction to recent remarks from Berlin over the arrest of Steudtner in İstanbul. “We do not care if people in German politics try to create a ‘market’ ahead of the elections in October,” said Erdoğan upon a question about German Foreign Minister Gabriel’s Thursday remarks announcing that Germany was reorienting its Turkey policy, at İstanbul Atatürk Airport on Sunday before leaving for a Gulf tour.

Calling on German officials not to take any step that would overshadow the Turkish-German partnership in NATO and the European Union accession process, Erdoğan strongly criticized Berlin for welcoming exiled journalist Can Dündar, without specifically naming him. Erdoğan has also demanded that Germany extradite suspects and Gülen movement followers.

“When you harbor terrorists who fled Turkey, even encourage them, rewarding them by allowing to speak during official meetings, welcoming them at the presidential palace, sorry, but our perception of you is not favorable,” said Erdoğan.

Criticizing Germany for failing to take measures against people affiliated with the faith-based Gülen movement, Erdoğan denied news stories that Ankara is investigating German companies, admitting that the government is targeting some Turkish companies that have links overseas including in Germany.

Six human rights activists, including Amnesty International’s (AI) Turkey Director İdil Eser and German human rights consultant Steudtner, who were detained on July 5 during a workshop at a hotel on İstanbul’s Büyükada, were put in pre-trial detention by an İstanbul court on Tuesday.

As part of the war of words, Erdoğan lambasted German officials, saying Berlin is not powerful enough to defame or scare Turkey. Reacting to news that Turkey had launched investigations into German companies that had invested in Turkey, Erdoğan said: “We will continue with the investments of German companies in Turkey, as has been the case up until now.”

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Friday compared Turkey with the former East Germany in the wake of the growing number of arbitrary arrests in the country.

In addition to Steudtner, German journalist Deniz Yücel and seven other German citizens are currently kept in Turkish prisons.


Twelve days after the pro-Erdoğan Star daily accused human rights defenders detained in Turkey of being linked to the CIA and the UK’s MI6, another Erdoğanist daily, Yeni Şafak has claimed on Sunday that the rights activists had ties to the German BND intelligence service.

“Claims that German intel service BND financed the meeting in Büyükada in exchange for a report on Turkey have been under investigation,” claimed Yeni Şafak in a front page story.

On July 5 Turkish police, acting on an anonymous tip, raided a hotel on Büyükada, one of the Princes’ Islands off İstanbul, and detained İdil Eser from AI, İlknur Üstün from the Women’s Coalition, lawyer Günal Kurşun from the Human Rights Agenda Association, lawyer Nalan Erkem from the Citizens Assembly, Nejat Taştan from the Equal Rights Watch Association, Özlem Dalkıran from the Citizens’ Assembly, lawyer Şeyhmus Özbekli, Veli Acu from the Human Rights Agenda Association and two foreign trainers, Ali Garawi and Peter Steudtner.

One of the staunchly pro-government dailies in Turkey, Star claimed on July 11 that the CIA and MI6 were behind the meeting.

Star’s report was based on statements by ruling AKP deputy Orhan Deligöz, who accused the human rights activists of planning to divide Turkey, during four meetings at the same hotel after a failed coup attempt last July. “The last meeting was held in an illegal and secret room in the back part of the hotel with the attendance of nine Turks and two foreigners, 11 people in total. We know that these meetings were controlled and guided by CIA and MI6 agents,” said Deligöz.

According to the report, the human rights defenders were found discussing a Turkish map when they were detained and were planning a second “Gezi Protest,” which was sparked in the summer of 2013 in protest of government plans to demolish Gezi Park in İstanbul’s Taksim neighborhood, after the completion of a “March for Justice” by the chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who walked from Ankara to İstanbul to protest the arrest of a CHP deputy.

Another staunchly pro-government daily, Güneş, said on July 21 that the human rights activists were plotting a coup attempt when they were detained by Turkish police. Güneş’s report claimed that a coalition of leftist parties such as the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the CHP, terrorist organizations and some large companies and media organizations were going to plot a coup attempt during the human rights defenders’ meeting on Büyükada.

President Erdoğan accused the recently detained human rights defenders of plotting a follow-up to the July 15, 2016 coup attempt during a press conference in Hamburg on July 8 and signaled that the detention of the rights defenders could turn into imprisonment. (SCF with July 23, 2017

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