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February 22, 2013, Friday

US envoy and Ergenekon

US Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone, previously described by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as an “inexperienced envoy,” was strongly criticized by Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman Hüseyin Çelik for his remarks earlier this month on the Turkish judicial system.

He was subsequently summoned to the Foreign Ministry, where he was reminded that his remarks on a complicated judicial process were not considered diplomatically proper.

The ambassador must have been surprised as to why he was criticized so strongly, considering Erdoğan spoke similarly about the Ergenekon investigation and that the ambassador referred to these statements in his remarks as well. Nevertheless, the envoy addressed a letter to the relevant authorities in which he expressed his regret. In an official response to a question on the matter, the US Department of State stated that it approved of the envoy's statement, expressing support for the ambassador.

Even though such incidents are routine developments in the world of diplomacy, it was surprising to see that this incident took place right after my column drawing attention to the quality of communication between Ankara and Washington. Some readers even shared their appreciation for this prediction.

Speaking to the Milliyet daily, President Barack Obama delivered a fairly constructive message that attempted to address question marks over whether there are problems between the two allies. However, Ricciardone complicated things by giving the impression that he was interfering in the domestic affairs of Turkey.

In fact, the principle of non-intervention, one of the basic principles of classical international relations, has lost its meaning over time due to interdependence, globalization and the expanding role of international and transnational institutions. For this reason, Ankara's sensitivity towards Ricciardone's remarks is interesting when one considers that Turkey has adopted stances and released statements that could be considered interventionist in respect to issues in a wide range of countries, starting with Syria. The EU, the Council of Europe as well as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have issued statements against violations of universal standards, though without specifying whether this constitutes intervention in domestic affairs. Our citizens are entitled to take the decisions of the Turkish judiciary to a supranational court, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

To this end, it is not unusual for an American envoy to express his views on a situation he is concerned with in terms of universal values, including democracy and human rights. What really matters is whether this position, which was expressed in relation to the Ergenekon process, is compatible with universal values and beneficial for Turkey's democratization. The attitude of the EU is an important criterion. The EU, which has closely followed developments in the Ergenekon case, wrote in its October 2012 Progress Report that it views the trials as an opportunity for the proper operation of democratic institutions and the consolidation of confidence in the rule of law. Europe also shared its criticisms in respect to the prosecution process.

Ricciardone's initial remarks to journalists were as follows: “There are some deputies who have been held in prison for a long time; some of them are kept in custody for unidentified charges. The military leaders, charged with protecting the country, are in jail as if they are terrorists. Professors are among them.”

So far, Washington has made no statement on the Ergenekon trials indicating the US believes the process is a historic opportunity for Turkey to confront its past. Ricciardone's comments about his unease with this purification process, although they negate the allegations of neo-nationalists that the process has been under US control, are irreconcilable with the democratic principles to which the US subscribes.

Turkey can of course be criticized, but it should be done in a way to ensure that the country becomes more democratic instead of a country where the final word is made by the military.

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