Featured Post

Democracy on the Mediterranean: Turkey and Israel

On the anniversary of the coup attempt in his country, the ambassador to Israel remembers – and lauds ties with Israel
Tanks move into position as people attempt to stop them, in Ankara, Turkey, during the coup attempt, late Friday, July 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Tanks move into position as people attempt to stop them, in Ankara, Turkey, during the coup attempt, late Friday, July 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

Seven years ago, on July 15, 2016, night came early, when national media informed the Turkish people that traffic on the Bosphorus Bridge, which connects the European and Asian sides of the city, had been halted.

It was a Friday evening. Istanbul, the city Napoleon Bonaparte said would be the capital of the whole world if the world were a single country, with its 17 million inhabitants, hosting tens of thousands of tourists, was heading into another joyful weekend. Not many people were paying attention to the news.

An hour later, the TV channels informed viewers that Turkish Air Force F-16s were flying low over Ankara, the capital of the Republic. People started to ask questions about the news. Towards midnight, it became clear that a group of putschists within the Turkish Armed Forces had been receiving instructions from a mentor living in so-called self-exile in the US since the 1990s, who was then attempting to topple the democratically-elected government of Turkey.

Turkish tanks rolled through the major cities, and the Air Force bombed the country’s parliament building, police headquarters, and the presidential compound. A team of rebels tried to abduct Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the democratically elected president of Turkey, from a holiday resort, where he was spending his weekend with family.

That evening, dark clouds hovered over Turkish democracy.

In response, civilians rushed without hesitation into the streets, while hundreds of thousands in the military acted to restore the Turkish Armed Forces’ command and control. Turkish police did the same.

The following morning, the enormous toll of the attempted coup was evident: 251 people, mostly civilians of all ages, both men and women, were killed, and more than 2,500 were wounded by the so-called rebels, who turned out to be terrorists affiliated with the Fetullah Gulen Terrorist Organization (FETÖ). They had engaged in a long process of infiltrating the Turkish military beginning in the 1980s, achieving ranks ranging from lieutenant all the way up to general. But they took their orders from a high-school dropout, a so-called cleric, who was protected by the United States, where he was living.

Nearly immediately, Turkish leadership received messages of solidarity from the true friends of the nation, one after another. But those who define themselves as true lovers of democracy in the West, those who hold forth on what democracy is and what it should be, those who never flag in their efforts to preach the same to other nations – they kept silent for days until they had resolved their doubts as to whether Turkey was truly a democracy after all. Turkey came back stronger than ever, no thanks to the great global champions of democracy.

Here’s the proof that Turkish democracy never truly floundered: last May, the turnout for those voting in Turkey’s presidential election was immense, not only as a percentage of the Turkish population, but also as compared to the turnout in other democratic countries. Whether voting at home in Turkey or from abroad (including those in Israel), citizens exercised their right to participate in the selection of their new parliament and president. On May 14, the composition of parliament was renewed with 600 members, and on May 28, in the second round of voting, the nation reelected Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as president for the next five years.

As Mediterranean countries, Turkey and Israel are neighbors, with families in each country who have known people from the other country for centuries, with all-weather and time-tested ties. Both countries have vibrant democracies. Governments of both nations are looking forward to greater collaboration in ways that go beyond tourism and trade.

Once again, after a 16-year hiatus, Israeli airliners are flying between the two countries. After 11 years, Israeli cruise lines have reestablished Turkish ports of call in harbors on the Aegean and Mediterranean Rivieras. Israelis rush to Turkey not only for tourism or business, but also to assist those in need, in dire times. This past February 6, for example, when Turkey was hit by two consecutive earthquakes – the disaster of the century – Israel was among the first to dispatch aid, in the form of a 70-member search-and-rescue team. The team stayed in earthquake-hit provinces and saved 19 lives from under the debris. A day later, Israel erected a top-notch field hospital with 350 medics in Kahramanmaraş.

As Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, I am confident that the bilateral relations of our two countries will flourish in the months and years ahead. Both countries are eager to take advantage of the new era, thanks to the strong and personal initiatives of their excellencies, the presidents of Israel and Turkey, who put our respective relations back on track.

About the Author
Şakir Özkan Torunlar is the Turkish ambassador to Israel.
Related Topics
Related Posts