The UK’s relations with Turkey Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

An “understanding” relationship, during a crucial period for Turkey and the UK

1.We welcome the UK’s strong condemnation of the 15 July 2016 coup attempt. This was an attack on Turkey’s democracy. We condemn it, and have expressed our condolences for the loss of life. Through its prompt displays of solidarity, the FCO ensured that the UK was seen by Turkey’s leadership as a friend and close ally of the Turkish people. However, the anti-Western rhetoric that is prevalent in the popular discourse in Turkey, and historic suspicions around British policy, still influence perceptions of the UK in Turkey. (Paragraph 13)

2.Turkey is a deeply divided country. The degree of political interaction between its competing social, cultural, and religious interpretations appears limited, and their fear of one another is great. Control of the state, and its power, is highly coveted in this context, because each side has sought to protect its supporters by empowering itself while excluding its opponents. The relationship that the FCO establishes with Turkey must not just be with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, or with the Justice and Development Party alone. Indeed, it must not just be with the state apparatus, or with whichever party or person currently controls it. The UK should seek a deeper and therefore more durable connection. The UK should support programmes that seek engagement with the Turkish people, whichever background they hold, while working to uphold the values of human rights and democracy that benefit them all. (Paragraph 19)

3.Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made himself as central to 21st century Turkey as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was in the 20th century. The choices that he makes now will determine whether his overall legacy will largely be positive, for Turkey and more widely. The wrong choices have the potential to deliver catastrophe well beyond Turkey’s borders. The right choices would cement Turkey’s position as a liberal, democratic state which provides a philosophical and ideological bridge between West and East. (Paragraph 22)

4.On 16 April 2017, the Turkish people are due to vote in a referendum on whether to amend Turkey’s constitution to significantly expand the powers of the President. The choice is theirs, and the UK Government must not support one side or the other. (Paragraph 27)

5.The proposed changes would constitutionally entrench the centralisation of power in the presidency beyond the current incumbent. However, it could be argued, from a UK perspective, that an approval of the proposed changes would make no de-facto difference to governance in Turkey or to Turkish policy in the short term, because it will make de jure the current situation. But there are concerns over the timing of the referendum, coming as it does at a point where freedom of expression and assembly has deteriorated in Turkey. It is difficult to foresee a fair, free and credible referendum when media, opposition MPs and civic organisations critical of the government have been closed down or silenced. The current period of Emergency Rule has also significantly expanded the power of the executive while simultaneously restricting certain rights and freedoms. Both the deep divisions that we have observed within Turkish society and the intensity of the competition to control the state are likely to be worsened by the referendum campaign whatever its outcome. (Paragraph 28)

6.The settling of this constitutional question should leave President Erdoğan with strategic choices where there is a clear UK interest in supporting constructive policies. These include the Kurdish question, the healing of Turkish politics after the coup attempt of 15 July 2016, the advancement of judicial independence and the rule of law alongside other human and political rights, the sustaining of a successful economy, and other central challenges to Turkey that we address later in this Report. Shaping a positive legacy for the commanding figure of 21st century Turkish politics is in the interest of the UK’s economy, security, and values whatever the outcome of the referendum. Now is a profound moment of choice for Turkey’s future, in terms of whether it will be a repressive or a recovering country. (Paragraph 29)

7.A central challenge that Turkey will face is the need to strengthen its public and state institutions. These have been weakened as a result of the acrimony in the country’s politics over the past decade, and were further weakened by the coup attempt and the government’s response. When facing its future challenges, Turkey will need an effective military, independent economic and judicial institutions, as well as a free and vibrant media, among other institutions. The UK should assist Turkey in developing both the capacity and independence of these institutions. (Paragraph 30)

A “strategic” relationship, and its implications for Turkey and the UK

8.We are concerned that the loss of influence of the UK’s international allies in Turkey might have a detrimental effect on the possible leverage that the UK might have on Turkey as well. The FCO should use its close relations with the Turkish establishment to mediate as required between Turkey and the US and EU states. (Paragraph 32)

9.A totally free trade agreement with Turkey may not be possible due to the current relationship that Turkey has with the EU and the EU Customs Union. Given Turkey’s Customs Union with the EU, the FCO should clarify what trade arrangements it is currently able to negotiate with Turkey, when and how that might change, and when they will be implemented. The FCO should work with the Department for International Trade in exploring and delivering new trade and investment opportunities with Turkey, now and following Brexit, and in negotiating revised trading arrangements with Turkey once the UK leaves the EU. (Paragraph 38)

10.Turkey is an essential partner facing a volatile period. It needs and deserves our support. We support the construction of a ‘strategic’ relationship between the UK and Turkey. Both the UK and Turkish governments emphasise to us their aim to enhance their trade ties, and their defence and security co-operation. Successful engagement would serve the prosperity and security of both countries, though a successful Turkey will be one that respects democratic norms. (Paragraph 40)

11.The complexity of modern Turkey, and the nature of its internal divisions, means that the process of constructing this relationship must be managed by the FCO with adequate capability and subtlety. We were impressed by the leadership and effectiveness of Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Turkey Richard Moore, and by the knowledge of his staff. The FCO is running a large operation in Turkey, and it is important that the FCO is given the resources to sustain this operation and manage the complex and important relationship with Turkey going forward. (Paragraph 41)

12.We welcome the agreements reached over the ‘TF–X’ combat aircraft development programme, as a key component and symbol of the strategic co-operation between the UK and Turkey. This programme should last for decades; it needs to reflect the long–term interests of both countries and survive the inevitable short–term ups and downs in their bilateral relations. The strategic partnership implied by this deal should be reinforced by the Government making clear what restrictions there are on the use or transfer by Turkey or the UK of sensitive technology and intellectual property contained within the programme, both during the aircraft’s construction and after its completion. (Paragraph 47)

13.The Government should also clarify what safeguards are in place to ensure that the aircraft will be used in compliance with international humanitarian law. The UK is subject to safeguards in this respect, and we expect the FCO to explain how these safeguards will apply to TF–X. (Paragraph 48)

14.ISIL is a shared enemy of the UK and Turkey, and Turkey has suffered greatly from terrorism by these extremists. Turkey is a vital military partner in the fight against ISIL, reinforced by the context of its NATO membership. The UK, as a strategic partner of Turkey, and within the framework of both NATO and the Global Coalition against ISIL, must continue to engage Turkey fully in the fight against ISIL as a shared priority and ensure that Turkey is not distracted from focusing on this military objective, in light of concerns set out in Chapter 5. (Paragraph 50)

15.Turkey hosts a larger number of refugees than any other state, and the third largest number per capita. This contribution should not be underestimated and a debt of gratitude is owed to Turkey from the entire international community. It plays a vital role in limiting or preventing the flow of migrants and refugees into the EU, within the framework of an agreement that it has reached with the bloc. The EU wants Turkey to continue to host and hold refugees, but the amount of money delivered to Turkey by way of assistance in this objective has so far been too small, and it has been provided too slowly. To support Turkey though the refugee challenge, and the costs to Turkey that it entails, the UK should press the EU swiftly to give Turkey the funds for this purpose that have been promised but not yet delivered. While the terms of the agreement between Turkey and the EU are not being fully met by either side, it is the non-delivery of promised EU resources to relieve the actual suffering of refugees which is reinforcing an anti-EU narrative from the Turkish government. (Paragraph 57)

16.The UK has distinguished itself as a friend in the eyes of the Turkish government, and both sides are seeking to cement a strategic relationship. But, as the UK does so, it must not be seen as disregarding—or even excusing—allegations of serious human rights violations and the erosion of democracy in Turkey. It is vital that the UK’s criticism both privately and publicly is not withheld when grounds for criticism exist. (Paragraph 64)

17.In order to have an effective impact on human rights, the FCO must also cultivate the UK’s influence and interdependence with Turkey to ensure that its voice is heard in Ankara. As the enhancement of its international trade ties has been a foreign policy priority for Turkey, strong trade ties between the UK and Turkey are likely to provide the UK with added leverage on a range of other policy areas, including human rights. However, we believe Sir Alan Duncan’s statement that “it is probably only when we do have good trade that we can speak strongly about human rights” must be qualified to the extent that the UK should always raise serious human rights concerns whenever they occur; the UK’s promotion of fundamental values cannot be predicated on “good trade”, or any other precondition. The enhancement of its international trade ties has been a foreign policy priority for Turkey. There are examples, such as Turkey’s relationship with Russia, to indicate that strong trade ties do indeed provide Turkey with incentive to compromise with countries that it disagrees with in other policy areas. (Paragraph 69)

18.We support the expanding of trade and defence ties between the UK and Turkey, not only because of their security and prosperity implications but also because of the strong voice that these ties should give the UK in Ankara. It is a voice that we expect the UK to use, not least so that its human rights concerns are heard. (Paragraph 70)

19.The UK should therefore seek to both defend human rights and secure trade. These two concerns have complementary—not contradictory—interests. The protection of human rights in Turkey, and the success of UK trade there, both require the rule of law and an impartial judiciary, an end to the purges that have followed the coup attempt, an end to internal conflict and terrorism, and a UK Government that is listened to in Ankara. (Paragraph 71)

The coup attempt, and the ‘Gülenists

20.The AK Party and the Gülenists were once allied. They are both movements with Islamist influences, and they made common cause in challenging the Kemalist establishment and military leadership. This past alliance is a fact that AK Party officials now prefer not to mention, and this reinforces our concern that purges of perceived Gülenist sympathisers will be undertaken with the added bitterness of a fratricidal conflict. (Paragraph 84)

21.Given the brutality of the events of 15 July, the severity of the charges made against the Gülenists, and the scale of the purges of perceived Gülenists that has been justified on this basis, there is a relative lack of hard, publicly–available evidence to prove that the Gülenists as an organisation were responsible for the coup attempt in Turkey. While there is evidence to indicate that some individual Gülenists were involved, it is mostly anecdotal or circumstantial, sometimes premised on information from confessions or informants, and is—so far—inconclusive in relation to the organisation as a whole or its leadership. As we publish this report, nine months after the coup attempt, neither the UK nor Turkish governments can point us to one person who has been found guilty by a court of involvement in the coup attempt, let alone anyone being found guilty with evidence of involvement with Gülenist motives. We also note that, despite Turkey purportedly submitting 80 boxes of ‘evidence’ to the US to achieve the extradition of Fethullah Gülen on the basis that he masterminded the coup attempt, the US judiciary has not yet moved to deport him. (Paragraph 97)

22.But the explanations provided to us by the Gülenists did not resolve our uncertainties about the fundamental nature and motives of their movement. The belief that Gülenists were responsible for the coup attempt, as well as for numerous other manipulations of the state through abuse of public positions that they held in Turkey, is manifest across the political spectrum in Turkey. A lack of transparency pervades some of the core activities of the Gülenists, making it impossible for us to confirm that all of these activities are purely philanthropic. (Paragraph 98)

23.Gülenists are unlikely to have been the only elements involved in the coup attempt. Kemalist elements within the military, those who opposed the AK Party, or those who simply wished to preserve their own positions, are also likely to have been involved. Some, especially in the lower ranks of the military, appeared to have taken part, at least initially, without realising that they were involved in a coup attempt. (Paragraph 99)

24.Since around 2013, individuals associated with the Gülenists have adopted a political agenda opposed to the AK Party government of Turkey, and have possessed the means, motive, and opportunity to support the coup attempt, but their culpability has yet to be definitively proved. The FCO told us that it did not have evidence to justify the designation of the Gülenists as a terrorist organisation by the UK, and we agree with this assessment. (Paragraph 100)

25.The FCO seems willing to accept the Turkish government’s account of the coup attempt and the Gülenists broadly at face value. While some of the individuals involved in the coup may have been Gülenists, given the large number of Gülenist supporters and organisations in Turkey, it does not necessarily follow that the Gülenists were responsible for the coup or that their leadership directed the coup. However, the FCO seems unable to cite much evidence to prove that it is true. Despite its claim to possess an almost unique understanding of the threat that Turkey faces, the FCO strikes us as knowing too little for itself about either the Gülenists or their role in the coup attempt. The Government’s support for the Turkish government in the wake of the coup attempt would have been more convincing had it been able to present an independent analysis to support its position. We recommend again that the Government ensures that sufficient funding is available to the FCO, to repair the hollowed-out state of the FCO’s analytical and research capabilities. (Paragraph 105)

The Turkish government’s response to the threat from the coup attempt

26.Terrorism and coup attempts are a denial of the most basic of human rights and freedoms, as well as of the values of democracy. It would be naïve to assume that any country would go through a coup such as the one Turkey went through and not see significant changes made in order to protect its democracy and the rule of law. The UK is right to support Turkey’s defence of itself against future threats from coups and terrorism. However, Turkey must demonstrate its commitment to upholding its international legal obligations during its response to these threats, and the UK has an important role to play in ensuring Turkey’s compliance. (Paragraph 111)

27.The State of Emergency in Turkey significantly expands the power of the executive, while also curtailing some of the rights and freedoms of the citizen. While the implementation of the State of Emergency is understandable given the events of the July coup attempt, the Turkish government needs to provide the international community with a clear indication that it is seeking a path to normalise the security situation. States of Emergency should be self-correcting, as the powers that they allow should address the threat that permits them. The threat to which they apply should be specific. Although permissible under, and guided by, the provisions of Article 15 of the European Convention in Human Rights (ECHR), a broad and vague application of the State of Emergency in Turkey, in a way that extends far beyond addressing the causes of the coup attempt, risks a prolonged period of Emergency rule, and that raises the risk of people’s rights being abused. (Paragraph 112)

28.The FCO should press Turkey to ensure that

a)the provisions of Turkey’s State of Emergency, and the actions taken under them, are proportionate to the exigencies of the circumstances that triggered the Emergency’s declaration, and that these exigencies are given as narrow a definition as possible

b)the State of Emergency is temporary, not prolonged, and is lifted as soon as possible

c)That Turkey complies fully with its ECHR obligations. (Paragraph 113)

29.Almost 100,000 people were permanently dismissed from their employment in Turkey following the coup attempt, while between 30,000 and 40,000 were temporarily suspended. The Turkish government itself seems uncertain about the latest figure, but the number is likely to have risen since these numbers were published in January 2017. Most appear to have lost their jobs, and been subjected to a range of other punishments, on the basis of executive decrees that are permitted by Turkey’s State of Emergency. They do not face criminal charges, and were not tried by a court before their punishment. (Paragraph 121)

30.Given the anecdotal and circumstantial nature of the evidence that has been used to link the Gülenists with the coup attempt, we question the evidential basis upon which these individuals—including the majority who held positions in the education sector or civil service, rather than the military branch of the state—were designated by the state as terrorists, or connected to the coup attempt, under Turkey’s State of Emergency. The coup attempt has also been used as an opportunity to dismiss large numbers of non-military government employees that were opposed to or critical of the government and President, as well as those suspected of links to the Gülen movement. (Paragraph 122)

31.The Turkish government told us that avenues for appeal and redress existed for those dismissed, and that 31,000 civil servants had been restored to their employment by the beginning of March 2017. The number marked a significant jump from the previous figure of 20,000 that the Committee was given by the FCO one month previously. We hope that it is accurate, but worry that it is not, given the stories of those affected that we heard in Turkey, the small number of public bodies authorised to hear appeals in Turkey, and the large number of appeals that these bodies have been tasked with hearing. If it is accurate, then we regret that it still represents 31,000 people who were punished without good reason, and who are likely to bear consequences of their punishment. (Paragraph 126)

32.Despite the security threats represented by the coup attempt and by terrorism in Turkey, the scale of the current purges—and the number of sectors that they affect—means that we cannot conclude that they are a necessary and proportionate response. The FCO needs to clarify whether it supports the extent of the purges as being justified by the scale of the threat that Turkey is facing. (Paragraph 127)

33.This purge carries significant negative implications for Turkey, and not just for the individuals affected and their families. It risks undermining Turkey’s reputation, its economy, the ability of the UK to trade there, and the capabilities of the Turkish military in the fight against enemies like ISIL. We were encouraged by the nascent language of restraint and reconciliation that we heard at the highest political level when we visited Turkey. The FCO must work to see that this trajectory is pursued in practice, by pressing the Turkish government to ensure that

a)All of those detained or dismissed can access a substantive means of appeal, and that this means of appeal is both fair and prompt. We are concerned that the existing means are too often inaccessible, and too slow in hearing the large number of cases.

b)That these individuals must have access to the evidence against them and to their lawyers.

c)That the structures established to determine their innocence or guilt are sufficiently independent of the executive. There currently remains a risk that they are appointed to a large extent by the institutions whose use of powers they are intended scrutinise.

d)That those who have not yet been reinstated know the avenues of appeal and redress. (Paragraph 128)

The Turkish government’s response to the threat from the PKK

34.In July 2015, the ceasefire between the Turkish government and the PKK collapsed primarily due to a complex and mutual rise in tensions between them, rooted largely in developments in Syria. This conclusion represents a correction to our Third Report of Session 2015–16, in which we were too unequivocal in placing the primary responsibility on the Turkish government for the end of the ceasefire. (Paragraph 135)

35.The FCO must both support Turkey in its fight against the terrorist threat from the PKK and encourage both sides to re-engage with the peace process. The ceasefire between the PKK and the state between 2013 and 2015 allowed an unprecedented de-facto improvement in Kurdish rights, but the FCO must press the Turkish government to enshrine them into law. (Paragraph 136)

36.The resumption of the conflict since 2015 has deeply damaging implications for Turkey. Ultimately, there is no military solution to this conflict. The FCO should explain how it is working with the Turkish government to secure a path towards both a ceasefire with the PKK, and a wider process of reconciliation to address the causes of the conflict. Turkey may be able to benefit from the FCO sharing the example of the UK’s experience in Northern Ireland. (Paragraph 137)

37.While the conflict in Turkey’s southeast continues, we recommend that the FCO presses the Turkish government to ensure:

a)that the operations undertaken by the Turkish security forces to counter PKK terrorism are legal, necessary and proportionate. There is significant evidence to indicate that they are not. In particular, the FCO should press for the use of open-ended and wide-reaching curfews to be ended, and damage to civilian infrastructure to be both minimised as a matter of policy and repaired as a matter of urgency.

b)that allegations of the killing of civilians and the use of torture by the Turkish security forces, and allegations of a culture of impunity within these forces, are properly investigated.

c)that independent observers are given access to the conflict–affected areas. (Paragraph 146)

38.The Turkish forces have, in part through the direct participation in the fighting of its armed forces and in part by supporting anti-regime Syrian militias, created and held an enclave of territory in northern Syria. They have done so in part to create what they call a ‘terror-free zone’ in which refugees can live safely, in part to confront ISIL, and in part to confront the Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkey says is tied to the PKK terrorist group Turkey’s policies in northern Syria pose important questions for the UK, and the FCO should:

a)Explain whether the UK supports the creation of a safe-zone by Turkish forces and their allies in northern Syria, and provide an assessment of the implications that the creation of such a zone carries for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and any peace process, as well as for the safety and security of those within such a zone.

b)Explain whether the UK supports the settlement of Syrian refugees within territory controlled by Turkish-backed Syrian opposition groups in Syria.

c)Explain whether it shares our assessment that the YPG, rather than ISIL, are now the primary target of Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield

d)Explain whether it agrees with Turkey’s assertion that the YPG are linked with the PKK to such an extent that they should share the latter’s designation as terrorists. This is of immediate importance, given that the YPG are the predominant Kurdish group in northern Syria, have significantly expanded their territory there, and are the main component of the SDF coalition which both the UK and US support against ISIL. (Paragraph 156)

39.Conflict between the YPG and Turkey is not in the interest of the UK or the wider international community, and the FCO must explain how it is going to work to end the fighting between two forces that have been the primary armies fighting ISIL on the ground in Syria. (Paragraph 157)

40.We recommend a determined effort by the FCO to persuade Turkey to recommence the peace process with the PKK. This should include support for Turkish recognition and enablement of Kurdish cultural identity, and discussion of sustainable local autonomy as the basis for the wider reconciliation of Turkish, Kurdish, and international interests. (Paragraph 158)

The status of democracy in Turkey

41.We share the concern of the US and the EU about the arrests and continuing detention of elected Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) parliamentarians. (Paragraph 174)

42.The democratic institutions and culture of Turkey have significantly weakened in recent years. Freedom of expression is one aspect that has notably deteriorated. There is a fundamental intolerance of alternative narratives in Turkey, with the government broadly suppressing, discrediting, or punishing those who contradict its authorised accounts of sensitive events. The powers afforded by the State of Emergency—combined with a vaguely-framed definition of terrorism, a pliant media, and a politicised judiciary—have allowed the government to silence a broad spectrum of critics by labelling them as “Gülenists” or “terrorists” on the basis of light evidence or broad interpretations. The FCO should press Turkey to adopt a narrow and focused definition of “terrorism”, and to ensure that it—or other procedural methods—are not applied in the politically-motivated sense of silencing the government’s critics. (Paragraph 176)

43.The origins of the deterioration in Turkey’s human rights preceded the coup attempt. However, actions justified in the name of the coup attempt or counter-terrorism—and framed as being temporary, short-term, and necessary—are further undermining the fundamentals of the democratic culture that they are justified as protecting. These actions carry implications that may outlast the causes of the coup itself, and the current threat that Turkey faces from terrorism. (Paragraph 177)

44.When defending human rights, the UK must be both seen and heard. Discretion is sometimes necessary for impact, and private behind–the–scenes meetings will also play an important role in the UK’s influence on human rights in Turkey, but the FCO must be prepared to raise its concerns about Turkey with the Turks publicly. Currently, by giving human rights insufficient prominence in its dialogue with Turkey, the UK risks being perceived as de–prioritising its human rights values. If that impression is sustained, then it would damage the UK’s international reputation and not serve the protection of human rights in Turkey. (Paragraph 178)

45.We recommend that the FCO designate Turkey as a Human Rights Priority Country in its next Human Rights and Democracy Report. (Paragraph 179)

23 March 2017