NATO warning as Turkey represses liberties

Turkish delight? Over 30,000 people rallied for Erdogan in Cologne, in Germany, on Sunday. © PA

Turkey’s president is taking radical steps to silence his opponents. Members of NATO are growing concerned. Should this alliance of democracies throw out an increasingly authoritarian state?

Sacking teachers. Shutting newspapers and detaining journalists. Cancelling 50,000 passports. Declaring a three-month state of emergency.

In the last two weeks, President Erdogan of Turkey has responded ruthlessly to an attempt to overthrow him by a faction in the country’s armed forces.

This weekend he sacked almost 1,400 soldiers, taking the total since the coup to around 3,000, and placed the armed forces under direct government control. He has dismissed 66,000 public sector workers, shut at least 131 media outlets and told uneasy foreign observers to ‘mind your own business’.

Since the coup he has blamed an unwieldy mix of secularists and US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, encouraged rallies of support at home and abroad and invoked the Ottoman victory at Gallipoli in 1915. Analysts say he is harnessing nationalism to solidify his own power. ‘He knew that the vast majority of Turkey could unite against plotters and foreign intervention,’ says Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish MP. Some even suggest Erdogan staged the coup, darkly comparing it to the 1933 Reichstag fire.

Turkey belongs to NATO, the Western military alliance of 28 countries committed to democracy and common self-defence, but relations with its partners are increasingly tense. The Turkish prime minister says the US must hand over Gulen or be ‘engaged in a serious war’ with his country. Erdogan has accused Washington of helping to plan the coup and next week he will alarm western observers by meeting Vladimir Putin.

NATO members now hint at dismissing Turkey. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said last week: ‘NATO has a requirement with respect to democracy,’ adding that Turkey’s actions would now draw significant ‘vigilance and scrutiny’.

Expulsion would be risky. Turkey borders Syria and stands between Europe and the Middle East. It is a key ally against Islamic State (IS) and home to 2.5m Syrian refugees. A worsening of relations could harm them and see many more people flee to Europe in chaos.

What should NATO do?

Voting for Christmas?

Banish Turkey, say some. If Erdogan behaves so unscrupulously towards his own people, he should not be trusted to defend the interests of his allies. And he threatens the very freedoms Western countries hold dear. The West must stand with those in Turkey who believe in democracy, and stop indulging their oppressor.

That is unrealistic, say others. If the West pushes Turkey away, it will worsen the migration crisis and embolden IS. Erdogan’s rule may be questionable, but he is democratically elected and even his opponents are now resistant to the coup’s plotters. Free countries face grave uncertainty; to weaken their alliance now would be disastrous.

You Decide

  1. Is it worth taking significant risks to stand up for your principles?
  2. Should NATO expel Turkey?


  1. Write a one-page briefing for Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary-general of NATO, explaining the detail from this article in your own words. What does he need to know? What do you think he should do, and why?
  2. In groups of three, create a three-minute video explaining the history of NATO. When and why was it founded, what are its core principles, what has it achieved and how powerful is it?

Some People Say...

“Countries should not interfere in the internal affairs of others.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m not in the military, and I don’t live in Turkey. What impact does this have on me?
If you live in a free society, Erdogan’s behaviour could one day be the behaviour of your rulers. In these circumstances, would you want other countries to work with them or stand up to them? And if your country is a NATO member, your politicians now have a decision to make on your behalf: should they support Turkey’s membership or reject it?
Why does everyone care about Turkey so much?
Turkey is a very important country because of its size, population and geographical position. If it turns away from democratic values, this could affect issues such as the fight against IS and the migration crisis. These are issues which have a direct or indirect impact on countries and people around the world.

Word Watch

On July 15 the obscure faction calling themselves the Peace at Home Council attempted to seize control but were defeated by forces loyal to the Turkish government.
Media outlets
Three news agencies, 16 TV channels, 23 radio stations, 45 papers, 15 magazines and 29 publishers.
In 1915 Western allies invaded the Ottoman (Turkish) empire during the first world war but retreated after eight months.
Aykan Erdemir
Now a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute in Washington, D.C.
Some point out that Erdogan was on holiday at the time of the coup.
Reichstag fire
The German parliament was set on fire and a Dutch communist found at the scene. This gave the Nazis a pretext to persecute opponents and pass the Enabling Act, which allowed Hitler to make laws by himself.
Turkey has been a NATO member since 1952.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization created in 1949 to face the threat from the USSR.
For example, unease at Erdogan’s imprisoning of journalists and demand that Germany punish a comic who satirised him.


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