Shuvaloy MajumdarThe chilling crackdown underway in Turkey has now claimed a Canadian connection: Dr. Tuncay Babali, the former Turkish ambassador to Canada, has been thrown in prison under the guise that he was somehow part of that country’s recent coup attempt.

Shuvaloy Majumdar, an MLI Munk Senior Fellow, says how he is treated will show what kind of country Turkey is becoming.

By Shuvaloy Majumdar, Sept. 2, 2016

Most Canadians don’t know Tuncay Babali, but in the chilling crackdown now underway in Turkey, he is connected to Canada.

Not long ago, Dr. Babali was Turkey’s ambassador to Canada. In mid-August, Turkish authorities threw him in prison under the guise that he was somehow part of that country’s recent coup attempt.

To those who do know Dr. Babali, the suggestion that this friendly diplomat and admired policy thinker was a coup plotter is preposterous. And worrisome questions about how the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan deals with Dr. Babali are intertwined with the many questions about what kind of nation Turkey is becoming.

Last November, Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian bomber in Turkish airspace. The aircraft had been part of a broader Russian-Iranian alliance securing the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Worrisome questions about how the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan deals with Dr. Babali are intertwined with the many questions about what kind of nation Turkey is becoming.

Yet less than one year later, on Aug. 9, inside the gilded halls of the Constantine Palace near St. Petersburg, the Turkish President met with his “dear friend,” Russian President Vladimir Putin. What could conceivably cause such a dramatic reversal in the relationship between these two leaders, whose foreign policy decisions hinge almost exclusively on their personalities?

There are those who suggest that Mr. Putin provided Mr. Erdogan with timely information ahead of the imminent coup attempt and threats against his life. By saving the hide of a fierce NATO-clad rival, it would be part of Mr. Putin’s ongoing tactical skill and ruthless agility in driving wedges between NATO and EU partners. In Mr. Erdogan, the Russian president gazes into the mirror, finding a rising strongman with neo-Ottoman ambitions akin to his own neo-imperialist ones.

Mr. Putin is generally unburdened by concerns for human rights, in any of his dear friends. In the immediate aftermath of the coup plot, Mr. Erdogan deliciously declared it “a gift from God,” intensely accelerating his decade-long consolidation of control over Turkish institutions.

His widespread crackdown against alleged conspirators has accompanied his continuing war on Kurds in both Turkey and Syria, his AK Party’s Islamist identity politics in the wider Muslim world, and his demonstrably frayed relationship with Washington during Vice-President Joe Biden’s recent visit to Ankara.

A delegation of Turkish parliamentarians was dispatched to Ottawa soon after the coup attempt, which included an attack on the Turkish parliament. They decried how EU and NATO capitals seemed quietly saddened by the coup’s failure to oust Mr. Erdogan at the expense of Turkish democracy. The very rationale that drew widespread international condemnation of the coup attempt – in protecting Turkish democracy – is now being twisted into smothering what democracy is left in the Turkish state.

During their visit, the parliamentarians were questioned on whether former diplomats had been fired or detained without evidence. They were questioned about the integrity of the Turkish judicial process, following themass dismissal of 2,700 Turkish judges. Demurring at first, the AK Party chairman of the parliament’s foreign relations committee indicated that some diplomats had been dismissed, but that Turkish courts would be open to repealing those decisions in a fair and transparent manner.

The very rationale that drew widespread international condemnation of the coup attempt – in protecting Turkish democracy – is now being twisted into smothering what democracy is left in the Turkish state.

He likely knew that he was also speaking of something closer to home for Canadians. Nearly a week before their Ottawa visit, Dr. Babali had been dismissed without cause from his job at the Turkish foreign ministry. A scholar in his own right on the geopolitics of energy, Dr. Babali is a deeply talented diplomat, fiercely loyal to his country’s interests and democracy, and has a tremendous network of admirers around the world.

His early departure from Ottawa saddened many who had come to work with him and call him friend. And now, he has gone from being a fearless and passionate advocate for Turkish-Canadian relations in our Parliament’s reception halls – to incarceration in an unknown prison in Turkey.

There are hard questions for Ankara to answer.

How the Erdogan government treats Dr. Babali will undoubtedly affect how Canadians and Western economies view that country.

What credible evidence do they offer by means of their former ambassador’s conspiracy to commit the coup? Is he imprisoned in a sweltering hall with thousands of other alleged coup conspirators? What will be the timeline for his fair and legal process – with a judiciary already compromised of its independence? Will Turkish civil society, international observers and foreign embassies be able to visit him?

How the Erdogan government treats Dr. Babali will undoubtedly affect how Canadians and Western economies view that country.

Will it be a democratic, stable and successful NATO partner, with dynamic commercial opportunities as a world-class destination for tourism as Dr. Babali had advocated? Or has Mr. Erdogan’s zeal for vengeance completely taken over, ruining the lives of a proud people, as he strangles what freedom remains for the Turkish people and steers them into one of their darkest chapters?

Shuvaloy Majumdar led democracy assistance initiatives in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2006 to 2010, and recently served as policy director to successive Canadian foreign ministers in Stephen Harper’s government. He is a Munk Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.@shuvmajumdar

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