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EurActiv, by OSCE PA President Chistine Muttonen (MP, Austria)

31 August 2016

The OSCE could be quickly able to deploy a monitoring mission to Turkey that could lend its expertise to make Turkish democracy more resilient, writes Christine Muttonen.

Austrian MP Christine Muttonen (SPÖ) is the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. She led a delegation of four European parliamentarians and two senior international diplomats to Turkey from 15-18 July.

US Vice President Joe Biden’s recent visit to Turkey made headlines, as an effort to ease tensions over the requested extradition of self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Turkish authorities blame for the failed coup in July. But there was a subtext to the diplomacy that has received less attention. Being the highest-level visit since that coup attempt, it was also a reminder of what has been understood by Turkey as an almost indifferent response from Western powers to what was the clearest attack on European democracy we have witnessed in recent memory.

Meeting with the political leadership of Turkey earlier this month – including President Erdoğan – I was repeatedly told that the delegation I led was the first high-level visit in response to the 15 July coup attempt. Ours was a timely visit, exactly one month after the attempted coup. In meetings with government officials, opposition leaders and civil society, our OSCE delegation was greeted with not just hospitality, but with genuine gratitude for our expression of support for Turkish democracy in these difficult times.

Already the day after the coup, all four parties in the Turkish parliament had jointly adopted a declaration condemning the attempt to seize power by force. The display of unity of political factions is promising. In what has long been a polarised environment, this is an opportunity that should be seized to reinforce Turkish democracy in an inclusive manner.

But since that bloody summer night, which left some 250 people dead and many government buildings severely damaged, relations between Turkey and Western countries unfortunately have soured over what has been perceived as a lack of understanding and empathy. What were seen as tepid responses from Western capitals have been a great source of frustration for the Turkish people. This perceived lack of solidarity has arguably diminished the potency of many of the West’s calls for restraint in Ankara’s response to the coup attempt. Therefore – regardless of other concerns that may exist – it must be continuously made clear that 15 July was an unacceptable attempt to overthrow Turkey’s democratic institutions through violence.

That said, the tens of thousands of dismissals and suspensions from state institutions, as well as arrests and closures of media outlets, has understandably raised criticism and many – including myself – are legitimately concerned about issues of due process and rule of law in Turkey. Those responsible for the violent coup attempt should be held responsible for their actions, but this does not absolve the Turkish government of its responsibility to live up to its commitments, including on freedom of the media and respect for the independence of the judiciary.

Our friends in the Turkish parliament have a crucial role to play in this regard; robust oversight of the government’s actions by all political forces can help allay scepticism and fears related to potential overreach. Transparency in responding to the attack, including in investigations and trials, will be key to maintaining broad support in and for Turkey.

Due process and the rule of law must be respected in the aftermath of the coup attempt, and the authorities assured us that Ankara intended to live up to the international commitments that it has itself been a party to creating. Our OSCE delegation welcomed this – but still I must doubt whether this will be enough to bridge the gaps that have emerged. With such a scenario already looming, our OSCE delegation proposed to depoliticise this question. With Turkey’s consent, the OSCE would be quickly able to deploy a monitoring mission to Turkey, which could lend its expertise to make Turkish democracy more resilient, as well as following trials and other actions in relation to the attempted coup with independent eyes.

Such a mission would be of mutual benefit, as it would be the right response to concerns expressed in Western capitals, while respecting the right of the Turkish government to prosecute those who are responsible in a fair and impartial way. What is most important: it would be a sign that European countries are willing to move beyond criticism and support Turkey – its friend and ally – in these troubled times.