German president 'horrified' by developments in Turkey

German president has said in Ankara he is "horrified" over negative
developments in Turkey, criticizing the government for censoring
Internet, controlling judiciary and granting wide powers to the spy

"Don't take my statements as an interference into your domestic
affairs," German President Joachim Gauck told a group of students at
the Ankara's prestigious Middle Eastern Technical University (ODTU) on
Monday. "I should confess developments in Turkey horrify me." He said
his remarks are aimed at sharing his concerns as a citizen of a
democratic nation.

Gauck said he lived in a communist regime for fifty years, in which
the ruling party decided what is legal and what is not. To avoid this,
he said, the separation of powers is significant.

Gauck, who is on a four-day-long official visit to Turkey, arrived in
the country late on Saturday accompanied by his wife, Daniela Schadt,
and Integration Minister Aydan Ozoguz, the first politician of Turkish
origin to hold a top post in Germany.

Gauck's remarks came at a time when the government put judiciary under
its control with a recent bill on the Supreme Board of Judges and
Prosecutors (HSYK). The German president said the removal of a number
of police and prosecutors from their posts by the government will
block to illuminate shady developments. "I'm asking: If the government
tries to manipulate the court decisions in its favor or escape from
decisions against itself, can we talk about independence of

Gauck also mentioned positive developments in Turkey, which includes
the taming military power in politics. He recalled that a dialogue has
been started with Kurds and that the conflicts decreased. He added
that historic taboos about what has been done to Armenians and Kurds
started to break up.

Gauck criticized granting wide powers to the National Intelligence
Organization (MIT) and slammed the authorities for using excessive
force to disperse protesters from the streets.

He said he is concerned over the freedom of press, reminding that
Internet is being censored while journalists are jailed or
intimidated. He stated that informing people and being informed by
developments are two fundamental conditions of a healthy democracy.

Earlier in the day, during a press conference with his Turkish
counterpart, Abdullah Gul, Gauck called on the Turkish government to
be responsive to criticism and said he does not understand why the
government has been antagonizing the media and judiciary.

`This [Turkish] government won the elections. Why would such a strong
government [need to] take such measures against judiciary and react to
the media?" said Gauck at a joint press conference with President
Abdullah Gul.

He added that the government should not feel uneasy with criticism and
asked Gul whether Twitter and YouTube had to be banned and why
Constitutional Court President Hasim Kilic recently delivered a harsh
speech. `Is this approach supposed to strengthen the democracy?' said
the German president.

During the meeting, the presidents touched upon the issue of
minorities in Turkey. `A democratic society should be able to question
its history. Germany also expresses its guilt and shame [regarding its
national history], which is not a weakness,' said Gauck.

In remarks regarding Turkey's European Union membership, Gauck said,
"We are in a process that started a long time ago. There are some
chapters that are open and some that are not. There is no questioning
whether Turkey will become an EU member. Democracy is a state of
constant and systematic dialogue [between sides].'

Regarding Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's remarks that he is
ignoring international criticism on the Twitter ban, Gauck emphasized
that the Turkish government is not facing a threat from social media.
Speaking alongside Gauck at the press conference, Gul expressed his
support for the government, which has asked Twitter to establish a
local office in Turkey in an attempt to end a feud over a tax-related
issue. Erdogan reiterated his stance on the government dispute with
Twitter last week by saying: `All else aside, a tax-evading company
may not operate in Turkey. It doesn't have an office [in Turkey]. It
can't operate [here]. We will do whatever is necessary. The issue is
no longer one-dimensional, it has multiple dimensions.'

Gul endorsed Erdogan's condolences to the grandchildren of Armenians
who were killed in 1915 in Anatolia, during World War I. Gul expressed
his firm support for the statement, which was released by the Prime
Ministry on Erdogan's behalf last week.

Speaking about the EU and Turkey's turbulent relationship, Gul argued
that his country has undergone tremendous reforms in the past decade
as part of its firm commitment to the accession process. It is an
undisputed fact, Gul said, that Turkey has made remarkable progress on
its path toward membership.

In response to a German journalist's question of whether Gul is taking
Gauck's criticisms as advice or as a threat, Gul said: `No country can
claim to be perfect. We have seen murders committed by the far right
in Germany and the visible shame after the murders. We have similar
situations [in Turkey] and it is important to be aware of [both] our
flaws and our efforts to correct them.'

Before his visit to Ankara, the German president also visited a tent
city in Kahramanmaras on Sunday. After talking to Syrians there, Gauck
told journalists that he was very impressed by Turkey's efforts to
provide help to Syrians who have fled the war. He pledged that Germany
would donate TL 2.5 million to Syrians in Turkey with the cooperation
of the Turkish Red Crescent Society (Kizilay).

`We can't do much to end the war in Syria. But we should think more
about how we can help these people [Syrians who have fled the war]. I
see international cooperation here. Government institutions and
Turkish people are trying their best to help Syrians. We, as a rich
country, should ask ourselves whether we are doing everything we can
to help,' said Gauck, adding: `This visit was an important message for
me to appreciate Turkey's efforts. When I go back to my country, I
will tell my observations to the German government." Gauck handed out
toys to Syrian children in the tent city.

Following his visit to the tent city, Gauck inspected 300 German
troops stationed in Kahramanmaras, where they operate NATO's Patriot
missiles that guard against threats from Syria.

Turkey has Patriot missiles stationed in the southern provinces of
Gaziantep, Kahramanmaras and Adana. Six Patriot batteries were sent to
Turkey by the US, the Netherlands and Germany as part of a NATO
decision to boost Turkey's air defense against a potential Syrian
missile attack. The batteries have been in those provinces since
December of 2012. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sent a
letter requesting an extension of the Patriot batteries' deployment to
areas along the Syrian border in December 2013. The extension request
was necessary, as the Patriots' deployment was set to end after one

Following his meeting with Gul, Gauck met with Erdogan on Monday in
Ankara. Gauck is also planning to visit Istanbul, where he will attend
the opening ceremony of the Turkish-German University in Istanbul's
Beykoz district on Tuesday. Gauck is also expected to have meetings
with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Turkey.

From: A. Papazian