Diplomatic judgement calls can sometimes be hard to make. Along with 10 or 15 other MPs and peers, I serve on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. It is the group of Parliamentarians who scrutinise what NATO does and seeks to advise them on aspects of their work. It’s a Prime Ministerial appointment, and so we all take it very seriously. The bi-annual meeting was in Istanbul last weekend. I wanted to be there, as is my duty; but I am also seriously concerned about events in Turkey both before and after last July’s unsuccessful military coup attempt against President Erdogan.
100,000 people all together have been arrested, lost their jobs, or otherwise suffered the consequences of that coup. Some of us questioned how the Regime could have collected a list of them with such accuracy and in such a short time after the coup. We also questioned whether or not Erdogan’s response was proportionate (3000 judges, for example, sacked or arrested. Were they really all plotting against the State?) And there were some who alleged (surely without foundation) that the coup itself had been planned by the regime to justify further repressive controls. Freedom of speech and of the media has without doubt been compromised, and there are number of other elements of the Regime’s recent behaviour which is, to say the least, inappropriate in a supposed Western democracy (and aspirant EU member, already a member of NATO). We were concerned, for example, by reports that they are just about to reintroduce the death penalty, and bring in another law which would pardon up to 3000 convicted paedophiles.
So we squared the circle of conscience by calling in a series of high officials (Justice Minister, Chief of General Staff, Speaker of Parliament), and giving them a hard time on some of those topics. Our cross-examination of the Speaker was so successful that he pulled out of a reception he was supposed to be giving us that evening, letting his deputy do it instead (and it was alleged withdrawing alcoholic beverages from it, although that may have been for other reasons!) President Erdogan himself came to speak to us - in a manner reminiscent of dictators over the centuries. Dozens of black-suited spooks with wiggly wires behind their ears, a cavalcade of 100 or so vehicles including a private ambulance. He would not take questions from the floor, and instead harangued us for fifty minutes on the coup and how justifiable his reactions to it were. I felt that perhaps he ‘doth protest too much’. It rather reminded me of ‘Chemical Ali’ who was broadcasting in Bagdad that all was fine at the very moment that the American tanks were entering the City.
Amazing how dictators are usually the last people to realise that their time may be up! So I hope that I did not compromise any of my deeply held democratic beliefs by attending the NATO Assembly in Turkey, and that to a degree at least, I may have helped that cause by giving our hosts a bit of a hard time.