Turkey PM adviser tells AFP 'we aim to be in Europe 1st division'


Istanbul (AFP) - Turkey's leaders are committed to EU membership and still aim to play in the "first division" of Europe despite a bitter row over a crackdown on the opposition, a top adviser to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

Turkey's aspirations to join the EU received a serious setback when the latest police swoop on opposition media linked to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's number one foe, Fethullah Gulen, led to an angry slanging match between Ankara and Brussels.

Etyen Mahcupyan, a Turkish-Armenian who was named chief adviser to Davutoglu in November, blamed the dispute on a lack of understanding about Turkey in the West.

But he told AFP in an interview that despite the sometimes tough rhetoric, Ankara had no intention of giving up on its decades-old bid to join the 28-member bloc.

"AK Party (the ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP) absolutely, 100 percent, wants to join the EU and demonstrate its own power in Europe," he said.

"An enthusiastic and self-confident Recep Tayyip Erdogan cannot dream of a Turkey which plays in the second division. He wants to play in the first league, but as equal partners."

Mahcupyan, however, criticised the West's "negative" approach and what he said was its failure to understand the government's war against the Gulen movement, which Erdogan has accused of orchestrating a plot to bring him down when he was prime minister.

"The Western world is unaware of what's going on in Turkey. They do not understand and they are not very much willing to understand," said Mahcupyan.

Erdogan has blamed the Gulen movement -- known as Hizmet (Service) or Cemaat (Community) -- of concocting a corruption scandal last year that rocked his government and has purged thousands of his followers from the police and the judiciary.

- 'Attempt to topple Erdogan'-

A Turkish court has issued an arrest warrant for the US-based Gulen, but the EU was particularly concerned by raids earlier this month that targeted pro-Gulen media.

"It is very clear that the Gulen Cemaat attempted to topple the government and particularly to create a period without Tayyip Erdogan," said Mahcupyan, adding that it was an "abortive" initiative without military involvement.

Mahcupyan said the Gulenists established a "hierarchy" in key state institutions in charge of policy-making and the "coup" was staged by that "core group," estimated to number between 5,000 and 10,000 out of up to three million sympathisers.

"I cannot say all are involved," he said, adding that most Gulenists only heard about what happened from the media."As far as I can see, Tayyip Erdogan and the AK Party are trying to explain this as much as they can and convince them to part ways with Cemaat of their free will, so that the government can deal with the remaining core group."

Critics at home and abroad have accused Erdogan of consolidating power against his domestic and international detractors, with a recent New York Times editorial labelling him an "authoritarian leader living in a parallel universe".

Mahcupyan likened the ruling AKP, co-founded by Erdogan, to a "pendulum swinging between authoritarianism and democracy" and said the party showed a reflex for tougher measures whenever it saw a threat to its survival.

"I can say it is a party closer to democracy... It is a very doubtful party which thinks the rug under its feet could be pulled at any moment."

Mahcupyan said Erdogan and Davutoglu had similar ideas and their differences in style were complementary.

"Tayyip Erdogan is the man who clears bushes in a wood with a sword in his hand. He does not stop. If he stops, there's a threat. He always moves forward just in case," he said.

"Davutoglu is the man who will install tiles on the road. If Tayyip Erdogan does not open that path, Davutoglu cannot furnish that path. They complement each other."

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