Erdogan to world leaders: Mind your own business

Turkish President has no misgivings about his campaign to purge dissidents, but does have harsh words for foreign critics.

Shai Landesman ,

Turkish President Erdogan waves from his car following failed coup
Turkish President Erdogan waves from his car following failed coup

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doubled down on his policies of purging Turkish society of suspected dissidents in an interview yesterday (Wednesday) with Al-Jazeera, addressing the criticisms of several world leaders directly.

Erdogan's efforts have focused mainly on rooting out all supporters of rival Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who he blames for masterminding Friday night's failed coup. Gulen denies any involvement.

The Turkish President spoke in the interview about the efforts to extradite Mr. Gulen from the US, saying that if the Americans refused to hand Gulen over, it would be a "big mistake." Erdogan claimed that the investigation into the coup has turned up substantial evidence that Gulen was behind it, and that all this evidence has been presented to the Obama administration.

The Turkish government hasn't waited for Gulen's arrival before closing down many of the schools associated with the exiled cleric's religious organization.

"The coup was an attempt by a minority, Gulen's supporters, to impose itself on the majority," said the President.

Erdogan went on to address the criticism which has come his way from many quarters vilifying his methods as authoritarian, first objecting to the claim that he was taking control of the press and destroying its ability to criticize the administration. "I didn't censor the media, they stood by me because they knew they stood to lose a lot if the rebellion succeeded," the President claimed.

He denied that he had the power to decide to bring back the death penalty to Turkey, saying that it was in parliament's hands, but had little patience with comments made by the German Foreign Minister to the effect that Turkey would not be allowed to join the European Union if it implemented the death penalty.

"The world is not just the EU," Erdogan retorted, "the death penalty exists in countries like the US, in Russia, and in China."

The Turkish President didn't withhold his ire from his French and Egyptian critics either. To the French Foreign Minister, who has harshly denounced the "purge", the President offered advice that he should "deal with the French's own problems and stay out of our business."

As to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi - an opponent and critic of Erdogan's ever since he overthrew Mohammed Morsi in Egypt's own, successful, military coup - the Turkish President had harsher things to say. "How can we respect the behavior of someone who came into power by a military coup himself?" Erdogan asked, "al-Sisi has nothing to do with democracy."