On his first visit to Turkey since being appointed Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson tried to mend ties with Ankara.
Johnson voiced eager support for Turkey following the July 15 failed coup and reiterated that support on his visit.
Johnson said the Gulen movement, which the Turkish government blames for the coup, resembled a cult and assured Britain would cooperate with Turkish authorities and examine a list they provided of UK-based institutions allegedly linked to Gulen, according to the Financial Times.
Britain has been one of the most vocal supporters of the Turkish government in the aftermath of the failed coup. “Plainly what happened in July was deeply violent, deeply anti-democratic, deeply sinister and it was totally right that it was crushed,” Johnson said of the coup according to the Guardian.
The Gulen movement, led by self-exiled cleric Fettulah Gulen, has staunchly denied any involvement in the coup. Turkey has repeatedly asked the US government to extradite Gulen, who resides in the state of Pennsylvania, but Washington has so far not complied with Ankara’s request.
Johnson said Britain would examine the list and see “what action, if any, we need to take to make sure they are not involved in nefarious activities,” the FT reports. He also stressed how little the UK knew about the movement and how it was “trying to learn as much as we can from our Turkish friends” about it.
The meeting between Johnson and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was highly anticipated and tipped to be slightly awkward as Johnson won the Spectator’s inaugural President Erdogan Offensive Poetry Competition earlier this year, with a poem in which he called Erdogan a “wankerer” from Ankara.
The Spectator started the competition in response to Angela Merkel allowing the prosecution in Germany of German comedian Jan Böhmermann for writing an offensive poem about Erdogan.
Johnson had been one the staunchest critics of Merkel’s decision, telling the Spectator : “If somebody wants to make a joke about the love that flowers between the Turkish president and a goat, he should be able to do so, in any European country, including Turkey.”
Asked about his poem at a press conference after his meeting with Erdogan, Johnson dismissed it as a “trivial matter” and said he was “delighted” it had not come up in talks.
Johnson had also come under fire during the Brexit campaign when he used Turkey’s accession to the European Union as one of his main arguments for the UK to leave the EU. But during his visit, Johnson made comments alluding to the fact that the UK supported a Turkey’s bid to join the bloc and hailed establishing a new partnership between the two countries after the Brexit vote.
In comments following his 2-day trip, Johnson said he had mentioned “the importance of a measured and a proportionate response” to the coup, but reiterated that it was crucial that Britain supports Turkish democracy.
On Wednesday, Turkey announced that it had now arrested 32,000 suspects on charges of links to the Gulenist movement.