Following disagreements over Syria and frustration in efforts to extradite preacher, many officials in Ankara see Trump as a clean slate
ISTANBUL, Turkey – Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim congratulated Donald Trump on his expected victory in the US presidential election on Wednesday and immediately called on him to extradite Fetullah Gulen.
Gulen is the US-based preacher that the government in Ankara accuses of orchestrating the failed coup attempt of 15 July.
"Trump was elected the 45th president. I congratulate him. I call on him to extradite Gulen," said Yildirim.
"An opportunity has been created for the new president to take our traditional friendly relations even further forward by taking into consideration Turkey’s sensitivities in its fight against terror and by prioritising regional peace and stability."
A large portion of pro-government media has for months been rooting for Trump, whom they see as a better option as far as aligning American and Turkish policies in the Middle East are concerned.
US and Turkish policy on the Middle East, and towards Syria in particular, has become increasingly divergent during Barack Obama’s eight years in office.
The Turkish foreign ministry released a statement, according to local media, that read: “US election results reflect the preference of American people and Turkey respects their choice.”
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said the Turkish-American relationship was one of strategic allies and individuals did not decide that relationship.
“No individual decides the relationship between our countries, which are deep-rooted and institutionalised. The American public has made its choice and that must be respected,” he said.
“No one can win elections with newspaper headlines, surveys and television appearances. It is the public that casts a vote in the end. From what I saw the American public said 'No' to having their will manipulated through election strategy,” said Bozdag.
The general feeling in Turkish government circles and the pro-government media has been that during the Obama years the US often abandoned Ankara and sometimes even acted against its interests.
The fear was that a Hillary Clinton victory would mean the US would continue with its existing positions and there would be no end in sight to the tense relationship with Washington.
An editorial published on 9 November in the pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper focuses almost entirely on what it sees as Obama’s mistakes during his time in office.
Another piece penned by Sadik Unay, from the pro-government SETA Foundation thinktank, writes about how Turkey enjoyed exemplary relations with the last Republican administration under George W Bush, citing it as a positive of Trump winning the presidency.
In the past few months Turkish pro-government media has also focused on alleged links and empathy between the Clinton camp and the Gulen movement.
Ankara has initiated proceedings to extradite Gulen and feels the US is not acting swiftly enough to facilitate the request.
A host of officials have visited the US to convince American officials with the latest being a visit by Bozdag, the justice minister, last month.
Doubts over Clinton
Pro-government media has also felt that it was the Obama administration, with Clinton as secretary of state, which pushed it to take an aggressive stance on Syria and the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but then refused to back Ankara militarily or diplomatically.
The Obama administration’s military cooperation and support for the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the fight against the Islamic State group and the fear that it would continue under a Clinton presidency also meant the ruling elite in Turkey saw Trump as the better option.
The belief is that at the very least Trump comes with a clean slate and might be more open to listening to Ankara’s concerns.
Turkey’s pro-government media has not made a big deal of Trump’s Islamophobic rhetoric during his election campaign.
It is considered a secondary issue, since the priority is seen as the rebuilding of a working and amicable relationship with the US to safeguard what they see as existential issues for Turkey in Syria and Iraq.
Turkish officials, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, often slam European governments for their Islamophobic statements and perceived inaction to tackle it. But this criticism rarely extends to the US and Trump.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.