Turkish President Erdogan sharpened ties with ten Western countries, including the United States, Germany and the Netherlands, in an unusual way this weekend. He did this by declaring the ambassadors of the ten countries persona non grata during a speech. He was angered by a statement issued by the envoys last Monday calling for a “fair and swift treatment” of the case of well-known Turkish businessman Osman Kavala. This person has been locked up for four years.
The countries concerned have so far responded reluctantly to Erdogan’s surprise announcement, which he made on Saturday in a speech to his supporters in the Anatolian town of Eskisehir. Several countries later said they had not received official confirmation that their ambassadors had been declared persona non grata. In principle, this statement means that a person must leave the country. However, Erdogan himself has not mentioned a deadline for diplomats to leave Turkey. Declaring a persona desirable to such a large group of ambassadors is very rare in diplomatic relations.
behind the scenes
There appears to be a behind-the-scenes effort to heal the rift that Erdogan appeared to be driving on Saturday. According to Turkey analyst Soner Cagaptay, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the president’s decision also goes against the advice of his staff. “Now they have to clean up the mess. At this point, Erdogan is the political equivalent of the uncle who is embarrassing everyone at your Christmas party,” Cagaptay tweeted. Perhaps more clarity will emerge on Monday, when the Turkish government meets.
However, according to other analysts, it cannot be excluded that Erdogan will stand his ground because he personally feels deeply hurt by the position of Western countries. The pending case against Osman Kavala has caused friction between Ankara and Western capitals for years. The Turkish judiciary suspects that Kavala wants to overthrow his government. He allegedly participated in the so-called Gezi protests in 2013 and also in the failed coup against Erdogan in 2016, although no evidence was ever provided. Kavala was released briefly in 2020 after a judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence against him over the Gezi protests. Immediately after that, he was arrested again on a new charge.
Prior to his arrest, Kavala, a scion of a prominent Istanbul merchant family, was known for his commitment to democracy and civil rights. He also established Anadolu Kültür, an organization of cultural activities aimed at promoting mutual understanding between Turks, Kurds and Armenians. In addition, Kavala was an active board member of the Turkish branch of the Open Society Foundation of Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, one of Erdogan’s favorites for years. black monsters. The Open Society Foundations has not been active in Turkey since 2018.
Drifting from the Turkish government
European governments, as well as the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe, have repeatedly criticized the Turkish authorities’ handling of the Kavala case. President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, tweeted on SaturdayThe expulsion of ten ambassadors is a sign of the authoritarian drift of the Turkish government. We will not be afraid. Freedom for Osman Kavala.” Also Members of Parliament shordsma (D66) and Katy Perry (PvdA) on Twitter expressed their support for the ambassadors’ position.
During his speech on Saturday, Erdogan denounced the ambassadors who he said went too far with Monday’s criticism. “Where do they think they are? (…) This is a glorious Turkey. You cannot come here and give instructions.” On Tuesday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassadors for accountability over the same issue.
Turkey’s analysts somewhat do not know what the Turkish president hopes to achieve with his latest move. Erdogan’s policy toward the United States and the European Union has always been inherently erratic, but this move also appears to be going too far for him. Earlier this year, Erdogan appeared to be seeking rapprochement with European countries, as he feared deteriorating relations with the United States after Joe Biden took office in Washington. Erdogan is expected to meet Biden next weekend on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Rome.
It often appears that Erdogan is primarily driven by internal motives, particularly in the run-up to elections, seeking confrontations with Western countries in order to present himself in Turkey as the man who defends Turkish national interests and strong leadership. But the next presidential elections in Turkey will not take more than a year and a half. Perhaps he is trying to bolster his waning popularity with this issue.
However, the timing of another confrontation with Europe is unfortunate now that the Turkish economy is in dire straits. The Turkish lira has already lost nearly a quarter of its value this year, inflation is rising and an important construction sector has stalled. Therefore, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu accused Erdogan of playing with fire, because economic relations with Europe are of great importance. According to him, the president threatens to expel the ambassadors “to plunge Turkey into the abyss.”
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