Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Saturday decision to expel ten ambassadors from his country has been termed “incomprehensible” by the governments of several EU nations. His most recent actions could lead to yet another diplomatic row between Turkey and the EU.
The leader of Turkey told his Foreign Ministry to expel the ambassadors of the United States and nine other Western countries after they demanded the release of Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala last week.
Seven of the ambassadors represent Turkey’s NATO allies. The expulsions, if carried out, would open the deepest rift with the West in Erdogan‘s 19 years in power. Spokespersons from the European governments say that his decision was “regrettable” and “incomprehensible.”
Kavala, a contributor to numerous civil society groups, has been in prison for four years. He was charged with financing nationwide protests in 2013, and with involvement in the failed 2016 coup in Turkey.
He has remained in detention while his latest trial continues; he has denied the charges. Kavala, 64, was acquitted last year of charges linked to nationwide anti-government protests in 2013. But the ruling was overturned — and then joined to charges relating to the coup attempt.
In a joint statement on October 18, the ambassadors of Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and the United States called for a just and speedy resolution to Kavala’s case, and for his “urgent release.”
Turkey to expel ambassadors due to “impudence”
The Turkish President said that the statement was an “impudence” and ordered the ambassadors to be declared as undesirables. “I gave the instruction to our foreign minister to immediately handle the persona non grata declaration of these ten ambassadors,” Erdogan told supporters during a political rally in Eskisehir.
The ambassadors had already been summoned last Tuesday by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, which called the statement “irresponsible.” Neither the US or French embassies nor the White House immediately responded to requests for comment.
A US State Department spokesperson said it was aware of the reports and was seeking clarity from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Norway said its embassy had not received any notification from Turkish authorities.
“Our ambassador has not done anything that warrants an expulsion,” said the Norwegian ministry’s chief spokesperson, Trude Maaseide. He added that Turkey was well aware of Norway’s views on the matter.
German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert said on Monday that he had taken note “with concern and also with incomprehension” of the Turkish President’s statements. He stressed that Berlin had not yet received any “official communication” from Ankara.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told public broadcaster YLE on Sunday that “this was a tough reaction” from Erdogan. “This is a very regrettable situation. We’ve considered it important that the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights are respected and complied with. Therefore, we have called for the release of this human rights activist,” Marin said.
No official notification yet
By Sunday afternoon, none of the four Nordic countries had received an official notification from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry on their ambassadors being given persona non grata status.
The European Commission is watching developments concerning the potential expulsion of the ten ambassadors “very closely,” according to Peter Stano, the Commission’s spokesman for EU foreign affairs.
International observers and human rights groups have repeatedly called for the release of Kavala and Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, who has been jailed since 2016.
They say their imprisonment is based on politics. Ankara denies the claims and insists on the independence of Turkish courts. The European Court of Human Rights called for Kavala’s release in 2019, saying his incarceration acted to silence him and was not supported by evidence of an offense.
Meanwhile, the Council of Europe announced that it will start infringement proceedings against Turkey at the end of November if Kavala is not released.