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A Fresh Case of Tension with Turkey: 10 Embassies Crisis in Ankara

A Fresh Case of Tension with Turkey: 10 Embassies Crisis in Ankara

Thursday, 28 October, 2021 - 06:45

Over the weekend, the already troubled relations between Turkey and the US and some other Western countries were further strained with a diplomatic row over a joint declaration of 10 Embassies in Ankara (US, Netherlands, Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Canada, and New Zealand). The issue was the case of Osman Kavala.

Who is Osman Kavala? He is a Turkish businessman who is also involved in civil society organizations. He was charged with financing Gezi Park protests in 2013. Gezi Park is seen by President Erdoğan as a rebellion ignited and financed by foreigners, aimed to topple him.

Kavala was arrested in 2017, accused of attempting to overthrow the government. Kavala was acquitted and released in February 2020. On the same day, he was taken into custody again, on separate charges. Then released once more, then taken into custody again. The latest is that he continues to remain in prison.

As Turkey is one of the founding members of the European Council and a signatory of the Court of Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) followed the issue and concluded in December 2019 that there was no sufficient evidence for his detention. The Court called for his release.

The Committee of Ministers, which is the body responsible for overseeing the implementation of ECHR decisions, issued Turkey another warning to release Kavala. The Council stated that infringement proceedings against Ankara would start at the end of November if Kavala was not released.

How did the 10 Embassies get involved:

Ten Embassies in Ankara issued a joint statement. They pointed out the fact that four years have passed since the arrest of Kavala and still there is no conviction. They claimed this situation as casting a shadow on rule of law and transparency in the Turkish judicial system. They called for the immediate release of Kavala in line with the decisions of ECHR.

President Erdoğan was furious. He said: “Turkey does not have the luxury to host these (Ambassadors)”. A day later at a public rally in Eskişehir province, Erdoğan announced that “he had instructed his Foreign Minister to do what is necessary and declare the 10 ambassadors persona non grata (PnG)”.

One does not have to be a genius to realize immediately, the meaning and serious implications of such a step.

At that point, diplomacy came into play. Ten ambassadors were summoned by the Deputy Minister in the Turkish Foreign Ministry, who informed them of Turkey’s frustration and reminded them of their obligations under the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. But he did not request them to leave Turkey.

Expectations were that whatever would be, would be after the regular Monday meeting of the Council of Ministers under the chairmanship of President Erdoğan.

In the meantime, behind closed doors, Turkish diplomats and their 10 Embassy counterparts, found a way out, whereby, the 10 Embassies issued a short statement through Twitter saying that “it was not their duty to interfere in the domestic affairs of the host country”.

The US Embassy Twitter message said: "The United States notes that it maintains compliance with Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations".

It is worth noting that, a few hours later, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price after a period of calm, pointed out that “Biden's Administration seeks cooperation with Turkey on common priorities”. He went on to state that “what the Embassy issued was a statement to underscore that the statement that we put out on October 18 was consistent with Article 41 of the Vienna Convention”.

In any case, it seems that the “compromise formula” satisfied President Erdoğan and tensions cooled off. The ambassadors remain in Ankara!

It would be naive to think that the ambassadors took the personal initiative and came out with a joint statement on an issue that is known to be very sensitive and even personal for President Erdoğan.

It would be safe to say that 10 ambassadors had a go-ahead from their capitals. But then, why would they do what they did, or rather, the way that they did it. Ambassadors do not directly and publicly confront their hosts.

They do what they need to do through diplomatic demarches in the Ministries, report to their authorities, and inform the public if need be, but in a manner that would not challenge their host country.

Relations between Turkey and the US, France, Netherlands, Canada, and others are already troubled on a number of issues. Kavala's case is just one of them.

These countries are among those who claim that Turkey is drifting away from the West. Turkey denies this and claims that it is being pushed away. The US is furious that Turkey opted for Russian S-400 air defense systems. Turkey argues that it tried to purchase US Patriots but Congress denied its request, so it had to meet its needs from somewhere else, in this case, Russia.

So the way the two sides see things are very different. When the diagnosis is so different, disagreement on how to cure comes very naturally.

This most recent uproar had domestic implications in Turkey. Erdoğan’s supporters hailed the outturn of events as a lesson thought to foreigners who attempted to interfere in Turkey’s internal affairs.

One of the closest advisors of the President, Fahrettin Altun, tweeted “we are grateful for the leadership of our President, His reaction to this disrespectful statement is a result of his commitment and sensitivity over our national sovereignty”.

The opposition took it as yet another showcase of the failures of the Erdoğan government. The opposition’s view is that this incident is yet another case of a sharp u-turn by the President. They say that he once again acted in a hurry, made the wrong decision, and failed to deliver on his words.

The crisis showed once again how fragile relations between Turkey and its allies are. It also showed how deep divisions between the government and the opposition in Turkey are.

In conclusion, 10 ambassadors continue to remain in Turkey, as Kavala continues to remain in his cell. The dark clouds over relations between Turkey and these countries also remain.

The upcoming G-20 meeting in Rome and United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow may provide opportunities for leaders to talk to each other on these issues at the margins of these meetings.

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