Turkey’s rhetoric on NATO reflects years of pressure in the Western Balkans – Release
Turkey’s pressure on Sweden and Finland over their alleged harboring of “terrorists” and their refusal to extradite them is nothing new. Ankara has been using this method for several years against Western Balkan countries, including EU candidate countries.
While Ankara wields investment and aid like a sword of Damocles over the heads of poorer and less powerful countries, when it comes to the Nordic duo, it’s their bid for the NATO which is at stake.
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, an increasingly nervous Sweden and Finland decided to join the North Atlantic Alliance by filing applications in May. With the consensus that all 30 member states should finalize the accession process, Turkey saw an opportunity.
Turkey says Sweden supports members of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), a longtime enemy of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime. Following their candidacy, he said that Sweden’s membership in NATO would make it “a place where representatives of terrorist organizations concentrate”.
While the PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by the EU, the US and several other countries, Turkey’s demands to extradite members and the de facto blackmail it perpetuates against sovereign states are not new.
Another group that Turkey alone considers “terrorists” are supporters of self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. Called Gülenists by many and “FETO” by Erdogan, they have been subjected to harsh repression in Turkey and beyond. Once aligned with Erdogan’s government, Erdogan’s disagreements and fears that Gülen would become too powerful led to a number of conflicts.
Then, following the failed 2016 coup, Erdogan declared the Gulenists terrorists and imprisoned and wanted thousands of reported followers. Thousands more fled the country for the west, many more working in networks of Gulen-affiliated schools and universities around the world.
Meanwhile, Erdogan has started pumping money across borders into countries like Albania and Kosovo. Mosques have been built, hospitals funded and staffed, and aid following natural disasters has been sent without hesitation. The countries that received such generosity were grateful, but it came at a cost.
In Albania, Turkey is one of the largest investors in infrastructure and business to the tune of Billions and also built thousands of apartments following a devastating earthquake in 2019 that killed 51 people and left many homeless.
But in a speech to parliament in January 2022, Erdogan made it clear that Albania needed to expel the Gulensts from the country if it was to remain on good terms with Ankara.
“A prerequisite for our support and brotherhood,” Erdoğan said, “is your commitment to the fight against FETÖ.”
“It hurts us deeply that (FETÖ) still has an area of activity in Albania. We sincerely hope that more concrete, decisive and prompt action will be taken against the FETÖ organization in Albania in the coming period,” he added.
In 2020, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu used similar rhetoric. When signing economic cooperation agreements, he reminded Albanians that they expected the government to support the Gülenist handover.
Sure enough, the crackdown has begun. A network of schools owned by a Dutch company but allegedly linked to Gulen was raided by police while children were on the premises without a court order. Student records were seized and officers took pictures of children.
The school denounced this as political pressure and said it was the latest in a long series of administrative and legal attacks against them.
In 2020, Turkish citizen Harun Celik was deported in a decision described by the Albanian ombudsman as a violation of national law and international conventions. Celik entered Albania with a fake passport and attempted to seek asylum. He was refused, detained for five months and then deported without the possibility of appealing the decision. Furthermore, he was deported without a court request for deportation or a prosecutor’s order.
Under Albanian law, the government must notify the border police of a deportation 24 hours in advance, but it failed to do so. In addition, Albanian law also stipulates that an individual has the right to leave the country on their own within a certain period.
EU and various MEPs condemned the decision and called on the government to ensure respect for the Geneva Convention on refugees.
Selami Simsek, who entered the country along with Celik, was also to be expelled in the same way. He was refused asylum by the Directorate of Asylum and Citizenship on March 9, 2020 and September 10, 2020. He asked that the institutions be obliged to accept his request but lost at first instance. The Administrative Court of Appeal then ruled against the government and prevented it from being expelled.
The Court found that the Home Office broke the law and circumvented UNRC recommendations by attempting to deport him.
In July 2020, the United Nations reporters found that the Turkish government had signed a number of “secret agreements” with states to allow “systematic extraterritorial abductions and forced return of Turkish nationals”.
At the time, they reported that more than 100 people had been subjected to “arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances and torture” due to the collaboration between the Turkish government and countries like Albania. , Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Gabon. , Afghanistan and Cambodia.
A similar story was reported in Kosovo. The National Intelligence Agency unilaterally revoked the residence permits of at least six Turkish citizens. They were then arbitrarily detained and expelled in collaboration with the Turkish intelligence services.
Subsequently, a Kosovo parliamentary commission of inquiry concluded that the six Turkish nationals had been arbitrarily detained, subjected to enforced disappearance and illegally transferred to Turkey, in direct violation of Kosovo laws, of the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Similar deportation attempts were made in Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, were halted by the courts, while North Macedonia said it was asked to hand over some 86 so-called Gülenists. At the same time, Turkey continued to invest in the countries it had asked to comply with its demands and vehemently supported their European hopes.
Fast forward to 2022, and Turkey continues its habit of pressuring sovereign states to deliver justice against those they see as enemies. But since he does not wield financial power over the stronger and wealthier Sweden and Finland, he instead uses their NATO candidacy while war simmers on their borders.
Exit contacted the European Commission to ask if taking action against Turkey’s behavior in the Western Balkans could have prevented a repeat that affects both EU member states and NATO.
They replied that it is up to each country to “ensure that their citizens are not mistreated in the way you describe or that their territory is not used for such actions”.
The Commission said it was monitoring and evaluating Turkey’s behavior in terms of fundamental rights and freedoms and the rule of law and that it expected Ankara to behave constructively and refrain from escalation measures.
In the meantime, the Commission has invested over €700 million in the Western Balkans to improve the rule of law in candidate and potential candidate countries.
A recent report of the European Court of Auditors, however, found that this was “ineffective” and “unsuccessful” in those countries, including those that engaged in the expulsion of Turkish citizens without following due legal and judicial procedures.