Turkey and NATO | Erdoğan’s big game

With its right of veto, Turkey held the NATO expansion in its hands for weeks. On Tuesday, the Erdoğan regime welcomed its victory after the deal with Sweden and Finland. A way for the president to restore his image, tested at home by hyperinflation a year before the presidential election.

Posted at 6:00 am

Janie Gosselin

Janie Gosselin
The press

“A Disturbing Ally”


The Turkish journalists Levent Kenez and Abdullah Bozkurt, both in exile in Sweden

When Turkey vetoed Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession in May, and in particular demanded the extradition of some of their nationals, exiled journalist Levent Kenez was not surprised when his name was circulated in the Turkish media. His country of origin had already asked for his extradition to Sweden, where he had found refuge – a request that was rejected by the Swedish Supreme Court.

Turkey’s new position, which on Tuesday pledged to support the Swedish and Finnish candidatures in exchange for certain commitments, does not worry them unduly. Even if the Turkish justice minister reiterated his extradition request for 33 people, based on the promise of “full cooperation” between Finland and Sweden in the fight against terrorism.


President Erdoğan shakes hands with Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson during the NATO summit.

“Obviously no country will say ‘I protect terrorism,'” Mr. Kenez replied over the phone. But the real question is who counts as a terrorist. »

He himself is accused of links to the Fetö movement, which was founded by the preacher Fethullah Gülen and has been viewed as a terrorist by the Turkish government since the failed coup in 2016. As does his colleague Abdullah Bozkurt, with whom he works in Sweden for an online medium criticizing the Turkish government.

“In Turkey, a journalist critical of the regime is a terrorist, while in Sweden we recognize professional journalists,” denounces the latter, who is also president of the Stockholm Center for Freedom.


Fethullah Gülen puppet in Ankara after the failed coup in 2016. Since then, members of the Feto movement have been hunted down by the Turkish state.

Finland and Sweden have pledged to abide by the European Convention on Extradition, which could disappoint the Turkish government.

enfant terrible

Whether defining terrorism, human rights violations or democracy, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey with its authoritarian regime appears as a partner with delicate positions for its democratic allies. The veto, which was used for the first time against the NATO accession of two European democracies, is only the most recent element.

For its part, the Turkish government is accusing its allies of not supporting it – even blaming the United States for being behind the 2016 coup attempt and its presence in Africa.

“To understand Turkey’s foreign relations, I think you have to consider several levels,” said Çiğdem Üstün, associate professor at Nişantaşı University in Istanbul. Yes, there is its role within NATO, of which it has been a part since 1952. But also its disagreements with the European Union, which it wants to integrate and which it languishes with. And the sanctions imposed by several allies – including Canada – for failing to comply with the rules.

Kurdish theme

Turkish military interventions in northern Syria against the Kurdish group YPG brought sanctions to Turkey in 2019.

To support its candidacy for NATO, Turkey also demanded that Sweden lift one of those measures, namely the embargo on its arms exports – something it has obtained – and tighten its anti-terror laws on Kurdish activists.

When the West accuses him of his actions, Turkey is furious with its partners for supporting the Kurdish YPG fighters fighting the Islamic State armed group in Syria.


Fighters in a YPG training camp in Syria a few years ago

She believes its allies should view the YPG as a terrorist entity, just like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, a movement classified as such in several countries including Sweden and Canada.

Sweden and Finland have pledged “not to support” the YPG in Syria.

Reactions in Sweden

The lifting of the veto has raised concerns about the Kurds, an ethnic minority in Turkey, in the regime’s crosshairs — 17 of the 33 people who are the subject of extradition requests to Finland and Sweden are accused of being members of the PKK.

“I worry about the Kurds in Sweden,” Kurdo Baksi, a Swedish human rights activist and journalist of Kurdish origin, told Agence France-Presse.

Turkey’s rhetoric, which foregrounds security fears, is nothing new to the Kurds in Sweden, says Barzoo Eliassi, associate professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences at Linnaeus University in Sweden.

Professor Eliassi, himself of Kurdish descent from the Iranian region, has published studies on this people, including a book that got him Turkey’s blacklist, he says.

Arriving ahead of Turkey’s change of tone, he was not surprised at the place the Kurds took in the discussions. “I think the Kurds are not very surprised; They are often the victims of Realpolitik, it is a repetition of Kurdish history,” he said.

With Agence France-Presse

In numbers


Estimated number of Kurds living in Sweden, according to the Bureau of Statistics

Source: International Post

Between 25 and 35 million

Estimated number of Kurds in the world

Source: BBC

Rampant inflation, angry citizens

“We are all affected by rising prices,” says Çiğdem Üstün, associate professor of European studies at Nişantaşı University in Istanbul. “Especially with gas prices going up, because that affects everything else. »


Union demonstration in Istanbul on June 13th

In the wake of COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine, inflation and the rising cost of living are affecting people around the world. But in Turkey, the consumer price index rose 73.5% in a year, one of the highest in the world.

Economists have pointed the finger at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s policy of opposing interest rate hikes. The Turkish lira has lost almost half of its value in the past year.


President Erdoğan in the Turkish Parliament on June 15

Result: The Turks are tightening their belts by denouncing rising prices. And their anger is fueling fears that the president will lose his seat in next year’s election.

appease voters

Analysts believe that Erdoğan’s positions on the international stage are playing on voters’ hearts by trying to mobilize the populace against a scapegoat – be it the Kurds or the Syrian refugees, who number 3.7 million in Turkey, and to project an image of strength on the face of westerners.


Turkey-backed rebels in northern Syria on June 9. President Erdoğan threatens a new offensive on Syrian territory against Kurdish “terrorists”.

“Timing is important,” said Murat Önsoy, an associate professor at Hacettepe University in Ankara, citing rumors of an upcoming Turkish military operation against the Kurds in northern Syria.

So from a domestic point of view, there aren’t that many instruments to improve things [le président] plays the nationalist card. Erdoğan becomes a hero fighting terrorism.

Murat Önsoy, Associate Professor at Hacettepe University, Ankara

Especially since the economic situation could deteriorate with the war in Ukraine. So far, Turkey seems to have tried to spare the goats and cabbages in this conflict, condemning the Russian invasion without imposing Western sanctions while supporting Ukraine with its military drones.

Its economic situation does not currently allow it to do without Russia. “The Turkish economy is very dependent on Russian energy,” explains Oya Duran-Özkanca, professor of political science and international studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, who also underlines the importance of Russian tourism.


Presidents Erdoğan and Putin in Sochi, Russia in 2019

While she welcomes the “strong signal from a united NATO group” to Russia by lifting Turkey’s veto on the accession of Finland and Sweden, she does not believe that this could jeopardize Turkey’s relations with Vladimir Putin’s government. “The relationship between Russia and Turkey is very transactional,” she notes. They don’t always get along, but they work together when it serves their common interests. »

With the International mail

Turkey is not Turkey

Since 1ah On June 1st, Turkey became Türkiye in the United Nations, the name used by its inhabitants for almost 100 years.

A way to distance yourself from the English designation Turkey, which also means “turkey”. But also for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (who initiated the process last year to make it a unique “brand”) to demonstrate his power on the international stage, according to Professor Mustafa Aksakal of the University of Washington, quoted by the New York Times.

We find this new name in both English and French. Other international organizations such as the World Bank and NATO have followed suit. Turkish Airlines is now called Türk Havayollari.

If the acceptance of Türkiye becomes widespread, it could mean the end of the erroneous translations “Made in Turkey” in the near future…


Percentage of Turks who stopped consuming meat due to price increases

Source: Institute MetroPOLL

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