Placing the region on the brink of a serious diplomatic crisis, Turkey has threatened to expel the American and nine other ambassadors after several western nations called for the release of a philanthropist jailed since 2017.
President Tayyip Erdogan announced on Saturday that he instructed the Foreign Ministry to expel 10 ambassadors from Turkey over calls by their nations to release Osman Kavala, businessman and philanthropist, from prison.
“These 10 ambassadors must be declared personae non gratae at once,” Erdogan said on Saturday. “I gave the necessary order to our foreign minister and said what must be done.”
“These people will come to understand Turkey,” he said.
Erdogan accused these countries of interfering in Turkey’s domestic affairs and stressed that the ambassadors calling for Kavala’s release “should either understand Turkey or they should leave.”
The ambassadors in question include those from the United States, France, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Canada, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway and New Zealand. Most of the countries are NATO allies.
If Turkey moves forward in declaring them persona non grata, it would constitute the most serious diplomatic crisis between Turkey and the West during Erdogan’s almost two decades in power.
Kavala is accused of financing nationwide protests in 2013 and being involved in the failed coup against the president in 2016. He denies the charges, but has remained jailed while his trial continues.
Since the failed coup in 2016, Erdogan has strengthened his grip over Turkey and purged numerous military and civilian officials suspected of opposing his regime. In November 2019, the Nordic Monitor NGO which tracks radical political trends in Europe and beyond, reported that Erdogan had forced out most experienced generals and admirals from the Turkish military. The Turkish army, which is the second largest NATO force after the U.S., has traditionally been led by secular pro-Western leaders opposed to Erdogan’s increased embrace of anti-Western Islamism.
While these moves may have strengthened Erdogan’s political rule in the shorter term, it has also strengthened the opposition’s desire to unite against Erdogan and has seriously undermined the Turkish military’s operational capabilities in Syria and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the fractured Turkish political opposition is becoming more uniting against Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies. Leaders of six opposition parties have reportedly agreed to join forces with the goal of ending Erdogan’s 19 years in power.
Ahmet Davutoglu, Erdogan’s former prime minister, stressed the need for unity, preventing further descent into authoritarianism and rehabilitating Turkey’s democratic institutions.
“Today, Turkey is facing a systemic problem. Not just one person can solve it,” Davutoglu said. “The more important question is: ‘How do you solve this systemic earthquake, and how do you re-establish democratic principles based on human rights?’”
In addition to Erdogan’s deteriorating relations with the West, Turkey is also experiencing tension with much of the Sunni Arab world including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Turkey’s diplomatic relations with Israel are also cool at best. Turkey has been host to senior officials of Hamas, a Gaza-based Islamist terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction. Last week, The Sabah daily, a pro-Erdogan paper reported that local authorities had arrested some 15 alleged Mossad spies of Arab descent in Turkey.
Ram Barak, a former deputy Mossad chief and head of Israel’s influential Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, denied on Saturday that the arrested men were Israeli spies.
Barak believes that the Turkish government’s decision to publish false information is part of its eager effort to display intelligence “achievements.”
“None of the published names were [of] Israeli spies and therefore, it should be put in proportion,” Barak told Israel’s Channel 12.