Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has attracted condemnation and anger from within and without Turkey for announcing over the weekend that 10 ambassadors who called for the release of philanthropist Osman Kavala from jail would be declared persona non grata.
“I have ordered our foreign minister to declare these 10 ambassadors persona non grata as soon as possible,” Erdoğan said, referring to a term used in diplomacy that signifies the first step before expulsion.
Kaval, also a prominent businessman, has been behind bars on politically motivated charges linked to 2013 anti-government protests and a failed military coup in 2016 since 2017.
In their statement on the fourth anniversary of Kavala’s imprisonment on Oct. 18, the ambassadors of the US, Germany, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden called for a “just and speedy resolution to (Kavala)’s case.”
The 10 envoys were summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry the next day.
Senior figures from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) harshly condemned the diplomats for their call, accusing them of exceeding their boundaries and attempting to meddle in Turkey’s internal affairs.
Former Turkish President Abdullah Gül said in remarks to the Sözcü daily on Monday that Turkey making a bigger crisis out of the ambassador’s call would run against Turkey’s interests.
“This issue should be left in the hands of the foreign ministry; the emergence of new problems should be prevented; and a deadlock should be avoided,” Gül warned while expressing concern about the possible expulsion of the diplomats from Turkey.
Turkish opposition parties also criticized Erdoğan for his call to expel the ambassadors, accusing him of trying to change the national agenda and cover up an economic crisis.
Ülkeyi hızla uçuruma sürekleyen Şahıs, bu sefer de "10 büyükelçinin 'istenmeyen adam' ilan edilmesi emrini” vermiş. Açıkça söylüyorum; bu hareketlerinin sebebi milli çıkarları korumak değil, mahvettiği ekonomiye suni gerekçeler yaratma çabasıdır. Dönüp bir bak halkın sofrasına!
— Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (@kilicdarogluk) October 23, 2021
“This person who is driving Turkey towards a cliff has ordered 10 ambassadors to be declared persona non grata. I’ll be frank: His aim is not to protect national interests but to create an excuse for ruining the economy,” main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said in a tweet.
“Look at people’s tables!” he said, referring to the increasing cost of living in the country.
The Turkish lira, which has fallen around 24 percent against the dollar since the start of the year, dropped to record lows on Monday following Erdoğan’s order regarding the ambassadors. The Turkish currency fell to 9.80 against the dollar before rallying slightly to 9.73 after 0500 GMT, a drop of 1.3 percent from the previous day.
Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar, co-chairpersons of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the second largest opposition party in the Turkish Parliament, in a written statement on Monday criticized Erdoğan for trying to cover up Turkey’s current crises with his order concerning the ambassadors.
“The last thing a country, which is in constant conflict with all its neighbors, whose currency is constantly losing value and whose foreign debt stock has exceeded $400 billion and which allocates a significant portion of its resources to [fighting] wars and buying arms is new hostilities,” said the Kurdish politicians.
Ahmet Davutoğlu, a former Erdoğan ally and prime minister and leader of the Gelecek (Future) Party, tweeted that Erdoğan seeking to declare the 10 ambassadors persona non grata has nothing to do with his concerns about the independence of the Turkish judiciary or Osman Kavala’s case.
“If that had been the case [if Erdoğan cared about the independence of the judiciary], then Pastor Brunson, who faced serious charges, would not have been freed following a call from [then-US President Donald] Trump and [journalist] Deniz Yücel [would not have been released] upon a demand from [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel,” Davutoğlu said, adding that the possible expulsion of the 10 ambassadors would deal a heavy blow to the country’s prestige.
Both Brunson, who faced charges of spying and links to terrorist groups, and Yücel, a Turkish-German journalist from the Die Welt daily who was charged with disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization, were released from jail in 2018. Their imprisonment strained Turkey’s relations with the US and Germany.
On Monday Germany expressed concern about Erdoğan’s order concerning the 10 ambassadors, with German government spokesman Steffen Seibert telling reporters in Berlin, “We are concerned and puzzled by the comments made by the Turkish president.”
“There has, however, not been any formal notification from the Turkish side. We are in close consultation with partners who are affected by similar threats,” he added.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin described Erdoğan’s decision that the 10 foreign ambassadors, including Finland’s envoy, be declared persona non grata as a “regrettable situation.”
“This is a very regrettable situation. We consider it important that the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights are respected and complied with, and therefore have called for the release of this human rights activist,” Marin told Finnish public broadcaster YLE.
The US Embassy in Ankara also released a short statement on Monday regarding the controversy about Erdoğan’s persona non grata call, saying that “it maintains compliance with Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”
— U.S. Embassy Turkey (@USEmbassyTurkey) October 25, 2021
Article 41 of the Vienna Convention states that “Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.”
The European Court of Human Rights ruled in December 2019 that the prolonged pretrial detention of Kavala was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered his immediate release. But Turkey hasn’t abided by the ruling despite repeated calls by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, the head of the EU delegation to Turkey, told BBC Turkish edition that as a founding member of the Council of Europe, Turkey should abide by the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, adding that Europe expects all member countries to comply with the rights court’s decisions.