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Resort diplomacy: Turkey seeks influence on Global South, appeasement by CoE

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Bünyamin Tekin

Turkey held its annual diplomatic forum March 1-3 in the picturesque vacation resort of Antalya, during which Turkey sought to capitalize on the appeasement afforded it by the Council of Europe (CoE) concerning its human rights violations and to increase its influence over the Global South.

The Antalya Diplomacy Forum (ADF), an event held in the coastal city since 2021, has raised eyebrows for its high-level participation from the Global South and noticeable lack of representation from Western governments.

While lauded for its potential to facilitate dialogue and negotiation, critics raise concerns about Turkey leveraging the forum for self-promotion and exploiting loopholes in its relationship with the CoE to avoid accountability on human rights issues.

The Committee of Ministers of the CoE in December called on Turkey to release imprisoned Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş and philanthropist Osman Kavala. The Council of Europe cited non-compliance with judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as the reasons for the continued detention of the two without sufficient evidence.

The CoE’s call underscores the general concerns about the independence of the Turkish judiciary and the political nature of these cases in light of international criticism and ongoing infringement proceedings that could lead to Turkey’s expulsion from the human rights organization.

The CoE launched an infringement proceeding against Turkey over its treatment of Kavala in 2022.

A platform for the Global South?

Turkey positions the ADF as a platform to address the concerns of the Global South, with high-level participation from African nations and a focus on issues such as the conflict in Gaza.

Mustafa Enes Esen, a former Turkish diplomat, says, “Turkey wants to create a new platform … similar to how the Munich Security Conference addresses important foreign policy issues worldwide.”

Analysts note Turkey’s strategic move to fill a perceived gap in addressing the needs of underrepresented nations, potentially giving it greater sway on the international stage.

However, Esen highlights that Turkey’s tactic of covering accommodation and transportation costs for delegations, especially from Africa, artificially inflates participation numbers.

The conspicuous absence of major Western powers at the ADF underscores Turkey’s strained relations with the West, according to Esen. He cites Ankara’s foreign policy decisions and negative image within Western nations as primary reasons. Esen also points to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s sharp criticism of Western countries over the situation in Gaza and the structure of the UN Security Council as expressions of these tensions.

Council of Europe: appeasement or engagement?

A point of discussion centers around Turkey’s strained relationship with the CoE, a human rights watchdog. CoE Secretary-General Marija Pejčinović Burić’s participation in the ADF is seen as noteworthy, especially after she held a private meeting in November with Turkey’s foreign minister, Hakan Fidan, a controversial figure with a history of alleged human rights abuses.

Hakan Kaplankaya, a legal practitioner and former Turkish diplomat, believes the CoE has adopted a misguided policy of appeasement towards Turkey under the current secretary-general. “Instead of focusing strictly on human rights … the approach has taken on a more political tone,” Kaplankaya states. He argues that while initiating talks is positive, Turkey benefits from this engagement without meaningfully addressing its human rights violations. “The Council of Europe fails to obtain results from Turkey,” he adds.

Kaplankaya emphasizes the problematic nature of such diplomacy, suggesting that Turkey seems to use these interactions to legitimize its stance amid criticism.

“Despite the high-level dialog, the expected results in terms of improving the human rights situation remain absent and call for a reassessment of the council’s strategy towards Turkey,” Kaplankaya says.

‘Behind-the-scenes’ diplomacy

Ali Dinçer, a former employee of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, describes the ADF as an exercise in “resort diplomacy,” where behind-the-scenes negotiations and relationship building take center stage.

Dinçer points out that the seemingly diverse participation includes figures with possible covert funding connections or a pro-Turkey social media presence.

Dinçer highlights the ongoing infringement proceedings against Turkey by the CoE as a significant area where “corruption” and deeper ties between the two entities come into play. Turkey’s status as a major financial contributor to the CoE provides it with undue influence, according to Dinçer.

The cases of Kavala and Demirtaş, political prisoners whose release has been repeatedly ordered by the European Court of Human Rights, are seen by the CoE as a litmus test of Turkey’s willingness to comply.

Experts believe these cases represent deeper systemic issues that cannot be easily resolved, certainly not by simply releasing the two.

The Grand Chamber of the ECtHR ruled in September 2023 that Turkey had violated several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in the case of Yüksel Yalçınkaya and emphasized the systemic nature of these violations. Despite the ruling and the call for Turkey to address these systemic problems, Turkish government officials signaled an unwillingness to address the issue.

Eyes on Ukraine and Gaza

Foreign Minister Fidan used the ADF platform to highlight the “double standards” of major powers. He expressed confidence in brokering a ceasefire in both Gaza and Ukraine, advocating for a different approach in these conflicts.

The Antalya Diplomacy Forum reveals Turkey’s ambition to become a more significant player on the world stage.

This year’s meeting was attended by the presidents of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kosovo, the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC), Madagascar, the Central African Republic and Somalia.

High-ranking participants also included Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban and the prime ministers of Burundi, Moldova and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq. In addition, foreign ministers from over 40 countries attended the forum, including Azerbaijan, Albania, the United Arab Emirates, Armenia, Palestine, Switzerland, Kuwait, Uganda and Sudan.

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