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25.01.2023 Author: Valery Kulikov

To what extent will relations between Sweden and Turkey escalate?

The warnings by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan uttered during a meeting with the youth in Mugla on January 15 that relations between Turkey and Sweden could worsen if Stockholm did not take action against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are becoming prophetic.

As is known, in the summer of 2022, Turkey, Sweden and Finland signed a trilateral security agreement in Madrid, which gave a number of observers hope that the countries would reach an agreement on the admission of the two Scandinavian countries to NATO, which Ankara links with the implementation by these countries of concrete steps to combat terrorism. Although the Turkish authorities say that there are no particular complaints about Helsinki’s application, Ankara nevertheless seeks from Stockholm a decisive fight against Kurdish separatists, the extradition of suspects and the complete lifting of the embargo on the sale of weapons to Ankara: exports to Turkey were suspended in 2019. Insisting that Stockholm harbors representatives of movements that are recognized as terrorist in Turkey, Turkey gave Sweden and Finland a list of persons involved in terrorism, but they have not yet been handed over to Ankara. We are talking about 130 activists of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who, according to Turkish authorities, were actively involved in mass protests in Turkey earlier.

Stockholm, under these conditions, tried to improve relations with Ankara, and in mid-November the Nordic country’s parliament even adopted amendments to the Constitution to tighten the anti-terrorist law starting from January 1, 2023, which would make it easier to prosecute members of the PKK and expand criminal liability for participation in terrorist organizations. However, on January 15, President Erdogan said that Sweden and Finland had refused to extradite nearly 130 terrorists that Ankara had requested, which is the reason for Turkey’s continued refusal to ratify the Nordic countries’ NATO applications.

After the start of anti-Turkish demonstrations in Sweden and the Swedish authorities refusal to halt such demonstrations from being held in Stockholm, events began to develop in a frankly unfavorable direction for further relations between Turkey and Sweden, increasing mutual tension.

American and European media outlets hostile to Turkey, who have joined in forming a public opinion against Erdogan, in connection with the presidential elections scheduled for May 14, attempted to place this conflict under the spotlight and bring to the fore the six-sided opposition coalition coming up with headlines such as “Opposition must win in Turkey.” The British newspaper The Economist also joined in discrediting the Turkish leader, stating, in particular, that Erdogan “may lose his post if the next presidential election is fair.” As evidenced by recent statements by several Western politicians and the media, this is a confrontation by the West against the Turkish leader which is escalating. The reason for this becomes clear from Bloomberg’s recent admissions that “the impact of the Turkish elections will be felt in European capitals, in US-Russian relations, in Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa.”

According to Turkish media, in this context, various scandals and provocations against Turkey have been activated in the West, and a noticeable emphasis in this regard has been placed on the involvement of Sweden in anti-Turkish rallies. Thus, in France, supporters of the PKK, recognized by Ankara as a terrorist organization, desecrate the Turkish flag at every opportunity. In Sweden, in addition to the more frequent similar attacks on the Turkish flag, an effigy likened to Erdogan was recently hung by the feet, and Stockholm Prosecutor’s Office, despite the appeal of the Turkish authorities, refused to investigate this provocative action against the head of the Turkish state. Hanging upside down in front of the Stockholm City Hall on January 12, the effigy caused a diplomatic row between Turkey and Sweden. Moreover, in Sweden, Flamman magazine launched a satire competition aimed at insulting the Turkish president. The British news agency Reuters recently opened a separate vacancy for people who could write negative articles against Erdogan for publication.

Thus, the confrontation between Turkey and Sweden has already grown into an attempt by the West to create a kind of anti-Turkish front. This situation has especially aggravated in recent days, when the diplomatic scandal between Sweden and Turkey began to escalate into a global religious conflict after the demonstrative burning of the Koran in the center of Stockholm. As follows from media reports, the leader of the Danish far-right Islamophobic party Rasmus Paludan, during a rally organized at the Turkish embassy with the explicit authorization of local authorities, uttered demonstrative epithets against the Prophet Mohammed, President Erdogan and the migrants who flooded the country, and desecrated the holy book of Muslims. The role of the Swedish authorities in this openly anti-Islamic and anti-Turkish actions is evidenced by the fact that this “event” took place under the protection of the Swedish police.

This incident incensed not only Turkey, but also other Muslim countries, as well as many states not under US pressure. In Ankara, during protests, the crowd burned the Swedish flag, and at the same time Sweden was accused of inciting religious hatred and extremism. Turkey expelled the Swedish ambassador, canceled the visit of Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson, previously planned for January 27, and, for obvious reasons, Stockholm’s hopes for negotiations on the accession of the Nordic state into NATO were shattered.

The Foreign Ministries of Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as several other Muslim countries, strongly condemned the action of burning the Koran in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm on January 21, emphasizing that this action indicates the level of Islamophobia, racism and discrimination in Europe, and may cause feelings of indignation among Muslims all over the world and become a dangerous provocation. This action of burning the Koran is “an act of unacceptable vandalism,” said Vladimir Legoyda, Chairman of the Synodal Department for Church’s Society and Mass Media Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate. Vakhtang Kipshidze, deputy head of the Synodal Department for Church’s Society and Mass Media Relations, stated that “such a desecration of sacred objects is directed equally against all believers and is an attempt to impose a worldview in which there is no place for respect for the sacred, no matter what religion it may belong to.”

The Islamophobic rally that took place on January 21 in Stockholm is not the first and certainly not the last in recent years. And therefore, to a certain extent, we can anticipate the scope of reciprocal actions of Muslims in Europe in the near future. Including not only in Sweden, where there are already big problems with Muslim migrants. But also in a number of other European countries, where Muslim communities, including Turkish ones, have more than once shown their potential in the development of internal political processes in the EU.

Valery Kulikov, political expert, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.


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