It seems that President Tayyip Erdoğan’s statement on October 23 that he gave instructions to Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to deport 10 western ambassadors from Turkey as persona non grata will have serious consequences.
It takes neither diplomacy nor economics genius to forecast this. Even the fact that Erdoğan requested the deportation of the ambassadors of the USA, Germany, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Canada, and New Zealand, who issued a joint statement for the release of the rights activist Osman Kavala, can give a good idea about the possible consequences. The USA, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, and Canada are Turkey’s partners in the Western defense alliance NATO. Germany, Netherlands, France, Sweden, Denmark, Finland are members of the European Union.
In the history of international relations, there are not many examples of a country declaring so many ambassadors of countries with whom it has alliance and partnership relations collectively as persona non grata and deporting them. On the other hand, there are not many examples of so many countries making a joint statement to a country in alliance with them and partnership relations with them like this. There is information that the move of the Ambassadors was organized rather quickly in a few days; even some western ambassadors and their number two could not be reached because they were not in Ankara. Some of them did not sign because this would not bring any results and would even put Kavala in a worse situation (following the developments, Kavala said he would protest appearing in court hearings from now), while others said that more moderate diplomacy was needed. The information I have obtained so far is that this idea did not come from the US Embassy.
Erdoğan’s words saying “You can’t give us instructions” in his statement reflects this anger. His words “He who does not understand this should leave” recalls Turkish phrases like “Killing when aimed to shoot only” and “He who gets up in anger, sits down with a loss”. Even though Erdoğan attributes his stance to “Who do you think you are?” rhetoric, one recalls Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who did not interrupt diplomacy with the occupying forces even in the middle of the War of Independence.
Is it to attract attention?
Diplomatic activities already started against Erdoğan’s move. The US State Department asked Turkey to “clarify the situation”. The German Foreign Ministry said they were in contact with “nine other countries”. The ambassadors of the Nordic countries reacted that they did not deserve this attitude. A clearer picture will emerge at the beginning of the week.
What caught my attention was the reaction of Wolfgang Ischinger, one of the influential figures behind the scenes of European politics. Ischinger, the President of the Munich Security Conference, considered the Davos of politics, suggested last night on Twitter that EU countries should “show solidarity” and declare the Turkish ambassadors in their countries as persona non grata. But eight hours later, on “On a second thought” late at night, the senior diplomat wrote that it might be better to keep this weapon of reciprocity if things could not be settled with “silent diplomacy”.
Firstly, the deportation of Turkish ambassadors with a persona non grata declaration from these ten countries may even work for Erdoğan. Thus, in domestic politics, he can draw attention from the bad state of the economy to the propaganda that he stands “on his own against the world powers”. (CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu accused Erdoğan of seeking “artificial justifications for the economy he has ruined” in this way.) Secondly, Erdoğan might have thought that this way he can conduct international relations personally, from leader to leader, without all those ambassadors or foreign ministers in between. Third, Ischinger seems impressed by the news that the Turkish Foreign Ministry and Erdoğan’s foreign policy team have been trying to convince Erdogan to revise his decision.
However, it may be useful to listen to the center-right opposition, the Good Party (IYI) MP Aydın Sezgin, who served as Turkish ambassador to Moscow and Rome before:
• “It is impossible to think that Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu could turn Erdoğan from the wrong and persuade him. Because in [today’s] Turkey, the foreign minister works like Erdoğan’s secretary.” (DW Turkish service)
With this move, Erdoğan drew the attention of the Western leaders ahead of the G20 summit to be held in Rome on October 30-31. Perhaps he saw this as a way to ensure face-to-face meetings with the Western leaders, including US President Joe Biden. He may think of presenting this in domestic politics as “You see, they lined up in front of me” through the government-guided- media.
What is next?
Erdoğan’s decision should be counted as a new turning point in Turkey’s international relations.
Turkey’s relations with the USA are at one of their worst levels. In addition to the S-400/F-35, Syria-PKK, and Fethullah Gülen’s extradition problems, now the issue of Halkbank also came up. It is perhaps a coincidence that Erdoğan’s decision was announced right after the New York Court’s verdict that Halkbank could be prosecuted for violating the embargo against Iran.
However, it will not be a coincidence that this move is likely to drag Turkey’s economy to an even more fragile point. I’m not just talking about the Turkish lira becoming even more worthless (1 USD making 9.60 liras last Friday with the fears that it could exceed 10) and the purchasing power of the people going down even more.
Erdoğan, on the one hand, is waiting for new investments from the EU (Germany and the Netherlands being major investors) holding in his hand the possibility of another flux of illegal immigrants. On the other hand, he keeps repeating the unrealistic goal of 100 billion dollars a year trade with the USA. Meanwhile, Turkey continues its projects to procure weapons from Russia, like s-400 missiles. The US keeps denying weaponry from its NATO ally Turkey and even seizing the already purchased ones like the F-35s.
With his move of declaring the ambassadors as persona non grata and asking them to leave because of demanding Kavala’s release in compliance with the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Erdoğan is preparing to hold the Western “foreign powers”, whom he alone resisted, responsible for the state of the economy, which is not likely to improve much towards the elections.
Can it work? So far, there has been no election winner in Turkey with foreign policy moves, even if it is a diplomatic jihad against western powers. Voters look at their pockets first, rightly so.
In addition, it is still in mind that it was the former US President Donald Trump who said that “I asked Erdogan, he released Pastor [Andrew] Brunson”. Erdoğan was calling Trump “my friend” despite his insulting language because Trump was in personal contact with him. Erdoğan had previously said that Brunson would not be released as long as “he lives and remains in his post”, as president. The release of Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel should also be recalled as an outcome of negotiations with Germany, which was referred to by Erdoğan as evidence of court independence in Turkey.