Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) The acceptance of Finland and Sweden as candidate members of NATO at the Madrid Summit last June, could only be made possible by convincing Turkey to drop its veto against what Ankara views as ‘terrorism supporting’ countries. An agreement was signed, but Turkey still refuses to ratify the accession of both Scandinavian countries in NATO.
Before the NATO summit in Madrid, the military alliance helped to draft an agreement and succeeded to have it signed by Sweden, Finland, and Turkey. In this ‘Trilateral Memorandum’, Finland and Sweden agreed to Turkish demands that essentially criminalise the Kurdish movement. The agreement is an illustration of how NATO is behaving quite opposite to its self-proclaimed commitment to democracy and human rights.
Ankara demanded that both Scandinavian countries stop their alleged support to ‘terrorist’ Kurdish movements, extradite members of them and end the arms embargo they maintained against Turkey. The country also sought NATO support for its “military operations” in northern Syria and northern Iraq. Turkey largely got what it asked for,… at least, on paper. Up to now, Turkey refuses to ratify the accession
For three pages, the whole Kurdish issue is reduced to a ‘terrorist’ problem, a term that appears 15 times in the text. In the agreement, Finland and Sweden promise not to support the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and its political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Both are core organisations of autonomous administration that rules in northern Syria for a decade now. For the time being, Turkey refuses to ratify the accession of the two Scandinavian countries until “concrete steps are taken”.
Both countries also confirm that the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for decades, is a “banned terrorist organisation”. Specifically, this means banning the activities of the PKK and all related organisations and individuals in both countries and strengthening cooperation with Turkey to that end. Finland and Sweden commit to dealing with Turkish extradition requests of terror suspects “expeditiously” and “thoroughly”. To this end, “bilateral legal frameworks” will be established to “facilitate extradition and security cooperation with Turkey”.
Finland and Sweden must also investigate and ban all “financing and recruitment activities of the PKK and all other terrorist organisations and their extensions, as well as affiliates or inspired groups or networks.” This is a far-reaching measure because most Kurdish organisations are in some way linked to Kurdish liberation movements in Turkey, Iraq or Syria. It also criminalises the solidarity movement with the Kurdish struggle for self-determination and/or basic rights.
Finally, Finland and Sweden promise to lift their arms embargo against Turkey. The arms embargo was a response to the third Turkish invasion of northern Syria in October 2019 on the side of Ankara-funded Syrian jihadi rebel groups, in clear violation of international law.
It is a shameful agreement that violates fundamental rights and values. NATO joins Turkey in criminalising the Kurdish issue while saying nothing about Turkey’s longstanding violations of Kurdish rights. Moreover, in Belgium, several judicial bodies have ruled that the PKK is not a terrorist organisation but an armed resistance movement.
For now, Turkey refuses to give its final approval to Finland and Sweden’s membership, according to Erdogan “until the two Nordic countries kept promises”. Turkey demands, among other things, the extradition of dozens of “terror suspects”. Among them is also a former journalist of the daily Zaman (which has been seized by the government to transform the popular newspaper into its mouthpiece), who fled to Sweden after the attempted coup of 15 July 2016. During Conservative Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s visit to Ankara last week, Erdogan explicitly mentioned him saying that his extradition is of utmost importance for him.
Reuters news agency was last week able to get its hands on a letter in which Sweden lists 14 examples of concrete actions. For a few weeks, Sweden is governed by a right-wing coalition that seems ready to do everything in its power to join NATO. The new prime minister Ulf Kristersson said after a meeting with the NATO secretary general that his government “will redouble efforts to implement the Trilateral Memorandum with Finland and Turkey.” The Swedish parliament is expected to vote in the coming days to change the constitution in order to toughen its fight against terrorism, as demanded by Turkey to allow Sweden to join NATO. This would allow “restricting the freedom of association of groups engaged in terrorism”, the parliament said in a statement, making the prosecution of members of the PKK easier.
Turkish human rights violations
In the Madrid Summit declaration of June 2022, NATO says it is committed to democracy, individual liberty, human rights, and the rule of law. The military alliance claims that it adheres to international law and to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. “We are committed to upholding the rules-based international order.”
History does not suggest that NATO is serious about it. The colonel regime in NATO-state Greece (1967-1974), the various military coups in Turkey (in 1960, 1971, 1980, 1997), and the Portuguese military dictatorship under Salazar and his successors (1926-1974) are just a few examples of how NATO is not at all concerned with democracy. Moreover, the 1980 coup in Turkey was supported by the US, a constant practice in US foreign policy during the Cold War. To this day, it is quite difficult to distinguish the authoritarian style of government in countries like Hungary, Poland, and Turkey from that of Russia and China, called ‘systemic rivals’ of NATO.
In recent years, NATO shrouded itself in silence over several Turkish military incursions into both northern Syria and northern Iraq, even though they violate the UN Charter and involve serious violations of sovereignty against both southern neighbors. Turkey occupies large swathes of northern Syria. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, there are serious human rights violations including beatings, kidnappings, executions, looting, confiscation of property, and illegal transfers of populations.
Turkey’s authoritarian regime is known for its bad record of serious human rights violations. After the failed 2016 coup, thousands of Turkish citizens were imprisoned or sacked from their jobs for political reasons. Numerous media outlets were shut down or turned into mouthpieces of the regime. Just this week, the Turkish police on Tuesday detained 12 journalists working for various Kurdish news outlets in pre-dawn raids in Ankara, Istanbul, and Manisa and the predominantly Kurdish cities of Mardin, Diyarbakir, Urfa, and Van. The detentions are part of an escalating campaign against journalists working for outlets that report on rights abuses particularly in the Kurdish majority southeast.
Turkey ranks among the world’s top jailers of journalists, and pressure on the media is intensifying in the run-up to parliamentary and presidential elections that are due to be held by June 18. Last week, parliament approved a “censorship” bill that makes “disseminating false information” a criminal offense with prison sentences of between one to three years. There is a clear link between the recent arrests and the censorship bill and calls to investigate allegations by the PKK, but also independent organisations that the Turkish military is using chemical weapons in Iraqi Kurdistan.
For NATO, there has never been a problem. Turkey is a geostrategic ally that must not be driven into the hands of Russia. The military alliance makes sure to remain silent about the undemocratic behavior of the Turkish regime, or worse, to cooperate in facilitating violations of human rights.