After the ambassadorial dispute: Kavala is the loser

To analyse

Status: 10/26/2021 1:46 p.m.

Is a commitment to diplomatic conventions an admission of guilt? Many observers in Turkey see it that way. President Erdogan can use the ambassador dispute for himself, the conflict over Kavala remains unsolved.

By Filiz Kükrekol, ARD-Studio Istanbul

As if out of nowhere, a diplomatic storm swept over Turkey: Ten ambassadors, including the German representation in Ankara, published a note demanding the release of the patron and human rights activist Osman Kavala, who has been in custody since 2017.

The reaction from Turkey was unheard of, interference in internal affairs – that would be forbidden. Last Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he had arranged for the Foreign Ministry to declare these ten ambassadors undesirable. In fact, this was never implemented – but his statement was in the world and AKP politicians enjoyed applauding their president for this step.

Verbal armament in the AKP

Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, for example, rumbled that the foreign powers could come with cannons and rifles, that they could not ruin the unity of the people. As late as Monday lunchtime, a deputy chairman of the AKP found that the president had made his decision that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would take the necessary steps.

Political scientists and former Turkish ambassadors took a more distant view of the approach: Former Turkish ambassador to Washington, Namik Tan, criticized the ambassadors’ unprecedented concerted approach to the public, but added that declaring people to be persona non grata was a measure from the last one Century. Countries would have to accept that ambassadors can, for example, address human rights violations without diplomatic crises ensuing.

There is still room for interpretation

On Monday, the US embassy in Ankara published a statement on Twitter in which it pledged itself to Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, in which diplomats undertake not to interfere in the internal affairs of their receiving state and to observe its laws and regulations. The nine other foreign missions in Turkey, whose representatives Erdogan had threatened with expulsion, shared the tweet.

In Turkey, this was immediately assessed as a step backwards. Indeed, the statement leaves room for interpretation: Do the ambassadors find that they have always acted in accordance with Article 41? Did you express intentions for your future actions? The ambassadors may have managed to avert the crisis – without actually making any concessions.

The perception of most Turkish observers, however, was: The ambassadors have rowed back, President Erdogan has put them in his place, defended the interests of the country – and can now be celebrated as a strong leader.

Opposition sees diversions

For the opposition in Turkey, the threatened expulsions were a targeted maneuver right from the start: They wanted to divert attention from the economic crisis, from the poor polls for the AKP, according to opposition members.

In fact, it is now a tried and tested method in Turkey to look for blame abroad in difficult domestic political times and to rely on verbal saber rattling – like Interior Minister Soylus with his picture of the “cannon” attack. The signal that the AKP sent inwards: Look here, they want to share us – an old narrative in Turkey.

Exclusion from the Council of Europe threatens

What is left of the whole process? The core of the dispute, the imprisonment and requested release of Kavala, has been demanded by the Council of Europe since 2019 – its decisions are binding for Turkey as a member. The Council of Europe threatens infringement proceedings that could result in the exclusion of Turkey.

Without the public notice from the ambassadors, this could have been averted. But now – after so many pithy words and assurances that the Turkish judiciary and jurisprudence are independent – it will be difficult for Turkey to take a step that can be interpreted as a step backwards – and soon release Kavala. He, of all people, is the loser for the time being.

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