Turkey’s demands for Sweden to join NATO worry part of the government and the Kurdish community | International
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While the leaders of the NATO countries toasted last week at the Royal Palace in Madrid to the lifting of Turkey’s veto of Finland and Sweden’s candidacy for accession to the Atlantic Alliance, some 3,000 kilometers away, a halo of fear and anxiety was installed in the community of Turkish and Syrian refugees in Sweden, the majority of Kurdish ethnicity. The tripartite agreement between Ankara, Stockholm and Helsinki includes an “agile and complete” management of the extradition requests by the Turkish authorities of alleged “terrorists” residing in the two Nordic countries and many unknowns. After the long authoritarian drift of the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the definition of “terrorists” in Turkey has been expanded to include peaceful dissidents and even critical journalists. Two of the four parties that make up the government led by the Social Democrats (Left and Greens) have expressed their misgivings about what was agreed. The concern is even greater among the Kurdish community in Sweden, who do not know who the deportations can affect, how many the Executive has committed to and if they are the responsibility of the Government or if they have to be endorsed by the courts.
This Tuesday the representatives of the allies in NATO will formalize the approval of the Nordic candidacy that the leaders of the three countries agreed at the Madrid summit together with Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of the Alliance, while questions remain in Stockholm . On the eve of this formal step, the Swedish Prime Minister, the Social Democrat Magdalena Andersson, offered a press conference last Sunday in which she did not deny having committed herself to carrying out all the deportation requests, as assured by voices from the Turkish Government. “I have been a minister for eight years and I have never spoken about what is said in the negotiating room,” she limited herself to commenting. Her words have only multiplied the unease among Erdogan’s opponents in Sweden.
A spokesman for the Left party, a minority partner in the coalition, emphatically expresses its refusal of the agreement. “The deal with Turkey is horrible, and we will be on the streets with the Kurdish community on Saturday to demonstrate against it… It will mean arms being exported back to Turkey, and it compromises Sweden’s reputation for commitment to human rights and the Kurdish minority. It is worrying that deportations of asylum seekers could take place, and it will surely lead to more cooperation between the Swedish and Turkish secret services.” This spokesman even asks to give the floor to the citizens. “We believe that a referendum on joining NATO should be held. Before the agreement, 60% of Swedes were in favor of integration, but now those numbers may have fallen. There has been a stronger reaction in Swedish society against the agreement than I expected”, he argues.
Not even Amineh Kakabaveh, an independent deputy of Kurdish-Iranian origin whose vote was key to avoiding the victory of a motion of censure against Andersson a month ago, has received explanations or guarantees from the Executive regarding the consequences of the Turkish demands. “They say that no Swedish citizen will be deported, but it is not clear what will happen to the thousands of people who are still in the process of applying for asylum,” warns Kakabaveh. A part of the Swedish press has also been critical, as well as the formations of the Left and the Greens, which are part of the Government. However, Parliament will no longer meet before the general elections on September 11, so the stability of the Government is not in danger.
Analyst Gunnilla Herolf of the Swedish Institute for Foreign Affairs believes that fears about the deal are exaggerated. “The government has said that it will not change Swedish laws, nor its definition of terrorism. In addition, the issue of deportations does not depend on the Government, but on the courts, and they will surely block them, ”she asserts.
However, Kakavabeh points out that there is a somewhat reassuring precedent, that of Resul Ozdemir, a young man accused by Turkey of being a member of the PKK, and who was deported a little over a year ago while he was an asylum seeker. He is currently imprisoned in Turkey.
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Rukken Yetikaim, the ousted mayor of the town of Yuksekova, is one of the Kurdish activists who could be implicated in an extradition request. “I have been sentenced to 19 and 36 years in prison in two different trials for my political militancy with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). I know that I am not on the list of 33 people that Erdogan had asked for months ago. But in Turkey there is talk of a new list of 73 people, and we don’t know who is there”, explains this asylum seeker who arrived in Sweden four years ago.
“These days I receive calls from many people anxious about their future. They ask me, “How will the settlement affect my situation? Can they deport me? This deal with the tyrant Erdogan is a disaster”, says Befa Bedlisi, one of the people in charge of the Kurdish Cultural Center, located in Stockholm. In the main room, decorated with photos of peshmergas deceased (combatants of the armed forces of Iraqi Kurdistan against the Islamic State), a concert of Kurdish music takes place. Before its start, the assistants shout “shahid nameren” (the martyrs are immortal), and signatures are collected for the EU to remove from the list of terrorist organizations the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the movement that has been fighting for decades for the sovereignty of the Kurdish region in Turkey .
Precisely, for Erdogan, one of the objectives in the negotiations with Helsinki and Stockholm was to put an end to the alleged favored treatment received by people and organizations close to the PKK. In his sights is also the organization of the religious Fetullah Guillen, which he blames for the 2016 coup. But the tripartite agreement also includes the lifting of the embargo on the sale of arms to Ankara that both Nordic countries have applied since 2019 for his military intervention in Syria. In addition, Erdogan has also managed to get the sale of some 40 F-16 fighter-bombers off the ground in Washington.
Erdogan’s demands have placed the Kurdish community in a tricky position by linking Sweden’s security to their rights. It is estimated that the number of Kurdish residents in this Scandinavian country is well over 100,000, more than 1% of the population. Although most come from Turkey, the latest wave came from Syria and could also be affected. Erdogan considers the Democratic Unity Party (PYD), the party that runs the Kurdish-majority autonomous entity in northern Syria, to be part of the PKK.
“The agreement appears to include an end to the political and humanitarian support that Sweden has provided to the Rojava region. It is very unfair because we are the ones who have shed the most blood to defeat the Islamic State”, reasons Shiar Aly, representative of this autonomous government in Sweden. “The Kurdish community here has been neutral about joining NATO. We respect the decision of the Swedes, but not at this price”, he adds.
In her office, decorated with a large poster of Che Guevara, Kakavabeh assures that her opposition to the pact with Erdogan is not due to her status as a Kurdish person, but rather as a Swedish citizen. “It is a betrayal of the entire Swedish people. As a matter of principle, the rights of its inhabitants cannot be compromised by an agreement with a dictator like Erdogan. They have ruined Sweden’s reputation as a humanitarian country built for so many years by leaders like Olof Palme ”, slides this woman, petite but strong-willed, who in her youth was part of a Kurdish militia in Iran.
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