Quran burning in Sweden enrages Turkey, threatens NATO membership path

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Sweden and Finland have taken another step towards joining NATO, which means that all that remains now is formal ratification of their accession agreement.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

It is now eight months since Sweden and Finland declared their intention to join NATO, a move that upended the countries’ long-standing non-alignment policy following the large-scale invasion of Ukraine near Russia .

While most of the organization’s members want to accelerate the membership of the new members, tensions and a new spat between Sweden and Turkey threaten to extend that wait – perhaps indefinitely.

All 30 current NATO states must approve a new member. And Turkey, a major geopolitical player and home to the alliance’s second-largest army, has been the main outspoken opponent of the Nordic countries’ membership.

The reasons behind Ankara’s opposition are complex, but center mainly on Sweden’s support for Kurdish groups that Turkey considers terrorists, and arms embargoes that both Sweden and Finland, along with other EU countries, have imposed on Turkey over its attack on Kurdish militias in Syria.

Sweden and Finland are trying to turn things around in their relations with Turkey, but the events of recent weeks threaten to undermine hopes for progress.

Rasmus Paludan holds a burning Quran outside the Turkish embassy on January 21, 2023 in Stockholm, Sweden. The Swedish authorities have authorized a series of protests for and against Turkey in the context of its accession to NATO.

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On Saturday, far-right protesters burned a Quran and chanted anti-Muslim slogans in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm, Sweden. Ankara immediately denounced the act, as well as Sweden’s granting of a permit to the right-wing group to hold the demonstration. Turkey also canceled an upcoming visit by Sweden’s defense chief, which would have focused on its NATO membership.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the vile attack on our holy book… Allowing this anti-Islamic act, which targets Muslims and offends our sacred values, under the guise of freedom of expression, is completely unacceptable said the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

The Quran burning was led by Rasmus Paludan, who leads the Danish far-right political party Hard Line. Swedish authorities say the protest was legal under freedom of speech laws, but Swedish leaders condemned the act, calling it “appalling”.

Various media outlets and independent journalists gather to watch Rasmus Paludan stage a Quran burning outside the Turkish embassy on January 21, 2023 in Stockholm, Sweden.

Jonas Gratz | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Protests by Turks in response to the burning were held this weekend in front of the Swedish embassy in Ankara and the consulate in Istanbul.

At a separate event earlier this month, Turkey summoned the Swedish ambassador after a video was published by a pro-Kurdish group in Sweden showing an image of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan being hung upside down from a rope.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson is said to have condemned the protest as an act of “sabotage” against the country’s NATO membership.

“If things continue like this, Sweden’s entry into NATO will never be approved by Turkey,” Numan Kurtulmus, deputy chairman of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP, said on Sunday.

“Things We Can’t Do”

Sweden, Finland and Turkey signed a tripartite agreement last year to overcome their differences and opposition to NATO membership.

But Sweden’s Kristersson said earlier this month Stockholm could not meet all of Turkey’s demands, including extraditing Kurdish journalists living in Sweden, a request blocked by the country’s Supreme Court.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson speaks at a joint conference with European Council President Charles Michel (not seen) in Stockholm, Sweden on January 16, 2023.

Atila Altuntas | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

“Turkey both confirm that we did what we said we would do, but they also say they want things that we can’t or won’t give them,” Kristersson said at a conference on Jan. 8.

Nevertheless, he expressed confidence that Turkey would approve his country’s NATO bid. Hungary, whose populist leader Viktor Orban is friends with Russian President Vladimir Putin, is the only other country besides Turkey that has not yet approved the bid.

Election calculation

Turkey analysts say Ankara’s latest angry statements have more to do with the country’s upcoming elections on May 14 and gaining influence from other NATO allies, especially the US, than anything else.

Both the burning of the Quran and the Kurdish video of Erdogan’s effigy “make it harder to get out of the deadlock” between Turkey and Sweden, said George Dyson, a senior analyst at consulting firm Control Risks.

“But,” he told CNBC, “the impasse was already there. And it really doesn’t have much to do with Sweden, but more with Turkey trying to squeeze as much as possible out of whatever leverage it has over its allies. .”

“It has more to do with US-Turkey relations,” he added. “Turkey feels that the US is a good friend when they need Turkey, but not when Turkey needs them… Or at least that’s the rhetoric.”

Timothy Ash, a senior emerging markets strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, believes that Turkey is doing massive damage to its Western alliances and that NATO could come to a crucial choice between Turkey and the Nordic states.

“To reach [the] point that NATO allies will have to choose between Turkey and Finland/Sweden? I will get Erdogan’s election bill, but ultimately it will damage long-term relations with key allies,” Ash said via Twitter.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) at the 22nd Meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Leaders’ Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September 16, 2022.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Meanwhile, British security and terrorism analyst Kyle Orton wrote in a blog post that “Turkey is holding on [Sweden’s] NATO application held hostage to demands about the [Kurdish militant group] PKK. With the Koran burning in Stockholm yesterday,’ he wrote, ‘Ankara is cynically trying to increase the pressure with excessive interference in Sweden’s internal affairs.’

There is also speculation that the US will use the promise of its F16 jets – a weapons sale Ankara has long been looking forward to – to force Turkey’s hand. Some members of Congress have opposed the sale because of Turkey’s stance on the new NATO applicants.

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin recently said Sweden has eight to 10 weeks to implement the changes demanded by Ankara, as the Turkish parliament could go into recess before elections in May. Sweden says it needs another six months to implement those changes.

But whatever timeline Sweden follows, the Turkish leadership is likely to take a hard line until the election, knowing that anti-Western rhetoric and a strong nationalist stance tends to resonate with voters.

“The bottom line,” Dyson said, “I doubt much will happen before the elections in Turkey.”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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