Burning the Qur’an in Sweden angers Turkey and threatens the path of membership in NATO

Sweden and Finland have taken another step to join NATO, which means that there is now nothing left but the formal ratification of the accession agreement.

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It’s now been eight months since Sweden and Finland announced their intention to join NATO, a move that upended the two countries’ longstanding policies of non-alignment in the wake of Russia’s near all-out invasion of Ukraine.

While most of the organization’s members would like to speed up the pace of membership of the new entrants, the new tensions and rift between Sweden and Turkey threaten to extend the waiting time – possibly indefinitely.

All 30 existing NATO countries are required to agree to a new member. Turkey, a major geopolitical player and home to the alliance’s second largest army, stands as the primary outspoken opponent of Nordic membership.

The reasons for Ankara’s opposition are complexbut mainly focused on Sweden’s support for Kurdish groups that Turkey considers terrorist, and on the arms embargo imposed by Sweden and Finland, along with other European Union countries, on Turkey for its targeting of Kurdish militias in Syria.

Sweden and Finland are trying to turn things around in their relations with Turkey, but events in recent weeks have threatened to dash hopes of progress.

Rasmus Paludan holds a burnt Quran outside the Turkish Embassy on January 21, 2023 in Stockholm, Sweden. Swedish authorities have given permission for a series of protests for and against Turkey amid its bid to join 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 this act, as well as Sweden granting permission to the right-wing group to organize the demonstration. Turkey also canceled an upcoming visit by the Swedish Defense Minister that would have focused on its membership in NATO.

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Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said, “We condemn in the strongest terms the despicable attack on our holy book… Allowing this anti-Islamic act, which targets Muslims and insults our sacred values, under the cover of freedom of expression, is absolutely unacceptable.”

The burning of the Qur’an was led by Rasmus Paludan, who leads the Danish far-right political party Hard Line. Swedish authorities say the protest was legal under the country’s freedom of speech laws, but Sweden’s leaders have condemned the act as “appalling”.

Several media outlets and independent journalist gathered to watch Rasmus Paludan present a burning Quran outside the Turkish Embassy on January 21, 2023 in Stockholm, Sweden.

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Protests by Turks took place in response to the arson in front of the Swedish embassy in Ankara and its consulate in Istanbul over the weekend.

In a separate event earlier this month, Turkey summoned the Swedish ambassador after a video was released by a pro-Kurdish group in Sweden showing an effigy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hanging upside down from a rope.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson reportedly denounced the protest as “an act”.sabotageagainst the country’s application for membership in NATO.

“If it continues like this, Turkey will not have Turkey’s approval of Sweden joining NATO,” Numan Kurtulmus, deputy head of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, said Sunday.

“Things we can’t do”

Sweden, Finland and Turkey last year signed a trilateral agreement dedicated to overcoming their differences and opposition to NATO membership.

But Sweden’s Kristersson said earlier this month that Stockholm could not meet all of Turkey’s demands, which include the extradition of Kurdish journalists living in Sweden, a request that was rejected by the country’s supreme court.

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

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“Turkey maintains that we did what we said we would do, but they also say they want things that we cannot or do not want to give them,” Christerson said at a conference on January 8.

However, he expressed confidence that Turkey would agree to his country’s NATO request. Hungary, whose populist leader Viktor Orban has friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, is the only other country besides Turkey that has not yet agreed to the offer.

election account

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

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

“But,” the deadlock was already there, he told CNBC. And it doesn’t really have much to do with Sweden, and more to do with Turkey trying to squeeze as much as it can of any leverage over its allies. . “

“It is more about US-Turkish relations,” he added. “Turkey feels the United States is a good friend when they need it but not when Turkey needs it…or at least that’s the rhetoric.”

Timothy Ash, senior emerging markets analyst at BlueBay Asset Management, believes that Turkey is doing serious damage to its Western alliances and that NATO may come to a pivotal choice between Turkey and the Nordic countries.

“Access [the] Are you suggesting that NATO allies will have to decide between Turkey and Finland/Sweden? “I understand the election calculus by Erdoğan, but this will ultimately damage long-standing relations with key allies,” Ash said via Twitter.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) within the framework of the 22nd Shanghai Cooperation Organization leaders’ summit meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on September 16, 2022.

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Meanwhile, UK-based security and terrorism analyst Kyle Orton wrote in a blog post that “Turkey has been holding [Sweden’s] Application NATO hostage claims about [Kurdish militant group] Kurdistan workers’ party. With the burning of the Qur’an in Stockholm yesterday, he wrote, “Ankara is cynically trying to build up pressure by blatant interference in Sweden’s internal affairs.”

There is also some speculation that the United States will use the promise of its F16 jets — an arms sale Ankara has long wanted — to coerce Turkey into doing so. Some members of Congress have expressed their opposition to the sale because of Turkey’s position on the new applicants for NATO.

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin recently said that Sweden has eight to ten weeks to make the changes demanded by Ankara, as the Turkish parliament may go into recess before the elections in May. Sweden says it needs another six months to make these changes.

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

“Bottom line, I suspect a lot will happen before the elections in Turkey,” Dyson said.

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