Just two days after he announced his intention to expel 10 Western ambassadors, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan beat a hasty retreat after his decision raised a political maelstrom and a further fall of the Turkish lira at home and a diplomatic crisis with some of the world’s most powerful countries.

It is the greatest foreign policy crisis in Erdogan's 19 years in power.

“Our intention is not to create a crisis, and these embassies backed off with a statement of compliance with the Vienna Convention. We expect these ambassadors to behave analogously from now on,” Erdogan declared after he chaired a cabinet meeting this afternoon.

Seven of the ambassador’s represent NATO member-states and the move would have caused a huge rift in the Alliance,

On 18 October, the US Embassy in Ankara posted on its website the joint statement of 10 Western ambassadors calling for the release of businessman, philanthropist, and rights activist Osman Kavala, whose imprisonment led to a ruling against Turkey in the European Court of Human Rights:

“Today marks four years since the ongoing detention of Osman Kavala began. The continuing delays in his trial, including by merging different cases and creating new ones after a previous acquittal, cast a shadow over respect for democracy, the rule of law and transparency in the Turkish judiciary system. Together, the embassies of Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United States of America believe a just and speedy resolution to his case must be in line with Turkey’s international obligations and domestic laws. Noting the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights on the matter, we call for Turkey to secure his urgent release,”

Vienna Convention as fig leaf

In an attempt to temper the huge embarrassment of rescinding his unprecedented decision, which would have thrown Turkey’s foreign relations into a tailspin, Erdogan demanded that the embassies declare their compliance with Article 41of the Vienna Convention, which states that envoys must not intervene in the domestic affairs of the state in which they are serving. The answer was self-evident.

“In response to questions regarding the Statement of October 18, the United States notes that it maintains compliance with Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic relations,” the US Embassy stated.

Kavala, who  has been a contributor to many civil society groups, has been charged with financing nationwide protests in 2013, and involvement in the 2016 abortive coup against Erdogan and has been imprisoned since 2017.

He has denied the charges and his latest trial is still underway.

Aside from the US, the embassies of Canada, The Netherlands, and New Zealand tweeted that they comply with Article 41 of the Vienna Convention. They were followed by the embassies of Norway and Finland.

. ‘Duty to respond to offence’

"I gave the order to our foreign minister and said what must be done. These 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata at once. You will sort it out immediately. They should know and understand Turkey. The day they do not know and understand Turkey, they will leave," Erdogan said during a televised speech.

“It was my duty as head of state to answer this offence,” Erdogan said regarding his instructions to Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusolgloy to declare the 10 ambassadors personae non gratae.

Erdogan's former foreign minister,  Ahmet Davutoglu, lashed out at the Turkish president, accusing him of destroying Turkey's international image with his actions.

“The statement of the 10 embassies regarding businessman Osman Kavala targeted Turkey’s sovereignty and it offended our judicial system. The Turkish judicial system accepts orders from no one,” he declared.

Many members of Erdogan’s own ruling party have described the charges as flimsy and politically motivated. In 2019, the European Court of Human Rights ordered his release.


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