President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered ten western ambassadors to be declared persona non grata, risking a new low in Turkey’s already deeply strained relations with Europe and the US.
In a move that could torpedo Ankara’s recent efforts to repair ties with Washington and the EU, and inflict more pain on the already embattled lira, the Turkish leader appeared to double down on a previous threat to expel the envoys, including the US and German ambassadors.
Erdogan signalled that the diplomats would be forced to leave the country after signing a joint declaration, published on Monday, that called for the release of the jailed businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala.
“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,” he said in a speech in the north western city of Eskisehir.
“They must know and understand Turkey,” he added. “The day they do not know and understand Turkey, they will leave.”
The joint statement by the ten ambassadors — from Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and the US — called for a swift and fair resolution to the case of Kavala, who has been behind bars for the past four years on various charges of seeking to overthrow the government.
Human rights groups, opposition parties and even figures from within 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.
But Kavala has remained trapped in a Kafkaesque series of trials. Last year he was acquitted of charges that he orchestrated the 2013 Gezi Park protests only to be rearrested hours later.
Kavala, 64, has become a symbol of the sweeping crackdown overseen by Erdogan in the wake of a violent 2016 coup attempt. His case has been championed by some western countries.
But Erdogan has maintained that he is a “terrorist”. Speaking on Thursday in response to the joint statement by the ten ambassadors, he said that they would not release “bandits, murderers and terrorists” in their own countries.
The decision risks inflicting further damage on the already ailing Turkish lira, which has plunged through a series of record lows in recent weeks amid investor concern about Erdogan’s interference in monetary policy and his broader management of the country’s $765bn economy.
On Friday, the lira reached a new nadir of 9.66 against the dollar after the central bank on Thursday stunned the markets by slashing its main interest rate at a time of rising inflation and growing financial instability.
Responding to Erdogan’s remarks, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the country’s main opposition leader, accused the Turkish president of acting not in the national interest but rather of “manufacturing fake justifications” for the state of the economy.
Soner Cagaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute, a think-tank, described the decision as “insane, even by Turkish standards.”
He said: “I think [Erdogan] has digested the fact that the Turkish economy has gone bad beyond repair. Instead of trying to make things better he is trying to blame the west.”
The embassies of Germany, the US, Sweden, the Netherlands and Canada in Ankara did not immediately respond to a request for comment.