Turkey is facing diplomatic pushback after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for the expulsion of 10 ambassadors, including U.S. Ambassador David M. Satterfield, after they called for the release of a jailed civil society leader.
The Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway all issued statements saying they remained committed to defending human rights in Turkey, while the United States and Germany said they were seeking clarification. The countries are among 10 whose ambassadors Erdogan Saturday declared persona non grata, a diplomatic term used to expel a person.
The Turkish president condemned the ambassadors for their rare joint statement calling for the release of the Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala, a move Erdogan condemned as interference in Turkey's affairs.
Erdogan said, "They will know and understand Turkey. The day they do not know and understand Turkey, they will leave."
Kavala is one of Turkey's most prominent civil society supporters and a critic of Erdogan. He is accused of seeking to overthrow Erdogan by funding the 2016 coup attempt and 2013 civil unrest. He's been in jail for four years but he has not been convicted and denies all charges against him.
The Turkish president claims he is defending Turkey's independence, a stance some observers say plays well with his nationalist voting base — presidential elections have to be held by 2023. Political columnist Ilhan Uzgel of Duvar News portal says Erdogan could be using tough diplomacy to divert public attention from a plummeting currency and looming economic crisis.
“Erdogan is losing his popularity because the economic conditions are terrible. But if Erdogan has problems with the United States, it works for the nationalist voters. He may accuse the opposition they are cooperating with foreign powers and the CIA and Washington to topple him,” he said.
None of the 10 ambassadors have so far received formal notification they have been declared persona non grata. Observers say it remains to be seen whether Erdogan is ready to carry out the diplomatic expulsions, a move that could further exacerbate the country's financial woes and isolation from its traditional Western allies.