by Uzay Bulut,
- Ankara’s detention of the two Greek soldiers appears to be the latest instance of what has come to be called Turkey’s “hostage-taking diplomacy.” Other examples include a German-Turkish journalist, Deniz Yücel; a French journalist Loup Bureau, and an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, among others. All were imprisoned in Turkey on trumped-up terrorism-related charges. Pastor Brunson has been behind bars since October 2016, but the Turkish judiciary has yet to produce an indictment spelling out the charges against him.
- According to Freedom House project director “Turkish hostage-taking has become one of the most pressing problems in relations between Ankara and its Western allies. It is something that everyone knows is happening, but political leaders and diplomats are reluctant to call it by its name.” — Nate Schenkkan, project director, Freedom House.
- It is high time the West had a serious discussion about whether Turkey’s aggressive and illegal actions in the region really comply with the principles of NATO and the EU.
Turkey’s arrest on March 2 of two Greek soldiers on suspicion of espionage, after the pair entered a “prohibited military zone” along the border, should be cause for alarm in the West. When they were arrested – in the small space between Turkish and Greek guard posts — Angelos Mitretodis and Dimitris Kouklatzis explained that they had simply strayed by a few meters in the thick forest, due to the poor weather conditions. They had difficulty seeing where they were going, and so followed tracks in the snow.
Their lawyers’ plea for their release was rejected by a court in Edirne, on the grounds that “images were found in the cell phones of the soldiers, who intended to send the footage to their superiors.”
According to Freedom House project director Nate Schenkkan, “Turkish hostage-taking has become one of the most pressing problems in relations between Ankara and its Western allies. It is something that everyone knows is happening, but political leaders and diplomats are reluctant to call it by its name.”
Given the recent arrest of the two Greek soldiers, Turkey’s hostage-taking appears now to be directed at Athens, as well. It is possible that the pair will be used as leverage against Greece to extradite eight Turkish military personnel who sought asylum in Greece during the failed coup. Although they deny involvement in the coup attempt, the Turkish government has accused them of “treachery” and “terrorism.” Greece has thus rejected Ankara’s demand to return the officers, on the grounds that they would not receive a fair trial in Turkey, and that their lives would be at risk.
This latest act of potential “hostage-taking diplomacy” comes at a time when tension is already high between Greece and Turkey, with Erdoğan and other leading Turkish politicians repeatedly threatening to invade Greece and take back the Aegean islands.
Last month, a Greek coast guard vessel was rammed by a Turkish patrol boat off Imia. Turkish warships also recently violated the natural gas drilling rights of Cyprus — whose northern part has been illegally occupied by Turkey since 1974 — by preventing an Italian exploratory gas rig from drilling there.
It is high time the West had a serious discussion about whether Turkey’s aggressive and illegal actions in the region really comply with the principles of NATO and the EU.
Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist currently based in Washington D.C.