Four Turkish officers and the former military attaché at the Turkish Embassy in Oslo have been granted asylum in Norway along with their families. Newspaper Klassekampen reported Wednesday that the asylum decision is raising some eyebrows, since both Norway and Turkey are military allies through their membership in NATO.
That makes it highly unusual for Norway to offer protection to people from a country that’s a NATO ally. The five officials felt threatened by their own Turkish government, however, after its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, started rounding up and arresting tens of thousands of military officers, public officials, judges and many others suspected of being behind a coup attempt in Turkey last summer. More than 100,000 people have since been arrested, suspended from their jobs or fired, in what’s widely viewed as a purge.
Feared arrest and torture despite pleading innocent
Many Turkish diplomats and military officers living abroad sought asylum in countries where they were stationed after being summoned home to Turkey for questioning, following the coup attempt. They otherwise feared they’d also be arrested and jailed, even though they claimed they had nothing to do with the coup attempt that ended with the deaths of 300 people last July.
Kjell Brygfjeld, attorney for the Turkish officers in Norway, confirmed to Klassekampen that the five seeking asylum in Norway have had their applications approved. Newsinenglish.no has also been told that three of the officers were granted asylum earlier this year and the remaining ones just this week, together with their families.
They had told newspaper VG in January that they already had been dismissed from their jobs and ordered to travel back to Turkey last fall when they decided to refuse the order and seek asylum in Norway.
“It’s impossible to return (to Turkey) now,” one of the officers told VG, adding that he’d been fired and his passport had been cancelled. “If I travel back, I’ll immediately be arrested and risk torture and being forced to make false confessions. In Turkish prisons, people die for unclear reasons.”
Now at a secret address
The five officers and their families are now living at a secret address in Norway. One of them told VG that both his and his family members’ passports had been revoked along with all the pension earnings he had built up during his years of military service.
Relations between Turkey and several European countries have already soured because of Erdogan’s crackdowns on the courts, the media, human rights and political opposition to his authoritarian regime. He’s engaged in verbal assaults on German and Dutch authorities who curbed his attempts to drum up support among Turkey’s expatriate communities for a referendum next month on constitutional changes that will grant Erdogan even more power.
Turkish authorities are also lashing out at countries that grant asylum to Turkish citizens. VG reported Wednesday that an adviser to Erdogan sent out a statement on the state-controlled news service Anadolu claiming it was “impossible to accept this. It’s wrong … to protect and defend this gang known as FETÖ (referring to what Turkish authorities consider a network tied to religious leader and Erdogan opponent Fethullah Gülen).” Erdogan’s adviser further called for the “immediate extradition of these FETÖ bandits,” claiming that was necessary to maintain “friendly relations between Turkey and these countries” that now include Norway.
There was no immediate response from Norwegian immigration authorities who opted to protect the Turkish asylum seekers and their families. Turkey’s ambassador to Norway, meanwhile, has filed a press complaint in Norway over a local media report that some NATO officials allegedly suspect Erdogan was behind the attempted coup himself. Other media including Time Magazine have noted that Erdogan seeks to put himself and Turkey in a “victim’s role,” to stir up nationalism and justify his efforts to crack down on perceived opposition.