The Norwegian Foreign Ministry was mostly staying silent Thursday morning after news broke this week that four Turkish military officers and a veteran diplomat at the Turkish Embassy in Oslo have been granted asylum in Norway. The Turkish government has reacted angrily to the asylum decision, and demanded an explanation from Norway’s own ambassador in Ankara.
“As a matter of general policy, the foreign ministry doesn’t want to speculate about international reaction to individual asylum decisions made by Norwegian immigration authorities,” the ministry wrote in a statement to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). The ministry further noted that asylum decisions are not made by its officials, but by state authorities “who handle asylum applications in relation to Norwegian law.”
There were no statements or announcements tied to the asylum decisions on the Norwegian ministry’s own official website either, nor was there any mention of an NRK report Wednesday night that Norway’s ambassador to Turkey had been called in for a meeting with Turkey’s own foreign minister.
Kjell Brygfjeld, a Norwegian lawyer for one of the Turkish officials who sought asylum in Norway, praised Norwegian immigration officials for acting on principle instead of political convenience when they ended up granting asylum to all five Turkish officials early this week. Norway and Turkey have long been allies through their membership in NATO and it’s highly unusual for any country to grant asylum to citizens of a fellow ally.
“It’s understandable that no official Norwegian government authority will comment on this case now, in light of the relations between Turkey and Europe right now,” Brygfjeld told NRK. Tensions between Turkey and the EU, with which Norway is also closely allied, are extremely high at present, and it was no surprise that Turkey’s government would react negatively to Norwegian authorities’ decision to offer protection to the Turkish officials from their own government.
Saw no prospects for fair trials in Turkey
All five of the former career diplomats and officers, however, feared imprisonment, torture and even the loss of their lives if they returned to Turkey. They already faced the loss of their Turkish citizenship and had been ordered to return to Turkey to undergo questioning on suspicion they’d been involved in last summer’s attempted military coup against the authoritarian government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. All five vehemently deny having anything to do with the coup, but had no confidence their denials would be heard or respected.
“Two months after the coup (in July), I got a message from my superiors that my passport and those held by my family members had been revoked, and that I had to return to Turkey immediately to answer some questions,” the former Turkish diplomat in Oslo told NRK. He said he initially thought he would go home to Turkey, “but then reports started coming in that other diplomats who’d returned to Turkey were immediately being arrested and not given any access to an attorney. I was afraid I’d be forced into signing a confession.”
Fearing arrest and torture, he then sent a formal complaint to Turkish government authorities. They replied that they couldn’t respond to his complaint because an investigation (apparently into who was behind the coup) was underway. All five of the Turkish officials in Norway continue to reject any assertion of their involvement in the coup.
Their fears of persecution in Turkey were not diminished by statements made this week by Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmus, who already was referring to them and other dismissed diplomats and officers around Europe as “bandits” and demanding that countries harbouring them must extradite them, if they want to maintain “friendly relations” with Turkey.
Under threat in Norway, too
Norway thus risks a diplomatic crisis with Turkey but the asylum orders stand. The five former Turkish officials and their families are currently living at a secret address, also apparently because of fears for their safety in Norway, where many Turkish expatriates reside but support Erdogan’s government. NRK reported Thursday on some of their online discussions this week that included speculation over what should be done with Norway’s new Turkish refugees: “Spit on them?” mused one Turkish expat. Others wrote comments that can be interpreted as threatening: “If you happen to meet one (of the former Turkish military officers or diplomats), you can report them to Turkish authorities. But you can also shoot them, that would also be appropriate.”
Wrote yet another Turkish citizen loyal to Erdogan: “Our assignment is to find these traitors and send them away from this country with the help of social and political pressure.”
The former diplomat who’s now a refugee claimed he still feels safe in Norway, even though his life is in shambles. “I came here to represent my country, which is something I’ve done for more than 22 years,” he told NRK. “I was at the pinnacle of my career and suddenly I’m a refugee.”
Seeing no hope for justice back home in Turkey, or even the ability to fight what he considers to be false charges against him, he said he intends to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights. “I want to prove my innocence,” he told NRK. “I will work hard for that.”