Turkish gov’t launches full scale war of words against Greece over asylum seekers

The Turkish government has launched a full-scale war of words against Greece over its friendly reception to those who are seeking asylum in the country after escaping persecution in Turkey, led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım on Friday called on Greece to view alleged members of the Gülen movement as its own “enemy” just like its neighbor Turkey views the group. Yıldırım’s remarks came after a recent Greek court decision to release under judicial supervision Turkish military officer Süleyman Özkaynakçı, who has been accused by the Turkish government of taking part in a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Speaking to reporters in Ankara, Yıldırım said: “Greece is a neighbor and a friendly country to Turkey. We think our enemy should also be seen as an enemy of Greece. We believe Greece should behave in accordance with that.”

On Thursday the Greek Council of State, the highest administrative court in the country, ordered the release of Özkaynakçı. His asylum request had been approved in December 2017 by an independent asylum commission, but the Greek government later raised objections to it. He was released briefly after being granted asylum but was arrested again after the government objected to his status.

The Council of State evaluated the government’s objection on Thursday and ordered the release of Özkaynakçı under strict restrictions until the results of the asylum applications of all eight Turkish military personnel are released. The court is expected to make a final decision on the asylum requests of all eight former Turkish soldiers on May 4.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül said on Saturday that since the defeated coup, Greece has been a safe haven for criminals from Turkey, in a letter to his Greek counterpart, Stavros Kontonis, and also criticized the Greek court order releasing the Turkish officer. Gül said Greece had repeatedly refused to extradite the Turkish soldiers and that the court order to release one of them had angered Turkey.

In the almost two years since the putsch, terrorists have illegally fled to Greece to escape justice in Turkey, he alleged. “Greece has become a gathering place for criminals,” Gül stated, adding that the coup-plotters in Greece should be extradited to Turkey as soon as possible.

On Friday, Turkey’s EU Minister Ömer Çelik also slammed Greece for openly protecting the alleged members of the Gülen movement. “Not releasing them means that Greece is encouraging coup-plotters,” Çelik tweeted. “Protecting these terrorists is equal to being an accomplice to the crime.”

“We see that Greece, an EU member, is openly protecting members of FETÖ who took part in the attempted coup in Turkey. Even releasing them means that Greece is encouraging coup-plotters,” Çelik claimed on his Twitter account. “Protecting these terrorists is partnering in this crime.”

“It is a breaking point in history that Greece, with whom we share the same table at international fora to protect democratic values, has become a state that protects the enemies of democracy,” he said.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Friday also claimed the recent Greek court decision to release of Özkaymakçı demonstrates once again that Greece protects coup-plotters.  In a written statement the Foreign Ministry said Özkaynakçı had participated in the coup bid in Turkey. The statement said the Greek court’s decision showed that necessary measures had not been taken regarding a “traitor” who participated in the defeated coup attempt.

Greek authorities’ statements indicate that the remaining coup plotters will also be released in the coming days, the statement said, adding that the situation cannot be explained as routine practice related to the detention period as claimed by Greek authorities

“The Greek judiciary, by rejecting our requests several times for the extradition of the putschist traitors who targeted our democracy, has paved the ground for such an outcome, which offends the public conscience,” it said.

It added that Turkey’s determination to secure the extradition of the fugitive putschists and for them to be tried in Turkey would continue.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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