Imprisoned Westerners a bargaining chip for Erdoğan to extract concessions - expert

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s policy of hostage diplomacy following the July 2016 coup attempt is a makeshift policy that uses imprisoned Western nationals as a bargaining chip in bilateral relations with the aim of extracting concession, says Aykan Erdemir former Turkish MEP and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.

Speaking with Greek newspaper Kathimerini, Erdemir addresses Ankara’s hostage diplomacy and how Greece, with two of its military officers being detained in Turkey, fits the pattern.

Two Greek soldiers who accidentally crossed the border into Turkey during stormy weather in March, have been detained in Turkey with the government accusing them of military espionage and entering a military zone. The pair have been an ongoing source of tension between Greece and Turkey.

‘’Erdogan’s demands range from the speedy extradition of suspected coup plotters to unblocking arms sales,’’ Erdemir points out, noting that Turkey’s state-run media outlets have been carrying out a coordinated smear campaign against imprisoned Western nationals, ‘’framing them as terrorists or spies, effectively making it impossible for them to get a fair hearing in court.’’

While underscoring that this campaign of character assassination also plays a key role in spreading the xenophobic worldview of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that Western states, institutions and individuals are a threat to the nation’s national security, Erdoğan explains that it is through anti-Western conspiracies that the Turkish president is able to mobilizes nationalist voters.

The former member of Turkish parliament explains that historically, accidental border crossings between Turkey and Greece occurred frequently and the sides dealt with this issue in a ‘’pragmatic and amicable way,’’ by choosing to release soldiers.

‘’The treatment of two Greek soldiers arrested in March is in stark contrast to earlier practice and is a direct result of intervention from the highest level in Ankara. Erdogan wants the Greek government to extradite all suspected putschists as a precondition of the release of Greek soldiers. So, at this point, the issue is less about the rule of law and more about bilateral bargaining,’’ Erdemir explains.