Ragip Zarakolu has been an enemy of the Turkish state for half a century. After the military coup of 1971, the 74-year-old was brought before the court for the first time – because of contacts with Amnesty International.
Zarakolu later co-founded the Turkish Human Rights Association and published books on the Armenian genocide and the Kurdish question as a publisher.
Today, he is on a list of 40 alleged “terrorists” whose extradition Turkey has made conditional on Finland and Sweden agreeing to NATO membership. The Zarakolu case shows why Turkey has so far not been able to convince the West with its demands.
Finnish and Swedish negotiators spoke for the first time about the NATO dispute with Turkish government officials in Ankara on Wednesday. Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for the Turkish presidential office and adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then spoke of the positive attitude of the two northern European countries to Turkey’s demand to lift the arms embargo that had been in place since 2019.
But Turkey is not content with that. She is demanding concrete evidence from Helsinki and Stockholm that they are distancing themselves from the Kurdish Workers’ Party PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization. They also insist on the extradition of Turkish government opponents.
According to Ankara, the 28 people in Sweden and twelve in Finland on the Turkish list are dangerous enemies of the state who can be attributed to the PKK, left-wing extremist groups or the movement of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the Habertürk news channel that Turkey did not want to hear excuses such as references to EU rules. Turkey’s demands must be met – even if Finland and Sweden would have to change their laws to allow the extraditions.
Zarakolu is monitoring developments from Sweden, where he has lived for almost ten years. He doesn’t think he’ll be extradited, he told exile radio station Özgürüz-Radyo.
Sweden’s highest court had rejected his extradition in 2019. Unlike in Turkey, the government in Sweden has to abide by the decisions of the courts, Zarakolu said. Ankara probably assumes that the government in Stockholm can act like the Turkish government in its own country: by putting pressure on the judiciary to enforce its will.
The Zarakolu case illustrates how far apart European states and Turkey are in their understanding of the law. The human rights activist should not be jailed in Turkey for using or advocating violence.
He was convicted for lecturing at a legal Kurdish party. According to the Turkish judiciary, he was guilty of supporting a terrorist organization.
Two years ago, the Turkish public prosecutor’s office launched new investigations against him: In an article for the left-wing daily “Evrensel”, Zarakolu drew parallels between Erdogan and the former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, who was executed in 1961 after a military coup. Prosecutors accused Zarakolu of having advocated a violent overthrow with the article.
Zarakolu said in the interview that there was no legal basis for extradition – after the talks in Ankara on Wednesday, Erdogan adviser Kalin said the exact opposite: there was no legal basis for refusing to extradite the “terrorists”.
Bülent Kenes, the former editor-in-chief of a newspaper belonging to the Gülen movement, is also on the Turkish extradition list. He is accused of involvement in the 2016 coup attempt. Another government opponent, the Kurdish politician and journalist Mehmet Sirac Bilgin, is on Turkey’s extradition list but has been dead for seven years.
The list may serve as a bargaining chip in talk poker, which Ankara can give up in return for concessions. More important for Turkey is the end of the arms embargo of European countries. Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson made it clear that her country does not send weapons or money to terrorist organizations.
The Turkish government accuses Sweden of supporting the PKK-affiliated YPG militia in Syria.
Erdogan’s threat of a veto prevents Finland and Sweden, who are seeking the protection of the alliance because of the Russian war against Ukraine, from smoothly joining NATO.
Turkey is met with a lack of understanding from its allies. Only Russia benefits from the dispute, said the German ambassador to Turkey, Jürgen Schulz, at a security conference in Istanbul. Christoph Heusgen, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, said at the event that Turkey could solve its problems with Finland and Sweden much better after their NATO accession than before.