Türkiye’s president has stated that his country may approve Finland’s bid for NATO membership before deciding on Sweden’s, while the Turkish government has issued a travel warning for European countries owing to anti-Turkish demonstrations and what it considers Islamophobia.
The travel advisory issued late Saturday followed protests outside the Turkish Embassy in Sweden the previous weekend, during which an anti-Islam activist burned the Quran and pro-Kurdish groups protested against Türkiye. The events reinforced Türkiye’s opposition to Sweden’s NATO bid.
Sweden and Finland submitted a joint application to join the military alliance, abandoning their longstanding military neutrality in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In a video of an event that was prepared and broadcast on Sunday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Türkiye may only approve Finland.
“If needed, we could give a different message about Finland. Sweden will be shocked when we give the different message about Finland.” Erdogan told a group of young people in the province of Bilecik.
Türkiye has accused the Stockholm administration of being overly tolerant toward groups it considers to be terrorist organisations or existential dangers, such as Kurdish groups. NATO requires the unanimous agreement of its existing members in order to admit new members, but Erdogan’s government has stated that it will only accept Sweden if the country met its conditions.
In its travel advisory to residents, the Turkish foreign ministry highlighted a spike in anti-Turkish protests by “groups with links to terror groups,” a reference to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has conducted a decades-long insurgency against Türkiye. In addition to Türkiye, the European Union and the United States also consider the PKK to be a terrorist organisation.
During protests in Sweden, pro-Kurdish groups have flown the flags of the PKK and its affiliates in response to Sweden and Finland’s pledge to prevent PKK activity in their countries in order to obtain Türkiye’s permission for their NATO memberships.
Erdogan stated that he warned the Swedish prime minister, “You will extradite these terrorists if you really want to enter NATO. If you don’t extradite these terrorists, then sorry.” He stated that Türkiye had submitted a list of 120 individuals it wants extradited from Sweden, a demand that was included in a June memorandum that prevented Türkiye’s veto of the Nordic nations’ joint application.
Türkiye is requesting the extradition of alleged PKK terrorists and other followers of Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric accused of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt. In December, the Swedish Supreme Court ruled that it cannot extradite Bulent Kenes, the former editor-in-chief of a publication with ties to Gulen, infuriating Türkiye.
The burning of the Quran over the weekend in Stockholm by far-right activist Rasmus Paludan, which he repeated on Friday in Copenhagen, was harshly criticised by Türkiye. After another far-right extremist ripped Quran pages in The Hague, Ankara summoned the Dutch ambassador.
Following last week’s protests, Erdogan cautioned Sweden not to expect backing for its military alliance membership bid. Additionally, Türkiye postponed indefinitely a conference in Brussels that would have considered the NATO membership of Sweden and Finland.
The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommended its people to exercise caution and avoid demonstration sites in Europe. It further instructed them to contact local authorities in the event of xenophobic or racial attacks.
Separately, the ministry encouraged Turkish citizens to remain careful in the United States in the event of protests in response to the deadly beating of unarmed Black man Tyre Nichols by police in Memphis, Tennessee.
Before Türkiye published its travel warning on Saturday, the Nordic countries issued their own updated travel instructions for Turkiye. Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden encouraged their citizens travelling to Türkiye to avoid gatherings of a large size and to exercise caution.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry stated on its website that the country’s embassy in Ankara remains closed and that visitors to the consulate general in Istanbul are “requested to exercise vigilance.”
“We want to make Swedes in Türkiye aware that further manifestations may occur,” the Swedish government stated, referring to the counter-protests that erupted in Türkiye following the events in Stockholm last weekend.