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Swedish and Finnish NATO deal with Turkey triggers fears over Kurdish deportations

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STOCKHOLM — Relief over Tuesday night’s deal with Turkey unblocking the NATO accession process for Sweden and Finland was palpable on Wednesday, but there were also fears that the two Nordic states could have conceded too much to Ankara over deportations. 

Political adversaries of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan based in Sweden were quick to label the deal as a sellout, which could strengthen Turkey’s efforts to secure extraditions of Kurdish rights activists and other opponents.

“This is a black day in Swedish political history,” said Amineh Kakabaveh, an independent Swedish lawmaker and longtime advocate for Kurdish rights. “We are negotiating with a regime which does not respect freedom of expression or the rights of minority groups,” Kakabaveh, a former fighter with Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iran, told the SVT Nyheter television channel.

Since mid-May, Turkey has threatened to veto the NATO applications from Sweden and Finland unless the two states complied with, among other things, its demands to crack down on groups Ankara regards as terrorists. 

This has caused political tension because Stockholm and Helsinki don’t agree that all the groups on Ankara’s list are terrorists. For example, all three regard the PKK as terrorists but only Turkey sees the Syria-based Kurdish groups the YPG and PYD as terrorists. 

Over the past two months, officials from the three states, as well as from NATO headquarters, have sought to secure a compromise which would allow Erdoğan to claim a diplomatic victory while not undermining Swedish or Finnish human rights laws.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L), NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (C) and Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson take part in a meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid | Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images

The 10-point deal published late Tuesday ahead of a key NATO summit in Madrid was that compromise. 

The most sensitive element was arguably point eight, which included a commitment by Sweden and Finland “to address Türkiye’s pending deportation or extradition requests of terror suspects expeditiously and throughly.”

Loose wording

While loosely worded, and arguably vague enough to be potentially insignificant, that clause rattled some Kurds in Sweden. 

Kurdo Baksi, a prominent Sweden-based Kurdish writer, told Swedish TV he was worried that Sweden and Finland might have promised to extradite Kurds and other democratically minded Turks who have sought a refuge in the two countries back to Turkey.

“I hope that Sweden will enter NATO with the same view of democracy and human rights as it had before (Foreign Minister) Ann Linde and (Prime Minister) Magdalena Andersson traveled to the NATO meeting in Madrid,” he said.

In an interview with Sweden’s national broadcaster on Wednesday, Prime Minister Andersson sought to play down the implications of Swedish and Finnish commitments to Turkey. 

“I know there are people who are worried that we are going to start hunting them and deporting them and I think it is important to say that we always work in accordance with Swedish law and existing international conventions,” she said. “If you are not involved in terrorism, you don’t need to worry,” she added.

Reassurance needed

But a raft of opposition lawmakers, including from longtime NATO membership opponents the Left Party, weren’t reassured. 

Håkan Svenneling, the party’s foreign policy spokesperson, said Sweden had made “shameful concessions.”

Before Sweden and Finland decided to apply to join NATO, the Swedish Left Party had argued that joining an alliance with Turkey could have serious negative consequences and its lawmakers were quick to claim vindication.

“Selling us out to Erdoğan went quickly,” said Ulla Andersson, the Left Party’s former economic policy spokesperson.

In Finland, the reaction to the deal seemed notably more muted with the focus more squarely on the brighter prospects for NATO accession the Turkish deal entailed, rather than any eventual damage to human rights the agreement might cause.

This was in part a reflection of the broader parliamentary consensus in Finland behind applying to join NATO than had been achieved in Sweden.

In Sweden, the Left Party and the Green Party remain vocal critics of the NATO membership application, and Green Party joint-leader Märta Stenevi on Wednesday called on Sweden’s foreign minister to explain to the parliament’s foreign affairs select committee what she called “very worrying” developments regarding extraditions to Turkey.

For her part, Kakabaveh, a former member of the Left Party, said she might launch a vote of no-confidence against Foreign Minister Linde. 

It was unclear how much support such a move would command in parliament, but a similar vote targeting Justice Minister Morgan Johansson in early June almost brought down the Swedish government, three months ahead of scheduled general election. 

Kakabaveh struck a deal with Prime Minister Andersson’s governing Social Democrats as recently as last November guaranteeing more support for the Syria-based PYD and its military affiliate, the YPG.

But Tuesday’s 10-point deal with Turkey said the Swedish and Finnish governments had agreed not to provide such support leaving the Social Democrats’ deal with Kakabaveh on an unclear footing.

Kakabaveh said she hoped the Left Party and the Green Party would join her in seeking to apply pressure to the Swedish government over its concessions to Turkey. 

“This is not just about the Kurds, this is about Sweden not bowing to a regime like Erdoğan’s,” she said. 

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