Count NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg among the early adopters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s preferred name for his country.
Stoltenberg is on a mission to shepherd Sweden and Finland into NATO, but Erdogan stunned allies by raising a series of objections to their membership in the security bloc just as lawmakers in each country voted to join the trans-Atlantic alliance. Then, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu asked the United Nations to replace the name “Turkey,” as the country has been known in English, with “Turkiye” in publications — and Stoltenberg hastened to comply.
“As you mentioned, Turkey has raised some concerns, including Turkiye’s fight against PKK, a group described as a terrorist organization by NATO allies, the EU, and also by Sweden,” Stoltenberg said Monday during a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson. “So I remain in close contact with you, Magdalena, and your colleagues, as well as with Finland and our ally Turkiye about the way ahead.”
Stoltenberg lapsed occasionally into the usage of the customary “Turkey,” but NATO’s transcript of the press event did not record that outmoded pronunciation.
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“They’re trying to sort of humor and please [Erdogan] because it comes at no cost to them, either NATO as an organization or the member states, humoring Erdogan in that way, because it has no cost attached to it,” Marine Corps University professor Sinan Ciddi told the Washington Examiner. “The only negative is if they go against him, right, because not calling it Turkiye doesn’t have any added benefits for them as far as diplomatic ties go.”
The adoption of the new name put a deferential bow on Stoltenberg’s latest attempt to manage a breakthrough in the NATO expansion process. The NATO chief, a former prime minister of Norway, used his trip to Sweden and Finland as an occasion to persuade Erdogan that his complaints about the Scandinavian countries, which the Turkish leader has accused of giving shelter to separatist Kurdish terrorists hostile to the Turkish central government, are being taken seriously.
“I am glad that you, prime minister, confirmed the Swedish government’s readiness to address Turkiye’s concerns as part of assuming the obligations of future NATO membership,” Stoltenberg said. “I welcome that Sweden has already started to change its counterterrorism legislation and that Sweden will ensure that their legal framework for arms exports will reflect their future status as a NATO member with new commitments to allies. These are two important steps to address concerns Turkiye has raised.”
Erdogan’s stated demands go beyond such modest changes, as he has referred to Swedish elected officials of Kurdish heritage as “terrorists” and demanded their ouster as a precondition for dropping his blockade of Sweden’s application.
“Even in their own parliaments, there are terrorists,” he said last week. “As long as these terrorists are in their parliaments and as long as these terror groups on the streets of Stockholm make demonstrations … and as long as interviews with terrorist leaders are broadcast on national TVs, we cannot tell them, ‘Go ahead and join NATO and continue as such.’”
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Stoltenberg is doing his best to “soften Erdogan up to basically removing his objection to Swedish and Finnish accession to NATO would be the goal,” as Ciddi sees it, even if that means a hasty embrace of a new name. “He probably doesn’t want to give Erdogan any excuse, on his side, to find a negative. He doesn’t want to give Erdogan any [basis] to blame him, saying, ‘They don’t even respect our country’s name. Why would they respect our concern for terrorists in Sweden?’”