Sweden and Türkiye have seen tensions soaring amid a diplomatic conflict that has led to protests and demonstrations in both nations. However, outrage broke out in Türkiye after Danish activist Rasmus Paludan set the Quran — the holy book of the Muslims — on fire outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm on January 21.
Those in Istanbul and Ankara protested the act, slamming Sweden for its “state-supported Islamophobia”.
Türkiye cancelled a visit by the Swedish defence minister al Jonson to Ankara as matters between the countries worsened following the Quran incident. The nation holds Sweden’s authorities responsible for allowing the protest to have taken place.
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On January 22, protestors in Ankara carried banners proclaiming their faith and slamming the actions in Sweden. ‘We condemn Sweden’s state-supported Islamophobia,’ a sign read, while a sign on the Swedish consulate’s window said “We do not share that book-burning idiot’s view.”
The two countries have had differences since Türkiye held up Sweden and Finland’s bids to join NATO amid Russian special military operations in Ukraine. Türkiye, an existing member, held up their bids seeking certain conditions including the deportation of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s critics and recognising Kurds as terrorists.
While Sweden Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said in a January 21 tweet that though freedom of expression is crucial, “what is legal is not necessarily appropriate”, the protests are likely to narrow Türkiye’s chances of supporting Sweden’s bid.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental part of democracy. But what is legal is not necessarily appropriate. Burning books that are holy to many is a deeply disrespectful act. I want to express my sympathy for all Muslims who are offended by what has happened in Stockholm today.
— SwedishPM (@SwedishPM) January 21, 2023
The Kurd issue
Türkiye, when calling Kurds terrorists, refers to the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or the PKK, which is a Kurdish Marxist separatist movement, that has been in conflict with Turkish forces on and off since the 1980s. The PKK is classified as a terrorist organisation by Türkiye, along with the US, Canada, European Union, and Australia. However, Ann Linde, who served as Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs noted that Sweden was one of the first countries to classify the PKK as a terrorist group.
Due to the vastly spread #disinformation about 🇸🇪 and PKK, we would like to recall that the 🇸🇪 Government of Olof Palme was first after 🇹🇷 to list PKK as a terrorist organization, already in 1984. EU followed suit 2002, when Anna Lindh was 🇸🇪 FM. This position remains unchanged.
— Ann Linde (@AnnLinde) May 20, 2022
Türkiye’s bone of contention is Sweden’s liberal policies toward Kurdish asylum seekers and particularly political refugees. Some Kurds also have seats in Sweden’s government though the nation has denied supporting anyone from the PKK.
However, Sweden has supported the PKK’s political branch – PYD, saying they are different, while Türkiye insists they are the same. Sweden also supports the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the SDF, a Kurdish-led militia group that the US created to fight ISIS in Syria.
Appreciate sincere discussion with SDC’s Ilham Ahmad on the situation in northeastern Syria. Sweden remains active partner. pic.twitter.com/MtKt6Eq9eD
— Ann Linde (@AnnLinde) December 10, 2021
Türkiye, however, maintains that the SDC is overrun with PKK terrorists.
The Kurds or Kurdish people are often called the world’s largest ethnic group without a home. Following the founding of the present Türkiye state in 1923, the group has faced persecution in many instances. Various Kurdish groups have sought autonomy and statehood over the decades but some like the PKK have gone about it in a violent manner.
(With agency inputs)