Sweden’s NATO bid in danger of Turkish ire after Quran burnt

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.

Read | Five things to know about Finland and Sweden joining NATO

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.

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. 

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. 

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) 

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